GuideStar Newsletter, on 7/1/03 9:00 AM
If this information is requested in person at a nonprofit's principal office, generally the organization must provide the information that day. If the information is requested in writing, the organization usually has 30 days to comply.
Keep in mind that organizations do have the right to charge the requester "reasonable copying costs" for the document in question. The allowable charge is the same amount charged by the IRS for providing copies—$1.00 for the first page and $.15 for each subsequent page.
What happens if the information is not supplied? The penalty for not disclosing an annual return is $20 per day for as long as the failure to comply continues, up to a maximum of $10,000 maximum fee per return not disclosed. There is no maximum fee for failure to provide the application for exemption.
Organizations that do not wish to provide hard copies of these document(s) do have another option: they can post a copy on their Web site. With the exception of masking donor's names and addresses on Forms 990, 990-EZ, and 990-PF, the documents must not be altered in any way.
Many charitable nonprofits have found that having their annual returns available on GuideStar has made their jobs easier. "We now direct requests to your Web site; many persons may go directly there and not even ask us," explained one respondent. GuideStar obtains the documents directly from the IRS and posts them to our Web site in PDF format.
To obtain more information about IRS disclosure regulations, take a look at some IRS FAQs regarding public disclosure requirements.
Fundraising for nonprofit organizations has been likened to driving across the country with the caveat that gas must be purchased a single gallon at a time1. The danger is that the destination will fade in importance while the driver searches for the next gas station. A secondary danger is that a few unscrupulous souls will find dishonest ways to fuel their vehicles. Fortunately, most drivers (and nonprofit organizations) remain honest and follow the rules. This article spells out some of these rules for donors who hope to avoid being duped by fundraising scams and for nonprofits that plan to follow both the letter and the spirit of the law.