What are the public inspection requirements for private foundations?

Private foundations are required to make their last three years of tax returns (Form 990-PF) and their exemption application (Form 1023 or 1024) available for public inspection. The tax returns and exemption application must be complete and include all supporting schedules.

In general, foundations must provide physical copies of these documents to any individual who requests them.  However, a foundation can avoid having to provide physical copies if the documents are posted on a web page (maintained by itself or another organization) and it informs anyone requesting copies how to locate the documents. The web page must allow users to view, download, and print the documents free of charge. The web sites ProPublica and Candid GuideStar can sometimes fulfill the online posting requirements as they collect IRS filings on all U.S. based nonprofits. If the documents are not widely available on the internet, then physical copies must be provided upon request. Copies of the documents should be provided immediately in the case of in-person visits while written requests should be fulfilled within 30 days. If a foundation provides physical copies, it may charge a reasonable copying fee plus postage charges when applicable.

Regardless of whether the documents are available online, foundations must always make the forms available for in-person inspection at their office or at the office of an agent (but they do not have to let the inquirer leave with a physical copy if they are available online). There is no exception from the requirement of making these documents available for inspection by in person visits.

If the foundation does not comply with the public inspection requirements the IRS can impose rather severe financial penalties on any person who doesn't make the documents available.

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