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August 22, 2014

Where are last year’s Form 990s?

This is a cross-post of Sandy Pon's post from the new GrantSpace blog.Sandy Pon is the lead editor for GrantSpace and the GrantSpace Blog. In her 11 years with the Foundation Center, Sandy has answered thousands of questions from our visitors about nonprofit grantseeking, fundraising, and management. Her experience also includes teaching and program design.

Our Ask Us team gets this question a LOT during the summer, more often than at other times of the year. Maybe it’s because most nonprofits have likely sent in their own 990s in mid-May.

May 15 is the first due date for filing 990s if your exempt org’s fiscal year ends on Dec. 31. But your org can request an automatic 3-month extension, plus an additional 3-month extension if needed. The second extension isn’t automatic, but it’s almost always granted. This means that Nov. 15 can be the latest date to file without penalties.

The filing date is just the IRS’s receipt date that gets stamped on the 990. It’ll take several more weeks for the IRS to scan it and then send it on DVDs, along with hundreds of other 990s, to us and other orgs that put 990s online, like GuideStar and Economic Research Institute. Thus, if your foundation prospect is a Nov. 15 filer (and a lot of foundations are), you might not see its 2013 990 online until early spring 2015. In other words, 12-15 months later.

This also partially explains the delay in providing updated foundation trends at Foundation Stats. (More about this in a future post.) We’d love a direct feed from the IRS so that when it gets a 990, we would get it at the same time. Until that happens, we’ll need to rely on the batches of DVDs that we receive from IRS every few months.

What’s better than a direct feed from IRS? A direct feed from the funders themselves. A growing number of foundations report their grants electronically to the Foundation Center, which means that their grants data is available sooner for our Research team to analyze, and for you to find in a search in Foundation Directory Online (FDO), our database of grantmakers, or on Glasspockets, a Center initiative that champions philanthropic transparency in an online world.

Why should you care about 990s, anyway?

These IRS forms may be the only source available to learn about past grants, especially for small foundations. Past grants can suggest a funder’s giving preferences and help you determine how much to request from a foundation. After all, you don’t want to ask for $50,000 when the funder seems to give only $5,000 to projects like yours, and vice versa.

990s include info on board members and key staff, as well as application guidelines. They are the basis for many FDO foundation profiles. Plus, you can view them for free at several websites, including our own 990 Finder.

Want to know more? See our Knowledge Base Article, “What is Form 990 or 990-PF? How can I learn about using them?”

Why does this info help you become a better grantseeker?

Now that you know about the typical lag time in getting 990s on the Internet, you can:

Save time by not searching for the most recent 990s when the funder hasn’t even submitted them yet. Instead, set a recurring reminder to look for it 2-3 months after the usual IRS receipt date, stamped on the 990.

Explore other ways to get the latest news about foundation prospects. Do they have websites? Do they use Twitter, Facebook, newsletters, other communications channels? Subscribe to them all. If any of your prospects is a large national foundation, Glasspockets has a colorful chart that quickly shows which communications channels they use.

Does the foundation provide an online grants archive, like Robert Wood Johnson Foundation? If yes, you’re in luck since most foundations don’t even have websites. Bookmark the archive and learn how it works. It’s probably easier to read and understand than the 990s, and it’ll likely have more details. See also this free world map at Glasspockets to explore recent grants from some of the world's largest foundations.

Try Google News Alerts or similar tools to get notified whenever news about the foundation is published online. You also can subscribe to nonprofit news sources, like The Chronicle of Philanthropy or our own PND.

What other tools & tricks do you use to get the latest scoop on your donors? Share if you care...share them in our Comments area. Thanks in advance!

 

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