What information must a nonprofit disclose to the general public? This question has come up several times in the past few months.
The IRS and some states require nonprofits to provide certain items upon request. However, often times, members of the public ask for documents they have no right to view.
The IRS requires tax-exempt organizations to provide copies of their three most recent Forms 990 (including 990, 990-EZ, 990-PF and 990-T) upon request. However, other than private foundations, this disclosure does not need to include the names and addresses of contributors listed on Schedule B.
In addition, upon request from a member of the general public, a tax-exempt organization must provide a copy of its exemption application (Form 1023 or 1024) along with all documents submitted with the exemption application, all documents the IRS requires the organization to submit in support of the application (i.e., subsequent correspondence subsequent to the filing of the application) and the exemption ruling letter issued by the IRS.
On request, non-501(c)(3) organizations must also disclose a statement of dues used for nondeductible lobbying and political purposes and a notice that contributions to the organization are not deductible for federal income tax purposes.
Failure to make the required disclosures can trigger an IRS audit and loss of tax-exemption. Some exceptions to the disclosure requirements apply in cases of harassment. The IRS FAQ on disclosure requirements is at http://bit.ly/lfnp09.
States may have their own rules on disclosure and transparency. For example, California requires charitable non-profits to provide copies of their certified audits upon request from members of the general public.
Frequently nonprofits are asked for copies of their bylaws, lists of donors, lists of members, etc. In general, these items are not required to be disclosed to the general public. Be sure to check state laws and seek qualified legal advice to determine specific rules that may be applicable based upon where a non-profit is incorporated and operates.