IRS Publication 78: Checking Up on Your Charity of Choice

Charity Road Sign with dramatic blue sky and clouds.

If you are about to donate to charity and you are counting on deducting your donation, you need to know about IRS Publication 78.  This is more of a list than a booklet but it’s one of the most-often consulted of all the IRS pubs.  It’s a document that lists all the tax-exempt organizations, which means when you donate to any organization on this list, your donation is tax-deductible.   Here’s a direct link to the IRS website, right to the page where you can download the full Pub 78.   Pub 78 used to be its own publication but it’s really been rolled into what’s described below.

IRS Select Check to Check on Tax Exempt Status

Alternatively, you can use EO Select Check, the IRS’s online tool that lets you search any organization you’re thinking of donating to, and wondering about their tax-exempt status.  You see, many organizations may claim to be tax-exempt and encourage you to donate, but only the IRS can grant tax exempt status under Section 170(c).  Select Check is useful for finding out if your chosen charity is eligible to receive tax-deductible donations.

Why It’s Important to Check the Tax-Exempt Status of Your Charity

Let’s face it, sometimes people disappoint.  There are several ways in which running a charity can cover up all sorts of fraud.  Not having to pay taxes is a nice thing to have for your organization, but you must satisfy several criteria to achieve and to maintain tax-exempt status.  There’s also the tempting idea of having rich people give lots of money to your organization, thinking they are doing some good and getting a tax write-off at the same time.  What’s to stop an organization from simply claiming tax-exempt status without ever applying for it?  Well in some cases not much if there are unsavvy donors out there.  It happens all the time.  But if you know about IRS Publication 78, or EO Select Check, you can stay one step ahead of the charity frauds and make sure your money goes to a reputable tax-exempt organization that’s following all the rules.


One such rule is that the organization must file IRS Form 990 every year.  This is an informational tax return that supplies financial and business profile of the organization, made accessible to the public, which is the law.  If IRS Form 990 is not file by an organization, their tax-exempt status is revoked immediately.  You can find out about these things with Pub 78 or EO Select Check.  It’s called the Auto-Revocation List.