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Resources & Reminders

What’s the difference between a c3 and a c4 non-profit?

Chances are, you’ve heard the phrases “c3” or “c4” during your tenure at PPCWNY. But do you know what they refer to? Or the difference between them?

“c3” and “c4” are shorthand terms for two different types of non-profits: 501(c)(3)’s are tax-exempt non-profits, while 501(c)(4)’s are non-profits that engage in political activity. Contributions to the latter are not tax deductible. Some organizations, including many Planned Parenthood affiliates and PPCWNY, are designated as both a c3 and a c4.

At PP, c3 connotes the charitable arm of the organization; c4 is the advocacy portion, the social welfare organization that fights to protect health care access. There are specific rules about the activities and actions that can take place using c3 versus c4 funds, especially when it comes to lobbying.

Here’s the c3 v. c4 breakdown:




Voice of...

  • Charitable health care provider
  • Not a political adversary, or an organization primarily focused on fighting, lobbying, attacking
  • Action oriented organization
  • Primary purpose is advocacy — NOT elections


  • Lobbying allowed up to limited cap
  • Should not suggest that its main function/activity is to fight
  • All c3 lobbying must be approved in advance and tracked
  • Unlimited lobbying permitted
  • May hold itself out as primarily engaged in “fighting”


  • No intervention in elections
  • No taking position on candidates
  • No encouraging people to vote on a particular issue
  • May intervene in elections, but may not be primary purpose
  • All election work subject to campaign finance limitations


  • May intervene in ballot initiatives, up to lobbying cap
  • May intervene in LIMITLESS ballot initiatives

Focus on


  • Comment on position of legislators or on policy, not on character of legislators
  • May more aggressively “attack” character of legislators


  • Nonpartisan
  • Do not align with any party
  • Do NOT host event for legislators to which legislators from only one party will attend
  • Nonpartisan
  • May work more closely with one party over the other if that party is more aligned with our issues
  • May not primarily work to benefit any one party