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(+) How to Check Up on Your Genealogy Society’s Financial Affairs

17 May 2024 3:19 PM | Anonymous

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

How much do you know about the inner workings of your genealogy society? Such organizations would include the larger societies, such as National Genealogical Society or the New England Historic Genealogical Society. It also includes smaller societies, such as the African-Atlantic Genealogical Society, the Charlotte County (Florida) Genealogical Society, and the Dallas (Texas) Genealogical Society. 

Do you know how much money is collected each year by your society? Are the total fees collected increasing or decreasing each year? Do you know how much of that money is spent? Even more important, do you know HOW it is spent? How much of it is spent on members’ services versus on the building or on salaries? In fact, just what is the salary of the executive director, CEO, or whatever the position is called? How about the salaries of the other senior executives of the society?

Would you like to check similar numbers for a museum or a historical society or a charity that asks you to donate money? How much of your donation is paid out to the charity’s needs versus how much is put into the senior executives’ pockets? 

Sure, you can read the societies’ or charities’ financial statements in their annual reports. I’ve read many of those in recent years and can tell you that such annual reports are always painstakingly written in order to present each organization’s financial picture in the best possible light. While U.S. laws dictate that the published financial information must be accurate, it is easy to omit a few items that are not specifically required by statute. Compensation for senior executives is one such figure that frequently seems to be missing from the reports distributed to members. 

Would you like a detailed and unbiased “second opinion” as to the entire financial picture? That includes salaries as well as how the rest of the money is spent. Luckily, that information is easy to obtain.

Almost all genealogy societies are non-profit operations. In the United States, this means that most societies operate as public 501 (c)(3) non-profit organizations. As such, these organizations must file certain tax documents with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The document that interests us is the Form 990, the annual reporting return that certain federally tax-exempt organizations must file with the IRS. It provides detailed information on the filing organization's finances, including the salaries of the top executives if their total compensation is more than $50,000 each. In effect, a Form 990 for non-profit organizations is roughly equivalent to a Form 1040 for individuals: it provides “the whole picture.” The Form 990 can provide fascinating details of a non-profit’s financial affairs, usually far more detailed than what is found in the organization’s printed annual report.

Unlike your tax return or mine, the tax documents of public 501 (c)(3) non-profit organizations are public information. You have a right to see these public documents, whether you are a member of the organization or not. 

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