Q&A: Can a Church be a 501c3?

  • By: Gina Guy
  • March 8, 2024
Reading Time: 3 minutes

As a trusted institution in a community, churches can have a profound effect on the local population. Respected pastors and other religious figures often use their positions to raise money for charities or encourage worshipers to support important social causes. 

Another way to make a positive impact in your area is through a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Earning this distinction is especially appealing because it comes with some federally-protected financial benefits. 

There is a firm definition for what constitutes a 501c3 organization. Can a church qualify under the terms of the Internal Revenue Code? Read on to learn the answer to that question and how your board of directors can best operate a 501c3.

What is a 501c3?

Let’s start from the beginning what exactly is a 501c3 organization? A 501c3 is a specific type of tax-exempt nonprofit organization in the United States, as defined by the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). To qualify for 501c3 status, an organization must operate exclusively for exempt purposes, and its earnings cannot benefit private individuals or shareholders.

501c3 is one of several codes created by the IRC to differentiate between different nonprofits or other tax-exempt organizations. The most commonly used codes are Section 501(c)(4), Section 501(c)(5), Section 501(c)(6), Section 501(c)(7), and Section 501(c)(k).

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Can a Church be a 501c3?

Yes. Churches are one of the institutions that the IRS will recognize as a 501c3 organization. Overall, the qualified establishments are categorized into three groups: charities, churches/religious organizations, and private foundations. 

Churches that meet 501c3 requirements are automatically considered tax-exempt, and don’t need to apply for the status. Many still apply for the reassurance. The IRS uses certain characteristics to determine what is and isn’t a church. Some of these characteristics include: 

  • A recognized creed and form of worship
  • Distinct religious history
  • Religious literature
  • Confirmed places of worship
  • Regular congregations and religious services

A full list can be found on the IRS official website

In most cases, the term church will also apply to conventions and associations of churches, as well as the integrated auxiliaries, such as youth groups or seminaries, of a church.

How OnBoard Supports Nonprofit Organizations

The coordinated efforts of a church or nonprofit organization promote positive change in a community. While the former does not have to be known as a 501c3 organization to be exempt from federal taxes, other nonprofits will need to apply for such standing.

Running this level of operation requires an organized system for documentation and smart management from your board of directors and others in senior positions. 

What do the most effective nonprofit leaders have in common? They leverage the power of board management software to conduct efficient and effective meetings. OnBoard’s user-friendly design, intuitive meeting creation tools, insightful analytics, and real-time collaboration equip modern boards with a unique set of features and tools. 

If you haven’t yet considered a board portal solution for your nonprofit organization, we recommend downloading our free guide: Board Management Software Buyer’s Guide.

What’s inside?

  • The mission-critical technology, features, and security of board software
  • How to identify best-in-class board software providers
  • A practical board management vendor comparison tool

Download this guide and make an informed decision for your board and nonprofit.

For further examples of how OnBoard can serve as the platform for better corporate governance, have a look at our free Board Meeting Minutes Template today.


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About The Author

Gina Guy
Gina Guy
Gina Guy is an implementation consultant who specializes in working with nonprofit organizations get the most from their board meetings. She loves helping customers ease their workloads through their use of OnBoard. A Purdue University graduate, Gina enjoys refinishing furniture, running, kayaking, and traveling in her spare time. She lives in Monticello, Indiana, with her husband.