501(c)(3) Regulations for Animal Rescue in Illinois

By Beverly Bird

Sometimes the Internal Revenue Service and basic human kindness find common ground. The federal government classifies animal rescue operations and shelters as “not for profit” organizations. In Illinois and elsewhere, this increases the likelihood that individuals make donations that allow the organizations to continue saving animals.

IRS Rules

Section 501(c)(3) is part of the federal Internal Revenue Code. Under the code, not-for-profit status requires that all revenue coming in to the rescue shelter must go toward its costs of operation. No single individual can gain from the money. Lobbying is prohibited. The shelter can’t endorse a political candidate who promises he’ll initiate laws to save animals. It can’t donate to political campaigns. If your shelter meets these criteria, you can apply to the IRS for not-for-profit status. You can use your IRS approval to qualify for not-for-profit status in Illinois as well. Section 130.2007 of the Illinois Administrative Code relates to charitable organizations and nonprofits. You must provide your organization’s financial statements and a summary of how your operation works.

Shelter Policies

The IRS and the Illinois Department of Revenue don’t involve themselves with how a rescue organization provides for the animals it takes in, except that its revenue must go toward upkeep of the facility and the pets. However, many of these organizations, such as Illinois Animal Rescue and Central Illinois Small Animal Rescue, are “no kill” facilities. They care for the animals they take in until they find each a suitable home. They accept donations of your time, effort and tangible items, such as supplies, as well as money. Veterinarians often donate their skills and their time. These organizations make ends meet entirely through these donations and adoption fees.

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Benefit of Donations

Because of their 501(c)(3) status, items and money given to these rescue missions are tax-deductible to the donor. If you give such a shelter money, whether it’s an adoption fee or a cash donation, you don’t have to pay taxes on that portion of your income. This may entice individuals who would not donate otherwise.


Having 501(c)(3) tax status does not guarantee that a shelter is legitimate. According to the ASPCA, some individuals have applied for and received this status, but use it only in an attempt to legitimize taking more and more animals into their homes. They don't intend to put these pets up for adoption. Generally, pets belonging to these “animal hoarders” live in deplorable conditions. The owners cannot afford to care for and feed all of them and they don't actively solicit donations. They don’t want people to know how their animals are living, so they often volunteer to pick up an unwanted pet rather than have the owner deliver it to their home or facility. As a precaution, always visit the rescue mission to which you’re considering donating. Make sure it really is what it says it is and that your money is doing some good.

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