Inside the News Room

The Lens receives nonprofit designation after 26-month wait

The Lens received its official nonprofit designation from the Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday, ending a 26-month wait.

The designation opens up more funding opportunities for The Lens; some foundations choose to grant money only to official 501(c)(3) organizations. It also streamlines the process for individual donations, which are tax-deductible.

“This IRS declaration marks a new chapter in the life of The Lens,” said Karen Gadbois, co-founder of the organization, which celebrates its third anniversary of publication Jan. 18.

“In the chaotic months and years after Katrina, I saw City Hall decisions being made without the benefit of true public input, and I saw community issues go unreported,” she said. “That led me, an untrained journalist, to create what would become The Lens. I am pleased that the long wait for the IRS to catch up is finally over and we begin the New Year as a formal entity.”

Retired Criminal District Court Judge Calvin Johnson, chairman of The Lens’ board of directors, noted the importance of the designation.

“To achieve this status, an organization must engage exclusively in specific public activities and cannot generate profits for its owners. It also must keep detailed records,” Johnson said. “This is what The Lens has done up until this point and will continue to do. To our readers and those who have supported us financially: We understand that it is a great trust, and we will do all in our power to continue to be worthy of that trust.”

The Lens applied for its 501(c)(3) status on Oct. 16, 2010. It was caught up in a backlog of applications from similar organizations, including the Investigative News Network, SF Public Press and others. (INN and SF Public Press received their designations earlier this year.)

Kevin Davis, CEO of the Investigative News Network, said the delays had caused some other INN members to wait to apply for their nonprofit status.

“News of SF Public Press and The Lens finally receiving their 501(c)(3) determination will not only be welcome,” he said, “but will hopefully move more organizations to move forward with their applications.”

The Lens thanks Liskow & Lewis, the law firm that prepared its 501(c)(3) application, answered detailed questions from the IRS and managed the process. Further, The Lens is grateful for the support of the Center for Public Integrity, of Washington, D.C., which acted as The Lens’ fiscal agent during the waiting period.

The designation doesn’t affect prior grants, which were handled by the Center for Public Integrity.

The Lens strives to educate the public through deep-dive, public-policy oriented reporting and community outreach on a variety of topics facing New Orleans. The organization welcomes donations of any amount.

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About Steve Myers

Steve Myers is editor of The Lens. Before joining the staff in 2012, Myers was managing editor of Poynter Online, the preeminent source of news and training about the journalism industry. At Poynter, he wrote about emerging media practices such as citizen journalism, nonprofit news sites, real-time reporting via social media, data-oriented news apps, iPhoneography, and the fact-checking movement. Six of his 10 years in newspapers were spent as a local government reporter in Mobile, Ala., where he focused on local government accountability, from jail management to hurricane preparation and response. He can be reached at (504) 298-9750.

  • It’s a common misperception that all contributions to a 501(c)3 nonprofit are tax-deductible. Actually, no charity can assure that a particular gift is deductible; that’s an issue for the donor, his/her tax advisor, and the IRS.

    What any charity can say is that contributions are *eligible* for tax deductiblity as charitable gifts.

    The three most common reasons for exceptions are 1) almost 70% of US income tax returns are not itemized, and deducting gifts requires an itemized return; 2) the donor received something of value equal to or greater than the value of the gift; and 3) the donor has made eligible gifts in excess of the amounts allowed to be deducted (usually 50% of adjusted gross income).


    Sorry for asking, but what took so long?! As the founding CEO, I completed the application for the Einstein Group, Inc. in November 2007 (d/b/a EINSTEIN CHARTER SCHOOL), and the designation was granted in less than 6 months (and retrocative to 2004). Marked “URGENT.” BTW, I do not consider myself a whiz, so…

  • Steve Myers

    We don’t know precisely why it took so long. We know there was a surge of applications for nonprofit news organizations around the country at the same time we applied. We heard that the IRS wanted to take a close look at the requirements to ensure that they fulfilled the requirements of being tax-exempt organizations. Before this backlog, other nonprofit news organizations were approved in similar time frames as your group.

    Steve Myers
    The Lens