by Mandy Pearce

I have been teaching Effective Grant Research Webinars online this year, and I have noticed that many attendees are unaware of the wealth of information that can be found in 990s and 990-PFs. As a result, I thought it would be a good time to share some tidbits on how you can use free online resources to access 990s and 990-PFs to conduct grant and prospect research, as well as other useful fundraising information.

There are many places where 990s can be accessed for free. My go-to source is the National Center for Charitable Statistics.  You do not need an account, and you can access a View Forms 990 on the right-hand side of the main page. Other free sources are Foundation Center, and Nonprofit Explorer to name a few.

Form 990 is the IRS form filed annually by tax-exempt organizations.  Some organizations are exempt from filing, such as churches and small organizations, which are often allowed to file Form 990-EZ. A 990-PF is the same form filed by private foundations.

990s can be a wealth of information for a development officer.   
  • 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. If a foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals or only fund pre-selected organizations, this information is also listed on Page 10.
  • Page 1 will typically provide a phone number, 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.
  • 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.

As 990-PFs are compared from year-to-year, patterns of places foundations fund annually become apparent.  Additionally, it is helpful to see how many grants are awarded each year and if there are patterns in the number of awards, total amounts awarded, priority area changes, etc.

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 990s 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.
  • A number 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 lots of other great resources for researching ideal prospects, but this is a great, free resource you can begin utilizing today.

Best of luck as you begin, continue or work to conduct more successful prospect research!