The Discovery Center of Springfield, the interactive science museum downtown, had its tax-exempt status automatically revoked by the IRS on Dec. 15, 2021, even though leaders continue to consider it a nonprofit organization.
Rob Blevins, the executive director of the Discovery Center, attributes the revocation to “clerical errors” by the Internal Revenue Service and said that “it should all be corrected soon.”
“It’s unfortunate that bureaucracies get in the way of doing meaningful work,” Blevins said.
Auto-revocations can occur when an organization has not filed a Form 990-series return or notice for three consecutive years.
The last Form 990 available on the IRS’ website is from 2018, which is the latest 990 available from nonprofit databases by ProPublica and Candid.
Blevins said that, because the Discovery Center runs on a fiscal year, 2018 “goes into 2019” and said that it’s possible the IRS could have failed to mark something as “received on time” or calculated it on a calendar year.
“We were told by our accounting firm that we did everything correctly,” he said.
For organizations that operate on fiscal years, 990s are typically required to be filed on the 15th day of the 5th month following the end of its taxable year, according to the IRS.
“With the pandemic, we had to change our operations quite significantly to where the financials were different than they have been in the past with the change of services,” Blevins said. “So we wanted to make sure that we got everything in correctly with that. So they are just delayed with that, but at no point were they ever three years behind.”
When asked if he anticipates the Discovery Center’s tax-exempt status will be reinstated, Belvins said that it won’t even have to be reinstated — and it will be as if nothing ever happened once their accountants submit the necessary paperwork.
Although he doesn’t have a timeline for when that will occur, he said that they have been told it will happen “soon.”
Just because an organization is listed on the auto-revocation list does not necessarily mean that its tax-exempt status is currently revoked, however, as it may have been reinstated, according to the IRS.
“It’s extremely unfortunate that it happens when you’re trying to get certain things done,” Blevins said. “You kind of roll with the punches, and the great thing is that we’ve got a ton of resources that have been able to help us navigate this process.”
Outside of the time and resources it takes to work with the IRS, he said it hasn’t inhibited the Discovery Center’s day-to-day and that they are still operating as a nonprofit organization.
“It’s definitely something that we’re eager to get cleaned up and behind us.”
One day prior to the Discovery Center’s tax-exempt auto-revocation date, on Dec. 14, 2021, Forbes reported on them being awarded $1 million during the inaugural STOP Awards from the Center for Educational Reform in New York City.
The award recognizes the measures the Discovery Center took to provide a “transformational education experience” during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic by helping fill child care needs for health care workers and first responders.
In May 2022, the Daily Citizen reported on the Discovery Center’s plans with the $1 million, which included infrastructure improvements, staffing and other long-term expansion projects.
They have since added capacity for child care and other programs, including the Discovery School at the Center.