SFBG News: Features: Opening closed doors(Site not responding. Last check: 2007-10-21)
All charitable organizations are required to provide a copy of the last three years' worth of 990s available for inspection on request at an office of the charity.
Form 1023s, Form 990s, and Form 990 PFs are officially available from the IRS, although requesting them is a time-consuming process and, according to several studies, often unreliable.
On-line: So far, Form 990s and other documents are not available on the Internet, although there are promises from various agencies, and groups are actively working to push the IRS to put such information on-line.
Three or four days after the check arrives, the 990(s) are posted on the site in.pdf form (meeting the IRS publication standard) and an email is sent with the URL for the exact location.
For all organizations that care about the subject of nonprofit accountability and want to hold up their own bit of the banner, there is the satisfaction of knowing that the task is being done in an orderly and efficient way.
The continuing tussle over public disclosure of 990s is a small but spreading blotch (and a long-term embarrassment).
www.nonprofits.org /npofaq/17/05.html (691 words)
Access to Form 990s on the Web(Site not responding. Last check: 2007-10-21)
She added that scanning PF 990s might be a faster process than scanning Form 990s since the IRS will not have to remove the confidential donor information from the PF 990s.
NCCS also claims to have the same number of Form 990s on their site, approximately 30,000, and claims that more will be placed on the site in the coming year.
However, since this article is focusing on Form 990s in the general sense, it will use the term Form 990 throughout the article, except when specifically referring to the private foundation annual return or PF 990.
On the matter of nonprofits who balk at disclosing their 990s, Massey noted that when anyone is forced to disclose information it is usually implied that there is something that they are trying to hide.
It is estimated that 80% of 990s are prepared by auditors, many of whom are not well versed in nonprofit practices and therefore a lot of incorrect and misleading figures are available for interpretation and possible negative publicity.
She also noted that most 990s used to be signed on the last day before the filing deadline and that in the old days most executive directors hardly ever reviewed it.
A sample review of forms from 1999 to 2000 revealed that the average number of errors declined by 16.7 percent and the number of organizations with no mathematical errors at all increased by 8.7 percent.
The GuideStar Pages for 990 filers also include images of the organizations' 990s — we have at least two years' worth in most cases — the names of their Board Members and a financial page listing revenue, expenses and a multi-year balance sheet that shows assets, liabilities and fund balance figures.
In addition to providing access to PDF images of the actual 990s, GuideStar digitizes approximately 400 fields from the form and is creating a number of analytical tools from this information that will help improve efficiency within the nonprofit community.
The time for 990s will be later in the year (the 15th of May for organizations with fiscal years that end December 31).
And data from 1999 990s will be posted on the web much more frequently -- sometimes by organizations taking the extra step to provide information to the public, sometimes by others who believe strongly enough in wider availability of such details that they take direct action to make it happen.
Plus too many organizations have filed 990s in the past that were just plain sloppy, with mistakes that can be identified from blank spaces where answers should be or just by doing simple arithmetic using the numbers on the page.
Central Indiana Community Foundation(Site not responding. Last check: 2007-10-21)
Charity Navigator, which is a charity “watchdog” that monitors how nonprofits spend their revenues, recently issued a press release titled “Nonprofits in Indianapolis are Among the Least Efficient in Nation.” According to their methodology, local nonprofits have higher than average administration and fundraising expenses.
The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, in collaboration with the Urban Institute in Washington DC, has been researching administrative and fundraising costs at all nonprofits in the US which are required to file a 990 (secular nonprofits with more than $25,000 in gross receipts).
Relying exclusively on IRS 990s to evaluate nonprofit organizations is a flawed approach.
The IRS made a contract in March with the Urban Institute to turn over five years’ worth(that’s tax years 1996-2001) of Form 990s filed by the entire universe of public charities (which includes community foundations) on CD-ROM, with the intention that they will be made more accessible to the public.
The current process is this: The IRS tells those requesting 990s to send their requests in writing to a central processing place in Ogden, Utah.
GuideStar already has profiles of 40,000 public charities, based on information from 1993 990s taken from the IRS master file and distilled down to an easier-to-view format; its ultimate goal is to post data from the entire universe of 200,000-plus public charities.
When it came back up on Wednesday, however, the 990s were no longer available, though financial summaries and other information were.
The 990s at Guidestar are computer scans of the actual paper document sent to the IRS -- some complete with smudgy handwritten numbers and obvious wrinkles.
The 990s were provided to Guidestar by the IRS in a joint project with Philanthropic Research and the National Center for Charitable Statistics, with major funding from the Ford Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
There is no charge for viewing the three most recent 990s we have received for an organization from the IRS; all registered users may also access any 990s a nonprofit has uploaded through our eDocs service.
Older 990s received from the IRS are available to GuideStar Premium subscribers.
GuideStar Select users can view the three most recent 990s we have received from the IRS for the organization and all uploaded by the nonprofit; GuideStar Premium users can access all 990s we have for the organization.
www.guidestar.org /help/faq_990.jsp (1373 words)
990s in the Spotlight(Site not responding. Last check: 2007-10-21)
These stories bring home a point that many observers of the field have been making for years: Organizations that don't pay more attention to their 990 tax returns do so at their own peril.
Nonprofits and foundations have traditionally treated their 990s - the 990 and 990-EZ for public charities and the 990-PF for private foundations - solely as vehicles for reporting their financial information to the IRS.
A growing number of resources are available to help nonprofits use 990-PFs as a grantseeking tool and to help donors use 990s to make giving decisions.
Scanned versions of all 990s and 990PFs received by the IRS were posted on the Internet by Guidestar in 2000 in a program worked out by Guidestar, the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics and the IRS.
Quality reporting on 990s is an increasing issue: (1) to improve the quality of the required data and information, eliminating blanks and improperly filled out forms; and (2) to improve the user-friendliness of the 990 document.
But Peter Swords has discovered that “large numbers of cases of abuse (of the charitable trust) that (IRS and state agencies) investigate and prosecute are originally brought to their attention from outside sources, particularly by stories appearing in the newspapers and other media.” Disclosure, thus, helps society deal with several issues.
HR 2337 requires nonprofits to give or mail copies of their annual Form 990s to anyone who requests them in mail or in person for a reasonable cost.
A nonprofit group would thus be able to protect itself from the risk of harassment and IRS penalties for non-disclosure simply by sending a copy of its Form 990 to the IRS on a diskette.
Any of the other approaches to making Form 990s "widely available" (such as having each group post its Form 990 on its own Web site, or using private repositories), will be much more costly for the nonprofit sector and for the public.