Public accountability made widely accessible

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Instructions for Submitting Documents
About the New Regulations
An Exception for Online Publishing
Who Operates This Service?
If You Have More Questions

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Federal Law and Regulations
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Order Form and Cover Sheet

Helping You Publish Your Exempt Organization Records Online

The 990online.com service was recently established to assist tax-exempt organizations that wish to fulfill the requirements of the new IRC Section 6104(d) regulations through online publication of their completed annual information returns and application for exempt status.

All you need to use this service is a fax machine. Just fax each document to 990online.com according to the instructions below, and we will publish it online to this Web site, either for an extended period you specify or for enough time to allow you to download it for publishing on your own Web site.

How It Works

Just follow these five steps to make your IRS materials widely available in compliance with the new IRS regulations.

  1. Complete the Cover Sheets.
    Complete a copy of the 990online.com cover sheet for each document (e.g. annual information return, application for exempt status, IRS notice of exempt status, etc.). Each application or return must be submitted as a separate fax phone call with its own cover sheet. Other than those specifically excepted under law, all schedules and attachments associated with each document should be appended to that document. Each fax phone call will result in a single electronic document being generated.
  2. Complete the Order Form.
    Complete a copy of the 990online.com order form. You will need to obtain the signature of a person at your organization who is authorized to warrant that the submitted documents are true and accurate copies of your records, fulfilling the IRS requirements. This person must be either a member of the Board, the Director (or President), the chief financial manager, or the chief operations manager. You need only complete and submit one order form for all the documents submitted to 990online.com on a single day.
  3. Fax the Documents.
    Fax the completed order form to 1-416-929-5793. Then fax each document set, with its cover sheet first, as a separate phone call using your fax machine's "fine" resolution setting. Be sure to send only one form with its cover letter per phone call, to insure separate electronic documents are created.
  4. Send Payment.
    Mail a check in U.S. dollars payable by the organization (NOT a personal check), made out to "Eric Mercer" for the fee calculated on the order form, to the address given at the bottom of this page. The check serves as evidence that the documents were actually submitted by the organization named, helping to fulfill IRS requirements. The order form includes a calculator for determining the payment due. Do not mail paper copies of the IRS material, which should only be submitted by fax.
  5. Be Published.
    Within 48 hours of receiving your check, your documents will be published online by 990online.com in our database of documents, and notice will be sent to you by email, phone or postal mail. The documents will be accessible through our Web page at http://990online.com/docs/ and you may provide that address to individuals who request copies of the documents you have submitted. You may also download the documents for publication on your organization's own Web site.

IRS Issues New Public Disclosure Regulations

On April 8th, 1999, the IRS issued its final version of the regulations that implement the 1998 public disclosure law, which significantly expanded most nonprofit organizations' responsibility for providing public access to their records. Effective June 8th 1999, all tax-exempt organizations classified under IRC Sections 501(c) and 501(d) must make copies of their past three years of tax returns (e.g. IRS Form 990 versions and schedules, or Form 1065) available to the public. Organizations that filed an application for tax-exempt status (e.g. IRS Form 1023 or 1024) must also make that document available. Nearly all schedules, attachments, other supporting documents, and letters from the IRS concerning these materials must also be publicly available, e.g. the Form 990 Schedule A and other attachments. Exempt organizations face fines and other penalties if they don't comply with these regulations.

Although these recently released regulations don't apply to private foundations, the law they implement does, and similar regulations for private foundations are expected to be issued by the IRS in the near future.

Note that the names of donors to public charities, Form 990-T, Form 1120-POL, Schedule A of Form 990-BL, any trade secrets included in the application for exempt status, and certain other information, need not be disclosed. These excepted items may be included in the disclosed materials at the exempt organization's discretion. Please refer to the disclosure law itself or the associated IRS regulations for details regarding these exceptions.

Affected tax-exempt organizations must fulfill the new regulations for public disclosure by:

  1. Allowing public inspection of these documents at the organization's principal, regional and district offices.
  2. Providing a copy of these documents immediately to anyone who requests one in person at the organization's principal, regional and district offices, unless the organization has made these documents "widely available" as described below.
  3. Providing a copy to any person who requests one in writing (e.g. by postal mail, electronic mail, facsimile, or a private delivery service such as courier), within 30 days of receiving the request, unless the organization has made these documents "widely available" as described below.

