I actually had a good experience with the IRS yesterday. Readers (all two of you) may recall that a few months ago I did some pissing and moaning about the fact our small county historical society, an organization that's got barely enough members to keep going and that operates on a shoestring so thin it could be used as a trout-fishing line, got hit with the requirement to complete the 990-EZ. The 990-EZ is not particularly easy; it's multiple pages long and entails an equally lengthy attachment (Schedule A, your income, sources of income, and expenses going back 5 years) which in turn apparently leads to the requirement to complete Schedule B (a detailed list of your donors and how much they gave). Not that we actually have to deal with Schedule B -- it applies only to individual donations of more than $5,000. Still, when doing Schedule A, you get to explain why Schedule B doesn't apply. Dealing with the mountain of forms last fall was kind of a nightmare. But it got done.
Unfortunately, at some point I checked a box on the return that I shouldn't have checked. One of the things waiting for me in the pile of mail when I got back to the museum was a letter from the IRS asking for More Paperwork, including completion of something called Part III on Schedule A and submission of Schedule B, which even if it doesn't apply to us still requires an explanation of why it doesn't apply. I spent the better part of a day making little whimpering sounds and resisting the urge to just curl up in a corner while asking the S.O. to find an institution to which he could commit me for awhile. I really didn't want to have to deal with this stuff anymore.
Finally, coincidentally after consuming more caffeine than I really should have, it occurred to me to call the toll-free number given on the form. I was reluctant. I'd heard the news stories about people being placed on hold for an hour or more and then never actually getting through to a human. But I picked up the phone, went through the usual menu of choices, heard a message saying the wait time was "3 to 5 minutes," and prepared to wait much, much longer than that. Except it wasn't long at all, 2 to 3 minutes tops, and the person I spoke with was actually helpful. Unbelievable.
Bottom line: he walked me through the return we'd submitted, explained what the mistake had been, told me how to fix it, provided an address with the mailstop number for the right department so it'll go straight to Exempt Organizations Accounts instead of passing through multiple other hands first, and also gave me advice on what to do for the current tax year. Tax-exempt organizations file on a different schedule than individuals, but I'd been a little unclear on just what the dates were for that schedule. Now I know. I also know what to do if we ever get a letter again. We're such a small and poor nonprofit that we should never ever have to do a long form; the 990-EZ is a form of torture reserved for groups who have budgets over $150,000 annually. So if we get a letter saying we have to file that form the first step is to call the toll-free IRS number for the EO Accounts. I could have saved myself a lot of work last fall if I'd done that when that first letter came. Live and learn.
The silver lining, and there is one, is that thinking I had no choice but to go back to 2009 in order to complete the 990-EZ forced me (and be extension the society as a whole) to look at our budget holistically. It was an interesting exercise and should have positive benefits down the road. That may be wishful thinking on my part, but you never know. . .