National Center for Charitable Statistics

The Nonprofit FAQ

Is the IRS List of Recognized Charities Available On Line?
The IRS WWW site at is widely
regarded as one of the most useful and well-designed that exist. All the forms and instructions you might need can be found there; usually they are available in several different formats for reading on-line and for downloading.

Generally, topics of interest for nonprofit organizations are in the "Charities and Nonprofits" section of the IRS website at,,id=96136,00.html To see the full list of resources available here, click on the link "More topics..." at the bottom of the left-hand column.

Note (2/20/02):

IRS Publication 78, which provides the current list of "recognized" 501(c)(3)s, is available through the IRS website. The 2001 "electronic version" of the publication can be downloaded as a ZIP file; a link and advice about doing this can be found at the bottom of the IRS page referenced above.

Publication 78 provides only the name, city and status of recognized 501(c)(3) organizations. Philanthropic Research, Inc., operates the Guidestar service at which provides a look-up service for finding (c)(3) organizations and offers more information (based on their 990s and other sources) about some. Individual nonprofits often create listings about themselves at Action Without Borders' website And of course, many nonprofit organizations now have their own websites. A very quick way to find out a lot of information about a specific nonprofit it to do a search at using the organization's full name and the city where it is located as your search term.

In November of 1994, Brad Smith wrote this interesting note on the early days of online access to IRS information:

I have just finished reading the excellent first chapter and Appendix A of Bowen, Nygern, Turner, and Duffy's new book, The Charitable
. (Order href="">
The Charitable Nonprofits from Amazon.Com; a small royalty will be paid that helps to support this site.) It describes in wonderful and useful detail "the mysterious
world of the [IRS] Business Master File" (BMF). As an update to their
instructions on how to obtain data from the BMF, it will soon be
available on the IRS Statistics of Income BBS. The entire exempt
organization file will be divided into 7 files of approximately 46 to 58
megabytes each (approximately 2.5 to 4 hours to download using Zmodem).
These files will be updated monthly. Actually they're on the board now,
but if you attempt to download them, you will be told that your security
clearance (!) isn't high enough to do so. It turns out that the original
directive in the 50s that made exempt files publicly available stated
that the information would be released in response "to a written
request." It seems the lack of a written request when accessing the
board has some within IRS responsible for releasing data worried they
would not be in compliance with the original directive. :)

Reposted with minor changes May 24, 1998; rewritten 2/20/02 --PB