Organizations that are tax exempt under IRS Section 501(c)(3) vary significantly in size and mission, but they all have one thing in common. All must comply with federal tax laws, including the requirement to make certain documents available to the public upon request.

If someone makes a request and your organization fails to comply, an IRS audit and substantial penalties could result.

Application for Exempt Status

Section 501(c)(3) organizations that applied for tax-exempt status after July 15, 1987, must make a copy of their application (Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code) available for inspection and/or provide a copy when requested. The requirement covers all supporting documents and IRS correspondence related to the application.

Note: Organizations may charge a reasonable fee (no more than the per-page fee the IRS charges) for providing copies. Also note that the names and addresses of contributors listed on an exemption application are subject to public disclosure.

Information Return

Exempt organizations also must make their annual information return available for inspection and copying. This includes Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax, or Form 990-EZ, plus all schedules, attachments, and supporting documents. Organizations must generally make their returns available for three years and are generally not required to disclose the names or addresses of the contributors listed on Schedule B (some exceptions apply).

Income-tax Return

The public must be permitted to inspect or make copies of any Form 990-T, Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Return, filed by a 501(c)(3) organization after August 17, 2006 (along with all related schedules, attachments, and supporting documents). These documents must also be made available for a three-year period.

Compliance

If someone walks into your office and requests a copy of one or more of the documents covered under these rules, you should generally provide it the same day the request is made. The time frame for responding to written, faxed, or e-mailed requests is generally 30 days.

Another way to comply with the requirement to provide documents for copying is to make them widely available on your website or the website of an organization that maintains a database of such documents. Then, when someone requests copies, you can refer them to the appropriate website.

Penalties

Responsible persons who fail to comply with document requests may be subject to penalties. The daily penalty is $20, with a maximum penalty of $10,000 for each failure to provide a copy of an annual information return. There is no maximum penalty for failing to provide a copy of an exemption application.

Disclosure Rules for Quid Pro Quo Contributions

This is a slightly different type of disclosure rule. Organizations that hold fundraising events where something of value is provided (e.g., dinner, door prize, etc.) in return for contributions must disclose the fair market value of the service or item being provided in its fundraising materials.

Facts About Volunteering

In February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published data on volunteering in America.* According to the report, approximately one in four Americans (25.3%) volunteered between September 2013 and September 2014. The volunteer rate for women was higher than for men (28.3% compared with 22.0%), and married people volunteered at a higher rate than those who never married (30.0% compared with 20.2%). The age group with the highest volunteer rate for the period was the cohort of 35- to 44-year-olds (29.8%).

It’s interesting to note that the age group with the highest volunteer rate is most likely the busiest in terms of juggling work and family responsibilities. But the data is consistent with the results of a recent study** that found that working people who volunteer are healthier and more satisfied with their work-life balance, even though they have more on their plates than those who don’t volunteer.

* Volunteering in the United States, 2014

** Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation

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Sandy Jensen
I joined Hawkins Ash CPAs in 2001 and am a partner in the firm's La Crosse office. I provide audit services to nonprofit and educational agency audits. I also have extensive experience providing audit services to credit unions. I am chair of the firm’s nonprofit service group and a member of the firm’s Audit and Accounting Committee.

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