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:
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.
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 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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