To be operated exclusively to promote social welfare, an organization must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community (such as by bringing about civic betterment and social improvements). An organization whose purposes are charitable within the meaning of Code section 501(c)(3) may also be a social welfare organization under section 501(c)(4).
An organization that restricts the use of its facilities to employees of selected corporations and their guests is primarily benefiting a private group rather than the community and, therefore, does not qualify as a section 501(c)(4) organization. Similarly, an organization formed to represent member-tenants of an apartment complex does not qualify, since its activities benefit the member-tenants and not all tenants in the community, while an organization formed to promote the legal rights of all tenants in a particular community may qualify under section 501(c)(4) as a social welfare organization. An organization is not operated primarily for the promotion of social welfare if its primary activity is operating a social club for the benefit, pleasure, or recreation of its members, or is carrying on a business with the general public in a manner similar to organizations operated for profit.
The language of both the statute and the regulations describes a broad category of organizations. As stated in an internal training article:
Although the Service has been making an effort to refine and clarify this area, [section] 501(c)(4) remains in some degree a catch-all for presumptively beneficial non-profit organizations that resist classification under the other exempting provisions of the Code. Unfortunately, this condition exists because "social welfare" is inherently an abstruse concept that continues to defy precise definition.