Non-profit organizations which are exempt from income tax under §501(a) are subject to tax on unrelated business income. §§501(b), 511. Unrelated business income is gross income derived by any organization from any unrelated trade or business, regularly carried on by it, less the deductions allowed. §512. An "unrelated trade or business" is a trade or business which is not substantially related (aside from the need of such organization for income or funds) to the purpose of the organization. §513. However, "unrelated trade or business" does not include a trade or business where substantially all the work is performed for the organization without compensation. §513(a)(1). See Rev. Rul. 75-201, 1975-1 CB 164.
The sale of advertising in a publication published by an exempt organization is an unrelated trade or business when the advertising activity is regularly carried on. Reg. 1.512(a)-1(f)(1). See also Rev. Rul. 73-424, 1973-2 CB 190.
Courts have held advertising revenue not to constitute unrelated business income in some circumstances. For example, in National Collegiate Athletic Assn. V. Comm., (1990, CA10) 66 AFTR 2d 90-5602, 914 F.2d 1417, 90-2USTC 50513, revg (1989) 92 TC 456, advertising revenue received by the NCAA from the sale of programs of its annually sponsored championship tournament was not unrelated business income where the tournament lasted less than three weeks and occurred only once a year.
IRS Chief Counsel "strongly disagrees" with the Tenth circuit. The IRS argues the state court should have taken into account the time spent soliciting the advertisements and preparing the advertising for publication. IRS announced it will continue to litigate the issue in appropriate cases. Action on Decision 1991-015, 7/3/91.
IRS distinguished NCAA where a state university received income from advertising placed in its football souvenir programs. Here, a significant time span was involved over which the activities were conducted. The football season lasted three months and the work in setting up the programs and soliciting adverting took even longer. IRS letter ruling 9137002.
Assuming that the journal is published periodically throughout the year, an exempt organization should not rely on National Collegiate Athletic Assn. The periodic publishing and on going solicitation efforts will likely constitute a unrelated business regularly carried on. See §512.
The court also held advertising revenue does not constitute unrelated business income in US v. American College of Physicians, (1986 S.Ct). In American College of Physicians, the court found that the advertising business contributes importantly to the university's education program through the training of students.
Also, advertising revenue does not constitute unrelated business income if the advertising contributes to the organization's purpose. For example, publication of legal notices in a bar association journal contributes to the association's exempt purposes by promoting the common interest of the legal profession through providing a single source of information regarding legal events in the county and therefore, wouldn't result in unrelated business income. Rev. Rul. 82-139, 1982-2 CB 108. However, advertising revenue received by a bar association for ads place in its attorney directory are taxable income since the advertising is commercial in nature and represents an effort on the part of advertisers to maximize sales to a certain segment of the public. IRS Letter Ruling 9148054.
Similarly, magazine advertising revenues received by an exempt trucking association did not contribute to the association's exempt purposes where the advertising represented marketing efforts by the advertisers to sell their product. In this case, no systematic effort was made by the organization to advertise products related to the editorial content and no effort was made by the organization to limit advertisements to new products. Florida Trucking Assn Inc. (1986) 87 TC 1039.
It is clear that, with a few exceptions, advertising revenues received by a 501(c)(3) exempt organization will often generate unrelated business taxable income (UBTI).