Using the IRS BMF for Pre-1990 Trend Analysis (Method Note)

Our data prior to 1990 are, unfortunately, quite limited. The best we can do is identify the number of 501(c)(3) organizations that were recognized by the IRS (we call them 'registered' as a shorthand) prior to 1990 AND that were still alive in 1995. These numbers may be off by quite a large margin for several reasons:

-Registered organizations are not necessarily active. In a studies of registered organizations, more than 20% could not be located and were deemed inactive in the mid-1990s.

- An unknown number of organizations active in 1960 may have died before 1995 and would be no longer included in the 1995 file.

- The ruling date (RULEDATE) indicated in the IRS files does not necessarily reflect when the organization became active, especially for years prior to the 1960s, the decade during which the IRS computerized its records.

- Some commentators have suggested that an unknown proportion of nonprofit organizations simply didn't register with the IRS in earlier years. If, for example, an organization founded in 1950 didn't register until 1995, then the ruling date would be 1995, not 1950.

Further compounding the challenge is that we have only 60% of the organizations in the 1995 file classified by activity.

Further reading:

Kirsten Gronbjerg (Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly) on the discrepancy between IRS ruling dates and incorporation dates among Indiana organizations.

Thomas Pollak (NCCS Working Paper on Religious Organizations in IRS Files) on the distribution and quality of ruling dates found in the Business Master File.

Added 01/21/2004 by tpollak, Modified 12/27/2006 by tpollak


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