There are certain documents all churches should keep in an important place for future reference.

File-Stamped Formation Document, and Amendments: For any church that is incorporated, it is important to retain a copy of the Articles of Incorporation, or Certificate of Incorporation, that was filed with the state or county. Once filed, this document will be file-stamped with the date and title of the jurisdiction and returned to the church. This official “file-stamped” copy of the formation document is the one that should be retained. If the original formation document has ever been amended, the file-stamped amendment document should also be retained. Many churches have changed their name or made some other important change, that required filing an amendment. Often this document is needed to demonstrate that the entity is the same entity that existed before the change was made. If your church cannot locate a file-stamped copy of its formation document, or amendments, they can be obtained from the Secretary of State (if filed at the state level) or the County Clerk (if filed at the county level). Sometimes these documents are available on the state or county website for download.

Bylaws: Churches often adopt an internal set of governing rules know as “bylaws.” When bylaws are first adopted by an organization, they usually contain the signatures of the original board members or other adopters or the signature of the organization’s Secretary confirming their adoption. This version of the bylaws should be retained with the permanent records of the church for future reference. Whenever the bylaws are amended, the revised version should be properly marked as such and retained. If the amended bylaws do not contain signatures, then the church should also retain written minutes of the meeting in which the bylaws were amended.

501(c)(3) Determination Letter: Many churches chose to file the Form 1023 application and receive a tax-exempt recognition letter from the Internal Revenue Service. This document is valuable to provide to donors who want verification of the church’s tax-exempt status, as well as to various state and local government agencies who may give benefits to an organization with federal tax-exempt status. Once going to the effort and expense to obtain this recognition letter, it is an important document to retain. If your church has obtained a recognition letter but cannot locate it, you can contact the IRS and request a duplicate letter to be issued.

State Tax Exemption Letters: Churches also obtain letters from state and local authorities verifying exemption from sales tax, property tax, or other taxes. These letters should also be retained.

FEIN Letter: Before a church can take many actions, including opening a bank account and hiring employees, it must obtain a Federal Employer Identification Number, which is the rough equivalent of a social security number for an organization. The letter verifying this FEIN should be retained. If you cannot locate your FEIN letter, you can contact the IRS and request a duplicate be issued.

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Clergy Financial Resources serves as a resource for clients to help analyze the complexity of clergy tax law, church payroll & HR issues. Our professionals are committed to helping clients stay informed about tax news, developments and trends in various specialty areas.

This article is intended to provide readers with guidance in tax matters. The article does not constitute, and should not be treated as professional advice regarding the use of any particular tax technique. Every effort has been made to assure the accuracy of the information. Clergy Financial Resources and the author do not assume responsibility for any individual’s reliance upon the information provided in the article. Readers should independently verify all information before applying it to a particular fact situation, and should independently determine the impact of any particular tax planning technique. If you are seeking legal advice, you are encouraged to consult an attorney.

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