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Not paying federal taxes is a big deal for a charity and is one of the major benefits of going through all that work of Form 1023, state filing requirements, drafting foundational policies, and the like. For oversight and evaluation purposes, many organizations that fall under the Internal Revenue Code Section 501(a) provision need to annually file Form 990 (Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax) instead. Beyond aspects of the organization’s finances, Form 990 also collects information related to practical and operational aspects like conflicts of interest, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, and charitable gift acceptance. Submitting an annual filing (if required to do so under the provisions of Internal Revenue Code Section 6033) is also essential to retaining the coveted tax-exempt status. If an organization fails to file the required return for three consecutive tax years the IRS automatically revokes the entity’s tax-exempt status. (It’s one of many reasons why having updated, quality policies and procedures in place is so essential!)

https://www.gordonfischerlawfirm.com/nonprofit-policy-special-10-form-990/

One Form Doesn’t Fit All

Charities fall on a wide spectrum in terms of size, income, and number of programs. Consequently, not all organizations are required to file the same type of annual return. Indeed, some nonprofits are exempt from filing an annual return entirely. In addition to the “regular” Form 990, there are the options for 990-PF, 990-EZ, and 990-N.

Form 990 and the shorter 990-EZ are the most common forms filed by tax-exempt charities. Nonexempt charitable trusts (which are not considered private foundations) and section 527 political organizations are also required to file such a return.

Read on to find out which organizations need to file which annual form. (Note that this is general information and any specific questions on which form your organization needs to file should be directed to an attorney experienced in nonprofit law.)

woman looking at computer

Form 990

There are financial thresholds that determine which form your organization must file. However, any tax-exempt organization can choose to file a full return if they so choose. Organizations that meet or exceed the highest financial threshold are required to file Form 990. This includes organizations with gross receipts greater than or equal to $200,000 OR a total of assets greater than or equal to $500,000.

Form 990-EZ

Don’t let the title of this form fool you! There is less required information to report on than the full Form 990, but it’s not exactly easy. 990-EZ generally applies to small to medium-sized organizations with gross receipts less than $200,000 AND assets totaling less than $500,000. Organizations that meet these revenue qualifications can opt to file the full 990 or the EZ version.

Form 990-N

This is the shortest version of the 990 and isn’t so much of a full form as a basic electronic “postcard” submission. (The official name is “Electronic Notice (e-Postcard) for Tax-Exempt Organizations not Required To File Form 990 or 990-EZ.” Needless to say, I’m glad it’s been shortened to a simple “N.”) Smaller nonprofits with gross receipts less than or equal to $50,000 qualify to opt for this form. These nonprofits could also elect to file the more comprehensive Form 990 is they so choose.

For example, let’s say a group of high school students formed a small nonprofit with the non-partisan mission of registering high school students to vote across the state. Their reach is growing, but it’s still a small nonprofit with just $24,000 in gross receipts. This organization could certainly elect to file 990-N, but if they wanted to (if even for the experience) they could still choose to file a complete and full 990 return.

man at standing desk

990-PF

Private foundations, regardless of gross receipts or asset value, must file Form 990-PF. Nonexempt charitable trusts treated as a private foundation also need to file this form.

Extension

Just how sometimes you need to file an extension for your personal federal income taxes, the same goes for tax-exempt charities. If needed, the organization should file IRS Form 8868 by the annual filing due date in exchange for an automatic six-month extension.

When in Doubt, File Above and Beyond

Many organizations may find they need to file one form one year and then as they grow or change, need to file a different form the next. Other nonprofits may report gross income very close to either side of the threshold, which can make it confusing as to which form to file. When in doubt, it’s always better to “file up” and provide more information and data, rather than less. Hypothetically let’s say your organization filed 990-EZ last year, and is very close to the financial threshold, but could technically file 990-N this year. Just in case, it doesn’t hurt to file the more comprehensive 990-EZ again. For specific advice on your nonprofit’s individual situation, again, seek counsel from a qualified nonprofit law attorney.

Organizations Exempt from Filing

I mentioned earlier that some nonprofit organizations are not required to file an annual return of any type. These organizations include the following condensed list from this full IRS guide:

State institutions, federal corporations, & governmental units

Examples of state institutions exempt from filing an annual return include state-run hospitals and state universities. Tax-exempt federal corporations (organized under an Act of Congress) are also exempt from filing. Qualified governmental units and affiliates are also exempt if they meet the requirements listed in this Revenue Procedure document.

Political organizations

small american flag

Local and state qualified political organizations are only required to file Form 990 if they have annual gross receipts equal to or greater than $100,000. Additionally, the following are all exempt from filing:

  • Local or state committee of a political party
  • Association or caucus of local or state officials
  • Political committee of a local or state candidate
  • Any organization excluded from requirement to file Form 8871

Subsidiaries of parent organization

Let’s say there’s a statewide nonprofit organization that has small chapters in multiple counties across Iowa. If the “parent” organization files a group return that includes or “covers” the subsidiary, then that subsidiary would not need to file their own annual return. A parent organization may only file for the subsidiary organization if said subsidiary is covered under the IRS’ letter of exemption. Plus, the subsidiary covered by the exempt parent must give written consent for legal inclusion in the group return.

