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Using NCCS Data as a Tool for Nonprofit Research. April 4, 2006 Tom Pollak Associate Director National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute The National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute.

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using nccs data as a tool for nonprofit research

Using NCCS Data as a Tool for Nonprofit Research

April 4, 2006

Tom Pollak

Associate Director

National Center for Charitable Statistics

at the Urban Institute

the national center for charitable statistics at the urban institute
The National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute
  • Repository of IRS data on nonprofit organizations; regular research reports, Almanac on dimensions of sector
  • NCCS created 1981; later, part of Independent Sector’s research division
  • Moved to Urban Institute in 1996 – Nonpartisan economic & social policy research organization
  • NCCS is part of Urban’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy headed by Elizabeth Boris
nccs the past 10 years
NCCS – The Past 10 Years
  • Small team of staff & consultants
  • Leverage through technology & collaborations
  • Building data infrastructure
    • Collecting & standardizing files
    • Putting data online
    • Providing guides and resources to make data accessible
    • The Foundation Center

NCCS – The Past 10 Years (2)

  • Data quality
    • Electronic Filing of 990s
    • Annual IRS-NASCO Form 990 Meeting
    • Overhead Cost Study & other research
  • Building new data sources
    • GuideStar & IRS collaborations
    • State nonprofit associations, umbrella orgs
    • The Foundation Center
nonprofit organizations concept map
Nonprofit OrganizationsConcept Map

Registered with IRS but not filing annually



501(c)(3) Private Foundations

Other exempt organizations 501(c)(4), 501(c)(5), etc.

501(c)(3) Public Charities

All priv. founaations must register & file annually

Registered AND filing annual returns

Registered & Filing Annually

Registered & Filing Annually

Informal & unregistered organizations & community groups (numbers unknown)

dimension 1 irs registration
Dimension #1: IRS Registration
  • Are the organizations registered with the IRS?
    • A neighborhood association, recreation club, or community theater with gross receipts less than $5,000 per year is a nonprofit but is not required to register with the IRS.
  • Religious congregations are not required to register, but many do so anyway.
dimension 2 annual form 990 filing
Dimension #2: Annual Form 990 Filing
  • Is organization required to file an annual IRS Form 990? (Gross receipts are more than $25,000 & org. is not a congregation.*)
  • All 501(c)(3) private foundations must file annual IRS Form 990-PF forms.

* Congregations, religious denominations, & closely related organizations are exempt from filing.

dimension 3 501 c 3 s and other exempt orgs
Dimension #3: 501(c)(3)s and Other Exempt Orgs.
  • Are donations to the organization tax-deductible?
    • Public Charities. If donations are fully deductible, then likely to be a “501(c)(3) public charity.” These include most nonprofit arts groups, universities, hospitals, & human service organizations.
    • Private Foundations. If donations are partially deductible, then likely to be a “501(c)(3) private foundation.” These include the Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, & 60,000 others.
  • Otherwise, it could be a trade association, labor union, Elks Club, HMO, or a wide range of other “exempt organizations.”
dimension 4 formal informal
Dimension #4: Formal - Informal
  • There is no agreement on the outer boundaries of nonprofit “organization”
  • The Formal:
    • Everyone agrees that a private college that files an IRS Form 990 is a nonprofit.
the less formal
The Less Formal

Are these “nonprofit organizations”?

  • A neighborhood association that only meets every couple of years and is NOT incorporated?
  • A group of people that get together for a 6-month fight against the building of a Wal-Mart?
  • A group of people who get together once a month for football or to play jazz?
  • What if they call themselves the “Podunk City Jazz and Football Club”? Have a club president? Pay dues? Advertise for new members? Are incorporated?
datasets available
Datasets Available
  • IRS Business Master Files
  • NCCS Core Files, based on Form 990
  • GuideStar-NCCS Nonprofit Org Database, based on Form 990
  • IRS Statistics of Income Samples
  • Other Files...

Good News, Bad News

  • No perfect file. All have limitations
  • If clear about research questions and goals, can usually make good use of our data
irs business master file
IRS Business Master File
  • All organizations registered as tax exempt with IRS
  • 1.4 million (Jan. ’06)
  • Files available for 1989, 1995-2006
  • Basic descriptive information
    • Mostly from Form 1023 Application for Exemption
    • Gross receipts, assets, tax period from most recent Form 990

BMF Limitations

  • Missing years in early 1990s
  • 21% of orgs couldn’t be located in a 1990s survey
  • Only the most basic descriptive information
  • Addresses may be out-of-date
  • Some errors on finances
  • Only partial (and probably not representative) coverage of religious organizations
nccs core files
NCCS Core Files
  • Annual files of organizations filing IRS Forms 990
  • Standard methodology: 1989-2004
  • Public charities, private foundations, and non-501(c)(3) organizations
  • 289,000 in 2003
  • 100+ variables
  • Major financial variables, most types of rev.

