Considering Starting a 501(c)4? Case Studies

Published: February 2017

Type: Publication


Deciding whether—or when—to establish a 501(c)(4) organization is never an easy decision. Questions about purpose, scope, funding, perception, timing, and legal compliance all come into play. There are few definitive “right” and “wrong” answers. Each group needs to determine what is right for it.

Since private foundations are much more limited in their ability to fund (c)(4)s, activists looking to start a (c)(4) should consider alternative funding sources, such as individuals, labor unions, or corporations.

In the Strategy and Discussion Guide, Alliance for Justice (AFJ) explored the questions to ask. Here, AFJ describes how three different groups, with different structures, needs, and pressures, answered the questions for themselves.


This resource was part of the Atlas Learning Project, an initiative to draw on the considerable experiences and insights of The Atlantic Philanthropies as its grantmaking came to a close. The Atlas Learning Project was a three-year effort coordinated by the Center for Evaluation Innovation to synthesize and share lessons from advocacy and policy change efforts that Atlantic and other funders have supported in the U.S., with the goal of helping push philanthropy and advocacy in bolder and more effective directions.

Other Resources on 501(c)(4)s