Nonprofit Merger Checklist

By Jennifer Williams

Nonprofit organizations usually operate on less funding and fewer staff members than they need. Their nonprofit status usually means they depend on outside sources of funding such as grants and donations to fund day-to-day operations. But what if the nonprofit could make the money go further while providing better service to a larger service community? Merging two similar nonprofits is one way to make this happen. According to the Foundation Center, a well organized nonprofit merger only takes between nine and 18 months to complete, after which the new organization may be able to offer more and better service than either organization could have accomplished on its own.

Reasons Nonprofits Merge

Unlike for-profit businesses, whose primary goal is to compete in the marketplace and make money, a nonprofit organization exists to further a particular philanthropic goal. Separate nonprofits may decide that their similar or identical philanthropic goals are better served by pooling resources rather than competing for the same private and government grant money and duplicating a service area. Merging can enable the pooling of human resources, knowledge and funding in order to pursue a common mission in the most efficient manner.

Check Grant Requirements

Often grants are awarded with a host of stipulations and conditions. Before getting too attached to the idea of a merger, read the fine print of all grant awards of both nonprofits. Grants awarded by private sources and by the federal government cannot always be transferred to another organization, even one that is created by merging the existing organization with a partner. Funding is the backbone of any nonprofit. If the funding that supports either potential merger partner is jeopardized by the merge, consider carefully whether pursuing a merger is really in the best interest of either organization.

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Financial Analysis

A nonprofit considering merger must examine a potential partner's fiscal integrity and ensure that the merger will not be cost prohibitive. The idea is to better serve the nonprofit's mission, not assume more problems than are solved. Ask for complete financial disclosure. Is the potential merger partner's financial house in order? Are the ways in which both organizations approach money philosophically compatible?

Analysis of Merger

If the fiscal analysis produces satisfactory results, the next step is to ensure that a merger is financially viable. Will the merger save both organizations money? Will it allow grant funding to go further so that the nonprofit mission is better served? How long will it take before the merger pays for itself in terms of both savings and increased service to the nonprofit's target community?


No one likes to find out her job is in danger. Mergers necessarily produce some redundancies, either in individual positions or entire departments. Who and what will become redundant if the merger happens? Have a thorough understanding of the answer before talking to staff about the potential merger. Be able to explain how redundancies will be handled. Communicate with staff as much and as honestly as possible. Ultimately, staff will make or break the merger. They need to be behind the idea for the merger to be successful.

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Foundation Vs. 501(c)(4)


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Regulations for 501(c)(3) Donations

One of the main benefits of creating a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization is the ability to accept tax-deductible donations. The IRS designation 501(c)(3) indicates that the nonprofit is exempt from federal tax. However, in order to stay exempt and ensure donors can deduct their donations, it is essential to follow the IRS rules for written disclosures, record-keeping and annual reports.

IRS Filing Rules for 501(c)(5)

Section 501(c)(5) of the Internal Revenue Code provides a tax exemption for labor, agricultural and horticultural organizations. This exemption is awarded to organizations whose primary purpose is to improve the conditions of those engaged in labor, agriculture or horticulture, or improve the products or efficiency in these areas. In order to be recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(5), the organization must take a number of steps to demonstrate its exempt purpose.

The Purposes of a 501(c)(4)

A "501(c)(4)" is a tax-exempt organization that falls under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. Like other classifications in the IRC, 501(c)(4) specifies that this type of organization is restricted to certain purposes. The IRC also spells out what acts the organization is allowed to engage in when it raises money or is involved in political activities.

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