Jacqui Groseth, VP Client Development  ●  1/31/2019

3 Ways You Can Make The Most Of Your Charity’s 990 Report


Years ago, a wise colleague helped me to understand the role a 990 report plays in the development efforts of a nonprofit organization. I was a new development director and, to be honest, tax documents weren’t even on my radar. The only thing on my mind at the time was figuring out how well our October – December campaigns had done. Imagine my surprise when our controller came to me and asked me to write the copy for page 2 of our 990 report. 

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations are registered in the U.S. What this means is that fundraisers need to utilize every possible opportunity to demonstrate transparency, good stewardship, and the important work our organizations are doing.

Tax documents, like page 2 of your nonprofits 990 report, need to be on your radar. Here’s why:

Your charity’s 990 report is often the first place savvy donors, wealth managers, and others will look in their quest to make an informed decision about whether to donate. 


Here Are 3 Ways Charities Can Make the Most of the 990 Form:

1. Put the story first. As with all real estate, the name of the game is location, location, location. Make sure you are using page 2 to describe the mission and key programs of your organization. This allows you to tell your story before delving into the financial details. Avoid the ease of defaulting to “see additional information” or “See Schedule O.” Either scenario buries the heart of your work among the financial details and causes donors to go hunting for the information they are seeking.

2. Make the information accessible. Save donors the trouble of going to GuideStar to look for your 990. Make it available on your website. Doing so speaks to your transparency and saves donors time.

3. Write with passion. The 990 is a fundraisers opportunity to talk about the mission of their organization without the necessity of tying the work to gift request amounts and teaser copy on outer envelopes. Here are three great examples that caught my attention.

  • This animal welfare organization details the impact of their work on their 990 by stating statistics regarding the pets they have helped:

    We operate two shelters and adoption centers for homeless dogs and cats. These pets are transferred from overcrowded municipal shelters, surrendered by owners who can no longer care for them, or brought to the shelter as strays by good Samaritans. All incoming animals receive medical and behavioral evaluations. We provide comprehensive medical support (spay/neuter, vaccinations, short & long-term treatments, soft tissue and orthopedic surgeries) and basic good manners training. Our skilled adoption counselors work with the public to best match the families with pets. Animals that arrive at our shelter too young, too weak or too sick go into our foster care program for individual care prior to adoption. In 2016, 4,000 animals were sheltered, 3,417 animals were adopted. Of the animals sheltered 2,072 needed medical care before they could be adopted. More than 900 animals benefited from foster care. Our foster volunteers provided more than 25,000 hours of foster care.
  • This social services organization’s 990 outlines one of the many services they provide to the community, which will resonate with potential supporters: 

    Where else can you build a volcano, enjoy roasted marshmallow s’mores, create the best water balloon, and laugh until you cry, all in one place? Camp of course! During the months of July and August, children staying with us can enjoy exciting activities like kayaking, trapeze school, arts and crafts, drama, dance, water games, sports, and tons more. The camp volunteers are incredible and create a special magic for camp at the house.
  • This rescue mission uses their 990 to highlight love as the most important variable of their success: 

    People who come the rescue mission are hurting and think no one loves them. Our goal is for them to see our staff loves them and volunteers show love and concern for them. We want all who come to know that Christ loves them. Christ’s love is shared through chapel services, daily Bible classes, morning devotions, and weekly individual counseling classes. Over 19,400 counsel hours were provided to residents in 2016. We have seen when people realize they are loved, it is a major turning point in their lives. We are so grateful that 686 individuals made the decision to accept Christ through our ministry of our mission in 2016.


I’m sure you would agree that each of these examples tells a far more interesting and compelling story than “See Schedule O.” If you’ve never taken the opportunity to do so, make delving into your 990 one of your goals for 2019. Do something amazing with your page 2!


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