Thousands of non-profits could unwittingly lose tax status
By Sandra Block, USA TODAY
Hundreds of thousands of small non-profits, from Little League teams to community soup kitchens, could lose their tax-exempt status on Monday because of an IRS filing requirement. The 2006 Pension Protection Act included a provision requiring all non-profits to file an annual return with the IRS.
Previously, non-profits with annual revenue of less than $25,000 were excluded. Non-profits that fail to file a return for three consecutive years lose their tax-exempt status. On May 17, the three-year clock runs out for non-profits that haven’t filed a return since 2007.
The Urban Institute estimates that up to 365,000 non-profits could lose their tax-exempt status if they fail to file by Monday. Groups that miss the deadline will have to apply for a new exemption and pay a user fee of up to $850. They could also be liable for taxes on any revenue earned before their exemption is renewed.
The requirement does not apply to churches or church-related operations.
Donors won’t feel the impact right away, says Sarah Hall Ingram, IRS commissioner for tax exempt and government entities. When a non-profit loses its tax exemption, the IRS is required to issue a public notice. Until the notice is published, she says, donations to the organization are still deductible. The IRS doesn’t plan to publish the names of non-profits that lose their exemption until January, Ingram says, “So if somebody gives between now and when the name gets on the public list, the donor is protected.”
Non-profits with less than $25,000 in annual revenue can file a 990-N, an abbreviated online form. Completing the online form takes less than 10 minutes, says Tim Delaney, president of the National Council of Nonprofits.
The IRS has conducted an extensive campaign to educate non-profits, but many small charities are still unaware of the requirement, says Tom Pollak, senior research associate for the Urban Institute. “Filing to the IRS has never been on their radar screen.”
The Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics has created a database of non-profits whose tax-exempt status is in jeopardy. It’s available at nccs.urban.org.