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Nonprofit Law/IRS definition of "distressed"?


Does the IRS equate "distressed" to "financially distressed" or does the broader concept of emotional well-being allow a charity to help define a charitable class?

Specifically, I am hoping to establish a 501(c)3 or foundation to reduce the people's emotional distress via a direct financial grant.

That category could include victims of numerous external factors, such as crime, death of a child, bullying, government persecution or, basically, any of the many things that cause people to say "that sucks" when we read about it in the news.

Most charitable classes seem to be needs-based, but I see 501(c)3s such as Make a Wish appear to comply with IRS regulations without poverty being a factor.

Thanks for any advice you might have, Harvey!

The IRS does not tie "financial needs" to the charitable classes that it recognizes.  For example, they have in their "Internal Revenue Manual" at
--- Start of Excerpt ---
It is now generally recognized that the aged, apart from considerations of financial distress, have special needs because of their advanced years. Satisfying those needs can be a charitable activity.
--- End of Excerpt ---

In the next two sections the IRS discusses two other charitable purposes that are not limited by financial need, "Assisting the Sick or Handicapped" [like Make a Wish Foundation], and "Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Services" and you can see in section  Digests of Precedent Rulings, some of which apply to your question.

You are welcome.

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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