Automatic Revocation of Non-Profit Exempt Statusby Michael Patrick Brewer on Jul. 29, 2010, under Politics, Veteran Legislative Update, Veterans Benefits
I am a subscriber to Guidestar and have used them faithfully for about 15 years. They are a wonderful resource for non-profits, as they match you up with philanthropists and charitable foundations. I used them when I was the Director of the Fan Kane Foundation for children with head injuries. We often forget there are as many folks looking for places to give as there are people in need. America is a very charitable nation.
I bring this to you now, as it may well impact many veteran outreach programs. Most all are reputable, yet as human behavior is what it is, there are a few con jobs.
My take is that Homeland Security has a small hand in this effort to weed out the chaff.
Automatic Revocation of Nonprofits’Tax-Exempt Status
What Nonprofits, Grantmakers,
and Donors Need to Know
Updated July 27, 2010
Linda M. Lampkin
ERI Economic Research Institute
© 2010, GuideStar USA, Inc. All rights reserved.
Automatic Revocation of Nonprofits’ Tax-Exempt Status
So are there really close to 2 million tax-exempt
organizations operating in the United States—or
not? Soon we will be closer to a more accurate
picture of the sector.
For decades, once an organization received its
determination from the IRS as tax exempt, that
status was final—it remained in effect unless
affirmatively revoked by the IRS.1 Although
hundreds of thousands of nonprofits had to file an
annual information return (Form 990, 990-EZ, or
990-PF) with the IRS, a significant number failed
to do so, and the majority of exempt organizations
were not required to file because they did not meet
For many years, these non-reporting organizations
remained listed as tax exempt, but it was unclear
whether they were active and didn’t meet the
reporting thresholds, met the reporting thresholds
but neglected to file, or were in fact no longer
operating (had merged, achieved the mission, or
not, and/or stopped activities). When IRS attempts
to contact non-reporting organizations went
unanswered, the only recourse available to the
IRS was to revoke those organizations’ tax-exempt
status. The IRS was reluctant to take this step.
The situation changed with the passage of the
Pension Protection Act in 2006. Among the law’s
numerous provisions was a new requirement for
almost all exempt organizations to file information
with the IRS annually, starting in 2008 for
activities from January 1, 2007, on. And the IRS
is now required to revoke the tax exemption of any
organization required to file that doesn’t do so for
three consecutive years. Revocations will affect not
only the organizations that lose their exemptions
but also the donors and funders that support them
and the audiences that rely on their services.
Just How Many Tax-Exempt
Organizations Are at Risk?
In a word—lots! Some nonprofits still are not
required to file, including religious congregations
and state institutions.2 But the remaining exempt
organizations now must submit a return to the IRS
each year. The IRS created a new form, Form 990-N,
for smaller organizations that previously did not
meet the thresholds to file. See the appendix for
more information about Form 990-N and the
mechanics of filing it.
In April 2010, as the first filing deadline that
would trigger automatic revocations drew
near, GuideStar analyzed the IRS Exempt
Organizations Master File (also known as the
Business Master File or BMF) to determine
how many organizations might be at risk. The
April BMF listed more than 1.3 million exempt
organizations required to file an annual return
with the IRS. Of that number, more than 373,000
had never filed, and another 73,000 were at least
three years in arrears with their filings.
Note: These materials are intended to provide only a general summary and overview of this topic as it
pertains to nonprofits that have been granted tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code. These
materials are not to be considered legal advice applicable to any particular situation, and organizations
and individuals needing specific advice and counsel on these matters should always consult with
What Does “Revocation of Tax-Exempt Status” Mean?
May 17, 2010, was the first filing deadline that
led to automatic revocations. At the end of the
following month, the Urban Institute’s National
Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) estimated
that almost 300,000 small nonprofits had not yet
completed the 990-N and were in jeopardy. Fiftyeight
percent of the organizations were 501(c)(3)
public charities. The remaining nonprofits at risk
were tax exempt under other 501(c) subsections.
The NCCS estimates that about 16,000 additional
organizations are part of a group return; these
organizations are not required to file if their
national offices file on their behalf.
In July 2010, more than 355,000 nonprofits
appeared to be facing revocation. A new NCCS
report found that more than 292,000 small
nonprofits still need to file Form 990-N.3
GuideStar’s analysis of the July 2010 BMF
revealed that more than 63,000 larger nonprofits
have failed to file a Form 990, 990-EZ, or
990-PF during the past three years.
