Organizations applying for tax-exempt status must submit two applications: First, if they have not previously received an Employer Identification Number, they must apply for one.
Second, to be recognized as tax-exempt under Section 501(a), most organizations must file an application for recognition of exemption with the IRS. Most organizations use Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and the related instructions to apply. (Organizations applying for recognition of exemption under Section 501(c)(4) use Form 1024-A and its instructions. Organizations applying under other 501(c) subsections generally use Form 1024.)
The IRS will recognize an organization as tax-exempt if it meets the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code. See Types of Tax-Exempt Organizations and Publication 557, Tax-Exempt Status for Your Organization (PDF), for more information.
The IRS sometimes recognizes a group of organizations as tax-exempt if they are affiliated with a central organization. This avoids the need for each organization to apply for exemption individually. A group exemption letter has the same effect as an individual letter except that it applies to more than one organization. For more information about group exemption requirements and procedures, see Publication 4573, Group Exemptions (PDF).
Learn more about the benefits, limitations and expectations of tax-exempt organizations by attending 10 courses at the online Small to Mid-Size Tax Exempt Organization Workshop.