Organizations defy call for transparency
Updated: December 6, 2013 at 9:33 am
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For a second year, qnotes is reporting on the financial health and well-being of a host of community non-profit organizations. The data and other information has been collected from the paper’s second annual Community Assessment Survey, a tool designed to gauge community organizations’ financial health and measure their commitment to transparency. This year’s survey responses, however, are less than appealing — more than half of the groups asked to participate declined.
The survey, inspired by several other similar initiatives undertaken by both mainstream and LGBT news publications, has a three-fold goal: (1) Gauge the financial health of our community’s largest organizations; (2) Assess these organizations’ strengths, weaknesses and needs; and (3) Provide organizations an extra means for exposure and outreach.
In an historic show of transparency and trust, qnotes’ 2010 Community Assessment Survey resulted in the participation of each of the 22 non-profit groups across the Carolinas asked to complete it.
A change in qnotes’ editorial direction and distribution areas earlier this year resulted in a decrease in the number and type of organizations asked to participate in this year’s survey. Of the 16 groups that were asked to participate, nine — more than half — declined.
The request for participation included a request for Forms 990 or other financial documents open to public inspection. Forms 990 are the annual tax return forms that non-profit groups must file with the Internal Revenue Service.
Many of the groups declining to participate also declined to provide the requested Forms 990 or did not have Forms 990 or other financial reports readily and publicly available either via their own websites or on GuideStar.org. A non-profit group is legally required to disclose their Forms 990 when asked.
qnotes first requested each group’s participation via U.S. Postal Service on June 28, 2011. Groups were given nearly a month to complete the short survey and were requested to return it by July 22, 2011. Additionally, qnotes reached out to organizations via email with digital versions of the survey and reminders about the participation deadline a total of five times on June 28, July 12, July 20, July 26 and July 28.
NC Pride continues to operate in shadows
Last year’s Community Assessment Survey and the resulting coverage revealed that NC Pride had failed to file their Forms 990 for several years in a row. Though the organization, officially “The Pride Committee of North Carolina,” did complete the inaugural survey, they were unable to fulfill our 990 request.
At the time, NC Pride Director John Short said he and his organization would work to fix the oversight; nearly a year later, it remained uncorrected. On June 8, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revoked NC Pride’s tax-exempt status — the only active LGBT community organization in the state to lose its 501(c)3 status.
Short remained silent for more than a week after the revelation. On June 19, he issued a written statement and said the group was working with the IRS to restore their tax-exempt status. He also noted that 100 percent of the group’s revenue — self-reported at $65,000 last year — came from their Pride Guide advertising revenue alone. There has been no way to officially verify Short’s claims regarding the revenue, though it’s factual inaccuracy is likely certain as the group collects fees and other payments for vendor spaces and other services.
Since Short’s brief, written statement to qnotes on June 19, he has repeatedly declined and ignored several requests for more information regarding the IRS revocation, the group’s finances and their leadership (a full, public list of the group’s board of directors and their contact information remains elusive).
On July 22, Short also declined to participate in this year’s Community Assessment Survey.
“While we will not be participating with your project this year, I can tell you that we now expect to have our 501c3 status restored by December of this year and will be sending you our current 990 form at that time,” he wrote in an email.
Other declining organizations
Charlotte Pride Band declined to participate and did not have any publicly-available Forms 990. The group was founded in 2010 and has not yet been required to file these forms.
The Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee declined to participate; their finance reports were not publicly and readily available at the time of this report.
One Voice Chorus and Southern Country Charlotte also declined to participate. Though both groups had a Form 990 on file at GuideStar.org for tax year 2008, there were no documents available for 2009, the most recent year for which other organizations had valid Forms 990.
Finally, qnotes also requested participation from three of Charlotte’s primarily LGBT faith congregations: Metropolitan Community Church of Charlotte, New Life Metropolitan Community Church and Unity Fellowship Church of Charlotte. Each declined to participate. Churches and other faith institutions are not required to file Forms 990 with the IRS.
What’s in the survey?
Each organization that receives a Community Assessment Survey is asked to provide:
• information about their organization type and status and membership and leadership structure;
• feedback on their own self-reported strengths, weaknesses and needs;
• an open-ended answer to the question, “Other than funding concerns, what is your organization’s biggest need at this time?”;
• a list of items on the organization’s “wish list;”
• information on organization expenses and revenue;
• a complete list of the organization’s board of directors; and
• information regarding the organization’s top officers and employees including salary and benefits totals for each. : :
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About the author: Matt Comer was the editor of QNotes, first hired to serve in the role in October 2007, with his tenure ending August 23, 2015.