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Using Form 990 to Tell Your Organization’s Story

August 31, 2018

Form 990 is a vital document in the nonprofit world, and it communicates more than just your organization’s financial health...learn how you can effectively “tell your story” through your 990.

Nonprofits, are you using your 990 to “tell your story”? More and more third parties are looking at nonprofit organizations’ form 990s for more than just financial information. Learn how you can tailor your form 990 to attract and retain donors.

What is the form 990?

Form 990 is a vital document in the nonprofit world - it is an annual reporting return that most tax exempt organizations must file with the IRS to show information on finances, governance, and the overall activity related to the mission of the nonprofit.

Completing and filing the Form 990 is an important aspect of a tax-exempt organization's life cycle because it serves two functions for two important audiences.

  • Informs the public -- The Form 990 informs the public about crucial aspects of your nonprofit. Most of the pages and tables are available for public inspection, including those describing executive compensation and program expenditures. Potential donors and grantors can, and many routinely do, look at an organization's Form 990 before making decisions about charitable giving. The media and nonprofit-watchdog groups may also check out 990s.
  • Informs the IRS -- The Form 990 provides the IRS with information about your nonprofit's activities and financial status in order to demonstrate that your nonprofit still meets the qualifications for tax-exemption.

Essentially an organization’s 990 can act as the “first impression” to donors.

Who is looking at your organization’s information?

Besides donors and grantors, others will potentially be looking at your 990, too—what message do you want to convey?

Donors, grantors, potential board members, creditors and third party evaluators may rely on nonfinancial information reported on your form 990 to make sure your mission aligns with their values and goals.

They’ll want to see….

  • Qualitative and quantitative information on program accomplishments—do they align with your mission?
  • Governance structure, policies and compliance
  • Methods for achieving your mission
  • Tax compliance (IRS)

Think about the story you want to tell

Financial and nonfinancial information should work together to communicate your story to donors. Your goal is to convince potential donors and others that your organization is carrying out its mission effectively and is worthy of receiving their donations.

There are certain places in the form 990 that lend themselves well to creativity. Here are a few examples:

Part I- Summary- This section allows you to describe your organization, its activities, and the population it serves.

Part III- Statement of Program Service Accomplishments- Here, you can highlight your nonprofit’s most important accomplishments and provide details on your programs, services, how many clients you serve, how many events you host, etc.

Schedule O- In this section you can expand on Part III and present quantitative information to explain how effective your programs are and have been.

While a powerful marketing tool, your form 990 should tell the same story as your website, brochures, advertisements etc. Make sure it is complete, accurate and truthful above all else. Don’t use the same narrative every year without making sure that the information you’re sharing is still relevant. Remember, this document is open to public inspection, so anyone can access it—be sure to be honest!

Questions? Our Not-for-Profit Services Team can help.

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