Google Apps for US Houses of Worship, Part 2

Google Apps for Non-Profits

Google offers its Google Apps services to qualified non-profit organizations. In the United States to qualify an organization must be either a

  • US IRS 501c3 corporation whose Employer ID number is registered as such in the IRS EIN database
  • An affiliate of a 501c3 corporation that has established an Group Exemption Number and has included the affiliate in the group.

To verify your status, Google checks the IRS database. If your organization qualifies, its records will include a group exemption letter like the one shown below.

Google Accepted IRS Group+Exemption+letter+formatThe annotations to the right show the information that Google requires.

Google Follows the Rules!

Back in the spring I wrote about applying for Google Apps for Non-profits on behalf of my church, Unitarian Church of Norfolk. Apparently, our application awoke Google and they have developed stricter guidelines for application processing. At the time UCN applied, UUA had established its EIN as a 501C3 qualified corporation but had not established an affiliated-organizations group number.

At the time, Google let UCN slide in to home. Since then, Google has expanded Google Apps for Non-Profits to the UK, Japan, and more. As the program has grown, they have become stricter about the rules. UC Boise attempted to apply in late summer of 2014 and was unable to find a way through the maze. Like most Unitarian Universalist churches, they were relying on their existence as a house of worship to provide tax-exempt status. They, like UCN, had not enrolled as an IRS 501C3 corporation. And the UUA has not established an exempt affiliates group.

UC Boise’s experience is that Google strictly requires one of two things.

  1. The church’s qualified EIN
  2. The church’s membership in a qualified group

Further, Google is requiring that this be verified electronically by query to the IRS database. They are no longer crawling submitted paperwork.

Becoming a 501C3 Corporation

The process is not complex but it will take a day or two of a member’s time to complete the IRS paperwork. The rub is that the IRS charges an $850 fee to process the application. This is a significant one time expense that would have a 1 to 3 year payback time depending on the number of Google Apps seats needed. Most houses of worship will want from 5 to 15 seats to cover employees and church jobs that need E-mail. Google Groups may be used to reduce the number of addresses needed. Google Groups is useful for church activities that don’t need to have an official voice. Most committees are better served by groups but minister, office, web admin, and the officers really should have E-mail accounts.

Two IRS forms are of interest. Form 1828 describes the regulations governing US houses of worship. Form 1023 is used to file to become a 501c3 organization.

Form 1023 includes the application, instructions, and fee information. The applicant’s yearly budget determines the fee with a break point at $10,000/year. Most churches will be above the break point and will incur the $850 fee (2014). The IRS estimates that it will take 8 to 16 hours to gather the relevant supporting information.

The wise church will apply for 501c3 status while its budget is below $10,000/year. Although not strictly required for tax purposes, membership has its advantages like free Google Apps for Non Profits.

 An Alternate Google Apps Approach

UC Boise has elected to use Google Apps for Small Business which provides similar features (but probably not the new Classroom product). Google charges small businesses $5/E-mail per month or $50 for the year prepaid. UC Boise has elected to establish 5 accounts, probably a workable minimum. Most congregations will want accounts for the following billets

  •  Minister
  • DRE
  • Office
  • President
  • Treasurer

It is good to have accounts for the Webmaster and Google Apps admin but these can be directed to the office. This design will cost UC Boise $250 per year. With a more robust 15 accounts, Google’s bill would be $75 per month or about the same as the phone service. This more robust provisioning would cover the rest of the officers, provide Google Apps and Webmaster dedicated accounts, and provide an account for the Volunteer Spot volunteer coordinator.

By way of comparison, $75/month is about the cost of high speed Internet service or telephone service for 3 lines from Cox Communications in Tidewater.

Why Google Apps?

The more astute moochers out there will quip that free services will do all of the stuff that Google Apps does. That is indeed true. Zoho does E-mail, Dropbox and Evernote support collaboration, YouTube is free, etc. Why Google? Generally, when a service is free, facts about the users are the product. Be sure you read the terms of service and understand the acceptable uses and what the provider will do with information derived from your activity.

UCN elected to go the Google Apps for Non-profits route because

  • 50 or so of our fellow congregations had blazed the trail
  • There is a single point of administration and control
  • All services can be UCN branded
  • Key services G-mail, hangouts, drive, YouTube, etc are increasingly integrated