Additionally, parent organizations are under no obligation to file such a group return, in which case each subsidiary would be responsible for filing their own return.

Faith-based organizations

Faith-oriented organizations comprise a number of organizations that don’t need to file a version of Form 990, including churches, associations of churches, church-operated or religious-based schools, and some missionary organizations. Note that some religious groups that aren’t a church or associated with a church will need to register as a 501(c)(3) and file the corresponding annual return.

I recommend that all Iowa nonprofits have policies and procedures in place for top of the line compliance, but this advice especially applies to those organizations which need to file Form 990. (For most nonprofits that do need to file Form 990, it’s due in May, but it can vary. Technically the form is due the 15th of the fifth month after the organization’s taxable year.) Currently I’m offering a 10 for 900 nonprofit policy special, so that your organization may be prepared to file Form 990 and meet the gold standard for exemption!

https://www.gordonfischerlawfirm.com/hire-attorney-nonprofit-policies/

Any questions about which forms your organization needs to file, or want to discuss how the 10 for 990 policy special could be helpful to your nonprofit? Contact me at any time via email or by phone (515-371-6077).

Girl hanging ornaments on tree

Merry Christmas and happy last day of the 25 Days of Giving Series! If you’ve been reading along throughout December, thank you. If you’ve happened upon the GoFisch blog just now, welcome. I hope to see you back here often.

Celebrating the holidays with children, be it family or friends’ children, can be an wonderful opportunity to “see” the magic and delight of the season through their experiences. The season of giving is also an opportune time to teach and reinforce the importance of a different kind of giving beyond the wish lists for Santa and filled stockings. Consider these few tips when teaching the future generation of philanthropists about why charitable giving is important, and how to practice charity during December…and all year round.

Think Tradition

holiday themed cupcakes

Just like decorating cookies, trimming the tree, singing carols, or any other one of your family traditions, charitable giving can be made into an annual family affair. Incorporate this in a way that works for you and your family. One idea is instead of the traditional advent calendar in which children would usually get a small toy or candy each day give some loose change or “gift” a charitable activity you can do together. For the money, the child can collect and then then at the end of the advent period have then donate their money to a cause they care about.

Talk About It Together

Similarly to how I counsel my estate planning clients on the importance of speaking with family members about decisions for their estate, it’s important to actually talk about charitable giving as a family. Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy conducted a study and found that children whose parents talk with them about donating are 20% more likely to give to charity than kids who do not have those conversations with their parents.

snowmen figurines

Visit local charitable organizations together. (Or, if that’s not accessible at least go online to the charities’ websites.) Introduce your child to what the charity does and why it’s important. Organizations whose missions align with your child’s interests are a good place to start. For instance, the kid who loves animals may be interested to know that the local animal rescue helps animals when they get lost or hurt.

Practice What You Preach: Volunteer Time

Charitable giving doesn’t just have to be monetary. When possible set up volunteer activities you can do together. However, volunteer opportunities for children can be limited, so don’t be afraid to get creative. If your kiddo loves riding her bike around the park, plan a day where you pick up trash around the park. If your son loves to help you plant flowers, see if he can help out at the community garden. Of course, youth organizations like scouting programs (for example), can be a great opportunity for your child to put charitable work into action. Kids, just like most of us, will better be able to “see” the impact of charitable giving when they experience it firsthand. (Note: volunteer time is not tax deductible, but out-of-pocket expenses associated with volunteer work are!)

child in front of stocking

Shared Generosity

From your year-end giving charitable dollars, set aside a portion specifically for the kids to decide how to allocate. Have them brainstorm on with you and provide them with any suggestions/charities to match the causes they care about. You could also try out a matching program. Explain to them that every dollar they save throughout the year and want to donate to charity, you’ll match. If you need a colorful visual explain with Monopoly money.

 How do you involve your entire family with charitable giving? I would love to hear your ideas. Remember, this doesn’t have to be your own children. If you’re a teacher or simply an involved aunt/uncle or grandparent you can still instill in children the important philosophy of why giving can be the best gift of all.
Questions about your own year-end charitable giving? Contact me by email or phone (515-371-6077) at any time. 
Giving Tuesday How Will You Get

Giving Tuesday is held the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (November 28 this year) and is an important day for nonprofits to reach out to current and potential donors. Scroll through your social media feeds with the hashtag #givingtuesday and it seems like every organization, from the Malala Fund to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, is running digital marketing campaigns related to the day. Unlike Black Friday’s lines outside of stores in the middle of the night, #GivingTuesday’s activity is largely social media based. For nonprofits all of this online activity is typically directed to online giving portals.

