FORMS and application information

Contributions from donors. As you know, charities must provide certain information for tax purposes.

For example, you must give a written statement if a donor makes a payment of more than $75 that is partially a contribution and partially for goods or services. So if your Web site provides a way for a donor to sign up for a dinner dance, the portion of the dinner that is not deductible must be indicated on the Internet solicitation or on a receipt that's sent to the donor.

Moreover, tax law requires a written acknowledgment for contributions of $250 or more. If contributions are made over the Internet with a credit card, you should provide a record that can be printed out on the donor's computer.

Lobbying and political activities. To maintain your tax-exempt status, you must restrict the amount of lobbying you do.

If you use your site for these purposes, the material is highly visible, which could make it difficult for you to claim that the amount of lobbying you do is insubstantial.

Similarly, other political activity could result in the loss of your tax-exempt status. For example, linking to the sites of political parties or candidates or linking to sites that advocate issues that are closely identified with political candidates could threaten your tax status.

Consideration: If information is posted regarding all major candidates or all sides of an issue, the content may be seen as voter education, which could be allowed if it's related to your exempt purpose.

Be careful of the content you put on your site and take the time to review any sites you link to.

The IRS has been urging non-profits to request private letter rulings, and you may be able to arrange a pre-submission conference with representatives from the agency's Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division. These conferences let you and your representatives discuss issues informally before you ask for a private letter ruling. Consult with your tax adviser for information before making any contact with the IRS.

There's clearly some risk putting material on your Web site, but there are risks and costs involved in not having an impressive Internet presence. The idea is to ensure that your Web content relates to your mission. That lowers the risk of encountering tax problems or even losing your tax-exempt status.