May a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charity make a grant to a for-profit school in a foreign country to provide scholarships for poor children as long as these scholarships meet the mission of the U.S. charity?
The answer is probably yes but 501(c)(3) rules create a number of issues to consider. A U.S. charity may make grants abroad for charitable purposes and providing educational funds for poor children is generally a charitable activity. Since a for-profit company is the immediate economic beneficiary of your scholarship funds, you want to be sure that you are not such an important part of its income that you are actually providing private benefit to the for-profit company. You could lose your tax-exempt status for providing too much support to a for-profit organization. (See Ready Reference Page: “Charities May Not Confer Private Benefits”) If you intend to provide multiple scholarships you might be able to negotiate a significant discount from the ordinary tuition.
Since U.S. taxpayers may not claim a charitable contribution deduction for gifts to foreign organizations or non-charitable organizations, you want to be sure that they don’t “earmark” their donations for this program, not only because it is foreign, but also because the school is not a charity. You want to be sure that you have full control over the decision on whether or not to grant the funds.
If your organization is a private foundation rather than a public charity, it will have to exercise “expenditure responsibility” if it makes a grant directly to the school, and/or receive IRS approval of its selection procedures if it selects the scholarship winners. (See Ready Reference Page:“Outflanking Foundations’ Public Charity Defense”)
In either case, you want to be sure that you obtain complete reports on the qualification, selection, identity, and accomplishments of the scholarship award winners. You want to be sure that you can defend the charitable nature of a program conducted abroad that involves a for-profit organization.