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How to Deal with Nonprofit Financial Information on Form 1023

The IRS wants to see your nonprofit financial information. (Surprise, surprise.) New organizations have to estimate their income and expenses for three years — the current year and two years following.

Making financial projections sends shivers down the backs of many folks, but it's really not that difficult. Ideally, you've made plans for your nonprofit already, and you can take the figures from your organizational plan. If you haven't written a plan, now's a good time to do so.

When you estimate your income, keep in mind the requirements for qualifying as a public charity. Diverse sources of income are important, both for qualifying as a public charity and for the stability of your nonprofit.

You also need to choose your annual accounting period. This period is usually referred to as your fiscal year. It can be any 12-month period you desire. Most organizations choose as their fiscal year either the calendar year (January 1 through December 31) or the period from July 1 to June 30.

Most government agencies operate on a July 1–through–June 30 fiscal year, and nonprofits that get support from government grants and contracts often prefer to operate on the same schedule. Some organizations offering services to schools set the fiscal year to correspond with the academic year. But the choice is yours. You can set your fiscal year from November 1 through October 31, if you want.

Your first accounting period doesn't need to be a full 12 months; in fact, it probably won't be. If you form your organization in September and select a calendar year as your fiscal year, your first accounting period covers only four months, September through December.

If you have an accountant, seek advice about the best accounting period for your organization. Remember that your fiscal year determines when future reports are due to the IRS and also when you prepare year-end financial reports for your board of directors. The annual 990 report is due, for example, four and a half months after the close of your fiscal year.

So if your fiscal year is the same as the calendar year, the report is due on May 15. If you always spend early May traveling to the Caribbean, you may want to pick another accounting period.

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