For ordinary citizens and business owners, April 15 is the dreaded day of reckoning when it comes to filing tax returns.
But for nonprofit organizations across the country, including perhaps more than 200 in Stanislaus County alone, a new deadline is vital to their existence: Oct. 15, 2010.
That day, any small nonprofit behind three years in filing its paperwork with the IRS automatically loses its tax-exempt status. Without it, they could be taxed on donations, assuming donors find any incentive to give if they can't deduct it from their own taxes.
The new deadline stems from changes made to the Pension Protection Act in 2006. Until then, these small nonprofits with annual incomes of less than $25,000 didn't have to file annually. Beginning in 2007, they did.
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The penalty for failing to file for three straight years is harsh: They would lose their tax-exempt status if they weren't up to date by May 17. IRS spokesman Richard Panick said the agency has sent more than 1 million letters to nonprofits nationwide, warning and reminding them of the new requirements.
Because it's the third year under the revamped laws, the IRS gave the nonprofits five extra months to do their paperwork. Hence, the Oct. 15 deadline.
With that in mind, the IRS recently released its own version of the Endangered Species list. I searched through it to find more than 240 at-risk nonprofits in Stanislaus County, plus three dozen in neighboring Tuolumne County and about 100 more in Merced County.
Lots of local groups listed
In theory, at least, a huge number of local organizations would be affected come one sweeping, ominous Ides of October.
These nonprofits include the Masons and Knights of Columbus.
They include ministries not linked with a specific church (churches are basically exempt). They include bands, drum and bugle corps, historical societies, agricultural groups and kids' sports clubs.
They include women's organizations, garden clubs and medical support groups. They include fire and peace officer associations, schools and even a taxpayers association.
The president of the Stanislaus Peace Officers Association had no idea his group was on the list, and the California School Employees Association (Modesto Chapter 7) said it has filed every year and is in compliance.
"If we are on this list, it is a mistake on (the part of) the IRS on which I will need to follow through," said Carol Serpa, treasurer of the chapter.
Jody Bennett, president of the Stanislaus County Fireman's Association, said his organization never has received one of those million or so letters the IRS sent, possibly because the government lists the association's address as 929 Oakdale Road. That was the location of the old fire station at County Center III, which was torn down in 2001 and now is home to a shopping center.
And, to the chagrin of those who seethe whenever Dave Thomas of the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association challenges local government officials, that organization is up to date with its paperwork.
The Stanislaus County Taxpayers Association, a different organization with a different tax ID number, -- note the word "County" in the title -- is on the list. Thomas said he suspects that organization of similar name was created to confuse voters into believing his organization supported a roads measure a few years ago.
"Which we did not," he said.
In all likelihood, many of these organizations are on the list because they ceased to exist years ago but, for varying reasons, never were deactivated in IRS records.
Disbanded, defunct, renamed
One is Harvest of Hope, which disbanded six or seven years ago when the Weed & Seed program evolved on Modesto's southwest side, said Pastor Wayne Bridegroom of Modesto's Central Baptist Church, which was instrumental in organizing Harvest to help area families.
Another nonprofit, Greater Modesto Area Churches, debuted in 1997 after floods ravaged the valley. The group, led by former Yosemite Community College Chancellor Tom Van Groningen, ultimately generated about $3 million in cash and in-kind donations to help rebuild more than 100 homes severely damaged by the New Year's Day floods. The nonprofit stayed intact for a few more years before handing its remaining balance of $170,000 to the Stanislaus Community Fund, Van Groningen said.
Even so, it took until just a month ago -- after the IRS released its list -- to satisfy the government's thirst for documentation, he said. The nonprofit is officially defunct.
The Latino Community Roundtable also is listed. But Secretary Maggie Mejia said the organization has disbanded under its original tax ID number and a year ago resurfaced under a new one but kept the name. So the old, defunct group -- not the new one -- is the one on the list.
There are some interesting organizational names on the list. My favorites are the California Oxen Association and the National Jim Beam Bottle & Specialties Club of Hughson.
Ultimately, it's pretty simple: Nonprofits wanting to maintain their tax-exempt status must get their books in order and their documents to the IRS by mid-October.
The disbanded ones will be purged by default, making the IRS' Endangered Species list a shorter read.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or email@example.com.