Can an organization that helps people with a specific disease qualify as a public charity?

It may or may not depending upon whether you target in advance the individuals you will be helping and donors are informed of this. Contributions to an individual to meet medical needs are neither taxable to them, nor gifts for gift tax purposes to the donor, but they are also not tax-deductible as charitable contributions. An organization that is created merely to identify people who need medical help and then raise contributions to help them get treatment would not, in my view, be considered by IRS to be a charitable organization; it would provide too direct a private benefit. Before you tell me I'm living on the wrong planet, that there are groups set up all the time to help Mr. X or Ms. Z who was the unfortunate victim of an accident, act of God or grotesque mayhem, remember that these groups usually do not have tax exemption, and rely upon the fact that donors won't ask about tax deductibility; in some cases they innocently give out wrong information they believe to be correct. But there is a way to help such folks and that may be what your group is doing. If a large, indefinite class of people, such as all of those suffering from a particular disease, are to benefit, and there is no personalization of or earmarking of the gifts by donors or the organization as to who will receive the the money, and an independent selection process of those who will receive treatment is used, the organization is likely to qualify for 501(c)(3) status -- the point is that there is no direct, identifiable transfer from donors to specific individuals that the IRS would consider improper. But what if there are a few people that everyone in the community (or the world) knows need help, such as the Columbine families, what can you do? How can you help them with a tax-deductible gift? You can go to a community foundation, church, synagogue, etc., that serves that community and give money to those public charities for general relief of distressed community members. So long as the gift allows the foundation or other charity to pick who will get what, your gift will be tax-deductible and you will achieve the goal of helping out in a difficult situation.

Mark Weinberg, of Weinberg & Jacobs, LLP, (

Added 02/06/2011 by asblackwood, Modified 02/10/2011 by asblackwood


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