|How can I find a list of all nonprofit organizations?|
|Someone wrote to the editor of the Internet Nonprofit Center in December of 2000:
Is there a list of the 501c organizations in the United States. I am interested in contributing to a few churches and I need to know their status. There are a some individuals who are opening up churches and I would like to see a list of all churches that are established as 501c organizations. I will then have the opportunity to choose which organization I wish to contribute and feel protected by the IRS.
Putnam Barber replied:
The IRS publishes a list of all recognized public charities in "Publication 78." There is a facility for searching this publication on the IRS website at http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=96136,00.html. The text on that page explains the limits of what can be found in this source. There is also a facility for downloading an electronic version of the latest edition of the publication itself is at that same web page.
(A quick way of accessing this information through a simple online form can be found at http://www.melissadata.com/Lookups/np.asp. The firm offers many other free data searches; see http://www.melissadata.com/Lookups/index.htm)
Churches are not required to register with the IRS, so it's not clear what it might mean if a particular church does not show up in this list.
Recognition by the IRS means only that the purposes of the organization meet the criteria in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and that the explanation of the organization's activities showed that it would not be operated for private gain or in other ways that the law does not allow. This scrutiny provides a certain degree of protection, but donors should always look more deeply to be sure the organization will use their money as expected.
Philanthropic Research maintains the website http://www.guidestar.org/ with much more information about many registered public charities. PRI uses the annual information return (Form 990) as a source for financial and other operating information. But of course, that information is only available for organizations that file 990s (in general, the larger ones and, as noted, not churches). Organizations can also extend the information presented through the Guidestar site, but only a small proportion have done so. Chuck McLean, Guidestar's VP for Research, wrote to Cyber Accountability (a service of CharityChannel.com) on August 2, 2004, explaining that "the time lag between when the IRS receives a return and when we post it is generally 4-5 months."
The same situation is true everywhere in the world; there just aren't any lists that include all nonprofits. There are, though, many websites that offer access to specific types of nonprofits or nonprofits that are active in certain parts of the world. A good place to start digging for this sort of information is the Idealist.Org list of Nonprofit Support Organizations -- http://www.idealist.org/npofaq/12/8.html.
There are other sites that provide information in different ways. One that allows searching and provides many ways for groups to provide information about themselves is Idealist.org itself (a project of Action Without Borders) -- http://www.idealist.org. The "search for organizations" option allows searching to meet a variety of criteria (but of course only organizations that have listings on the Idealist.org website will turn up).
Often, the quickest way to find information about a larger, more established organization is to enter its name and the name of the city where it operates in the search facility provided by http://www.google.com/.
The Union of International Associations offers access to an online directory of "60,000 civil society organizations in 300 countries and territories" for a fee; there are reduced rates for short intervals and an annual subscription option. See http://www.uia.be
(Note: The Internet Nonprofit Center formerly offered a service called the Nonprofit Locator that provided a different interface to the data in IRS Publication 78. We regret that this service is no longer available.)
Posted 4/12/01; IRS web-address updated 3/16/02; revised 9/27/02; again 7/23/04, 1/6/05, 9/24,06; UIA added 8/4/08 -- PB