Organizations that registered with the IRS
between 2008 and 2010 still have time to file
within the three years and are not yet subject
What Does “Revocation of Tax-Exempt
Revocation has a drastic and expensive impact
on a nonprofit. If it’s a charitable organization,
it will no longer be able to accept tax-deductible
contributions. Whatever type of exempt
organization it is, it will need to pay federal
income taxes. It may also incur penalties for failure
to pay income taxes, to say nothing of the loss of
the trust of its donors, members, and clients. Plus,
most grantmakers (such as private foundations
and government entities) will only give grants
to charitable organizations, i.e., those that are
tax exempt under section 501(c)(3). Obviously,
well-run organizations should be meeting their
So revocation is very serious—and if an
organization wants to regain tax-exempt status,
there are forms to fill out, fees to pay, and usually
some time to wait before it is granted again.
What Happens if I Give to a Charity
That Has Lost Its Exemption?
As long as the charity has not received a revocation
letter from the IRS, your contribution will still
be deductible. Once the charity receives the
letter, however, donations to it will no longer be
The IRS is waiting until 2011 to start sending
revocation letters. At that time, it will also post
a Web page of nonprofits that have lost tax-exempt
status because they failed to file with the IRS for
three consecutive years.
“Revocation has a drastic and
expensive impact on a nonprofit. If
it’s a charitable organization, it will
no longer be able to accept taxdeductible
type of exempt organization it is, it
will need to pay federal income taxes.
It may also incur penalties for failure
to pay income taxes, to say nothing
of the loss of the trust of its donors,
members, and clients.”
Impact of the Revocations on Grantmakers
What Impact Will the Revocations Have
Private foundations and sponsors of donor-advised
funds face much the same situation as donors.
Grants and disbursements made to a charity
that has lost exempt status but has not received
a revocation letter will still be qualifying
distributions, i.e., charitable gifts that reduce the
amount of federal tax a grantmaker pays. Payouts
made to a charity that has received a revocation
letter will no longer fall into this category, and
a grantmaker that declares them as qualifying
distributions could be subject to excise taxes.
Foundations may be permitted to make gifts to
organizations that are not public charities under
certain conditions. The foundation’s governing
documents must permit this activity, and the
foundation must assume expenditure responsibility
for these grants. Foundations electing to assume
expenditure responsibility for a grant must satisfy
a complicated set of rules and reporting obligations.
Failure to meet these rules could also subject the
foundation to excise taxes.
Once the IRS makes the revocations public,
grantmakers will need to amend their pre-grant
due-diligence processes. This new era of nonprofit
revocations has made relying on the IRS letter
of determination an incomplete and ineffective
process to protect a grantmaking foundation from
possible excise taxes.
GuideStar recommends that before making
a payout, grantmakers confirm that grantees
have not lost tax-exempt status, in addition to
verifying charitable status in IRS Publication 78
and consulting the IRS Business Master File (or
a third-party provider of BMF data that meets
the criteria outlined in IRS Revenue Procedure
2009-324 ) to identify supporting organizations.
Although IRS revocations will affect small
nonprofit organizations disproportionately, the
data confirm that tens of thousands of larger and
seemingly more established nonprofits will also
be removed from the IRS BMF.
IRS Response to the First Round
When the May 17 filing deadline passed and the
number of Forms 990-N received was drastically
short of expectations, IRS Commissioner Doug
Shulman made the following statement:
Now that the May 17 filing deadline has
passed, it appears that many small tax-exempt
organizations have not filed the required
information return in time. These organizations
are vital to communities across the United
States, and I understand their concerns about
possibly losing their tax-exempt status.
The IRS has conducted an unprecedented
outreach effort in the tax-exempt sector on the
2006 law’s new filing requirements, but many
“Once the IRS makes the revocations
public, grantmakers will need to
amend their pre-grant due-diligence
processes. This new era of nonprofit
revocations has made relying on
the IRS letter of determination an
incomplete and ineffective process
to protect a grantmaking foundation
from possible excise taxes.”
What Donors and Grantmakers Need to Do
of these smaller organizations are just now
learning of the May 17 deadline. I want to
reassure these small organizations that the
IRS will do what it can to help them avoid
losing their tax-exempt status.
The IRS will be providing additional guidance
in the near future on how it will help these
organizations maintain their important taxexempt
status—even if they missed the May
17 deadline. The guidance will offer relief
to these small organizations and provide them
with the opportunity to keep their critical
tax-exempt status intact.
So I urge these organizations to go ahead and
file—even though the May 17 deadline has
The IRS issued the guidance on July 26, 2010,
noting, “This one-time relief benefits Form 990-N
(e-Postcard) and Form 990-EZ filers only.
