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What is a 501c3 Determination Letter?

Learn everything you need to know about a 501c3 determination letter, from what this document signifies to how to get ahold of one.

As a nonprofit seeking donations or grants, you’ve probably seen funders ask for a copy of your organization's 501c3 determination letter. What exactly is this document, and how can I obtain one for my nonprofit? If you’ve ever had these questions, this blog post is for you. We’re answering those exact questions and more with an in-depth guide to 501c3 determination letters.

What is a 501c3 determination letter?

A 501c3 determination letter is a document that certifies a nonprofit is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS. Charitable nonprofits who apply for exemption under Section 501(c)(3) are automatically sent this letter by the IRS once their application is approved.

A 501c3 determination letter is an important resource for your nonprofit organization, especially in regards to fundraising. Foundations and companies may prefer or require nonprofits that fall under Section 501(c)(3). As such, you may be asked to present a copy of this document when applying for grants or in-kind donations.

How do I apply for a 501c3 determination letter?

To apply for exemption under Section 501(c)(3) and receive a 501c3 determination letter, you’ll need to visit the IRS’ website and submit your application online. All organizations seeking exemption under Section 501(c)(3) should be charitable organizations.

Not sure if you meet the requirements for a charitable nonprofit, or if you’re classified as another type of nonprofit? Check out our blog post on 501c3 organizations versus 501c6 organizations for an in-depth overview of what nonprofit organizations qualify for each category.

Depending on your organization, you may submit either a Form 1023-EZ or a Form 1023. A Form 1023-EZ is considered a streamlined version of the standard Form 1023. Any nonprofit seeking exemption under Section 501(c)(3) may submit the Form 1023, but only some nonprofits are eligible for the streamlined form. Visit the IRS website for the most up-to-date instructions and forms.

How long does it take to get a 501c3 determination letter?

The IRS doesn’t guarantee a response time, but they do provide estimates for how long it may take for your application to be processed and reviewed.

The IRS states that about 80% of Form 1023-EZs are reviewed within 22 days, and about 80% of Form 1023s are reviewed within 191 days. However, your application may or may not be being processed if it was not submitted prior to a specific date. For example, Form 1023s were recently divided into 2 batches for review, with those submitted before August 17, 2023 being reviewed prior to forms submitted after that date. Form 1023-EZs received before May 7, 2024 were being reviewed before forms submitted after that date.

If your form is approved, the IRS notes that it may take some time for your physical 501c3 determination letter to be sent via mail. It may be possible to view your 501c3 determination letter online through the IRS’ Tax Exempt Organization Search (TEOS) before your letter arrives in the mail.

How do I get a copy of my 501c3 determination letter?

If you already have a 501c3 determination letter or you were recently approved, you can look up your letter using the IRS’ Tax Exempt Organization Search (TEOS). This is an especially handy tool if you are in need of a copy of your 501c3 determination letter for a grant or donation application.

However, the TEOS is only available to look up 501c3 determination letters issued on or after January 1, 2014. If your 501c3 determination letter was issued prior to this date, you’ll need to fill out and email a Form 4506-B to receive a copy.

Final Thoughts

A 501c3 determination letter is an important document that verifies your nonprofit’s tax-exempt status. You’ll need to fill out either a Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ to apply for tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) and receive a letter. Or, if you already have a letter, you can access a copy of it by using TEOS or applying for a copy. Most importantly, a 501c3 determination letter bolsters your eligibility for donations and grants; obtain a 501c3 determination letter, and you’ll have the key you need to unlock new fundraising opportunities!

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