Our nonprofit corporation has about 125 members who are all doctors. The organization has $1 million in its treasury, which came from membership fees (contributed by business) and rebates. The organization spends $100,000 on an annual conference or other charity events. The board has decided to put a cap of $300,000 on the treasury and to distribute the rest of funds. Can we distribute the funds equally to all the members and, if so, who pays the tax? If members pay the tax, will the organization lose its tax-exempt status?
You don’t say what type of exemption the organization maintains, although it probably doesn’t make any difference. It sounds like it is most likely a 501(c)(3) charity (since you say it runs “other charity events”), or a 501(c)(6) trade association of physicians. In any case, giving the surplus to your members is not a good idea.
State nonprofit corporation laws generally do not permit distribution of surplus to the members of a nonprofit while the organization stays alive, and neither do IRS rules. If the organization is a (c)(3) charity, the surplus would have to be utilized for charitable purposes, and an aggressive state attorney general might go after the board members personally for deciding to give the surplus to the members (without regard to whether or not the members pay an income tax on the receipt). If it is a (c)(6) trade association, the organization cannot be used for the private benefit of the members, and the IRS might move to revoke the exemption for doing so.
Your best bet is probably to reduce your dues, step up your programmatic activities so that you gradually reduce the surplus, and perhaps increase your tolerance for having money in the bank. That way, you can keep the organization alive, reduce the costs for the members, and more actively promote the purposes of the organization. Sounds to me like that could be a win-win-win situation.