graphic of small church

When are Religious Organizations Exempt from Charitable Registration?

To view footnote, click on footnote number.

While most nonprofits are required to register in many states to conduct charitable fundraising, religious organizations are generally exempt from the registration requirement. It’s important to be aware, however, that the scope of the states’ religious exemption varies. Therefore, religious organizations should carefully review each state’s statutory exemption to determine where they are exempt, and where they are not exempt and therefore may need to register to solicit contributions.

Overview of Charitable Solicitation Registration & Religious Exemptions

Charitable fundraising activities are primarily regulated at the state level, through the offices of the Attorney General, Departments of State, Consumer Protection and the like. Charitable solicitation regulations were established to protect the public from fraudulent fundraising and assist prospective donors in making well-informed giving decisions. Each state’s statutory framework typically requires charities to register with the state, disclose information about their finances and fundraisers, and provide certain oral or written disclosures to their prospective donors. Currently, forty-one (41) states and the District of Columbia require most organizations to register before soliciting charitable contributions in their respective jurisdictions.

Most states exempt or exclude religious organizations from their charitable solicitation registration and reporting requirements. Keep in mind, however, that each state defines the scope of its exemption for religious organizations differently. As a result, some religious organizations may be required to comply with a state’s registration requirements while others may not. Several states require that religious organizations make a written request to confirm that they are exempt from the state’s registration requirements, while others consider it a legal determination to be made by the organization, and explicitly advise that they do not provide legal advice or make a formal determination as to whether or not an organization is exempt.

For some states, the religious exemption provisions are broadly constructed, and exempt any “duly organized religious corporation, religious institution or religious society.” Other exemption provisions are more narrowly drafted, exempting only those religious organizations that are not required to file the Form 990 with the IRS, which primarily includes churches1The term “church” includes churches, temples, mosques, and other houses of worship., their integrated auxiliaries2See https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/churches-religious-organizations/integrated-auxiliary-of-a-church-defined., and ecclesiastical or denominational organizations. Churches and other non-990 filers are exempt from registering in all states unless they use the services of a professional fundraiser.

As a general matter, religious organizations that are required to file the Form 990 with the IRS will be exempt in some, but not all, states. Many religious organizations that are required to file Form 990 describe their mission as both religious and charitable as together these constitute an expression of their religious faith and values. Direct services for human needs may include the provision of food, shelter, education, and medical support to vulnerable populations. Oftentimes, they incorporate prayer and religious instruction in their programmatic work, and will require their employees to agree to an organizational statement of faith.

It is worth noting that the laws of a few states continue to include a provision in their religious exemption law which the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional. These unenforceable provisions limit the scope of the religious exemption to only those religious organizations that are primarily supported by contributions from their members or congregation.3See Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228 (1981).  States that still include this unconstitutional basis as part of their statutory religious exemption framework include Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Utah. The Supreme Court in Larson declared that such laws are not sufficiently narrowly tailored to further any compelling interest the state may have in protecting its citizens from abusive practices in the solicitation of funds for charity. The Supreme Court further noted that such a provision unconstitutionally gives denominational preference to some types of religious organizations over others.

Impact of Religious Exemptions on Fundraising Professionals

Even when a religious organization is exempt from registering in a state to solicit contributions, in most states, when a fundraising professional provides their services to the organization, the fundraiser must be registered with the state. In a few states, the religious organization’s exemption also extends to the fundraiser’s contract filing and reporting obligations, thereby relieving them of any such filing requirements.

Professional fundraisers (also known as commercial fundraisers or paid solicitors) that directly solicit funds on behalf of charitable organizations are required to register in up to forty-four (44) states. In addition, they must post surety bonds in each state, file copies of their fundraising contracts, and file annual financial reports relating to each fundraising campaign conducted in the state. There are ten (10) states that extend the religious organization’s exemption to their professional fundraiser’s contract filing and reporting obligations.

Fundraising counsels (also known as fundraising consultants) that help plan, manage, advise, or produce and design solicitation campaigns, but do not directly solicit or have custody or control of contributions, are also required to register in twenty-seven (27) states, file contracts, and in a few states, post bonds. There are seven (7) states that extend the religious organization’s exemption to their fundraising counsel’s contract filing and reporting obligations.

