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Nonprofit NIL Collectives Are Facing Obstacles in Obtaining Tax Exemption

In July 2021, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCCA) adopted rules which, for the first time, allow student-athletes to be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL) without jeopardizing their NCAA eligibility.  “NIL collectives” are entities that have emerged out of this change.  These entities operate independently from schools, yet fund NIL opportunities for student-athletes. They are typically established by well-known alumni and boosters to pool revenue from fans, businesses and other sources.  They use these funds to facilitate opportunities for student-athletes to leverage their NIL in exchange for compensation.

Many NIL collectives have been structured as nonprofit entities which have sought and obtained 501(c)(3) public charity status from the IRS.  These collectives usually partner with other charities to establish NIL opportunities for student-athletes.  Under these arrangements, the nonprofit collective typically pays the athlete in exchange for his or her promotion of the partner charity through personal appearances, speaking engagements and social media, or through participation in sports clinics for community youth and the like.

This past year, the IRS announced that many NIL collectives structured as nonprofit organizations fail to qualify as tax-exempt entities.  According to a generic legal advice memorandum (GLAM), many of these entities operate primarily for the private benefit of student-athletes, and thereby fail the “operational test” under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code” or “IRC”), which requires that tax-exempt organizations operate primarily for exempt purposes.  As a result of the perspective shared in this GLAM, the IRS has begun denying NIL collective applications for tax-exemption, as reflected in two recently released IRS Private Letter rulings (the “Rulings”) (Private Letter Ruling 202414007 and Private Letter Ruling 202416015).  

According to the IRS, the nonprofit NIL collectives described in these Rulings and in the GLAM further the following stated purposes: (i) providing opportunities for student-athletes to be paid for the use of their NIL, and (ii) contributing “to the greater good of the community” by raising awareness and support of their partner charities’ missions.  This article includes further discussion of the regulatory obstacles these nonprofit NIL collectives are facing, and the implications for collectives operating with similar missions.

IRS Rules Governing Tax-Exempt NIL Collectives

In order to obtain and maintain tax-exemption under IRC Section 501(c)(3), an entity must be organized and operated exclusively for one or more of the exempt purposes set forth in IRC Section 501(c)(3), which may be charitable, educational or scientific in nature (Treasury Regulation Section 1.501(c)(3)-1(a)(1)).

As discussed above, to be regarded as “operated exclusively” for exempt purposes, an organization must be engaged “primarily” in activities which accomplish exempt purposes (Treas. Reg. Section 1.501(c)(3)-1(c)(1)).  The presence of “a single nonexempt purpose, if substantial in nature, will preclude exemption regardless of the number or importance of truly exempt purposes” (GLAM, citing Better Business Bureau of Washington, D.C., Inc. v. United States, 326 U.S. 279 (1945)).

In addition, to be regarded as organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes, an organization must serve a public rather than a private interest (Treas. Reg. Section 1.501(c)(3)-1(d)(1)(ii)).  To meet this requirement, an organization must establish that it is not organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, including for example, designated individuals, the founders of the organization or their family, or persons controlled, directly or indirectly, by such private interests.

That said, private benefit will not prevent an organization from obtaining exemption if the private benefit is incidental in both a “qualitative” and “quantitative” sense.   

The IRS has stated that to be “qualitatively incidental,” the private benefit must be a “byproduct” of the exempt activity or a “necessary concomitant” to the “accomplishment of the exempt purpose” (GLAM).   A private benefit that is a “direct or intentional” benefit to designated or identifiable individuals would not be “qualitatively incidental” (GLAM).  

To be “quantitatively incidental,” the private benefit “must be insubstantial in amount when compared to the overall public benefit conferred by the activity” (GLAM).

IRS’ Analysis and Conclusion Regarding Nonprofit NIL Collectives

According to the IRS, the nonprofit NIL collectives described in the Rulings and the GLAM operate primarily for the private benefit of student-athletes, in violation of the “operational test” under IRC Section 501(c)(3).  The following are key factors that went into its determination.  The IRS concluded that:

  1. Providing paid opportunities for student-athletes is a primary purpose of the nonprofit NIL collectives’ activities — which means these collectives serve a private, rather than a public interest.

  1. The private benefit to student-athletes is not “qualitatively incidental” to the collectives’ exempt purposes.  This benefit is not a “necessary concomitant” to accomplishing their exempt purpose of supporting partner charities.  According to the IRS, there “are alternative means by which you could promote local charities without conferring a substantial private benefit on these student athletes, such as by encouraging volunteerism” (Private Letter Ruling 202414007).

