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Nonprofit Law/Is it legal to make donation mandatory?


Hi Mr. Mechanic,

Thank you for taking the time to answer questions on this forum. I represent a group of parents who run a 501(c)(3) in California to support and manage Speech and Debate organization in high school. We hire coaches who coach students on school premises. The coaches also chaperone for tournaments on weekends that are held out of school district and sometimes out of town. The coaches are finger-printed and background checked by the school but no paid by the school. Our organization pays them and we raise the funds by asking for donations from parents. In California, Education policies mandate that there be no "fees" charged for any club and participation should be free(?). Since our organization is "separate" from the club, registered and approved 501(c)(3) Is it possible for us to legally:
a) Make the "donation" mandatory - possibly call it a registration fee just enough to cover year round expenses for coaches?
b) Prevent non-donating students from participating in competitions since they are not technically "coaching" activities held on school premises and therefore not part of "club"?

A 501(c)(3) organization may charge people fees to become members, and often those fees are deductible by the members.  As to charitable deductions, see IRS Publication 526 "Charitable Donations" which is available at on page 4, first column,  "You may be able to deduct membership fees or dues you pay to a qualified organization. However, you can deduct only the amount that is more than the value of the benefits you receive. You cannot deduct dues, fees, or assessments paid to
country clubs and other social organizations. They are not qualified organizations."

a) It appears that the families who pay the dues would not be receiving anything of value for those dues and, therefore, the amount of the dues would be deductible by them as charitable contributions.
B) However, if the organization prevented non-donating students from participating in competitions the dues or fees are not deductible and the 501(c)(3) organization is in violation of IRS regulations for booster organizations. My summary of IRS regulations relating to 501(c)(3) booster organizations is at and you may be interested to read that.

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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