Fundraising professionals need to understand the scope of a religious organization’s registration or exemption status in those states in which they will be providing fundraising services to the organization. Not only must they comply with their corresponding filing obligations, but they must also ensure compliance with collateral obligations, such as solicitation disclosures. Thus, it would be prudent for religious organizations to ensure that they have appropriately assessed their exemptions, have documentation to support the exemption in each applicable state, be registered to solicit where required, and communicate with their fundraising professionals to ensure alignment on the impact of their status as a religious organization on both parties’ filing obligations.

Does a religious organization need to register if it solicits on the internet?

In addition to ascertaining whether a religious organization is exempt from registration based on its religious status, a separate analysis should be undertaken to determine if the organization’s solicitation activity creates a jurisdictional nexus that would trigger a state’s registration requirement. For example, a website with a donate button that is accessible to residents in all states does not necessarily create a sufficient jurisdictional nexus. In many cases, it makes sense to undertake a jurisdictional analysis based on the organization’s targeted and/or online fundraising activities before delving into the religious exemption analysis as there may only be a few states where the organization has a jurisdictional nexus based on its fundraising activities. In such cases, the organization may simply review the applicability of the religious exemption in those relevant states.

For more information on how to assess an organization’s registration requirements based on its online fundraising activities, please read this article.

What are the practical steps for religious organizations to determine their registration requirements?

Assess whether registration is necessary or not based on a jurisdictional analysis, taking into account both traditional forms of fundraising (e.g., direct mail, telemarketing, events) and online fundraising activities.
Review with your legal counsel whether your organization qualifies for the religious exemption in the relevant states.
Apply for religious exemptions where applicable and appropriate.
Follow the exemption application procedures in the states that have such procedures in place.
For states that take a “self-determination” approach, and will not formally confirm an organization’s qualification for the state’s religious exemption, it may nevertheless be prudent to submit a letter, putting the states on notice of the organization’s position that it is statutorily exempt from registering as a religious organization.
Register in all applicable states where: (1) a registration requirement exists; (2) the organization is soliciting (and the state has jurisdiction over their solicitation activity); and (3) the organization does not qualify for the religious exemption. Note that charitable solicitation registration must be renewed annually in each applicable state.

Share this Post

Related Posts

perlman & perlman philanthropic sector law firm blue logo

click to exit page

silk lanterns

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
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

perlman & perlman philanthropic sector law firm blue logo

click to exit page

news & events

Our attorneys’ recent contributions to the media and nonprofit sector publications.

news & events

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

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.”

Going green: Law firms see business benefits of B Corp certification
Allen Bromberger and Karen Wu on why Perlman & Perlman is a certified B Corp.

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”.

Paul Newman’s Foundation Fights Looming 200 Percent Tax, Bloomberg News
Allen Bromberger weighs in our socially responsible businesses.

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.”

Going green: Law firms see business benefits of B Corp certification
Allen Bromberger and Karen Wu on why Perlman & Perlman is a certified B Corp.

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”.

Paul Newman’s Foundation Fights Looming 200 Percent Tax, Bloomberg News
Allen Bromberger weighs in our socially responsible businesses.

perlman & perlman philanthropic sector law firm blue and green logo

click to exit page

perlman & perlman philanthropic sector law firm blue and green logo

click to exit page

silk lanterns

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

perlman & perlman philanthropic sector law firm blue and green logo

click to exit page

Culture & Values

Vision

We view our clients as partners that share our commitment to bring about change in the world. Our goal is to provide them the peace of mind of knowing that they are in compliance with their legal obligations and to further empower them to achieve positive social impact and financial success.

Our Mission

Our mission is to provide the highest quality, integrity-driven legal services to our clients, using a practical, consultative, client-focused approach to identify and respond to problems and challenges.

We strive to maintain a culture characterized by respect, opportunity, diligence, mutual empowerment, entrepreneurship, and fair reward for efforts made on behalf of clients and the firm.

Perlman & Perlman is a Certified B Corporation

Certified B Corporations use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Corps are unlike traditional businesses because they

  • Meet comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards
  • Meet higher legal accountability standards
  • Build business constituency for good business