How to Get 501c3 Records

by John Cromwell; Updated September 26, 2017

The federal tax code grants 501(c)(3) organizations the right to not pay federal income tax and allows all contributions to these organizations to be tax deductions for the donor. In exchange for this right, the Internal Revenue Service requires that these organizations be transparent so that potential donors can be confident regarding where their money is going and how it is being used. Upon request, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization must disclose its application for 501(c)(3) status, its annual tax returns and any correspondence that it receives from the IRS.

Select which documents you will request based on the issues you are trying to address. Consider what time period you are interested in, what information you need and what forms meet those standards. There may be copying and mailing expenses associated with obtaining the charitable organization's information, so only requesting the documents you absolutely require is the best way to minimize those costs.

Review the charitable organization's website to determine if the documents that you require are available online. The IRS permits 501(c)(3) organzations to satisfy their responsibility to provide a copy of key documents by making them “widely available.” To meet this standard, generally, an organization may reproduce and post exact replicas of the original documents on its website.

Determine the location of the central office that would have the documents on file by reviewing the charitable organzation's website. If the copies are not available online or if you need to review the original versions, you will need to go to where the originals are kept. Charitiable organizations often have a "contact us" link on their website that you can use to call or email the central office to determine its location or where the documents that you require are kept.

Submit a written request to the charitable organization's central office to review or receive copies of the documents you require. If you require copies of the documents, no copies are available on the charity’s website, and you are unable to go to the central office, send a letter to the organization providing your contact information and what information you require. The organization should provide you with the copies you require within 30 days of receiving your letter, but may charge you for copy and postage fees for this service.

Submit a request to the IRS for copies of the documents that you require by completing Form 4506-A. Which IRS office you submit the completed form to depends upon what you are requesting. The appropriate address can be found on the IRS website.

Tips

  • If the charitable organization fails to provide you with the documents that you require, you can report the organization to the IRS for failure to comply with the tax code's disclosure standards. The IRS will assess a $20 per day penalty on all those responsible for failure to provide the requested documents. The complaint may be submitted to: IRS EO Classification, Mail Code 4910. 1100 Commerce Street, Dallas, TX 75242.

About the Author

John Cromwell specializes in financial, legal and small business issues. Cromwell holds a bachelor's and master's degree in accounting, as well as a Juris Doctor. He is currently a co-founder of two businesses.

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