Are you familiar with 990s?
Form 990s are the forms filed with the IRS by tax-exempt organizations. While nonprofits do not pay federal taxes, filing 990s is required (some organizations are exempt from filing, such as churches and small organizations, which are often allowed to file Form 990-EZ). Nonprofit organizations file 990s and nonprofit foundations file 990-PFs (PF stands for Private Foundation).
Now that we’re all up-to-speed on the forms we’re talking about today, let’s review how to use 990s as part of your grant research process.
Before you get worried that you are going to have to pay a fee or get a subscription to starting incorporating 990s into your research process, you can access 990s for free online. For those of you new to Funding For Good, I try not to recommend things that require a fee. I try hard to find things that are free to share with our audience, and if I can’t, we often create tools for you ourselves to simplify your life. Because nonprofit work is hard enough! If you haven’t been to our Free Stuff page, check it out HERE. We have templates, sample content, tools, and great resources that are all in downloadable Word documents. We hope it helps as you continue growing for good.
Also, know that anyone can access your nonprofit’s 990 and see what’s on it as well. Things like your income, expenses, dollars amount of grants received, fundraising expenses, board members, top three paid staff, and so on.
Where to find 990s online? My go-to spot for 990s is Candid, but I have given you a few options below so you can choose your favorite.
Here at Funding For Good, we use 990s almost daily to conduct research for clients and educate ourselves on the giving patterns and priorities of foundations.
990s can be a wealth of information for a grant writers, development staff, executive director, etc.
- Part XV (usually around Page 10 of ‘most’ 990-PFs) will give information on the process for requesting funding from a foundation, the contact name and number, and/or website that provides this information. Sometimes you get lucky and there is even a sample of the grant application questions in this section as well. Additionally, you will see if the foundation only makes contributions to preselected charitable organizations and does not accept unsolicited requests for funds.
- Page 1 will typically provide a phone number (in the upper right corner), contact name, mailing address, etc. in case this information is not readily available online or on a website.
- A board of directors is usually listed, which can help you see potential connections within a community. This is a great place to have your own board become involved in the relationship building process.
- Toward the end of most 990-PFs a list of previous grantees can be found. Often a list of grantees, the amount they were funded and occasionally the project/type of funding (gen ops, capital, program/project, etc.) will be listed as well. This list will give you a great place to start with identifying the types of organizations a foundation wants to fund, the range of awards being granted, and when details are provided you can also see the types of projects a foundations funds.
- As 990-PFs are compared from year-to-year, you will begin to see geographic focus areas emerge and focus areas for funding from foundation to foundation. Additionally, it is helpful to see how many grants are awarded each year and if there are patterns in number of awards, total amounts awarded, priority area changes, etc.
There is no quick way to conduct research with 990s. It is time-consuming work, but it will save you a lot of time and energy by helping you identify the most ideal prospects for your current needs, instead of using the spray-and-pray method of submitting grants.
In order to contact a potential donor and have a productive conversation about their interest in funding your project, it helps to know their history of funding. Who they funded, at what level, when, patterns, average gifts, award ceiling and award floors, etc. This information can be found in 990-PFs. I highly recommend using 990-PFs to build a compelling case for why your organization/program/project fits the priorities of a foundation.
Similarly, lots of information can be gleaned from 990s for nonprofit organizations.
- Contact information for the nonprofit.
- List of Board of Directors as well as major staff title and names (often salaries of the top three staff are listed as well, which can be very helpful in job searching and interview processes).
- Amount of grant dollars received in any given year as well as dollars raised and spent on fundraising.
- On occasion 990s will list the grants received by a nonprofit as well. I find this less and less these days, but I still get lucky occasionally.
I will never tell someone that research with 990s is quick and easy, but it is very productive and can save lots of time and energy when trying to determine quality prospects.
There are many of other valuable resources to research potential prospects, but this is a great, free resource you can begin utilizing today.
Best of luck as you begin or continue working to conduct more successful prospect research!