Eligible organizations use IRS tax-exempt forms to apply for tax-exempt status. The forms and accompanying instructions are available for download on IRS.gov. As stated on its website, the IRS grants tax-exempt status under three sections of the Internal Revenue Code: Section 501(c)(3), Section 501(a) and Section 521.
Section 501(c)(3) applies to organizations who classify themselves as charitable, religious or educational organizations. The IRS reviews applications from all other nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations under Section 501(a). Farmers and fruit growers can apply for tax-exempt status as cooperatives under Section 521, notes the IRS. To maintain their tax-exempt status, organizations have to file annual returns with the IRS. Some organizations, such as churches, are excluded from this requirement.