NCCS Core Trend Files

  • “Long and narrow” compilation of small subset of key financial variables from 1989 through latest Core file
  • Available for public charities or private foundations
  • Update for 2004 should be available soon.
  • We can also create custom “wide” datasets with imputed values for missing years

Core File Limitations

  • No government grants!
  • Missing returns: 1990, 1992…
  • Public charities, private foundations, and non-501(c)(3) organizations
  • 289,000 in 2003
  • 100+ variables
  • Major financial variables, most types of rev.

GuideStar-NCCS Nonprofit Organizations Database:

“Digitized Data”

  • Key punched independently by GuideStar from images scanned by IRS and purchased by NCCS
  • Finances checked and edited by NCCS
  • NCCS adds classifications, and other fields for researchers
  • All 501(c)(3) public charities filing 990s, EZs
  • FY 1998 – 2003

“Digitized Data” (2)

  • 400+ variables in multiple files
  • Part 3 program & org. descriptions
  • Part 5 and Sch. A, Part 1 compensation
  • Gov’t grants & full revenue detail
  • Full functional expense & balance sheet detail
  • “Naughty bits”: Other information and Sch. A

“Digitized Data” Limitations

  • Only public charities
  • Approximately 1% of EINs don’t match IRS’s official list – no easy way to merge with or supplement Core Files
  • Data quality issues in Part 2 due to poor reporting by charities
  • Missing organizations in 1998 due to IRS scanning problems
  • Challenge working with large, complex database
irs statistics of income soi samples
IRS Statistics of Income (SOI) Samples
  • Annual files of organizations filing IRS Forms 990 -- 1982-2002
  • Public charities, private foundations, and non-501(c)(3) organizations
  • 16,000 organizations in 2002 public charity sample (990 filers plus & 500 EZ filers)
  • 400+ financial variables for 990 filers

SOI Samples (2)

  • All orgs with $30+ mil. in total assets
  • Sample of others, and very few EZ returns
  • Skilled editors adjust rev., exp. & bal. sheet line items
  • Ideal for national studies of finances of large organizations

SOI Limitations

  • Field names (“P010”) difficult for researchers (although easier for “array processing” in SAS)
  • Editing/changing of items is both a strength and a weakness
  • No access to confidential 990-T information on unrelated business income without “special sworn status”
other files
Other Files
  • Unified Database of Arts Organizations – combines IRS, state arts agency mailing lists, and other sources
  • Itemized household giving by zipcode, 1997
  • “501(h) electors” – Organizations that report their advocacy expenses under special IRS rules
  • 1992 program descriptions from IRS 990 Parts III & VIII
nccs resources for researchers http nccs urban org
NCCS Resources for Researchers
  • Researcher’s Guide to NCCS Data
  • Database file descriptions
  • KnowledgeBase, FAQ+ include technical notes, “snippets” of information, and more
  • Table Wizards, fact sheets and state profiles
  • The DataWeb
  • Classification Tools

Getting Access to NCCS Data

  • The problem with intellectual property:Marginal costs for distribution is zero but cost to create is large
  • NCCS mission is to make data available for research purposes
  • Until several years, we made all data available for free to researchers, but can no longer afford this “business model”

NCCS Data: Our Costs

  • Tranforming raw data into researcher-friendly databases
  • Cleaning the financial data
  • Purchase of rights to GuideStar data
  • Ongoing classification
  • Processing data requests
  • Technical support to users & the IRS, Creating & maintaining the DataWeb
  • Outreach & data quality work
  • And more…

NCCS Data: Your Costs

  • If seeking funding for research using our data, PLEASE talk to us first about including real cost of data in your funding proposals
  • DataWeb access but no data extracts:
    • Free for students and scholars for research purposes
    • Cost for Digitized Data – nominal
  • For unfunded projects, typical cost in the $100-500 range depending on number of databases, with discounts based on need (“the impoverished student” loophole)
  • NTEE organization-level classification
    • National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities
    • Purpose, type and major function of orgs.
    • Translates to federal government’s more general NAICS codes
  • Nonprofit Program Classification (NPC)
    • Program level activity codes
    • 1 mil.+ programs
    • NCCS implemented using auto-coding systems