These online giving pages facilitate easy charitable giving, but before you send inspired donors to your giving portal, it’s wise to ensure your organization is compliant with associated legal issues. Whether you have created your own donation platform or are using a third-party platform embedded on your site, make sure to follow these legal tips:

Donation Receipt

It’s important to offer a donation receipt to your donors so they make take the charitable contribution deduction on 2017 taxes. A proper receipt—whether in a generated pdf, email, mailed letter, or other printed/printable form—should state the donor’s name, date of contribution, and amount given.

If the donation is greater than $250 a written statement should be obtained stating that the organization did not give any services or goods. If the charity does in fact give goods or services to the donor in return for a donation, the acknowledgment should describe what was given and provide an estimate of value of the goods or services.

If those goods and services provided are valued greater than $75, the written statement must also specify the the amount of the donation that is tax deductible. (This figure is the amount of money that exceeded the value of the goods or services exchanged by the charity.)

You want to make certain your communications (such as written acknowledgements and receipts) with donors meet all legal requirements, as just discussed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also have some fun with these communications, or use them as an opportunity to stick out above the noise with creativity. Here are a couple solid articles, from The Balance and CauseVox  featuring ideas for upgrading your thank you’s to donors.

Online Charitable Solicitations

Fundraising activities fall under state law, and many states require charities (as well as individuals hired to assist the nonprofit with fundraising) to register with that state BEFORE any donations are solicited from residents of said state.

A charitable solicitation can be considered anything from a YouTube video with a call to action to donate, an e-newsletter sent to a subscriber list, to a simple Facebook post (and everything in between). Obviously, online giving has made figuring out which states your organization needs to register with complicated. Case in point, your organization may operate and be registered in Iowa, but if you have a “donate” button on your website, donations could come from residents of any state (or any country for that matter). Even the presence of a donation button could subject an organization to registration requirement in some states, but won’t in other states. (Charitable solicitation registration is not currently required in Iowa.)

The main policy guidance for state regulators on this matter was published in 2001 by the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO), called the Charleston Principles. But, these provisions aren’t law, merely suggestive, so how should your charity deal with online donations? It’s far better for the organization to be safe rather than found noncompliant which can involve costly penalties.

Initial Registration Requirements

Nonprofits accepting online donations have a two main approaches, according to the white paper, “Guidance for Compliance with State Charitable Solicitation Registration Requirements,” published by Harbor Compliance and the National Council for Nonprofits.

  1. Your charity could register (or file for an exemption) in all 41 states that require such registration, but that can be costly. The total fees to register your charity in all those states can range up to $5,000, (and that doesn’t even include professional fees you may need to incur, like paying lawyers or CPAs).
  2. A second option is to register only with states that require registration and from which you would reasonably expect donations. For instance, if your nonprofit operates in Iowa, depending on your fundraising activities, it could be reasonable to expect donations from residents of neighboring states such as Minnesota. Or, if a significant percentage of subscribers to your e-newsletter are from Illinois, it’s smart to register there. With this option it’s important to note that if you do receive a contribution from residents of another state that requires registration that triggers the need to register with that state.

Either way, it’s a good idea to look into the Unified Registration Statement (URS), a consolidated multi-state registration form. It’s also important to remember not only the initial registration, but also registration renewals (complete with deadlines and late fees).

Crowdfunding Considerations

Crowdfunding is anticipated to be a $90-96 billion dollar industry by 2025, and there are more and more nonprofits utilizing it as a tool within the fundraising mix. If your charity is using a crowdfunding site (Kickstarter and Indiegogo are both popular platforms) the charitable solicitation registration requirements covered above apply. But, this is also a good subject to broach the topic of fraud and misrepresentation because crowdfunding has opened the door to more people being involved. Charitable organizations are prohibited from engaging in fraud, using deceptive practices that are likely to create confusion, and misrepresenting the nature, purpose, or beneficiary of the charitable solicitation. This one’s a biggie because committing fraud or misrepresentation could mean a lengthy and expensive litigation process.

To avoid this risk it’s wise to have a vetted gift acceptance policy with clear guidelines regarding crowdfunding. Organizations should keep an eagle eye on fraudulent crowdfunding campaigns that may use the nonprofit as a beneficiary, but fail to ever actually donate funds. Yet, if dedicated volunteers and donors do want to crowdfund for you, that’s fantastic. The organization just needs to keep close watch on the campaign’s operation and offer crystal clear guidance on what campaigning on behalf of the charity is acceptable and what is not.

A day when the world comes together


#GivingTuesday is coming up quick (where did the year go?!), so now’s the time to double check any potential issues for noncompliance that could occur. If you have any questions with regard to your online donation compliance I would love to offer a free one-hour consultation. Contact me via email or on my cell phone (515-371-6077). Best of luck with your #GivingTuesday campaigns!