Public disclosure rules are those requirements set by Congress to ensure that private foundations make certain tax information available to the general public. This ensures that private foundations are accountable to the public. It is important that you comply with the requirements or fines can be imposed.
As a private foundation, you are required to make the following documents available:
- Form 990-PF, the annual information return filed with the IRS, for the three most recent years;
- Form 1023, the application for federal tax-exempt status (and all related correspondence with the IRS); and
- Form 990-T, the unrelated business income tax return.
To be technically “complete,” these documents must be provided exactly as filed with the IRS, including all signatures.
Copies for inspection
Foundations must provide copies of the above documents for inspection during normal business hours at their offices (usually on the same day requested), or at an alternative location, if the foundation has no office (within 30 days of a written request).
Copies by request
Foundations also must respond to requests for photocopies of the above documents, within 30 days of receiving the request. You may charge reasonable fees for copying and mailing costs. If charging a fee, documents must be provided within 30 days of receiving payment. (In certain cases, foundations use an agent for photocopies. In this instance, the foundation must immediately provide the name, address, and phone number of its local agent, and the local agent normally must provide the copies on the same day it receives the request).
The Web option
You may avoid having to comply with requests for photocopies if you make your documents “widely available” by posting them on the Web, with signatures. The Web site must be in a format that allows persons to download, view, and print the documents free of charge.
Another option is to rely on GuideStar which automatically posts your three most recent Forms 990-PF on its website
, making it easy to fulfill the 990-PF portion of the request. However, GuideStar will post your 1023 and 990-T Forms only if you pay them to do so. In addition, keep in mind that there is some lag time between your filing with the IRS and GuideStar posting your forms online. Also check your state laws, as certain states, such as New York, impose further disclosure requirements.