Nonprofit Law/Donations


We are a gymnastics booster club that recently incorporated and filed for 501(c)(3) exemption. Couple questions I was hoping you could help us with...

1) Is it OK that all our programs benefit our members and not the general public? We used to host a large meet with the gym which reached thousands of gymnasts from all over the country, but the for profit gym wants to take it back and then make a donation to the booster club for volunteering to help run the meet? Can we accept their donation?

2)Can the gym write a check to the booster club ( I guess like a donation?) and we in turn use this money to enroll the gymnasts into their competitive meets for the year? I know that we cannot exclude anyone but if the gym informs us of injuries and those girls that will not be able to compete, is it OK to only enter those girls that will be competing as long as we keep a record of why the others were not enrolled for valid reasons such as injury?

3) Can you refund someone who donated to us?

Thanks for your assistance!

1. A 501(c)(3) booster organization may be established but must not simply benefit its own members (those who pay dues or agree to work for the organization). Such an operation would be what the IRS calls a cooperative.  A cooperative is not qualified as a 501(c)(3) organization.  A 501(c)(3) booster organization is to be a charitable, not a cooperative, organization. A charitable organization, like the Red Cross, does not require beneficiaries to work for the Red Cross in order to receive benefits.

In August, 2013 the U.S. Tax Court supported the revocation of 501(c)(3) organization status of a formerly exempt organization and noted that a parent's fundraising was earmarked to reduce what
otherwise could be a $1,400 payment the parent would have to pay out of his/her pocket. The direct linkage of a parent's fundraising resulted with paying expenses for that parent's child and was a
very specific benefit obtained by the insider.  While the parent may not have been paid cash, the parent nevertheless ended up escaping having to write a check for the amount of the benefit. Families who did not fundraise did not receive any benefits from the purported a 501(c)(3) organization.

If your 501(c)(3) organization has had the rights to a large meet with a reach all over the country, those rights have substantial value and the 501(c)(3) organization may not give that to a for-profit entity unless it receives at least, in return, what it is worth.

Further, when payments are made to receive something in exchange, the transaction is in the nature of a contract, and the payments are considered earned, not a donation.  Therefore, if your members agree to work for the for-profit entity, you would be obtaining taxable income from work.

2.  Your guess that it is a donation is incorrect.   Again, if your 501(c)(3) organization works for a for-profit gym it would be receiving taxable income under that oral or written contract.  

3. A 501(c)(3) organization may refund donations. If the donation was made in a previous tax year then there are special requirements and, if you are referring to such donations, let me know and I will reply further.

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. For me to consider your individual situation and how the law applies, I would need to gather more information.

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Harvey Mechanic


DO NOT GIVE ME INFORMATION THAT YOU WANT KEPT CONFIDENTIAL. 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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