Ask Anything: 501c3 or 501c4 or Nothing At All?

Thanks to Randy Smith for giving a thoughtful and thorough answer to this question.  For further reading on Discovery’s political approach, you can download our white paper on politics here.

QIs Discovery a 501c3 or 501c4 church?  If so how do we reconcile the restrictions placed on the church by having that status? Are there any other areas we are obligated to the State (emergency response teams, census/membership data, etc)?  There are political topics that impact believers and teachings.  I hear very little public discussion of these topics and I wonder if this is the reason why?

Note: It’s also my understanding (which may be wrong) that a church doesn’t necessary need to apply or have 501c3 status to be held accountable to the regulations.

A:  As stated in Article 9 of the Discovery bylaws, Discovery is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization. The classification under code 501(c)(3) is for organizations that are organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports, or prevention of cruelty for children or animals. To be approved by the IRS for 501(c)(3) status, Discovery was required complete a form and provide documents of the corporation, such as bylaws and a description of the organizations activities. Discovery must also file annual informational returns with the IRS to maintain 501(c)(3) status. Other than that, Discovery is not obligated to provide any other information to the IRS or the State.

A 501(c)(4) classification is for organizations that must operate exclusively for the promotion of social welfare. Discovery does not exactly fit 100% into this requirement of the code. 501(c)(4) is geared more political organizations, civic associations, and volunteer fire departments. Additionally, where charitable contributions to 501(c)(3) are tax deductible, contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations are not. Even if Discovery qualified as a 501(c)(4), this is not beneficial to the members of Discovery to be a 501(c)(4).

IRS regulations forbid 501(c)(3) nonprofits from engaging in most political activities, such as specifically endorsing a particular candidate.  Discovery, for the most part does not discuss politics from the pulpit or otherwise, outside of encouraging citizens to vote responsibly.  Not because of IRS regulations. Rather, because it is not the mission of Discovery to drive a political agenda. Discovery’s mission is to love God and serve others, transcending any particular political approach. We teach the Bible and how God is alive and present in a broken world. While we love and respect our government and the political process, we have a huge responsibility to keep on task in our mission.

Besides, with the way political ads are these days, there should be some places where you should be exempt from hearing them, don’t you think?

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