Even Guidestar has its limits

Guidestar.org is a great tool. The website provides useful information about 501(c)(3) charities and private foundations to anyone who registers. In many cases, the general information and tax returns of other 501(c) organizations are available.

Although Guidestar offers premium services, the amount of free information Guidestar makes available to registrants has provided many with a comfort level to rely on the website to document information about nonprofits. My recent experience, however, was a reminder that requesting source documents is the primary way to gather supporting information.

My first attestation job is an agreed-upon-procedure reviewing tax returns for an organization that is not a 501(c)(3). The organization wanted to ensure its chapters are recognizing and reporting revenue in the same way it is listed on their tax returns. The chapters have different fiscal years, and not all of them have provided their returns.

While sitting in wait, I turned to Guidestar. Unfortunately, not all the returns were available. And in one case, the chapter and its EIN were not even listed!

In a panic, I called the chapter and asked it to fax the returns. I also called the IRS to ask about its relationship with Guidestar. The IRS representative said Guidestar purchases the information from the federal agency, which is sent on CD. Once explained, I breathed a sigh of relief.

I will use the website to get what I can, then wait for the returns to arrive. Guidestar.org is a great tool, but nothing beats source documents for support.

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Alan is a sole practitioner based in Central Ohio. He made a career change at 40 after working as a journalist for more than 15 years. Alan started his practice in May 2010 and currently focuses on not-for-profit organizations, individuals and small businesses. He has helped a number of nonprofits obtain their tax-exempt status and assisted others with their audit, compliance and tax needs. Alan has overcome many obstacles, and has spent the past 11 years primarily as an auditor. He also has worked on audits of financial institutions, closely-held businesses and began his second career as an ABL field examiner.

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