Can A 501(c)(3) Organization Have Members?

April 26, 2022

By Taryn Hefner

Taryn runs Marketing at Join It and is a lover of all things data! You can frequently find her experimenting in the kitchen, absorbed in a book, or brushing up on her Python coding skills.

View other posts by Taryn

While running a charitable organization like a nonprofit is an admirable venture, it can be fraught with questions about the legal ins and outs. Can a 501(c)(3) have members? Who owns a nonprofit organization? How does an organization protect itself? Let’s get to the answers to these questions and more below. 

What is a 501(c)(3) organization? 

A 501(c)(3) is a tax exemption status. Organizations that fall under this category are frequently charitable organizations like nonprofits and include religious groups and scientific or educational organizations. 

Can a 501(c)(3) have members? 

In short, yes. However, the long answer is a bit more complicated. Unlike corporations, these organizations don’t have stakeholders but must still have a board of directors and officers, including a president, treasurer, and secretary. Members are explicitly not owners, though they do frequently have the ability to vote on sales, mergers, board members, and other high-stakes decisions. 

Do I have to offer membership? 

This depends on your area! Some states automatically offer the option of a membership for all 501(c)(3) organizations, and others are a bit more nuanced. Be sure to check with your local laws and the IRS for answers about your specific organization. 

What do I have to do to be tax-exempt? 

In order to maintain a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, organizations must first keep detailed documentation. Keeping good records helps protect your organization’s status, especially if you’re making money from avenues other than fundraising or membership dues. You may need to continue to register with your government as a charitable organization and have regular board meetings. There are limits on what nonprofit organizations can and cannot make money from, so be sure you’re well versed in these areas to protect your organization. 

What other questions do you have about 501(c)(3) organizations? Let us know! If you already have a nonprofit organization or other membership group and need help with your membership management, we can help there too. Get a 14-day free trial of Join It today!

Disclaimer: So, we didn’t go to law school. Sorry, mom! This post is purely for informational purposes and not to be taken as legal advice.