Fundraisers — do you know what your 990 is telling donors about your nonprofit?

In a short few weeks, many of you will be preparing for the IRS your reporting Form 990, “Report of Organization Exempt from Income Tax.”

There are many reasons fundraisers should pay close attention to what is being reported on their 990. But in this post, I wanted to point out a frequently overlooked opportunity for you to use the 990 to promote your work to your donors, potential donors and other important constituents.

On the very first page of the 990 you are asked to describe your organization’s mission:

Experienced fundraisers don’t leave it up to their auditors, CFOs or bookkeepers to decide what description should go on line 1.  If left in your 990 preparer’s hands, you are likely to end up with an abbreviated mission statement like “homeless support” or “social services”  instead of that beautiful mission statement you spent so many hours carefully crafting.

On the very next page, you get another chance to promote your work when the 990 asks you to describe your program activities for the last year.

Again, don’t let your auditor complete this for you without your input. Take the time to prepare a succinct but engaging description of what you did with your money and how that made a difference.

You can even attach a schedule that, along with the space provided on the form, enables you to provide a pretty complete description of your program accomplishments.

Never forget that numerous online websites like or The Foundation Center‘s 990 Finder maintain public databases of the 990s of all nonprofits. These sites have become widely popular as a place where donors, prospective donors, researchers, colleagues and the media can head to learn more about your nonprofit.

And of course, you are required to disclose your 990 upon request. And you are probably sending it out with grant proposals.

So make sure that your 990 tells a compelling story about your work. Don’t leave that story solely in the hands of your 990 preparer.

8 responses to Fundraisers — do you know what your 990 is telling donors about your nonprofit?

  1. Betsy Baker

    Wow, Gayle, I’ve never thought of the nonprofit getting involved in a 990 like that. But I agree with you. As a long-time grant writer, 990s are a regular part of my research. I’ve just never thought of the different groups of people that are viewing them. What an opportunity to get your story out effectively to those groups.

  2. Kivi Leroux Miller

    This is great. I frequently tell nonprofits to remember that donors see this, but haven’t given them details on what to do about it! Thanks! Will share with my readers in our Mixed Links post on Friday.

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