Guest Post: IRS Renews Focus on International Activities by US Charities

"New York City, New Jersey (NASA, International Space Station Science, 03/14/10)" by NASA's Marshall Space Flight CenterLaura Solomon is a nonprofit attorney extraordinaire based on the East Coast (read more about her after the post).  The topic addressed is especially relevant with today’s focus on the IRS’ increased scrutiny of Americans’ activity abroad and Israeli charaties’ reliance in general on foreign charity.

Every year the IRS Exempt Organizations Division (“EO”) releases a Work Plan that shows where it plans to deploy its resources. The Work Plan is essentially a roadmap for EO activity in the coming year and, this year, the Plan includes a renewed focus on international activities by American charities.

The EO’s goal is to assure that, in keeping with US tax laws and regulations, charitable assets used internationally are not being diverted for non-charitable purposes. The Work Plan announces that “we will continue to examine exempt organizations that operate overseas to ensure that those activities are consistent with their charitable purpose. “ In addition, the EO has signaled that it plans to examine large private foundations and organizations that report ownership of a foreign bank account.

Nonprofit professionals interested in learning more may want to look at the Work Plan itself or watch the IRS August 2011 Webinar on International Activities.

This renewed focus may make Israeli charities that get funding from the US a little jittery – particularly following the IRS’s release of two private letter rulings (2010 and 2012) that denied exemption to new organizations seeking exemption for American charities that planned to do fundraising for Israeli charities. In any case, it should serve as a wakeup call to all American charities that conduct activities internationally that they need to strictly comply with the law and must avoid serving as a mere “conduit” to their foreign grantees.

Further evidence of the EO’s focus on international activities is evident in the newly proposed regulations that illustrate permissible PRI’s or “program related investments” by private foundations (Issued April 19, 2012). The regulations include helpful examples that demonstrate that a private foundation can use a broad range of programs (including investments, grants, and loans to foreign individuals, business enterprises and charities) to support their purposes through PRI’s. Perhaps the most important clarification that the proposed regs provide is confirmation that an activity in a foreign country is charitable if it would be considered charitable when conducted in the US. Interestingly, they don’t address L3C entities. For more information about low-profit limited liability companies, you can access this information on the Community Wealth Ventures site.

Laura N. Solomon, Esq. is the founder of Laura Solomon Esq. & Associates, a law firm devoted to the representation of nonprofit, charitable, and other tax-exempt organizations. She and her associates provide a full range of corporate and tax legal services, including representation for mergers, joint ventures, and complex financings.

Ms. Solomon is on the Faculty of the Nonprofit Institute and Animal Law Institute of the Philadelphia Bar Institute, and currently serves on the Charitable Organizations Committee of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Tax-Exempt Organizations Subcommittee of the American Bar Association, the Standards for Excellence Committee of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, and the Advisory Committee for the Pennsylvania Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. She is a columnist for the Pennsylvania Nonprofit Report who is quoted frequently in the media, and lectures often for lawyers, accountants, and other professional and community groups on nonprofit, corporate, and tax issues. Ms. Solomon also lectures at the La Salle University Nonprofit Center, the University of Pennsylvania, and Villanova, Drexel, and Temple Universities.

You can find more information about her practice along with links to helpful information on nonprofits at her website:

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