Are “American Friends of” Organizations a Thing of the Past?
by Shuey Fogel
International organizations have been highly successful in raising funds from the United States through U.S. based charities commonly referred to as “Friends of” organizations. These charities are registered in the States and have 501(c)3 tax-exempt status, allowing donations to these essentially foreign organizations to be tax-deductible.
As you can imagine, many charities registered outside of the United States consider an “American Friends of” organization as a vital part of their fundraising strategy.
Jewish causes, especially those based in Israel, are no exception to this rule. A recent report compiled by Dr. Nissan Limor estimated that foreign donations to Israeli charities from sources outside of Israel stood at 2.165 billion dollars in 2007, with much of that coming from the United States (although, he didn’t stipulate how much). There are about 1,000 new Israeli charities [amutot] created every year and it would hold that many of these organizations will seek to create an “American Friends of” supporting charity.
Hence, recent conversations I have had are causing me to worry.
The Reduction of 501(c)3 Exemptions Granted
In late July, I wrote about the scandal that rocked the Jewish community of Brooklyn and Deal, culminating in the arrest of three mayors, five respected community rabbis, and a score of government officials. Specifically, my third post on the scandal described the The IRS Expected Response.
In that post, one prediction I made was the “Reduction of 501(c)3 Exemptions Granted”
“The easiest way to prevent future international fraud is to restrict the organizations that can gain tax-exempt status…The U.S. Department of Treasury has only enough manpower to audit between 2 – 3% of registered charities in America. Scrutiny of organizations that already have 501(c)3, then, seems almost like an impossibility. However, as every new organization that wants tax exempt status needs approval from the IRS, it would be a relatively simple procedure to restrict approval to new charities; more specifically, to new charities that donate to international causes.”
Well, unfortunately, this seems to becoming a reality. Three recent conversations are shedding light on what seems to be new practices by the IRS. (Specific names are being withheld as applications and relationships are still ongoing.)
The Name “American Friends of” Bothers the IRS
On a recent trip to the States, I had the fortune to sit with a prominent lawyer that represents many Jewish nonprofits. He informed me that he submitted a file for 501(c)3 approval for the “The American Friends of _______,” an organization that would like to raise funds for a charity operating outside of America (but not in Israel). The application is taking an inordinate amount of time, mostly due to the staggering number of questions the lawyer has received from the IRS representative assigned to his file. His application folder measures an astounding 2.5 inches! Having been submitting similar applications for decades, the lawyer is quite surprised at the level of scrutiny and feels that it is the organization’s name that is evoking this reaction. The lawyer is losing patience and if nothing changes, will close the application and resubmit under a different name, hoping this will solve the problem.
Charities Should be Supporting a Mission, Not Supporting an Organization
The following day I met with a well known nonprofit consultant that works with both Jewish and non-Jewish charities. He informed me that it has come to his attention that the IRS will no longer approve 501(c)3 status for organizations that are founded simply to support one specific institution. In other words, when applying for exemption, the papers should list the mission or objective that the charity supports, not what organization it supports. It was implied, however, that in practice, a 501(c)3 charity can transfer money to (i.e. support) a single foreign organization without fear of losing its tax-exempt status – the American nonprofit, though, must be able to prove its independence. (More analysis, tips and background on international charity emanating from America can be found on an article I wrote: “International Charity in the Face of Global Terrorism.”)
Don’t Go Against American Policy
And finally, upon returning to Israel, I was speaking to a director of a Israeli nonprofit who told me of a colleague of his whose American charity had applied for 501(c)3 tax-exempt status. At the time, the applicant informed this director that in his application he stated that the mission was to support Judea/Sumaria/Gaza. The applicant assured the director that the approval was imminent. A half a year later, his approval had yet to come and this applicant soon gave up.
The Obama administration is not in favor of what it calls the “Territories.” Leaving politics aside, we are seeing organizations whose mission clashes with American policy and/or opinion having trouble obtaining 501(c)3 tax-exempt status.
In closing, I would like to stress that whether these trends are good or bad is not the issue. The important point is that Israeli nonprofits and their American supporting counterparts should take notice and act accordingly.
These conversations stress:
- New organizations that have the words “American Friends of” in their name will have trouble getting their 501(c)3 tax-exempt status approved.
- By-laws of organization should list the cause that the organization is supporting, and should not specify particular organizations.
- When applying for tax-exempt status from the American government, it might be best to “tow the party line.”
Disclaimer: This blog houses my personal opinions and is for informational purposes only – not advice. As charity laws can be quite complex, please refer all questions to qualified and licensed professionals. Read the full disclaimer.
Shuey Fogel is a nonprofit professional turned banking specialist. He is currently Director of Nonprofit Services for an Israeli bank. Shuey shares relevant conversations, articles, and experiences on his blog, nonprofitbanker.com.