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FAQ: Form 990 rules

Resource Center - Foundation

How do the new regulations for disclosing Form 990 differ from before?

Under the old law, nonprofits only had to show a copy of their most recent Form 990 to people who visited their offices in person; they did not have to provide visitors with copies. Beginning June 8, 1999, all 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) organizations are required to send copies of their three most recent Forms 990 (as well as Form 1023, the form to apply for tax-exempt status) to anyone who requests them. If the request is made in person, nonprofits must provide copies of the forms immediately. If the request is made in writing, nonprofits have thirty (30) days to mail out copies. A phone call is not considered a formal request, but a written letter, fax, or e-mail is enough to trigger the 30-day requirement.

Charities may charge a 'reasonable' photocopy and mailing fee. Reasonable is defined by the IRS as one dollar for the first page and 15 cents for each additional page. For written requests, nonprofits may require advance payment of the copying and mailing fees, in which case the 30-day limit would begin as soon as the nonprofit receives payment.

Nonprofits can avoid the photocopying requirements by posting their forms on the Internet. The material may either be posted on a nonprofit's own website or on another site that functions as a database of information about nonprofit organizations. The IRS is developing guidelines for determining whether an organization is the target of a harassment campaign and what nonprofits should do in such a situation.

Nonprofits are subject to a $20 fine (twenty dollars) for each day they fall behind in providing the forms, up to a maximum of $10,000 per return. In addition, a $5,000 penalty for 'willful failure' may also be applied. The government relations section of the AFP website contains a copy of the new regulations, and the AFP Resource Center has several recent articles about the new disclosure regulations. For additional information, visit the U.S. Nonprofit Organization's Public Disclosure Regulation Site. If you have other questions, please contact the AFP Public Affairs Department at (800) 666 - 3863.

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