How do I find missing tax forms for a nonprofit?
June 28, 2020 4:36 PM   Subscribe

I’m looking for the 990 form from a nonprofit, but can’t find any recent filings.

A medium sized nonprofit stopped publicly releasing their 990 form a few years ago. I’ve looked using a few different tools and the last form is for the fiscal year 2016. The organization has not lost nonprofit status and is too big to qualify for any of the tax form alternatives available to smaller organizations.

I’m primarily interested in executive compensation and would rather not ask directly as it is a touchy subject. Is there any reason a 990 would not show up online? Would filings not done electronically not show up?
posted by likethenight to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Forms filed since 2018 are available on the IRS's website.

I'm not super-expert in tax law, so perhaps some exception applies, but nonprofits are generally required to make their last 3 990s public. If they're not doing so, this seems like a potential red flag.
posted by praemunire at 4:42 PM on June 28

Not to threadsit, but only confirmation of tax exempt status shows up with that tool.
posted by likethenight at 4:48 PM on June 28

If you're talking about that specific organization, that would indicate that they haven't filed a 990 between Jan 2018 and about February of this year--big red flag.

(If you're speaking generally of what that tool can show, that's incorrect, and would suggest to me that you should consult a librarian for assistance in using these tools.)
posted by praemunire at 4:53 PM on June 28

Yeah you can start here and definitely see all the 990s that have been submitted to the IRS. I run a small non-profit and I can search, by name, for my organization and find my paperwork.
posted by jessamyn at 5:08 PM on June 28

It's definitely possible that they are behind in their filings. An org can be up to three years behind on filing (but I don't recommend it!) before its 501c3 status is revoked.

In my experience in looking up org's financials, if I can't find recent 990s online, they are behind on filing.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:14 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]

Is there any legitimate reason for a nonprofit not to be in this database?
posted by likethenight at 5:14 PM on June 28

Other thing to know--what month does their fiscal year end? You can tell from whatever last available 990 says. I think at this point you have 6 moths to file after end of fy. If you file for an extension it's 6 months, I think (used to be 3). Anyway, there is a bit of padding for time to still not be all that behind on filings.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:20 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]

are you searching on tax id?
are you certain it doesn't have a fiscal sponsor?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:22 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]

When the American Cinematheque was very late on submitting their financials, it was because the organization was in disarray and a board member who also works at Netflix was negotiating the sale of their only asset, the landmark Egyptian Theatre, to Netflix. It took me ages to get reporters interested in this troubling situation, but the California Secretary of State appears to have conducted an investigation at least partly in response to dues-paying members and community members asking questions.

If you want to reach out to your state Charities Registry to express concern and request the latest filings if not yet online, this would not be a public document. Nonprofits interact with their states as well as with the IRS. In California, you can also request copies of all recent correspondence regarding the organization, and ask them to contact you if the cost will be above some set amount you're comfortable paying.
posted by Scram at 5:25 PM on June 28

Searching via tax ID. I’m closely connected to the organization and certain there is no fiscal sponsor or financial distress (although both good ideas). Looking at the fiscal year, the organization is not technically behind on filing.
posted by likethenight at 5:48 PM on June 28

Very small NFPs don't file 990s; just a post card essentially telling the IRS that they're still alive. I've forgotten the dollar cutoff. Religious NFPs don't file 990s. Any help?
posted by tmdonahue at 4:50 AM on June 29

When I search for 990s, I use this site. I imagine it gets its records from the IRS so the answer won't be different but worth a check. You can search by corporation name, state, etc.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:25 AM on June 29

I needed to research several nonprofits recently, and found Pro Publica's Nonprofit Explorer helpful for finding 990s.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 1:36 PM on June 29

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