State Matrix

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WHAT YOU'LL LEARN

The following guidelines provide background information on the most common types of filings and the related exemptions in Wisconsin.

Fundraising in this State

how to know (and what to do) if you're fundraising in this state

Under Wis. Stat. § 202.11(1), any organization that has received recognition of exemption from taxation under Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) § 501(c)(3) qualifies as a charitable organization. Any other entity that is or purports to be established for a charitable purpose is also a charitable organization for registration purposes.

Under Wis. Stat. § 202.12, a charitable organization needs to be registered if it solicits in Wisconsin or has contributions solicited in Wisconsin on its behalf.

What is a Charitable Purpose?

Under Wis. Stat. § 202.11(2), a “charitable purpose” is either a purpose described in IRC § 501(c)(3), or a benevolent, educational, philanthropic, humane, scientific, patriotic, social welfare, advocacy, public health, environmental conservation, civic, or other eleemosynary objective.

What is a Contribution?

In the context of charitable fundraising in Wisconsin, a contribution is generally a grant or pledge of money or other thing of value given to a charitable organization, but the law has some exemptions to this definition. See Wis. Stat. § 202.11(5).  

Notably, contribution under Wisconsin law does not include food, used clothing, and used household goods.

Additionally, the definition of contribution excludes income from bingo or raffles, a government grant, or a bona fide membership fee (except that if membership is conferred solely in exchange for a grant or pledge of money to the charitable organization in response to a solicitation).

What is a Solicitation?

In this context, “to solicit” means to ask for a donation for charitable purposes, under Wis. Stat. § 202.11(8).  

Similarly, a “solicitation” is almost any form of asking for donations for charitable purposes, including verbal requests, advertisements, and printed material. For a full list, see Wis. Stat. § 202.11(9).

Are any fundraising practices off-limits in Wisconsin?  

Under Wis. Stat. § 202.16(1), charities and anyone who helps charities fundraise must avoid certain practices that harm or mislead consumers.  

Below are some examples of the types of conduct that are prohibited:  

  • Using an unfair or deceptive act or practice.
  • Implying that a contribution is for or on behalf of a charitable organization or use any emblem, device or printed matter belonging to or associated with a charitable organization without first being authorized in writing to do so by the charitable organization.
  • Using a name, symbol, or statement so closely related or similar to that used by another charitable organization that the use of the name, symbol or statement would tend to confuse or mislead a person being solicited.
  • Representing or leading anyone in any manner to believe that the person on whose behalf a solicitation or charitable sales promotion is being conducted is a charitable organization or that the proceeds of the solicitation or charitable sales promotion will be used for charitable purposes if that is not the fact.
  • Leading anyone in any manner to believe that another person sponsors, endorses, or approves a solicitation or a charitable sales promotion if the other person has not sponsored, endorsed, or approved the solicitation or charitable sales promotion in writing.
  • Representing or causing another to represent that contributions are tax-deductible unless they so qualify under the federal Internal Revenue Code.
  • Representing or causing another to represent that the person has previously contributed to the same organization or for the same purpose when in fact the person has not so contributed.
  • Failing to apply contributions in a manner substantially consistent with the solicitation or the purposes expressed in the solicitation.

Does Wisconsin exempt any organizations from registration requirements?  

Allowed Exemptions

There are twelve reasons a charitable organization may be exempt from registration. Some of the most common are listed below:  

  1. A religious entity that is exempt from filing the IRS Form 990 (such as churches and religious orders).
  1. A charitable organization which does not intend to raise or receive contributions in excess of $25,000 during a fiscal year and all of its functions, including solicitation, are performed by persons who are unpaid for their services and no part of its assets or income inures to the benefit of, or is paid to, any officer or member of the charitable organization. (Note: If a charitable organization would otherwise be exempt under Wis. Stat. § 202.12(5)(a)3., but it raises or receives more than $25,000 in contributions or pays someone to do fundraising functions, it must, within 30 days register with the division.)
  1. Are a private school, as defined in Wis. Stat. § 118.165.
  1. A charitable organization that does not solicit contributions. This exemption includes a private foundation if it does not solicit contributions.

if you're Fundraising in Multiple states, make sure you Understand the URS.

