On Friday, January 31, 2020, the IRS surprised most of the nonprofit community by announcing a new online version of Form 1023, the application required of nonprofits seeking recognition as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. This e-fileable version was immediately live, and will become mandatory by April 30, 2020…no more paper and no more snail mail packages.
The 26-page paper version has remained largely unchanged for over 30 years, the only significant changes being a series of filing fee updates here and there. The new Form 1023 online version joins Form 1023-EZ, the streamlined application for micro-charities released in July 2014, on the Pay.gov platform.
Once the news hit, our Formation Team immediately began to put the new version through its paces, entering several clients’ data into it. The questions are largely the same as the paper version, but significantly rearranged. There are notable updates to several questions that finally bring the application into the 21st century with regard to web-based communication.
For example, a question on Schedule B (the questionnaire for private schools, colleges, and universities) formerly required a school to annually publish its non-discrimination policy in a local newspaper, even dictating the size of the font and column-inches of the ad. Now, an organization is allowed to permanently publish its policy on its website instead. Progress indeed!
Another significant element is that the multi-page application itself seems to be well thought-out with regard to field masking, cross-checked data, and conditional logic. You simply cannot enter junk answers and expect to progress to the next page. It won’t work. The application pretty much forces the user to know what they’re doing before it will accept answers.
This is in major contrast to the IRS’s first attempt at an electronic Form 1023 over a decade ago, a project titled Cyber Assistant. Foundation Group was chosen by the IRS back in 2008 to be the sole beta tester for Cyber Assistant. That program was not web-based, but rather software that had to be installed on a PC. It was not well-coded, and IRS pulled the plug before it ever went live. It has taken 12 more years to finally get an electronic version released that works as it should.
So far, we’re impressed. The biggest takeaway we noticed is that it will likely discourage do-it-yourself filers, and likewise, greatly reduce the amount of incomplete and garbage applications the IRS has to deal with. At first blush, it would seem that an online version would make DIY easier, but we disagree. Incomplete applications simply cannot be submitted.
One more thing: the filing fee remains $600, but now must be payed online via credit card. No more checks.
The new Form 1023 is live now. After April 30, you won’t be able to use anything else.