[I started writing this before I got word of the entire current OTW board resigning. But I still think it’s relevant to concerns I have about the organization as a whole. This goes beyond the current leadership and is a situation that needs to be addressed by the incoming board.
Other disclaimer: I am a tag wrangler for the AO3. I have nothing to do with the board or other OTW anything. I speak only for myself.]
Note: I am not a lawyer or anybody who knows anything about nonprofits, American or otherwise. But I do find it interesting that the Organization for Transformative Works hasn’t filed a Form 990 for 2014. (Here is where you can find previous 990s for OTW.) For those unfamiliar with this, every 503© exempt organization (i.e., registered charity in the United States) with more than $200,000 in revenue/gross receipts or assets of over $500,000 must file this form. The AO3 falls under this category.
GIANT FUCKING CAVEAT I WANT YOU TO READ IF NOTHING ELSE: Depending on the OTW’s fiscal year, the form may have been filed very late and not been processed for public view yet:
There is no one date on which all Forms 990 must be submitted to the IRS. Instead, a nonprofit’s filing date is determined by the end of its fiscal year (the 12-month period for which the organization plans the use of its funds); each filing organization is required to file “by the 15th day of the 5th month after” its fiscal year ends.
Organizations that file Form 990-EZ, 990, or 990-PF can also receive up to two 90-day extensions of time to file. Thus, the Form 990 for a nonprofit whose fiscal year ended on December 31, 2014, might not be filed until November 15, 2015. (Guidestar FAQ. Guidestar is one of those charity navigator and evaluation sites.)
According to another FAQ below on Guidestar, it can then take these sites up to two months to receive, process, and upload those 990s to the site. Sometimes it can be longer. I imagine it’s similar for other sites that do this. It may mean nothing that we don’t see one available.
THAT BEING SAID, here is a review of someone who purports to be a former OTW board menu on a charity review site. I do not see anybody with those initials or similar name listed as a former board member, but why would anybody post on a site like this if they didn’t have honest concerns? And they square with already known information about the OTW’s finances. Relevant excerpts:
As a former board member, I cannot recommend donating at this time. While the purpose is good, the financial transparency leaves a great deal to be desired. It does not seem possible to get any kind of statement from the Treasurer or present or past board members as to whether board members have been “reimbursed” for expenses, including travel, hotel, conference registrations, or professional opportunities and development that benefit the board members rather than the organization.
Additionally, there are no policies in place to prevent board members from traveling on the organization’s money, or for receiving “reimbursements” of any amount.
Also concerningly, there is a lack of financial transparency regarding expenses in general. Tens of thousands of dollars are reported as “program expenses” with no breakdown as to what they are. Given that the organization has no physical office and no staff, and is an all volunteer organization that supposedly has no physical property except some servers, how nearly $70,000 can be “program expenses” is baffling.
Therefore, despite a very promising beginning, I can’t recommend this organization to donors because of its very questionable leadership.
One of the things that is required by the IRS to maintain 503( c ) status is that the organization maintains lack of inurement, or private benefit, to a private shareholder or individual associated with the organization. I am not a lawyer, so it is entirely possible I’m wrong, but it does not appear to me that the OTW has demonstrated this.
This concerns me, because if the IRS wanted to, it is possible they could revoke the OTW’s nonprofit status. If we lose the OTW, we lose not only the AO3, but also the important legal advocacy work it does on behalf of fans in the areas of fair use and DMCA exemptions, among so many other things it does. I do not want to see that happen. I encourage the incoming board to make financial transparency a priority, starting with the promised budget that was supposed to materialize in November.