You, alone or with friends find a good cause to which you would be happy to devote time and treasure.  It might be early childhood development, or literacy, or supporting the local symphony orchestra.  I could be hospice, or free dental care for the poor.  It might have to do with feeding hungry people or providing shelter for homeless people in winter. Or, it might be a project unique to you, your friends or your neighborhood.

How to get started?  A good first step is to explore programs already exist in your area.  Visit the websites of local religious organizations.  Those websites invariably describe the charitable projects in which each church, synagogue or mosque engages.  There might be an opportunity there for you to engage.

Another good source is the local community foundation.  A community foundation like the Virginia Peninsula Community Foundation is an organization that supports public charities, mostly through donor advised funds.  The community foundation really takes the pulse of the community and knows where volunteers are making a difference.

But it may occur to you that your particular passion is unique.  That you want to start your own charity.  How to go about it?  If your project has a genuine charitable purpose, then you might qualify for recognition under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code as a public charity.  If so, you would then be able to attract contributions, and be eligible for foundation grants.  With this recognition, your passion will have gone a long way toward achieving your goals.

A good first step is to go to the website of the Internal Revenue Service, There, visit the link titled “Life Cycle of a Public Charity.”  You will learn there that a charity must become organized as a legal entity under state law, meeting all of the requirements.  Then, with that in place you can apply to the Internal Revenue Service for recognition, using form 1023.

We wish that we could say that it is easy to set up a charity.  But it is not easy.  From the very beginning, the Articles of Incorporation, the Bylaws and the Conflict of Interest Policy must all be written in a way that will pass IRS muster when form 1023 is submitted.  As the saying goes, “Don’t try this at home!”  It is one of those important life activities that requires professional services.  Our attorneys, Pat McDermott and Sarah Saville have broad experience in this specialized field of law and will be happy to meet with you in a free initial consultation.

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