grant research, nonprofit development, startup nonprofits

990s: the secret weapon of grant research

What are 990s?

As a nonprofit, you are likely familiar with 990 forms. A 990 is a form filed to the IRS by a tax-exempt organization, typically on an annual and/or quarterly basis. The 990 form lists organization income, expenses, and basic information. As you dive into the world of grant research, be sure to put 990s review on your list. Here’s why….

How can 990s help with grant research?

As I have discussed in previous posts, it is critical to find the right fits when it comes to potential funding requests. Fortunately many funders these days have well-developed websites which aid prospective grant applicants in learning more about the funders focus areas, priorities, and requirements. If the funder looks like a good preliminary fit based on the information from their website, the next step is to see if they have given to organizations similar to yours. Enter the 990!


How 990s can help in grant research

The best way to know if you have found a great funding match is if everything on their website seems well aligned with what you are doing, AND they have given to programs/organizations that are similar in size, scope, and focus as yours. This is precisely the information that can be found of funders’ 990s.

Step 1: Find the 990 forms the prospective funder. I like the Foundation Center 990 Finder. It is free and simple to use. Just type in the name and state of the funder you want to research, and it will pull up the organization’s 990s from the past several years.

Step 2: Once you have the 990s pulled up for a specific funder, go through at least three years of their returns to answer the following questions:

  • what is their average award amount?
  • are they giving to organizations in a similar field as yours (ex: education, health, etc.)?
  • are they giving to organizations similar in size to yours? (may require some googling of the grantees listed)
  • do they seem to care about the same things that you care about?
  • what type of awards are they giving? (operating expenses, program support, equipment, etc.)

If all of the questions above are yes, then congratulations, you have found an excellent funding fit! You can be relatively sure that they will be interested in what you are doing, and have done as much as possible to make sure that you are choosing a funder that is well-aligned with your organization. From here, apply! Be sure to review their website carefully and follow the application directions precisely for each organization.