Nonprofits are new companies or projects created by entrepreneurs whose first goal is not to generate profit, but rather to provide some kind of collective, public, or social benefit. Examples include political organizations, schools, business associations, churches, social clubs, and consumer cooperatives. Working with or for nonprofits can require a wide range of legal research, some of which mirrors that of for-profit start-ups, but can also differ in important ways. Nonprofits may have similar concerns in entity formation, governance and housekeeping, real estate and insurance issues, privacy, software and information issues, workplace and labor issues, contractors, service providers, and employee compensation and benefits, but their legal requirements differ in areas like fundraising and tax status.
Conducting legal research in this field parallels legal research in other fields in many ways; researchers will want to consult a variety of secondary sources and primary law. The primary law will include statutes, regulations, and cases, as well as supporting documentation like guidance materials from regulatory agencies. There are a number of publications specifically directed towards non-profits, including specialized treatises, toolkits on legal research databases, and free web resources provided by governments or by non-profits that assist other non-profits. This section of the Entrepreneurial Law Guide provides links to various types of secondary sources available to researchers, which will identify multiple source options for locating and searching within this material and moving to primary law sources.
Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg offer practical guidance and toolkits specific to nonprofits. These resources provide access to standard documents and clauses, checklists, and how-to guides that are frequently updated. You can browse content by practice area, resource type, or jurisdiction, or search across the database. Some recommended materials include:
There are many practice materials and monographs that can assist in researching legal issues for non-profits. They can provide information about primary law and practical guidance on navigating common issues. Some are written by attorneys and others by entrepreneurs themselves who specialize in certain subjects. Some recommended materials include:
American Law Institute. Restatement of the Law of Charitable Nonprofit Organizations. Philadelphia, Penn.: ALI, 2007-. [Online].
This restatement addresses law for the nonprofit sector, including principles relating to governance and to the duties of governing boards and individual fiduciaries. Its scope includes state, federal and private regulation, as well as gifts.
Boyd, Willard L. Ed. Nonprofit Law: A Practical Guide to Legal Issues for Nonprofit Organizations. Chicago, Ill.: ABA, 2017. [KF1388 .N665 2017].
Nonprofit Law provides lawyers who represent nonprofit organizations with basic information and guidance on legal issues that commonly arise for nonprofits. This resource covers the formation, tax, governance, and documentation, as well as other areas including mergers and sale of assets of nonprofits, and dissolution of nonprofits.
Hill, Frances R. and Douglas Mancino. Taxation of Exempt Organizations. New York: RIA, 2015-. [Online].
This treatise provides expert analysis and tax guidance on the taxation of those organizations recognized as exempt under federal law.
Phelan, Marilyn E. Nonprofit Organizations: Law and Taxation 2d. Eagan, Minn.: Thomson Reuters, 2017-. [Online].
This treatise covers law and taxation issues for nonprofits and is frequently updated on Westlaw.
Phelan, Marilyn E. Representing Nonprofit Organizations. St. Paul, Minn.: Thomson Reuters, 2010-. [Online].
This text examines the nonprofit organization versus the profit form of organization, and covers organizing and operating a nonprofit entity, including practical approaches to handling details on many specific types of nonprofit entities.
Rosenthal, Lesley. Good Counsel: Meeting the Legal Needs of Nonprofits. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2012. [Online].
Good Counsel explains the basics of nonprofit corporate law, governance, and the tax exemption. It takes a department-by-department look at legal topics relevant to program, fundraising, finance, communications, human resources, operations, contracts, government relations, and more.
990 Deskbook. St Paul, Minn.: Thomson Reuters, 2010-. [Online].
Deskbook providing in-depth analysis written by experienced tax practitioners that discuss Form 990 preparation.
Nonprofits have specific tax requirements through the IRS and state agencies. The IRS website provides access to relevant statutory and administrative law, as well as many guidance documents and other tools. Some key materials include:
IRS Charities and Nonprofits: a landing page for general interest in nonprofits. Includes information and links for tax information, tools, and resources for charities and other tax-exempt organizations.
Tax Exempt Organization Search: a place to find information about an organization's tax-exempt status and filings. Provides search tools and data sets.
Annual Filing and Forms: links to required filings for nonprofits and other exempt organizations, including 990 series forms.
EIN (Employer Identification Number) online: provides information and links on applying for an EIN.
Education Resources and Guidance: includes virtual trainings, official guidance, publications, forms, instructions, statistical information, and more.
A number of periodicals provide information relevant for legal researchers and others interested in non-profits. They may focus on specific aspects of the non-profit world or they may be more generally relevant. They are often helpful for keeping up with current events in the non-profit world. Some publications include:
International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law: a quarterly journal that analyzes global civil society. It addresses legal issues as well as social, cultural, political and economic issues that impact the legal environment for nonprofit organizations.
Nonprofit World: a publication of the Society for Nonprofit Organizations and focuses on all aspects of running an effective nonprofit organization, including fundraising, income generation and addressing legal issues.
Non-Profit Times: a newspaper covering the business management of non-profit organizations in the United States.
Taxation of Exempts: a bimonthly journal that discusses the taxation of exempt and not-for-profit organizations, including intermediate sanctions, combinations and joint ventures, health care organizations, private foundations, political and lobbying activity, the unrelated business income tax, and issues of exemption and compliance, charitable giving, and compensation.