Our PTO just received a letter from the IRS. We were granted 501c3 status way back in 1988, but no one ever followed up during the "advance ruling period" to show that we are a publicly supported organization (509a2) instead of a private foundation. I tried reading the IRS Pub 557 but still don't get it - are most PTOs 509a2? They gave us a form to fill out with info from our 990s for the last few years and I think will retroactively give us 509 status, but what does this all mean? Can anyone help me?
509(a) Section of the Internal Revenue Service Code that defines public charities (as opposed to private foundations). Note that 501(c)(3) and 509(a) are not mutually exclusive terms; a 501(c)(3) organization may also have a 509(a) designation to define the agency as a public charity.
501(c)(3) status is granted by the Internal Revenue Service. It is not enough that the organization "has no money" or "does not make a profit" or that it is registered with the State Corporate Division as Nonprofit or it has submitted an application to the IRS but has not yet received a determination letter. In addition to 501(c)(3), the organization must be determined by the IRS to be a public charity and not a private foundation under 509 (a).
It means that you need to file the paperwork that the IRS provided and you should be ok. It also means that you need to make sure that you document what you're doing so that years from now the successors to the successors to the successors of your current officers will know your groups status and what they need to do to maintain it.
Like Dave amply put it, you will be a publically supported (509a) non-profit organization (501(c)3).