Establish a Relief Fund Before a Disaster Strikes – Execute Your Plan vs. Trying to Figure One OutJune 16, 2015
Disaster & Hardship Relief Funds: Three Design ConsiderationsJuly 14, 2015
June 30, 2015
Organizations considering setting up a Disaster and Hardship Relief Fund should be aware of potential tax pitfalls and take steps to minimize any gap between how the fund is operated and the guidelines and regulations (imagine this as a regulatory gap). The IRS has very specific regulations which provide tax exemption for both the fund in question and charitable class members receiving grants. However, failure to comply with these rules can result not only in the IRS denying tax exemption, but an additional excise tax for engaging in prohibited transactions. Conducting periodic audits of the fund, application and grant processes and regulatory compliance may help reduce a fund’s regulatory gap.
A 2009 IRS private letter ruling illustrates how poor planning can create tax problems for disaster and hardship relief funds. The sponsoring organization in question, a defense contractor, attempted to set up a tax-exempt private foundation to provide financial aid to the families of individual contractors who were injured or killed on the job. However, the IRS denied a 501(c)(3) exemption, for these reasons:
- The sponsoring organization did not have the requisite exempt purpose, because it had no general beneficial effect on the public – the class of beneficiaries was essentially limited to team members and their families.
- Because the private foundation was funded and run by the sponsoring organization, it controlled both the source and dispensation of funds.
- This created a substantial private benefit to the sponsoring organization, because it was a “significant employment benefit.” As a result, the sponsoring organization exposed itself to potential excise taxes, because it used the foundation’s assets to benefit itself. This self-dealing is prohibited, except where there is a specific federally recognized “qualified disaster” where payments are considered to have a charitable purpose.
How can companies wanting to set up similar funds avoid these problems?
- Sponsoring organizations should consider setting up a public charity instead of a private foundation.
- These charities must be independent from the sponsoring organization and must receive funding from a variety of sources.
- The benefit of a public charity is that it may provide tax-free assistance to charitable class members effected by a broad range of hardships, not just “qualified disasters.”
- If the sponsoring organization does decide on a self-funded private foundation for charitable class member assistance, it should be sure only to impartially provide financial aid to charitable class members demonstrably effected by “qualified disasters.”
*Internal Revenue Service, Ltr. Rul. 200926033,http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-wd/0926033.pdf.