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IRS Makes Charities’ Financial Data Easily Accessible

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The Internal Revenue Service announced Thursday that it would make it easier for the public to access data on Forms 990 filed electronically by tax-exempt organizations.

The form, which outlines a nonprofit’s activities and governance and provides detailed financial information, will be available for the first time in a machine-readable format through Amazon Web Services.

Form 990 data had previously been accessible only in image files. Now filings data from 2011 to the present will be available as an XML file that is downloadable from the web via AWS.

The publicly available data will not include donor information or other personally identifiable information, the IRS said.

“The publicly available information on the Form 990 series is vital to those interested in the tax-exempt community,” IRS commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement.

“The IRS appreciates the feedback we’ve received from a variety of outside partners as we’ve worked together to explore improvements to make this data more easily accessible.” 

The IRS action has been a long time coming — and not without resistance from the agency.

Two years ago, a California federal judge turned down a motion by the IRS to dismiss a lawsuit brought in 2013 by an advocacy group to make nine charities’ tax forms easier to search for information about their revenue, expenses, programs, salaries and governance issues.  

In January 2015, the judge ruled in favor of the advocacy group, setting in motion development of technology that enabled this week’s release of machine-readable data.

The data include Form 990, Form 990-EZ and Form 990-PF and related schedules, except for some donor information. The IRS also redacts certain personally identifiable tax-identification numbers to prevent the data’s misuse.

Data from Form 990-N (e-postcard), which is used by some smaller nonprofits, will not be available, but can be accessed through

The IRS said Form 990 was its main tool for gathering information about tax-exempt organizations, educating organizations about tax law requirements and promoting compliance.

In addition, it said, most states rely on Form 990 to perform charitable and other regulatory oversight and to satisfy state income tax filing requirements for organizations claiming exemption from state income tax.

— Check out Americans’ Charitable Giving Set Record in 2015 on ThinkAdvisor.


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