A nominal fee may be assessed by the nonprofit organization to cover copying and postage costs, and in rare cases the IRS may allow exceptions if it determines that a harassment campaign is being conducted against the organization.

An Exception for Organizations That Publish Their Documents Online

A special exception to the requirement that organizations provide copies of their tax returns and application for exemption is included in the new regulations. Organizations that make their completed IRS materials "widely available" through the Internet in an acceptable format are not required to provide paper copies upon request. The exception applies whether your organization publishes these materials on its own Web site or has someone else publish them. As long as the documents are online in compliance with the regulations, you will be meeting the requirements for the exception and won't have to provide paper copies.

The 990online.com service assists tax-exempt organizations by creating an electronic copy of their IRS materials, which can be published online either at the organization's Web site or here. A modest fee is charged, which is probably less than your costs if you receive several requests each year for copies of your IRS materials. As public awareness of the new regulations expands, tax-exempt organizations are increasingly likely to receive such requests. In addition, making a public copy of your IRS materials available on the Internet strongly demonstrates your commitment to public accountability. It's easy, inexpensive, and the right thing to do.

An organization named Philanthropic Research, Inc. is working with the IRS to publish copies of tax-exempt organizations' annual information returns online, but doesn't expect to start making these widely available before late 1999. You may wish to publish your tax returns to the 990online.com site for just one year, hoping that PRI has started its own publishing program by then, or you may wish to be assured that your annual information returns will be widely accessible for the full three-year required period starting right now by having 990online.com publish them for that entire duration. Either approach is a reasonable one.

If you are interested in scanning your own IRS materials and posting them online at your own Web site in fulfillment of the regulations, without any help from 990online.com, complete instructions are available. If you already have your own Web site, the use of a scanner, and someone who is (or is willing to become) familiar with the online publication process, this is likely to be the least expensive option.

Who Operates 990online.com?

990online.com is operated by Eric Mercer, who also administers the NPO Public Disclosure Regulations Site and the Online Compendium of NPO Regulations Web sites, as well as serving as Operations Manager for DU Educational Technology Services, Inc. a small U.S. educational nonprofit organization. He has been an active participant in NPO public accountability forums, and has been referred to as "one of the leading lights" in the movement to use the Internet to improve public accountability of nonprofit organizations. He is the author of several articles in the NPO-FAQ about nonprofit organizations and the Internet, including the very popular "How Can We Use the Internet for Fundraising?" He authored the Web pages for the Multistate Filer Project's Unified Registration Statement kit, including creating the PDF-format version of that kit. His work has been described in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the Gilbert Center's Nonprofit Online News, and elsewhere.

As part of the Form 990 and 1023 Public Access Site project, he posted some organizations' IRS materials online at their request without charge before the final IRS regulations for making these materials "widely available" were released, and continues to make those documents available online. The 990online.com project is an extension of these other projects, but charges a fee because PDF-format documents are rather large, disk space on Web servers is not free, and it is expected that the new IRS regulations will encourage many more organizations to publish their IRS materials online. However, 990online.com was not established to be a profit-making business.

If You Have More Questions

If you have more questions, you can either send email to info@990online.com , use our online feedback form, or phone 1-416-929-7920. Another place you might find useful information is the NPO Public Disclosure Site. Please note that 990online.com cannot provide legal or financial advice, and that you should consult your organization's lawyer or accountant for professional advice as needed.

Many of the documents referred to at this site are in Adobe PDF format, which can be read using the Adobe Acrobat Reader software. If you don't already have it, it can be obtained for free through the Adobe Web site.

This page was last updated or reviewed on 14May99.

Order Form & Cover Sheet

Federal Law and Regulations

Our Procedures in Fulfillment of IRS Requirements

Database of Documents Submitted by Exempt Organizations

990online.com / attn. Eric Mercer
484 Avenue Rd. Suite #1106
Toronto, ON M4V2J4

Web address - http://990online.com
phone 1-416-929-7920
fax 1-416-929-5793