The time has come for us to shut down the Open990.org website. For similar information, we recommend that you check out Nonprofit Explorer by ProPublica.
The difficult decision to close our virtual doors stems from several factors.
The most urgent issue is data access. Open990.org works by consolidating various public data streams that are published by the IRS. In the past year, IRS data updates have become increasingly unreliable. Few machine-readable filings were made available through the first half of 2022, and the Exempt Organization Business Master File began to reflect inconsistencies and delays.
As the data on which we depend has grown stale, an increasing number of profiles reflect out-of-date information. This is unfair to the constituents of these organizations, who face communication hurdles and lost time trying to reach out. It is even more unfair to the organizations themselves, which lose donations and suffer communication challenges.
In a similar light, some grantmakers have begun to misuse Open990.org profiles as an eligibility screen. We have heard from 990-N filers who are rejected from grants because Open990.org has zero or minimal data on them. This is unfair to these small nonprofits, which have followed the rules and are trying to grow their capacity.
In some ways, though, our decision reflects the success of our key goal. Open990.org was founded with the purpose of democratizing access to nonprofit data. When we started, most datasets were paywalled, and free access to 990-based profiles was severely limited. Today, this situation has changed: raw data is available from irs.gov, free datasets are available from multiple sources, and detailed profiles are freely available from several websites.
Nonprofit Explorer (by ProPublica) is a particularly excellent resource. When we started, its profiles and search engine were limited. Now, Nonprofit Explorer provides nearly everything Open990.org does, and many things it does not.
Several individuals external to Open990 were instrumental to its operation. The first version of Open990.org’s technology was based on work done at Charity Navigator. Their decision to open-source that work helped pave the way for what would eventually become this website. CEO Michael Thatcher, in particular, deserves our gratitude for his consistent support.
Cinthia Schuman Ottinger of the Aspen Institute opened doors for us, and provided us with a means to collaborate directly and in person with experts like Dr. Jesse Lecy of the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) and Miguel Barbosa of CitizenAudit.
We would also like to thank the Pro Bono Partnership, which provided us with legal guidance at every step of the way.
Most of all, we would like to thank our fellow members of the Board of Directors: Joe Tarkoff, David Squires, Melissa Mahabir, and Alfredo Garcia. They have selflessly supported us at a philosophical, personal, and practical level throughout this adventure.
The decision to shut down was not easy or quick. But the first responsibility of a nonprofit is to advance its mission. For reasons both happy and disappointing, shutting down is the action most consistent with Open990.org’s mission to democratize access to usable public data about organizations that claim a charitable tax exemption.
In the month leading up to this decision, we saw over 170,000 unique visitors. Hundreds of thousands of people have visited us to help understand the organizations they love, to reveal misuse of the public trust, and to find the best possible recipients for their charitable dollars. We are proud to have supported you through all these goals and more, and we are confident that you will find the resources you need going forward.
Dr. David Bruce Borenstein, Chief Technology Officer
Dr. Heather Kugelmass, President