Are 501(c)(3) public charities required to send a major donor a copy of their independent auditor's certified financial statement for transparency & accountability?
Section 501(c)(3) public charities are required to provide a copy of their annual Form 990 tax information return to anyone who requests it. The Internal Revenue Service does not require charities to obtain or disclose a certified financial statement. Many of the 39 states and the District of Columbia that require a charity to register before soliciting contributions from residents of the state require a certified financial statement as part of the annual registration package if the charity raises more than a certain amount of contributions. These statements are then publicly available, so if you are filing them publicly there seems to be no reason not to provide a copy to those who ask.
Some groups are so eager to be transparent that they include a copy of both the Form 990 and the certified financial statement on their website. Others guard the financial statements like they are trade secrets to be protected at all costs. You are not “required” to give a financial statement to anyone (except to the regulators whose state laws require it), but failing to give it to those who have a reasonable reason to see it can suggest that you have something to hide.
Do you? Do you want to appear as though you do?
The state requirements for financial statements can be quite onerous. Massachusetts, for example, requires an audited financial statement when gross donations rise above $500,000 and reviewed financial statements when gross donations rise above $200,000. Be careful about this.
I'm involved in a similar situation now. I know the 990s are on Guidestar but where would the public be able to see the "Financial Statements" (Audited or not) that were submitted to the State? I've never heard of that.
The materials filed for charitable solicitation registration are normally available to the public. Call the state regulator of a state in which the organization is registered to find out how to get a copy. You can normally see on the Form 990 in Part VI, Section C, question 17 where the 990 is filed and consider that a list of states in which it is registered to solicit. You can get a summary of state filing requirements (including the threshold for requiring a certified financial statement) and the contact information for state regulators on the website of the National Association of State Charity Officials (www.nasconet.org). —Don Kramer
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