  1. The private benefit to student-athletes is not “quantitively incidental” when compared to the overall public benefit conferred by the collectives’ activities.  In the GLAM, the IRS noted that many collectives pay 80 to 100 percent of all donations to student athletes.  The IRS said, “for payouts anywhere within this range, the benefit to private interests is substantial by any measure and cannot be dismissed as merely incidental to [their] other purposes and activities” (GLAM).

  1. Student-athletes being paid by nonprofit NIL collectives are not themselves a recognized charitable class.  The IRS noted in the GLAM that “absent a finding that NIL collectives select student athletes for participation based on need, such that their activities could be considered” as being “conducted for the relief of the poor or distressed, …payments to the student-athletes are properly regarded as serving private rather than public interests.”

The Future of Nonprofit NIL Collectives

As discussed herein, the IRS has begun denying tax-exempt status to some nonprofit NIL collectives for the reasons discussed above.  For similar reasons, the IRS has indicated that it may reconsider the exempt status of nonprofit NIL collectives that have already been granted exemption (GLAM).1  These actions also have implications for donors, who cannot take a charitable deduction for contributions to nonprofit collectives whose exemption has been denied or revoked.

With the above in mind, it is critical for nonprofit NIL collectives to review the Rulings and the GLAM with counsel and ensure that their purposes and activities do not confer impermissible private benefits to student-athletes.  Nonprofit NIL collectives should also consult with counsel on the pros and cons of converting to a more flexible legal form, including, for example, a for-profit limited liability company structure, which is not subject to limitations on the type of activities it facilitates.


1 However, the IRS has also noted that in reconsidering the exempt status of such collectives, it may be appropriate to grant relief under IRC 7805(b) to limit the retroactive effect of any such revocations.

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Our clients are diverse nonprofit organizations with a broad range of missions, as well as for-profit companies in evolving areas such as social enterprise, corporate philanthropy, joint ventures, technology-driven fundraising, and impact investing.

A.B. Data
AB InBev Foundation
Absolut Company
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science
American Diabetes Association
American Friends of the Hebrew University
American Parkinson Disease Association
Americans for Ben Gurion University
Association of Fundraising Professionals
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The Little Market
Touro University
United States Equestrian Team Foundation
United Way Worldwide
University of Connecticut
University of Virginia
Vote.org
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World Wildlife Fund
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A.B. Data
Absolut Company
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science
American Diabetes Association
American Friends of the Hebrew University
American Parkinson Disease Association
Americans for Ben Gurion University
Association of Fundraising Professionals
Baton Rouge Area Foundation
BrightFocus Foundation
Burger King McLamore Foundation
Cancer Care
Carnegie East House and James Lenox House Association
Center for Car Donations
Changing Our World
Charity Defense Council
Christian Appalachian Project
Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation
Convoy of Hope
Cornell University
Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins San Frontieres
Drug Policy Alliance
Duke University
Emory University
Feed The Children
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation
Grameen Foundation USA
Helen Keller Services
Hope for New York
Human Rights Watch
Humane Society of US
Indiegogo
International Campaign for Tibet
International Crisis Group
International Justice Mission
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Johns Hopkins University
Lane Bryant Charities
Lautman Maska Neill & Company
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
LSU Foundation
Mattel
Meyer Partners, LLC
Milken Institute
National Breast Cancer Coalition
National Marrow Donor Program
Natural Resources Defense Council
North Carolina State University
North Shore Animal League
Obama Foundation
Operation Smile
PBS Foundation
Pernod Ricard USA
PetSmart Charities
Population Action International
Project ORBIS International
Public Interest Communication
Rails to Trails
Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
Sesame Workshop
Simon Wiesenthal
SOS Children’s Villages – USA
Steinhardt Foundation
Subaru of America
United States Equestrian Team Foundation
University of Montana Foundation
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Foundation
Whitney Museum of American Art
World ORT
World Wildlife Fund
YMCA USA
YWCA of New York City
YWCA USA

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Check out our attorneys’ recent contributions to the media and industry publications.

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Warning: Don’t Cut Legal Corners When Mixing Social And Business Impact,  Forbes
Particularly striking is that (Karen) Wu believes this is the “first multi-state regulatory activity involving cause marketing in almost two decades.”

Is stealing, then giving back, OK?
Cliff Perlman lends his advice on theft within a nonprofit.

Buyer Beware: Negotiating Terms in Technology Agreements
Jon Dartley provides tips on negotiating contracts with technology vendors.

Four Ways Charitable Giving Could Change with a Tax Overhaul
Cliff Perlman remarks on the possible threat of a change to charitable deduction.

How To Deal With Residual Data, Nonprofit Times
Jon Dartley’s advice on addressing “data exhaust”.

