3 ways to get data on charitable tax-exempt organizations

Any fundraising shop would have some data on foundations and other charitable organizations who made a gift in the past, are a future prospect, etc. Depending on how many charities you have in your database and how many new ones you are bringing, it can become cumbersome to keep track of:

  • Their status as a registered charity (Canada) or tax-exempt organization (US)
  • Their legal name and contact information
  • Primary contact, directors and trustees
  • Total support, giving history, programs, other financial information

Well, the first step is getting the right data on registered charity, and that’s what I’ll go over.

1. Manual search

This is the most obvious and most common way that fundraising shops get this information. They usually hire some temp staff, or a student (if they are in the education field), and use the online available resources. There are a few, such as the Foundation Center, Charity Navigator,  CharityData. What all of these have in common is that they use data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), so I will cover these instead.

IRS’ Tax Exempt Organization Search

Link: IRS’ Tax Exempt Organization Search

Source of data:

  • 990-N (e-Postcard) – for organizations receiving less than $50,000
  • Determination Letter – letter issued by IRS if an organization meets tax-exempt status requirements
  • Form 990 – Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax
  • Form 990-EZ – Short Form Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax
  • Form 990-PF – Return of Private Foundation or Section 4947(a)(1) Trust Treated as Private Foundation
  • Form 990-T – Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Return


  • Searchable by name, location, employer identification number, source of data
  • All of the determination letters and 990 form submissions are available in PDF format – this is a scan of the letter or that organization’s 990 form submission to IRS
  • Some of the 990 forms are filled out by hand, some which are hard to decipher
  • Shortcut: directors & trustees list can be found on Form 990, page 7

CRA’s List of Charities

Link: CRA’s List of Charities

Source of data: 

  • Form T3010 – filed by Canadian registered charities every year


  • Searchable by charity name and status
  • All information is in electronic format, so no need to decipher handwriting. That being said, there are a lot of steps and links to go through until you find what you need

2. Data download

The first option is manageable if you don’t have many records to go through. Well, there is another option which allows you to download a year’s worth of data, on your own computer and bypass some of the manual processes from the solution above.

IRS’ Exempt Organizations Business Master File Extract

The extract includes cumulative information on exempt organizations.

Link: Exempt Organizations Business Master File Extract


  • Data seems to refresh on a monthly basis
  • Files are in comma separated value (CSV), which can be opened in Excel
  • List of organizations can be downloaded by state or region
  • I encourage you to read their information sheet to determine what’s available in these files and what all the codes represent
  • Selected financial data extracted from the can be found in the 990, 990-EZ and 990-PF Forms, can be found in the Annual Extract of Tax-Exempt Organization Financial Data

CRA’s Open Government List of Charities

The extract includes cumulative information on exempt organizations.

Link: Open Government Portal (search for “list of charities”)


  • Data seems to refresh on a yearly basis
  • Last year’s data is not available online – to get the most recent one, please see the 3rd option below
  • Files are available in CSV format, with some helpful documentation available as PDFs
  • Data dictionaries are also available if you are planning of building data integrations in order to consume this data easier
  • Data is split over multiple files, depending on the type of data being presented. Depending what you need, you will need to stitch a few of them together

3. Data request

If you don’t want to go through the above process, you can also request this information. This service only seems to apply to Canadian charitable organizations as I couldn’t find anything on the IRS side. If you know of this service, please let me know.

Simply fill out an electronic request on CRA’s site and you will get the CSVs of all publicly available data from the list of charities. Select your data criteria and CRA will actually send you a physical CD with all these data files. It might take a few weeks, but you will get the most up-to-date data. If the size of the file(s) is emailable, you will receive an email instead. All the thanks of this option go to my colleague, Amy, who found out about this service.

If the data available for the online downloads will be updated on a more regular basis, this option will become obsolete.


Since all of this data comes from the charities themselves in their tax forms, some of it might be incorrect or not standardized. For example, the primary contact information of a tax-exempt organization can contain the name of the person, or just the position, or name and position, or only the last name, and so on. As you can imagine, in order to properly use this data, it should go through your data governance and data quality procedures.

Another thing to consider is building your reference tables and populate them with available data from both CRA and IRS on the IDs, organization types, programs, and different sections of the available tax files. This will reduce your workload for future data downloads.

Regardless of what your data usage and integration strategy is, these 3 options offer a great deal of valuable information in order to keep your database up to date and further create values to your fundraising programs.

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About the author 

George Firican

George Firican is the Director of Data Governance and Business Intelligence at the University of British Columbia, which is ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world. His passion for data led him towards award-winning program implementations in the data governance, data quality, and business intelligence fields. Due to his desire for continuous improvement and knowledge sharing, he founded LightsOnData, a website which offers free templates, definitions, best practices, articles and other useful resources to help with data governance and data management questions and challenges. He also has over twelve years of project management and business/technical analysis experience in the higher education, fundraising, software and web development, and e-commerce industries.

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