The Civil Society Bookshelf

The Tax Treatments of NGOs: Legal, Ethical, and Fiscal Frameworks for Promoting NGOs and Their Activities

The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 6, Issue 4, September 2004

Edited by Paul Bater, Frits Hondius, and Penina Kessler Lieber
Reviewed by Patricia Lyons

The sixteen articles included in The Tax Treatment of NGOs seek to provide readers with an expansive overview of the diverse practical and theoretical issues concerning the tax environment of NGOs worldwide. Surveys of conceptual issues are juxtaposed against real-world examples, resulting in an informative and varied overview of the spectrum of NGO tax concerns.

Starting with a national and regional perspective, topics range from the development of charity law in the Caribbean to the taxation of corporate citizenship in Austria. While the majority of the articles provide thoughtful analyses of tax issues in countries with highly developed NGO fiscal frameworks, several articles also present revealing perspectives from countries with an emerging NGO sector. The treatment of international NGOs in Russia and the review of the South African NGO tax experience are especially insightful, given the rise and influence of NGOs throughout those regions. The first section covers a wide range of geographic areas, including Scotland, the Caribbean, Spain, Russia, Germany, Austria, Nordic Region ( Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland), the United States, and South Africa.

The national and regional issues identified introduce readers to many specifics facing NGOs in regard to tax treatment. The dynamic tax situation is chronicled in discussions of charity law reform efforts in Scotland and changes in nonprofit accounting in Spain. These particular issues are presented alongside articles providing a comparative overview of the tax treatment models in Germany, the United States, and the Nordic Region.

Readers new to the field of NGO tax treatment may want to begin with the second section, on international and comparative perspectives, which addresses an array of conceptual and theoretical matters central to the development of NGO tax laws. This section lays a foundation for the issues of practical implementation discussed in section one. Themes examined here include theories of federal income tax exemption, a survey of available NGO tax preferences, perspectives on public benefit, and the role of NGOs in creating social capital. The editors do a nice job of selecting articles to complement the discussions from the first section, including one article focused on the growing role of civil society in the developing world. This section also includes several articles on the international interchange of tax laws, including reflections on the tax repercussions in an estate planning case in Canada as well as an examination of the role, challenges, and solutions to landlocked tax privileges.

The editors’ opening remarks complement the overall structure of the book. In particular, Paul Bater’s introduction on “International Tax Issues Relating to Non-Profit Organisations and their Supporters” offers a global perspective that, though somewhat Euro-centric, is especially useful to the reader, providing a clear and detailed discussion of the history, challenges, and options for regional and global responses to NGO tax treatment. These observations offer a broader perspective while providing balance to the specialized issues addressed in the individual articles elsewhere in The Tax Treatment of NGOs.


* Patricia Lyons is a Consultant for the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law and a law student at The George Washington University Law School.