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Thinning the Ranks–Alert!

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

I’ve had many a late-night debate about whether the field as a whole might actually be healthier if there were fewer museums, and some of the perpetually unstable ones closed. Whether or not that ever happens, we may be on the verge of having many fewer museums technically “in existence” (as nonprofit entities, at least) by virtue of neglected paperwork.

The IRS is about to revoke the tax-exempt status of any small nonprofits (revenues of $25k or less) that have not filed a 990-N form by May 17. This is a result of new filing requirement, established in 2006. More details are available in this NPR story.

The IRS estimates up to 200,000 nonprofits are on the verge of losing their nonprofit status, and has set up a
website where organizations can check on whether they have filed. For example, a search on nonprofits in Ohio (my home state!) with the word “museum” in their name turns up 22 organizations. Some, like the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery , may still be in the fund-raising phase (though OVMD’s website says they offer travelling exhibit bus.) Some like the Kettering Moraine Museum and Historical Society actually have ceased to exist as an independent entity. But there may be real and useful groups in there as well, doing good work. The Children’s Doll and Toy Museum of Marietta seems to actually exist. You might want to take a look for any “littlies” you are involved with or care about.

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As the NPR story points out, the organizations losing their nonprofits status from failing to file can always reapply for tax-exempt status. Meanwhile, this may be one step towards thinning the (recorded) ranks and getting a better picture of how many nonprofits in the US are actually active and trying to thrive…

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