Secure Your Data – Seriously, AFP New York Chapter News
As Jon Dartley, a data privacy and security attorney at Perlman and Perlman says, “It is vital to have the appropriate legal terms in the contract to protect your interests.”  Find out what your liability limit is.  Have it in writing who bears the responsibility and cost of a data breach.  And, have the vendor agree on a specific timeframe within which they need to advise you of a data breach.

Warning: Don’t Cut Legal Corners When Mixing Social And Business Impact,  Forbes
Particularly striking is that (Karen) Wu believes this is the “first multi-state regulatory activity involving cause marketing in almost two decades.”

Is stealing, then giving back, OK?
Cliff Perlman lends his advice on theft within a nonprofit.

Buyer Beware: Negotiating Terms in Technology Agreements
Jon Dartley provides tips on negotiating contracts with technology vendors.

Four Ways Charitable Giving Could Change with a Tax Overhaul
Cliff Perlman remarks on the possible threat of a change to charitable deduction.

How To Deal With Residual Data, Nonprofit Times
Jon Dartley’s advice on addressing “data exhaust”.

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who we work with

Our clients are diverse nonprofit organizations with a broad range of missions, as well as for-profit companies in evolving areas such as social enterprise, corporate philanthropy, joint ventures, technology-driven fundraising, and impact investing.

who we work with

Our clients are diverse nonprofit organizations with a broad range of missions, as well as for-profit companies in evolving areas such as social enterprise, corporate philanthropy, joint ventures, technology-driven fundraising, and impact investing.

A.B. Data
AB InBev Foundation
Absolut Company
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science
American Diabetes Association
American Friends of the Hebrew University
American Parkinson Disease Association
Association of Fundraising Professionals
Avalon Consulting
Baton Rouge Area Foundation
Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation
Bleeding Blue for Good Fund
Bradley Cooper’s One Family Foundation
BrightFocus Foundation
Brooks Brothers
Chadwick Boseman Foundation for the Arts
Changing Our World
Charity Defense Council
Christian Appalachian Project
Doctors of the World/ Medecins du Monde
Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins San Frontieres
Drug Policy Alliance
Duke University
Emory University
Estee Lauder Companies, Inc.
Feed The Children
Food For The Poor
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation
Grameen Foundation USA
Hope for New York
International Campaign for Tibet
International Crisis Group
International Justice Mission
J. Crew Group
Johns Hopkins University
Lautman Maska Neill & Company
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
LSU Foundation

Marts & Lundy
Meyer Partners, LLC
Milken Institute
NAACP Foundation
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
National Marrow Donor Program
National Park Foundation
Natural Resources Defense Council
North Carolina State University
North Shore Animal League
Operation Smile
PBS Foundation
Pernod Ricard USA
PetSmart Charities
PopSockets
Population Action International
Project ORBIS International
Public Interest Communication
Rails to Trails
Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
Save the Children Federation
Sesame Workshop
Simon Wiesenthal
SOS Children’s Villages – USA
Subaru of America
The Little Market
Touro University
United States Equestrian Team Foundation
United Way Worldwide
University of Connecticut
University of Virginia
Vote.org
Whitney Museum of American Art
World ORT
World Wildlife Fund
YWCA USA

A.B. Data
Absolut Company
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science
American Diabetes Association
American Friends of the Hebrew University
American Parkinson Disease Association
American Rivers
Association of Fundraising Professionals
Baton Rouge Area Foundation
BrightFocus Foundation
Burger King McLamore Foundation
Cancer Care
Carnegie East House and James Lenox House Association
Center for Car Donations
Changing Our World
Charity Defense Council
Christian Appalachian Project
Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation
Convoy of Hope
Cornell University
Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins San Frontieres
Drug Policy Alliance
Duke University
Emory University
Feed The Children
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation
Grameen Foundation USA
Helen Keller Services
Hope for New York
Human Rights Watch
Humane Society of US
Indiegogo
International Campaign for Tibet
International Crisis Group
International Justice Mission
Japanese American National Museum
Johns Hopkins University
Lane Bryant Charities
LSU Foundation
Mattel
Meyer Partners, LLC
Milken Institute
National Breast Cancer Coalition
National Marrow Donor Program
Natural Resources Defense Council
North Carolina State University
North Shore Animal League
Obama Foundation
Operation Smile
PBS Foundation
Pernod Ricard USA
PetSmart Charities
Population Action International
Project ORBIS International
Public Interest Communication
Rails to Trails
Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
Sesame Workshop
Simon Wiesenthal
SOS Children’s Villages – USA
Steinhardt Foundation
Subaru of America
United States Equestrian Team Foundation
University of Montana Foundation
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Foundation
Whitney Museum of American Art
World ORT
World Wildlife Fund
YMCA USA
YWCA of New York City
YWCA USA
Lautman Maska Neill & Company
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

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