News and analysis
May 09, 2013

ProPublica Launches Online Tool to Search Nonprofit Tax Forms

The investigative-journalism organization ProPublica started a free online service today for searching the federal tax returns of more than 615,000 nonprofits.

ProPublica began building its Nonprofit Explorer tool on its Web site shortly after the Internal Revenue Service announced in April that it was making nonprofit tax returns available in a digital, searchable format.

ProPublica’s database provides nonprofit Form 990 information free back to 2001, including executive compensation, total revenue, and other critical financial data

Scott Klein, editor of news applications at ProPublica, said Nonprofit Explorer is not meant to replace GuideStar, the most familiar online service for searching nonprofit tax forms. Many search results on Nonprofit Explorer also offer links to GuideStar data.

“They have a much richer tool set,” Mr. Klein said.

For now, Nonprofit Explorer does not include the tax forms filed by private foundations but is expected to do so in a future update.

Competition for GuideStar

ProPublica, based in New York City, is supported by more than a dozen of the nation’s largest foundations and reported $10.1-million in 2011 revenue, nearly all from contributions, according to its nonprofit tax form found on GuideStar.

GuideStar is also a nonprofit organization. It reported $11-million in 2011 revenue, driven mostly from fees paid for its services beyond basic searching of tax forms, according to its tax forms found on Nonprofit Explorer.

“We’re not worried about it,” said Lindsay Nicholas, communications director at GuideStar. “Ninety-nine percent of the 10 million annual visitors that come to us use our data for free. We are glad when there are other sources. We like ProPublica, and we’ve worked with them in the past. The more, the merrier. We think this data should be everywhere.”

GuideStar’s board in March approved a new strategic plan to make its data more widely available in formats for better analysis of the information. The organization is testing new ways to deliver the data through application programming interfaces, Ms. Nichols said.

“We’re going to be giving more data to more people in the way they want it,” she said.

Send an e-mail to Doug Donovan.