Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 11, 2013

Director seeks answers

Michelle Carter of United Way looks for reasons forms were not filed

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — An executive director of a local nonprofit organization said Thursday she is still seeking the reason why essential forms necessary for her organization’s charity status had not been filed since 2008 with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.

The United Way of the Virginias lost its corporate status on Dec. 1, 2008 and its charity registration on Dec. 8 that same year, according to Jake Glance, a spokesperson with the secretary of state’s office. The corporate status and charity registration had been revoked because the United Way did not file the necessary reports.

When asked about the requirement to register yearly with the state and why this had not been done, Executive Director Michelle Carter said the United Way’s records were being checked.

“We’re trying to backtrack through our paperwork to see what happened,” she said. “The short answer is that I thought that we had. If we have not, we have contacted the secretary of state’s office and have fully complied with everything they have asked us to provide,” Carter said.

The United Way is also required to register annually as a charity with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office. A copy of the 990 form sent to the IRS is attached to the documentation sent to the secretary of state, but these had not been provided since 2008. The United Way is now working with the secretary of state’s office on this problem.

“We have contacted the secretary of state’s office and provided all of the documentation that they have asked for,” Carter said. “We’re not clear on what happened with that, but we are cooperating with them fully and providing them with all the documentation they need.”

Glance confirmed the secretary of state’s office had received the requested documents from the local United Way. The department’s charity division reviewed them and determined the United Way would have to file late fees and registration fees. Charities are required to file with the state if they receive $25,000 or more a year in donations.

“It turns out that they should have been registered with us every year that they were not,” Glance said.

Charities failing to register must pay $25 a month in late filing fees, and a $15 a year registration fee. The United Way must pay $1,450 in late fees and $75 in registration fees for a total of $1,525, Glance said. The registration expired in 2008, and the United Way was not registered in 2009, 2010 or 2012.

“They’re going to file this paperwork with the understanding it will expire in December 2013, and then in December they are going to have to file again for the whole year,” Glance said.

The second filing will last the United Way until December 2014.

Carter said the problem with the United Way’s nonprofit status developed because the IRS had not been receiving annual 990 forms, which charitable organizations are required to file, from the United Way.

Any notices the IRS sent to the United Way were mailed to an address on Tazewell Avenue in Bluefield, Va., that the United Way had never occupied, Carter said. The United Way had filed change of address forms with the U.S. Postal Service.

The United Way has retained its 501C3 nonprofit status since 2008. Carter said she received a letter in April from the IRS informing her of the revocation of their status. When the United Way inquired about why this was done, she learned about the IRS not receiving the 990 forms. Since that time, the local United Way has not been campaigning for funds, and has provided pledge cards only when they are requested, she said.

When the local United Way moved in January to its present location in downtown Bluefield, “we had extended our forwarding order,” Carter said. This is when an IRS letter about the lack of 990 forms reached the United Way.

“Once we contacted them (IRS) and were aware of the auto revocation, we provided them with copies of each of those 990s,” she said. “What led to the auto revocation was the fact they had not received them in previous years. We had filed every year.”

The United Way’s personnel do the job of filing status forms with the secretary of state. Carter said she joined the United Way in 2006 and has a two-person staff including herself and an assistant; Carter’s annual salary is $30,000. Carter stated she was aware that the forms needed to be filed with the state.

“Again, we’re trying to figure out what happened. I was aware that it needed to be done,” she said.

Carter said seeing whether the necessary forms to the secretary of state had been filed is not something she would have checked on a daily basis.

“I would have assumed it had been done,” she said. “Once again, we are complying with the secretary of state. They have been wonderful and very clear about the information they needed. We are working to resolve that issue.”

Charity registration forms are available on the West Virginia Secretary of State’s web site. The local United Way spoke with IRS officials last week before the current government shutdown and is now waiting for a retroactive reinstatement. Before the shutdown, the United Way was told the IRS would send a letter within four weeks, Carter said.

“We do not know how long the process may continue to be delayed,” she said.

Carter stated the problem now being experienced is due to filing forms with the state and not about how the United Way uses the money donated to it. The local United Way now works with 23 agencies.

“I think what’s important also is to know all of this is about paperwork,” Carter said, adding that the United Way is supporting “organizations in our area that are making lasting change.”

The United Way’s board and staff include: President Gary Denardo of the company ProForma in Bluefield; Vice President Vicki Mays of First Community Bank; and Treasurer Scott Browning of First Community Bank. Other board of directors members include Steve Warf; Joan Pendergast of Concord University; and Marla Akers. Two seats on the board are currently vacant, Carter said.

Browning said the board has discussed the situation.