All non-profits, with the exception of churches and religions, must spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year accounting the the government (U.S.). Believe me, I took my first class on forms 990-199 for Calif. years ago because my tax man (who is supposed to know non-profits) messed it up. And chanrged me $500. After the class, I did all my own returns and never got any notices from the IRS. For the next few years I did my own, but the formd got more complicate as time went on, and I hired a CPA to do them. Even HE made mistakes! The codes are changing every year, but not for religions.
Few religions, except for the Catholic Church, reach out to non-members like Jesus did. They become corporations, and corporations will fight and claw and lie to survive. But, at least in Calif., they are weeding out phony non-profits. It is harder than ever to navigate the forms and account for every last dollar you spend. Much harder than a for-profit organization in most cases.
Churches? Just look at what Scientology gets away with. Why? Some consider it blackmail.
But why are RELIGIONS exempt from form 990s? Because of the non-willingness of the govt. to touch them (political reasons, mostly). All you have to do is petition that religions/churches have to abide by the same law as other non-profits. Believe me, it would shut down most of them!
I have, in the last 30 years, seen millions of dollars bilked out of churches because the tax/accounting person was crooked and took MILLIONS over a period of years on the side. They get mentioned in the newspapers. But often the churches are reluctant to prosecute them. (A load of reasons why.)
Believe me, it's not educational non-profits, especially in Cali, but the churches, who can do damn well anything they please.
"Yes, I think I want a new yacht so I can visit Tuvalu and start a new church." RIGHT.
I come from a background of a seed/church planting megachurch (3000 members) that is legit (Hope Chapel... technically a Foursquare Church). They have started dozens of churches. Years ago a female accountant had been caught bilking them out of like a million bucks, maybe a little less. NO ONE KNEW.
No accountability to others. That's why I post my 990s on my site and on GreatNonProfits.org as well (actually THEY get them from the govt. and then make YOU upload them, too!) It's unfair, but a necessary evil. You miss reporting for three years in a row, you lost your exemption and must refile.
ALWAYS, before you donate to a non-profit, EVEN ONE YOU KNOW WELL, check out their status with the IRS. Many have been removed recently, some whom you are familiar with, and they are doing great harm to their own selves, let alone others. If they lose their tax status, and you have donated $10,000 to them over 2-3 years, you will have to pay taxes on that donation. You have just been RIPPED OFF.
It has to stop... but I doubt it will happen soon. We are not Europe, who is a little more jaded towards phony religions.