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How to Make Your Form 990-PF Work for You


If your organization is one of the more than 60,000 private foundations in the country that are required to file a Form 990-PF with the Internal Revenue Service, take note. New regulations went into effect on March 13, 2000, that make this public document easier to access.
This newfound transparency means that grant seekers, reporters, colleagues, and researchers alike will look to your 990-PF as one more tool in researching and evaluating your organization. Likewise, you should begin viewing this document as one more way to communicate effectively with these audiences.

If your accountant and chief executive officer are typically the only people in your organization who pay much attention to your 990-PF, now is the perfect time to share this document with your program, marketing, and communications officers as well. They can help write clear narratives that add the much-needed context to the pages of 990-PF financials.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Use the correct form
    The Form 990-PF has changed over the years, so be sure to use the correct version for the year for which you are filing.

  • Get the most out of Part XV-2, Supplementary Information Regarding Programs
    What does your organization fund and what won't it fund? Be specific about your program areas and the procedure grant seekers should follow when they apply for funding. This information doesn't have to fit in the small space provided on the form itself; you can refer readers to an attached statement. You should, however, be sure that the attachment answers all of the questions in parts 2a-2d. Answer each one separately; i.e., for Section 2a, note, "Section 2a—see Statement 15," for Section 2b, "See Statement 16," and so forth.

  • Protect organizations' addresses when necessary
    If you fund organizations that engage in work that protects the location of at-risk individuals, such as a battered women's shelter, do not put that organization's actual address on the 990-PF. Instead, use a mailing address or P.O. box (the organization probably already has one for just this reason).

  • Don't include Social Security Numbers
    The Social Security number of your Form 990-PF preparer, although a field on the 990, is not required when filing. Instruct your preparer to leave it off. Also, don't include Social Security numbers for any other persons you identify on the form.

    If you make scholarship, fellowship, or research grants to individuals, you are required to list them individually by name, address, and amount given, unless your organization is subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. You are not, however, required to provide the recipients' Social Security numbers.

  • Round your numbers
    Round numbers to the nearest dollar. There is no need to use decimal points.

  • Don't leave blanks
    An absence of information where it is required will create questions in many readers' minds. In general, fill in all the blanks, especially where you need to total various lines.

  • Do not put more than one number in any box

  • Do not include bank account numbers on your 990-PF

  • Protect the privacy of your officers, directors, trustees, and key employees
    Although these people need to be identified by name and address, the address listed should be where they receive company mail, not necessarily their home addresses. That means that board members and key employees do not have to include their home addresses in this section.

  • Remember that Form 2758, Application for Extension of Time to File, is also a public document.
Topics: Communications Nonprofits IRS 990