What is a “Fiscal Sponsor”?

Starting a nonprofit corporation is the most difficult type of legal incorporation you can accomplish in America today. The United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has revoked 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from hundreds of thousands of charitable corporations, some within just months after they were first granted c3 status due to a computer glitch. This has devastating effects on the basic bookkeeping and survival of nonprofit activities worldwide. The IRS is widely known to be slow to grant c3 status — so slow that their computers immediately revoke it after determination letters are finally sent, because the proper Form 990 submissions are not in their system from the past 2 years (never mind it’s almost impossible to properly submit the Form 990 without first gaining nonprofit status and a corresponding Employer Identification Number)!

In other words: the IRS is so slow to acknowledge innovative nonprofit activity and its worldwide benefits that it makes new nonprofit incorporation nearly impossible, implicitly favoring for-profit activity instead.

For the reasons above, among others, the majority of responses to my early search for nonprofit startup advice can be summarized in one short emphatic phrase: “Find a fiscal sponsor!” So what the heck is that?

To avoid describing further legal and IRS complications, let’s just say that a ‘fiscal sponsor‘ is a nonprofit corporation that already has 501(c)(3) designation granted by the IRS. If your new nonprofit project is charitable enough to independently qualify as a 501(c)(3) (or would be after incorporation and filing), and it fits the sponsor’s mission well enough, then they might be willing to hire your organization to accomplish the same goals, almost as if it were their project to begin with. The normal sponsorship arrangement usually provides much more independence and responsibility to the ‘sponsoree’ than this description implies, but that’s the gist of legal arrangement. They don’t normally provide any funding for your project up front (and more often ask for handling fees or deposits up front); but they do help with general administration, provide board oversight, and give donors confidence in your tax-deductible donation status.

So now that you know what a ‘fiscal sponsor’ is, you might understand how difficult it is for new and existing nonprofit projects to find a good match, and how exciting it is when any matches are finally found. I hope you can now understand how great it feels to make this announcement:

Data Roads Foundation is now a sponsored project of Empowerment WORKS!  (EIN: 31-179-6801)  In accepting their sponsorship, we vow to advance Empowerment WORKS’ 501(c)(3) mission towards a thriving, socially just world; and to be managed by only those uniquely qualified to implement the Data Roads Foundation mission.


We will be adding more easy ways to donate and contribute to Data Roads Foundation and related projects very soon.

Your donations are tax deductible as allowed by law, and should be sent to:

Empowerment WORKS
ATTN: Data Roads Foundation
1793 Northwood Ct.
Oakland, CA. 94611 – USA

NOTE: Make out all payments to Empowerment WORKS, and include “Data Roads Foundation” in the Subject/Memo line of all checks and money orders.

Wire transfers can be sent to*:

Bank Name: Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (California)
Acct Name: Empowerment WORKS, Inc.
Routing: 121042882 / Acct #: 6378727397

*Immediately follow all wire transfers with an email to Fiscal [at] EmpowermentWORKS [dot] org with “Data Roads Foundation” and your donation total, in both the subject and body of the message.

If you provide a return email address, then we can provide you with donation receipts for your tax records. Thank you!

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