If your organization enters into corporate sponsorship deals, there's good news from the IRS. Final regulations governing when charities can avoid paying unrelated business income tax (UBIT) clarify that payments other than "qualified sponsorship payments" are not automatically subject to UBIT. Under the tax code, an exempt organization must pay UBIT on income from activities that are not related to its mission.

These rules include revenue an organization receives from events such as football bowl games, symphony performances and public broadcasting productions. They also address whether Internet links on your website constitute a non-taxable acknowledgment or a taxable advertisement.

Here are a few examples from the final regulations that help shed light on whether or not your organization is liable for UBIT:
Example 1.  A university enters into a multi-year contract with a sports drink company. Under the agreement, the company is the exclusive provider of sports drinks for the university's athletic department and concessions.
As part of the contract, the university agrees to perform various services, such as guaranteeing that coaches make promotional appearances on behalf of the company, assisting the company in developing marketing plans, and participating in joint promotional opportunities.

The IRS says: The university's activities are likely to constitute a "regularly carried-on trade or business." They are unlikely to be substantially related to the university's exempt purposes so any revenue is subject to UBIT. Furthermore, the income received by the university for those services is not excludable as a royalty. 

Example 2. A tax exempt organization posts a list of its sponsors on its website, including the sponsors' Internet addresses, which appear as a hyperlink from the exempt organization's website to the sponsor's website. 

The IRS says: The sponsor's website address constitutes a non-taxable acknowledgment, not advertising, even though it appears as a hyperlink. 

Example 3. A charity maintains a website that contains a hyperlink to a sponsor's website. When visitors go to the sponsor's site, they see an endorsement by the charity for the sponsor's product. The charity approved the endorsement before it was posted on the sponsor's website.

The IRS says: In this case, the endorsement is taxable advertising. 

Example 4. A national charity dedicated to promoting health organizes a campaign to inform the public about potential cures for a serious disease. As part of the campaign, the charity sends representatives to health fairs around the country to answer questions about the disease and inform the public about developments in the search for a cure.

A pharmaceutical company makes a payment to the charity to fund its booth at a health fair. The charity places a sign in the booth displaying the company's name and slogan, "Better Research, Better Health,'' which is an established part of the firm's identity. In addition, the charity grants the pharmaceutical company a license to use its logo in marketing products to health care providers around the country. The fair market value of the license exceeds 2 percent of the total payment received from the company. 

The IRS says: The charity's display of the pharmaceutical company's name and slogan constitutes a non-taxable acknowledgment of the sponsorship. However, the license granted to the pharmaceutical company to use the charity's logo is a substantial return benefit because it has a fair market value of more than 2 percent of the payment and the portion of proceeds attributed to it are subject to UBIT.

The tax treatment of corporate sponsorship deals is complex. Consult with your tax adviser before entering into any transactions to ensure the most tax-wise outcome.

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