Organizations required to file Form 990 or
Form 990-PF are not eligible and are automatically
revoked if they fail to file for three consecutive
years.” The guidance also specifies that this onetime
relief is available to organizations whose
returns were due on or after May 17 and before
October 15, 2010, and reiterates that nonprofits
that do lose tax-exempt status must re-apply if
they want their exemptions restored.6 See the
appendix for more information.
What Nonprofits Need to Do
If your organization has been given tax-exempt
status by the IRS (that is, it has received an IRS
letter of determination), consult the IRS list of
filing exceptions to determine whether you need
to file an annual return. If you do, assess which
IRS form you should file by checking out the
requirements on the IRS Web site .7 Then file what
is required when it is due. Be aware that extensions
are available for Forms 990, 990-EZ, and 990-PF
but, with the exception of the one-time relief
announced in July, not for Form 990-N.
“The impact of revocation is dramatic—
donors can’t deduct their contributions,
grantmakers and funders won’t commit
funds, and the nonprofit will have to pay
federal income tax. If it is a charitable
organization, donors must be told that
contributions are no longer deductible.”
What Donors and Grantmakers
Need to Do
Stay abreast of the situation. The IRS is posting
updates in the Charities & Non-Profits section
of its Web site.8 GuideStar has created a nonprofit
resource center that provides an overview of the
issue and links to several resources, including a
Form 990-N filing status database; information
on filing exceptions, filing thresholds, and filing
deadlines and extensions; and FAQs.9 Independent
Sector is monitoring developments on the IRS
Oversight page of its site.10
Once the IRS makes the revocations public,
private foundations and sponsors of donor-advised
funds will need to add verification of continued
tax-exempt status to their pre-grant due-diligence
practices. GuideStar Charity Check, GuideStar’s
due-diligence tool for grantmakers, will incorporate
revocation information, providing a potential
grantee’s IRS Publication 78 record, BMF data,
and exemption information in a single report.
The Revocation Process
The IRS has yet to detail the ongoing revocation
process, other than to say that it will publish the
initial list of organizations that have lost exemptions
for failure to file on its Web site in 2011.
The impact of revocation is dramatic—donors
can’t deduct their contributions, grantmakers and
funders won’t commit funds, and the nonprofit will
have to pay federal income tax. If it is a charitable
organization, donors must be told that contributions
are no longer deductible. If the organization wants
to regain tax-exempt status, it must reapply for
exemption and pay fees based on revenue level.11
If professional assistance in filling out the form is
needed, then fees for those services must also be
added. Private foundations and sponsors of donoradvised
funds will need to take an extra step in
this time of uncertainty and change to avoid
The revocation of tax-exempt status by the IRS
as required under the PPA will have a tremendous
impact on the nonprofit sector. GuideStar’s
analysis of the July 2010 BMF indicates that as
many as hundreds of thousands organizations may
be at risk.
The long-term benefits of the revocation process
are much clearer than the short-term impact. The
increased transparency will lead to a more accurate
picture of the nonprofit sector, as almost all active
organizations will be reporting. The IRS will be
able to allocate its education and enforcement
resources more efficiently. Donors, funders,
members, clients, and other sector stakeholders
will have confidence that the organizations that
receive their support have reported as required
and deserve their trust.
This is a time of transition for nonprofit
reporting. It may be difficult for the many small
organizations with volunteer officers, but the
IRS has made many resources available on its
Web site, www.irs.gov, to help. In 2011, there
will be more information on whether this change
represents primarily a cleanup of the IRS files
or whether revocations have affected many
functioning organizations. But more transparency
and accountability can only help increase the trust
necessary to improve the nonprofit sector.
There is no late fee if the e-Postcard is not filed on
time, but a failure to file an e-Postcard, Form 990,
or 990-EZ for three consecutive years normally
will lead to revocation of tax-exempt status.
How to File Form 990-N
Filing is online only and accessible at http://
epostcard.form990.org. There is no charge.
The form is short and only requires eight pieces
• legal name of the organization,
• any name under which the organization operates
or does business,
• mailing address and Internet Web site address
• taxpayer identification number,
• name and address of a principal officer,
• evidence of the organization’s continuing basis
for its exemption from the generally applicable
information return filing requirements (typically
certifying that annual gross receipts are less
than $25,000), and
• notice of termination, if the organization no
longer exists or is going out of existence.
If a 990-N filer’s EIN (Employer Identification
Number) is not in the IRS system, a call to IRS
Customer Account Services at 877-829-5500
will be necessary.
