Revised 990 ... check before you donate

Filling in the Blanks - A revised tax form should make nonprofit organizations more transparent.


The IRS has completed a draft revision of Form 990, the main document nonprofits file with the government. The redesigned tax form is expected to roll out in time for 2008 filings.

Proposed changes to the form are intended to increase transparency and accountability—both for the IRS and for donors—and to make filing simpler for nonprofits, according to the IRS website.

Ken Behr, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), said the IRS is also responding to the need for information on terrorist organizations' financing.

The new design expands the core form from eight pages to ten pages, and increases the number of supplementary charts from two pages to fifteen pages. Organizations' earning and spending information will be featured on a summary page in the new design.

The new form also requires a breakdown of executive compensation of more than $150,000. According to Charity Navigator, the average compensation for a charity CEO is $141,947.

Organizations like Charity Navigator, Guidestar, and Wall Watchers use the publicly available Form 990s to guide donors and evaluate nonprofits.

Richard Hammar, senior editor of Church Law & Tax Report, said that many religious organizations—including almost all mission groups—have no reason to be concerned about the more detailed forms, because they are often exempt from filing Form 990s.

Churches, interchurch organizations, church-affiliated primary and secondary schools, and mission agencies do not have to file. However, nonprofit colleges and universities, nonprofit hospitals, charity organizations such as World Relief, and other Christian organizations must file annually.

Rusty Leonard, CEO of the watchdog group Wall Watchers, is enthusiastic about the changes. "There's no question that it was a step in the right direction," he said. "So three cheers for the IRS on this one. It was long overdue, but anything that increases transparency allows us as donor advocates to do our work for the average donor."


Charity Navigator

Comment: While churches are not required to submit a 990 form, most churches provide detailed financial accounting to their memberships. Before you donate to other organizations, check out their 990 form. www.guidestar.org provides 990's free of charge, but one must register.


  1. Even though they are not required to file a 990, I still think that most churches, school, and mission agencies should file one. Why you may ask? To provide a further layer of transparency to show financial accountability and fiduciary responsibility.

    The mission agency that I used to work for filed a 990 every year. I cannot comment what they do now.

    I think that it is another way to show responsibility.

    Anyone who balks at filing a 990, must have something to hide.


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