Primer on Social Welfare Organizations: Using 501(c)(4) Organizations for Good

Published: October 2016

Type: Publication

The primer addresses how to take advantage of the unique capabilities of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations to drive positive social and political change.

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Talk of charitable organizations and the federal tax code can be filled with misinformation and misunderstandings about nonprofit organizations and what they are legally allowed and required to do. This isn’t limited to outside observers of nonprofit and philanthropy work; it persists with those who work at nonprofits and foundations themselves, particularly as it pertains to policy and advocacy work.

In many ways, this is understandable.

As Alliance for Justice (AFJ) highlights in their primer for how 501c4 organizations can be used for good, “There are more than 35 different types of nonprofit organizations in the United States that have been granted special status under the Internal Revenue Code.”

The primer is a handy, comprehensive resource that addresses concerns of nonprofits and funders alike: how to take advantage of the unique capabilities of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations to drive positive social and political change.

“Nonprofits known as 501(c)(4)s have been caught up in controversy in recent years, and all the publicity might leave activists worried about risk or wondering if (c)(4)s are worth their investment,” said Abby Levine, Director of AFJ’s Bolder Advocacy program. “We want to clear up this uncertainty and encourage people to explore the usefulness of (c)(4)s.”

The primer covers the big questions that advocates and funders ask, including how 501(c)(4)s are unique, what kinds of activities they can undertake, who donates to them, and what rules govern donor disclosure. Brief descriptions of real-world examples help illustrate how (c)(4)s have played key roles in advancing causes such as marriage equality and immigration reform.

 

This resource was part of the Atlas Learning Project, an initiative to draw on the considerable experiences and insights of The Atlantic Philanthropies as its grantmaking came to a close. The Atlas Learning Project was a three-year effort coordinated by the Center for Evaluation Innovation to synthesize and share lessons from advocacy and policy change efforts that Atlantic and other funders have supported in the U.S., with the goal of helping push philanthropy and advocacy in bolder and more effective directions.

Other Resources on 501(c)(4)s