Classification Quality

  • NTEEs
    • 90% at major group level
    • All records given a NTEE confidence code
    • 800,000 records with firm codes, another million with “draft” auto-codes
  • IRS Activity Codes
    • NCCS discourages use
    • Old IRS self-coding system
    • Useful information
    • 3 per org. assigned: 1st is best

NTEE Classification

  • National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) created in early 1980s
  • Hierarchical:
    • 10 major categories: From arts, environment, education, health care, human services, & lots of “others”
    • Broken into major groups (letters of the alphabet)
    • 600+ “decile” and “centile” codes
  • Example:
    • Major group “P”: Human Services (general)
    • “P6”: Emergency Assistance
    • “P62”: Victims’ Services

NTEE Classification

  • National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) created in early 1980s
  • Used by NCCS, Independent Sector, the Foundation Center
  • Starting in 1998 IRS “determination specialists” began assigning codes to new organizations – quality an issue
  • IRS SOI classifications started independently around the same time for SOI sample
  • NTEE-XP used by Foundation Center
  • “Condensed” NTEE-CC (only 600 codes and no “common codes”) created for IRS by NCCS
A - Arts, Culture, and Humanities

B - Education

C - Environmental Quality, Protection, and Beautification

D Animal-Related

E - Health

F- Mental Health, Crisis Intervention

G- Diseases, Disorders, Medical Disciplines

H - Medical Research

I - Crime, Legal Related

J - Employment, Job Related

K - Food, Agriculture, and Nutrition

L - Housing, Shelter

M- Public Safety

N - Recreation, Sports, Leisure, Athletics

O - Youth Development

P - Human Services - Multipurpose and Other


Q - International, Foreign Affairs, and National Security

R - Civil Rights, Social Action, Advocacy

S - Community Improvement, Capacity Building

T - Philanthropy, Voluntarism, and Grantmaking Foundations

U - Science and Technology Research Institutes, Services

V - Social Science Research Institutes, Services

W - Public, Society Benefit - Multipurpose and Other

X - Religion Related, Spiritual Development

Y - Mutual/Membership Benefit Organizations, Other

Z - Unknown/Unclassified

getting started with the dataweb
Getting Started with the DataWeb
  • Become a registered user at or email
  • One-Minute Tours on the Data Web
  • Guide to Using NCCS Data
nccs irs e filing
NCCS & IRS E-Filing
  • July 1999 – Began e-filing project(IRS schedules e-filing of 990s for 2007)
  • Feb. 2002 – Live in Pennsylvania with Desktop990 (990 and state forms)
  • Oct. 2002 – Colorado added
  • Feb. 2004 – IRS goes live with e-filing 990s; NCCS unveils 990-EZ Online
  • Feb. 2005 – NCCS unveils 990 Online. To date, nearly 9,000 returns created.
  • Jan. 2006 – IRS requires largest orgs to e-file, implements Fed-State Retrieval System, 7 certified 990 e-filing providers
  • March 2006 – New infrastructure supports multiple states, state-only filings, & morec
990 online the turbotax for nonprofits
990 Online:The TurboTax for Nonprofits!
  • Web-based system for preparing Form 990 and e-filing with IRS
  • Immediately improves quality of reporting
  • More than 9,000 returns created
  • Free
  • Easy to use
  • Drop-down menus, calendars for selecting items & dates
  • Program takes care of all arithmetic
  • Verifies that all required items are included
  • Context-sensitive links to IRS help and expert tips
990 online
990 Online
  • Generates an Adobe PDF for easy printing, saving
  • Electronically file with the IRS
  • Adding state forms now
  • Secure
  • Import common schedules from Excel
  • Data in usable format
  • Saves data from year-to-year
  • No duplication of entries: Questions are asked only once
the future of e filing
The Future of E-Filing
  • Integration of federal and state e-filing systems
  • Dramatic improvements in quality of information that nonprofits put on forms
  • Dramatic improvements in ability of regulators to ensure quality of data by checking for missing items, checking ratios, etc.
  • Decline in costs of communication from regulators if can be done electronically
  • Save tens of millions in key punching costs
  • Open door to better use of 990s for outcome measurement, use by umbrella associations, and researchers
new projects helping new organizations register with the irs
New Projects: Helping New Organizations Register with the IRS
  • NCCS working on development of web-based Form 1023 Cyber Assistant – application for tax-exempt status – for IRS
  • Provides assistance for preparer, like 990 Online
  • Goal is better quality applications; also usable data
using 990 data for financial analysis themes
Using 990 Data for Financial Analysis: Themes
  • “All 990 Data is Not the Same”: Some 990 items are highly reliable and valid; others are not
  • No single “nonprofit sector”: Almost always need to distinguish large & small
  • Sector vs. panel analysis
  • Fiscal vs. “Core”/”circa” years

