Q&A: Accessing nonprofit financial records


Q: Do newspapers have the right to access financial records of nonprofit organizations? Also, can nonprofit groups hold meetings in government-owned buildings?

A: Yes, government units can give permission to nonprofit organizations to hold meetings in a government-owned building, and that doesn’t mean the organization has to open its meeting up to anyone (as a governing body would have to do under the Open Door Law).

Nonprofits normally are not subject to the state’s Access to Public Records Act because they are not public agencies. There are some exceptions that can crop up if the nonprofit is being subsidized by taxpayer money.

Exceptions aside, nonprofits’ financial records are private and not subject to a public records act request. But federal law requires nonprofits to keep copies of their IRS tax forms (Form 990s) on site and available for inspection to the public.

These six- to eight-page forms can contain some interesting information about how much money goes to programming and how much to administration. I always recommend taking a look at those documents if you have questions about a nonprofit.