Start Your Own Charity

Don’t let a lack of available charities stymie your charitable passions (and tax savings opportunities)

Key Takeaways:

  • If you are passionate about a particular cause and there is no charity that supports it, you can start your own charity.

  • Charities can be set up to support overseas causes as well.

  • Self-started charities can be especially beneficial for those planning to donate over $10,000.


Let’s say you are at the stage in life when you want to start giving back in a more consistent and meaningful way. The only hurdle: There is no existing charity that supports the exact causes or initiatives you feel most strongly about. In the past, you’d have to take your checkbook elsewhere.

The good news: With the right planning, you can start a charity to support exactly the causes you care most about--anywhere in the world. There are many charities that are registered in the U.S. that support overseas causes. For instance, Help for Animals India, a charity based in Seattle, was started to help the animals of India. Many alumni groups also set up nonprofit organizations to support the educational institutes at which they studied.

Having said that, while such nonprofit organizations can be formed, the ultimate use of funds is determined by the board of trustees. Under U.S. rules, a domestic charity can’t be committed to give to a particular foreign organization. It can be formed with the intention of supporting a specific organization, but the U.S. board of trustees must make an independent determination that the overseas organization in question qualifies under U.S. rules.

So what does it take for you to set up your own U.S.-based charity, and what should you look out for?

Types of organizations that qualify

According to IRS regs, an organization may qualify for exemption from U.S. federal income tax if it is organized and operated exclusively for one or more of these purposes:

  • Religious.

  • Charitable.

  • Scientific.

  • Testing for public safety.

  • Literary.

  • Educational.

  • Fostering national or international amateur sports competition.

  • The prevention of cruelty to children or animals.

Examples include:

  • Nonprofit old-age homes.

  • Parent-teacher associations.

  • Charitable hospitals or other charitable organizations.

  • Alumni associations.

  • Schools.

  • Red Cross chapters.

  • Boys’ or girls’ clubs.

  • Churches.

To qualify, the organization must be a corporation, community chest, fund, foundation or other entity with articles of association. A trust is a fund or foundation and will qualify. However, an individual or a partnership will not qualify.

Set-up process

Step 1: The basics
The basics include:

  • Identifying a cause.

  • Selecting a name and checking with the state corporation office to see whether the name is available.

  • Formulating the mission statement.

Step 2: Incorporation
You and your advisor(s) will need to draw up articles of association and bylaws. The organization must be set up under a state not-for-profit statute. Experts strongly recommend using an attorney experienced in the formation of nonprofit organizations to do this. File the articles of association with the state corporation office.

Step 3: Tax formalities
First the charity will need to get an employer identification number (EIN). This ID is similar to an individual’s Social Security number.

Then you must apply for federal and state/local tax-exempt status as a private foundation. You will also need to fill out Form 1023 or 1024, depending on the type of organization you wish to form. This is by far the toughest and most expensive part of the process. The form runs up to 26 pages with questions that require detailed answers. All the correct documents must be attached to the application to make sure the process runs smoothly.

The user fee per application is $400 for organizations with gross receipts that do not exceed $10,000 annually over a four-year period and $850 for organizations with gross receipts that exceed $10,000 annually over a four-year period.

Further, it takes about a year to be approved. The organization must figure out how to operate while waiting for approval from the IRS. Most organizations say, “IRS tax-exempt status is pending.” The donor shouldn’t claim a tax deduction until IRS status is approved. Also, the organization needs to understand the documentation rules it must follow when other people give contributions.


Again, the upfront time and effort might be best for those considering donating amounts upward of $10,000. There is also an ongoing commitment of time and expense to comply with annual filing requirements at both the federal and state levels. Make sure you and your advisors have all your paperwork in place before getting started. But, most who’ve gone through the process will tell you it’s worth the effort to get it right from Day One. Once you do, you can focus your energies on what you do best—funding causes you believe in, not wrestling with tax rules and regulations.

Contact us any time if you or someone close to you is thinking about taking their philanthropic game to the next level.

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail


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