If Christians want to know how much money their favorite ministry took in last year, or how much its top officers make, current federal law does not make it easy for them.

The law only requires that charities show copies of their informational tax return, called Form 990, to those who ask in person. Charities do not even have to provide photocopies.

New IRS regulations, however, will change all that. Anyone else with an interest in a nonprofit organization's finances will soon be able to obtain Form 990 information with little effort. Under the new rules, organizations will have to send out copies of the forms within 30 days of receiving a written request, even if the request comes via e-mail.

INTERNET ACCESS: In addition, the Internal Revenue Service hopes that organizations will make it even easier to procure Form 990 information by offering it on the Internet.

"Regulators are pushing to get 990s up on the Internet because they want as much public accountability as possible," says Paul D. Nelson, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).

But, says Nelson, it may be a while before Internet users can find all the information they want. "Most organizations will go the mail way to begin with," he says, "and even down the road some may still say they don't want to volunteer that kind of information without being asked first."

He guesses that controversial organizations, especially those with public-policy agendas, will be more likely to wait until being asked before providing the tax information.

Bill Bowers, chief operations officer of Didax Corporation, a company that provides online technical support for several Christian organizations, including Promise Keepers, World Vision, and Christianity Today ...

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