What is Form 990 or 990-PF? How can I learn about using them?
Exempt organizations must file a tax return called a Form 990 with the IRS each year to comply with federal regulations. There are several versions of Form 990: public charities file a Form 990, 990-EZ, or 990-N; private foundations file Form 990-PF (PF stands for Private Foundation). Learn more about the difference between public charities and private foundations.
Forms 990 and 990-PF are public records so can be vital tools for grantseekers, nonprofits, and donors when researching a foundation or nonprofit. Each version of the 990 varies in the type of information provided and how best to use them, with some tips below:
Versions of Forms 990:
This form, filed by private foundations, is useful for grantseekers because it includes:
- A private foundation's assets; generally, foundations must give 5% of their assets each year to charitable causes
- Financial activities
- Trustees and officers
- Most importantly, a complete list of grants awarded for the specified fiscal year, including the recipients' names, locations, and grant amounts. Some funders will even briefly describe the purpose of each grant
This form has information on a public charity's finances and activities which is accurate and open to public scrutiny. Among the details:
- Charity assets
- Total figures for donations and grants received; however, public charities are not required to publicly disclose the names, addresses, or amounts of contributors. Learn how to find out who has donated money to a particular nonprofit.
- Board and top staff members
- Whether the charity makes grants
This is sometimes referred to as the “short form” because it is an abbreviated four-page version of the Form 990. Organizations with gross receipts of less than $200,000 and total assets of less than $500,000 can use this form but they can also opt to use the full Form 990.
Public charities with annual gross receipts of less than $50,000 do not have to file the complete Form 990 (although they can opt to do so). Instead, they may file the Form 990-N, also called the "e-Postcard." This short electronic form tells the IRS that the charity is still operating. Its very basic information includes:
- The organization's legal name
- Employer Identification Number (EIN)
- The principal officer's name
Candid does not provide copies of Form 990-N; to search e-Postcard filings use IRS's Tax Exempt Organizations Search.
See also our related Knowledge Base articles:
- Where can I find an organization's Form 990 or 990-PF?
- Where can I find historical tax returns and annual reports for foundations?
How to use Form 990
990s can be used for a variety of research purposes. For example:
- Contact information. The 990 might be the only reliable go-to resource for contact information if the nonprofit does not have a website--and 90% of them don't.
- Partners and funders. Search for collaborative partners and funders whose missions align with your own.
- Who's who. The 990 provides the names of organizations' board members. You, your board or staff might know them.
To learn more about using 990s in your research, see our Diagram of Form 990 (scroll down to find the download link) and our resource Demystifying the 990-PF.
Many people look at 990s, including the media, IRS, donors, board members, and other nonprofits. That means 990s can be a useful opportunity to tell your organization's story. Among the marketing possibilities:
- Describing a program activity in detail
- Expanding your organization's level of transparency
- Highlighting statistics, like the number of people served or volunteers
Candid's podcast, Telling Your Story: Maximizing Your Organization's Form 990, explores this topic.
Candid's video, Using the 990 to Tell Your Story, breaks down the main sections of the Form 990 and how you can best use them to tell your organization's story:
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Explore resources curated by our staff for this topic:
Demystifying the 990-PF
Explains the different sections of the Form 990-PF and how to interpret the contents of a foundation's annual return.
View or download the most current version of IRS Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax.
View or download the most current version of the IRS Form 990-PF, Return of Private Foundation.
Form 990: A Detailed Examination
Provides a thorough explanation of the Form 990, its contents, and ways of interpreting an organization's return. Available in Microsoft Word format.
Highlights of IRS Form 990
Form 990 contains a wealth of information. It can be difficult to navigate, however. This paper reviews the parts of the form, identifies the fields people find most useful, and provides tips for deciphering the information in the 990.
Instructions for 990-PF
Provides line-by-line instructions for organizations filing Form 990-PF.
Instructions for Form 990
Provides line-by-line instructions for organizations filing Form 990.
Tax Exempt Organizations Search
990-N tax forms are filed by tax-exempt organizations whose gross receipts are normally $50,000 or less. This page provides a link to search for and view 990-N filings, or you can download a complete list of organizations.
Telling the Not-for-Profit Story Through Form 990 - Journal of Accountancy
This website looks at the ways in which nonprofits can use their Form 990 to educate potential donors, grantors, and board members on the organization's merit.
Form 990: Exploring the Form's Complex Schedules
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