Better Data, Better Decisions, Better World


By Jacob Harold

federal judge ruled last week in a case against the IRS that signals an important shift in the availability of nonprofit data. As we have long argued, we are moving towards a future when nonprofits’ 990 data will be freely available in electronic (“machine-readable”) format. This ruling was a step in that direction.

So, what actually happened? In short, the judge ruled that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for individual e-filed nonprofit Forms 990 must be made available in electronic format. This does not mean that paper-filed Forms 990 must be made available in electronic format. Nor does it mean that the IRS must release all Forms 990 in bulk: the ruling applies only those individual forms listed in a FOIA request.

Colleagues have asked us if there are implications for GuideStar. In the short-term there are no implications. The judge ruled on a request for nine specific forms. GuideStar has data on 2.2 million organizations.

However, we do expect that the IRS will eventually release machine-readable 990 data in bulk. It may take quite some time: the IRS has faced significant budget cuts and has limited capacity. And, indeed, we do not envy the pressure they are under on this and many other topics. Still, we expect the shift will happen.

So in the long-term, there probably will be significant implications for GuideStar. And on balance, we think they’re quite positive! Over our history...

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