Advice for Smaller Nonprofits That
Missed a 2010 Filing Deadline
Start by checking the IRS list of organizations
at risk of revocation, available at http://www.irs.
you find your organization on the list and its
gross receipts are less than $25,000, an officer
Who Files the e-Postcard and When
Exempt organizations that do not fall under a
filing exception and whose annual gross receipts
are normally $25,000 or less are required to submit
Form 990-N.12 They can also choose to complete
a Form 990 or Form 990-EZ, but the Form 990-N
is much simpler and quicker to fill out. Although
nonprofits with less than $5,000 in annual gross
receipts are not required to apply to the IRS for
tax-exempt status, typically they must now file a
The e-Postcard is due every year by the 15th day of
the 5th month after the close of the organization’s
tax year. For example, if the tax year ends on
December 31, the e-Postcard is due May 15 of the
following year. This means that if an organization
with gross receipts of $20,000, for example, has a
tax year that coincides with the calendar year (ends
December 31), it should have filed a Form 990-N
by May 15, 2008, for its 2007 activities, by May 15,
2009, for its 2008 activities, and by May 15, 2010,
for its 2009 activities. And if no form was filed for
each of the three years by May 15, 2010 (actually
Monday, May 17, 2010, because May 15 fell on a
Saturday), then the IRS is required to revoke the
nonprofit’s tax-exempt status.
According to the NCCS, almost 100,000 nonprofits
submitted their e-Postcards to the IRS before the
May 17 deadline. Since then, another 45,000 have
filed, with an average of 1,000 filing every day
through June 15. Although more than two-thirds
of small nonprofits operate on the calendar year
and had a deadline of May 17, 2010, IRS data
show that there are 67,000 nonprofits that must file
the e-Postcard by deadlines between July 15 and
December 15 and another 25,500 that must file by
April 15, 2011.
Appendix. Form 990-N and Filing Relief for Small Organizations
You will be required to pay a fee of $100, $200,
or $500, depending on the amount of your 2009
gross annual revenues.
If your organization is required to file Form 990
or Form 990-PF and has missed the deadline for
filing your 2009 return, you cannot participate in
the Filing Relief Voluntary Compliance Program.
You must re-apply to the IRS if you wish to regain
from the organization should file Form 990-N
If your organization’s revenues are $25,000 or
greater, view the information on http://www.irs.
determine whether your organization qualifies
to file a Form 990-EZ. If it does, follow the
instructions on http://www.irs.gov/charities/
article/0,,id=225704,00.html to participate in
the Filing Relief Voluntary Compliance Program.
Appendix. Form 990-N and Filing Relief for Small Organizations
Linda M. Lampkin is research director of ERI Economic Research Institute (www.erieri.com), a company that
provides Form 990 compensation data for use by nonprofits, and former director of the National Center for
Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute.
1. For more background and detailed descriptions, see Technical Explanation of H.R. 4, the “Pension Protection Act of 2006,” as Passed by the
House on July 28, 2006, and as Considered by the Senate on August 3, 2006, http://www.jct.gov/x-38-06.pdf.
2. Exceptions for certain types of organizations are still in force (churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of
churches; the exclusively religious activities of any religious order; section 501(c)(1) instrumentalities of the United States; section 501(c)(21) trusts;
an interchurch organization of local units of a church; certain mission societies; certain church-affiliated elementary and high schools; certain
state institutions whose income is excluded from gross income under section 115; certain governmental units and affiliates of governmental
units; and other organizations that the IRS has relieved from the filing requirement pursuant to its statutory discretionary authority). For a list
of filing exceptions, see http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=152729,00.html.
3. “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: A Look at Organizations That May Have Their Tax-Exempt Status Revoked,” http://www.urban.org/
4. See IRS Revenue Procedure 2009-32, Reliance Criteria for Private Foundations and Sponsoring Organizations, http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/
5. Statement of IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman on the Filing Deadline for Small Charities, http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/
7. See Annual Exempt Organization Returns, http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=152728,00.html, for the requirements, forms,
8. See Tax Information for Charities & Other Non-profits, http://www.irs.gov/charities/index.html.
9. Nonprofit Resource Center: Automatic Revocation of Tax-Exempt Status, http://www2.guidestar.org/rxg/update-nonprofit-report/nonprofitresource-
10. IRS Oversight of Charities and Foundations, http://www.independentsector.org/irs_oversight.
11. See IRS Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, http://www.irs.gov/
pub/irs-pdf/f1023.pdf; IRS Form 1024, Application for Recognition of Exemption under Section 501(a), http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/
f1024.pdf; and User Fee Program for Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division, http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=121515,00.html.
12. The IRS defines gross receipts as the total amount the organization received from all sources during its annual accounting period, without
subtracting any costs or expenses. See Gross Receipts Defined, http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=177784,00.html. See also Gross
Receipts Normally $25,000 or Less, http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=177338,00.html.