Form 990

Transparency

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A nonprofit debated keeping their Form 990 tax return private and sharing it only with the Executive Director and Executive Committee.  The well-intended conversation was based around the financial disclosures that might cause concern to individuals who reviewed the form without appropriate context.  Eventually, the board reached the realization that Form 990 was a public document, viewable on a number of public websites.  Secondly, a board member made a compelling argument that the organization should use the Annual Report as a way to put the programs and numbers in context.  Lastly, the Treasurer and Finance Chair walked the board through the return, stumbling upon Part VI, Section B, Question 11a, “Has the organization provided a complete copy of their Form 990 to all members of its governing body before filing the form?”  The board discussion turned into an act of governance.

The question of which documents must be made public and which may remain confidential causes confusion.  Many social sector enterprises invest significant time and energy into debating this topic.  BoarSource provides a one-page overview that may be especially helpful as a starting point.  I encourage sharing this resource so more time can be spent on the work that matters.