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Nonprofit Law/non profit operating a for profit


In the State of Wisconsin, can a non-profit organization operate a for profit business if the profits are used to help sustain the non-profit organization?  If so, what would be the first steps taken toward this goal?

I have in my profile that this free forum is only for general questions about IRS federal exemption issues of 501(c)(3) organizations.  Unless a certain exclusion applies, such as if substantially all the work is performed for the organization without compensation, IRS Publication 598 "Tax on Unrelated Business Income of Exempt Organizations" at explains that,  if products or services are not directly related to the charitable, educational, religious or other purpose or function
constituting the basis for its exemption (other than for production of income), then the activities are generally taxable.

Their exact wording is found in the middle column of page 3
"Unrelated business income is the income from a
trade or business that is regularly carried on by
an exempt organization and that is not substan-
tially related to the performance by the organiza-
tion of its exempt purpose or function, except
that the organization uses the profits derived
from this activity."

The IRS has declared, "Nonprofit organizations that are granted
Federal tax exemption based on their mission-related purposes
are allowed by the IRS, within certain limits, to generate income
from unrelated business activities." on pdf page 1. But, the
organization could, if it has more unrelated activities than
the IRS's vague "certain limit", be jeopardizing its exemption
depending upon the facts and circumstances. Two of the main factors
is the gross income of the activity in relation to the gross income
of the organization's total income and staff time spent on the

On page 7 of the publication 598 we see the exclusions from the definition of "unrelated business" such as the one when substantially all the work is performed for the organization without compensation. If you want to ask a follow-up, please look at that page 7 and let me know whether any of the exclusions listed there apply to your for-profit activity.

Harvey Mechanic, Attorney at Law -

P.S. This response is intended to be a general statement of law, should not be relied upon as legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship.  

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Harvey Mechanic


I am an attorney and I volunteer time to answer general questions about U.S. Federal income tax issues of nonprofit 501(c)(3) public charities only. Those questions could be about establishing and maintaining legal requirements for such non-profit organizations in the United States, including Internal Revenue service filings and requirements. I will not be working on this free forum to answer questions about Nonprofit's possible unrelated or for-profit businesses or how to fill out forms. This forum is only for general questions about federal tax law, not as the law applies to your specific situation. If you do not make your question public then I will not be spending much of my donated time on answers that would not benefit the public. If you have other questions, please contact me at I will reply from my email. In any case, do not reveal confidential information to me until after I have contracted with you to provide personal legal services. My responses on this forum are intended to be general statements of law, should not be relied upon as legal advice, and do not create an attorney/client relationship. For me to consider your individual situation and how the law applies, I would need to gather extensive information about the situation. To search my previous answers you can do a Google search by "" without the quotes and then add your search terms before hitting enter.


I have been practicing law and especially the law of nonprofit organizations since 1990 when I was admitted to the New York Bar and I have maintained my status with the Bar since that time.


B.S. Columbia University in New York City, 1970

J.D. (Law Degree) Brooklyn Law School, 1990 -- Cum Laude.

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