In Wisconsin, charities can register through the Unified Registration Statement, which is a standardized charitable registration accepted in many states.

evaluate whether you'll need a Registered agent

Some states require organizations to appoint a “registered agent” in the state as part of the organization’s charitable registration. Wisconsin does not currently have this requirement.

follow the rules about communicating with the public

Wisconsin requires organizations to include specific statements whenever the organizations are soliciting contributions.  

Religious organizations that fall into the state’s narrow registration exemption are generally are not required to include these statements. However, posting the language is often a best practice to build trust with donors and state regulators. Below is sample language to use with charitable solicitations in this state:

This request is on behalf of &ORG& in support of its mission to &PURPOSE&. This contribution is (OR IS NOT, as applicable) deductible for federal income tax purposes. A financial statement of the charitable organization disclosing assets, liabilities, fund balances, revenue, and expenses for the preceding fiscal year will be provided to any person upon request. Requests may be sent to &EMAIL&.

Charitable REgistration statute

Charitable registration exemption statute

After you've registered–the Annual report requirement

Conducting Activities or Programs in this State

UNDERSTAND THE Business Registration REQUIREMENTS

In addition to registering to solicit contributions, depending on the type and volume of activities an organization has in this state, the organization may need to register as an out-of-state business (sometimes called a “foreign business”) with the secretary of state or another state agency. An attorney can assist the organization in determining whether its connections with this state are significant enough to trigger the foreign business registration requirement. Examples of activities which might trigger this requirement include having employees physically located in the state, conducting programs in the state, and having an office in the state.

Business registration statute

State Taxes and Exemptions

State and local taxes

In this state, organizations which received recognition of federal income tax exemption are automatically exempt from the state corporate income tax. Some organizations, for example organizations with employees in Wisconsin, may need to complete an application for business tax registration. Tax-exempt status will be indicated on the application.  

Note that, although an organization may be exempt, if it has unrelated business taxable income (UBTI) that is subject to federal taxation, that UBTI will be subject to Wisconsin’s income tax (see: Wis. Stat. § 71.26(1)(a)).

It is also important to consider whether applying for sales and use tax and property tax exemption would be appropriate for your organization. The Wisconsin Department of Revenue has information about property tax exemption and sales and use tax exemptions on its website. An accountant or attorney can provide specific answers to these questions.  

Corporate Income Tax Statute

CORPORATE FRANCHISE TAX STATUTE

This state does not have a corporate franchise tax.

BEFORE YOU GO: OTHER SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS

A FINAL NOTE: OTHER HELPFUL INFORMATION

Other Agencies of Note:

While not a complete list, other agencies you may want to contact include:

  1. Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions – Corporate and Consumer Services Bureau: Registers corporations that are conducting business in Wisconsin, including non-stock corporations. www.wdfi.org/corporations
  1. Wisconsin Department of Revenue – Tax Operations Bureau: Issues Certificates of Exempt Status to nonprofit organizations www.revenue.wi.gov/faqs/pcs/n- profit.html
  1. Wisconsin Department of Administration – Division of Gaming: Issues bingo and raffle license s www.doa.state.wi.us/Divisions/Gaming
  1. Wisconsin Department of Administration – Division of Administrative Services: Approves charitable organizations to participate in the State Employee Combined Campaign. https://giving.wi.gov/about-us/
  1. Wisconsin Department of Justice: Receives copies of the IRS form 990-PF from Private Foundations. This is an IRS requirement. See Federal Income Tax Regulation 1.6033-3 for more information.
  1. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – Processes charitable organization applications for tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Nonprofits/Application-for-Recognition-of-Exemption

useful links

*The information above is not guaranteed to be accurate and is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as either legal or tax advice. Consult with your attorney or state regulators for up-to-date information.

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Legal disclaimer

This resource contains general educational information related to legal concepts, but this information does not constitute legal advice. Anyone seeking legal advice is strongly encouraged to consult with a licensed attorney regarding any of the matters discussed herein. Although licensed attorneys work with NLI, NLI is not a law firm and does not undertake legal representation on behalf of any clients. Further, no licensed attorney working with or on behalf of NLI agrees to undertake legal representation on behalf of any client unless the terms of such representation are set forth in a separate, written representation agreement.