No Single Nonprofit Sector:Distinguishing Large and Small Orgs in Analyses

  • Financial profiles are very different
  • If aggregate large and small,large will overwhelm and distort small orgs’ finances
  • Combine medians,ratios, and panels instead of aggregating dollars

Good Parts, Bad Parts

  • Part 1 Revenues: B+
  • Part 2 Functional Expenses: C
  • Part 4 Balance Sheet: A-
  • Parts 4-A & B: A-
  • Part 5 Compensation: B
  • Part 7 Income-Producing Activities: C

Part I: Revenue

  • Gross receipts vs. total revenue
  • Government grants or contracts?
    • Audited financials’ “grants and contracts”
    • Statutory need to distinguish & redefine government grants
  • Read the instructions!
    • Private contributions
    • Dues
    • Special events

Part I: Net Income

  • “Excess (or deficit) for the year” – line 18
  • Beware of this number: Unstable from year to year
  • The effect of multi-year grants, inkind contributions, etc.

Part II: Functional Expenses

  • 990,not EZ
  • What’s fundraising?
    • 37% of orgs reporting more than $50k in direct private contributions reported ZERO fundraising costs!
    • Urban Inst./Indiana Univ. Center on Philanthropy Overhead Cost Study
  • Guidelines clear but POOR reporting, understanding

Part II: “Other Expenses”

  • More than 30% of "other expenses" could be allocated to one of the existing lines on the Form 990.
  • More than 1/3 of the amount reported by the sample in "other expenses" were for consulting services.
  • Other major categories included occupancy costs (already on the 990), advertising, and insurance.

Part IV: Balance Sheet

  • Best section on 990
  • Closely corresponds to audited financials
  • Weaknesses: No distinction between current and long-term assets and liabilities
  • No “quasi-endowments” or board-designated funds distinguishable
    • Use investment assets as proxy?
  • Liquid assets: all but real estate and equipment?

Part IV-A & B: Reconciliation with Audited Financials

  • Can be very useful if small sample
  • On latest SOI file?
  • Not in Digitized Data
  • Donated professional services
  • Unrealized gains and losses from investments

Part VII: Income Producing Activities

  • Gross under-reporting of Medicare and Medicaid revenue. Why?
  • Nobody wants to pay Unrelated Business Income Taxes
  • Only available on SOI files

“Core/Circa” vs. Fiscal Year

  • Fiscal year: Only returns with ending period in given fiscal year: 12/31/2005 and 6/30/2005 = FY 2005
  • Core/Circa Year: Latest return received within past 2 years
  • SOI Year: (Almost) only returns STARTING in given calendar year.
  • Choice depends on research question, availability of data

Geographic Analysis

  • Street Addresses
    • 23% are PO Boxes in BMF
    • 27% in Core files
    • All but several hundred have 10-digit zipcodes
  • County FIPS codes, using 5 digit zipcodes
  • MSAs derived from FIPS
  • Headquarters vs. service delivery area
  • National offices, local branches
  • Community good or ill?
    • Group homes vs. services for residents
  • What’s missing?
    • Depends on the study
    • Missing food pantries, small arts orgs
    • Religious service organizations – maybe
    • Government services
using nccs data for surveys
Using NCCS Data for Surveys
  • Mail surveys
    • 21% of BMF orgs. cannot be located (non-filers)
    • GuideStar “digitized data” vs. Core Files
    • Use GuideStar data for contact names
  • Phone surveys
    • Use GuideStar data for phone numbers & contact names
    • Challenges reaching large organization Exec. Directors

Which Sampling Frame?

  • Start with population, and start excluding…
    • Include unstaffed organizations? (personnel costs as indicator)
    • Include trusts?
    • Include supporting organizations?
    • Include orgs with national or non-service focus?
  • Start with narrowly tailored group of operating organizations?

Response Rates

  • 50% possible, but very difficult and expensive
  • Pre-Tests and Cognitive Interviews
  • Dillman multi-modal approach: repeated mail & phone contacts
  • Use of incentives?
  • Internet option is easy, but don’t depend on it
    • NCCS weakness: No email addresses!
    • But outside services are option to explore