The 990-PF is the information return U.S. private foundations must file with the Internal Revenue Service each year. It is a public document and provides fiscal information, names of trustees and officers, application information, and a complete grants list. It is easy these days to look at the 990-PF on the Internet. Many large foundations post their 990s right on their websites. You can also find them at:
- The Foundation Center. The Foundation Center's Foundation Finder is a free tool that provides basic information on private grantmakers in the United States, including access to 990-PFs. In addition, the Foundation Center provides a quick tutorial on "Demystifying the 990-PF" that tells a grant seeker what to look for and where when reading a 990-PF.
- GuideStar. This service lists most nonprofit organizations in the U.S., including private foundations. You can register for free and then use the basic search to find information and whatever 990s the organization has on file. You can also search by locality, helping you find foundations right in your own backyard that you might not know about.
When looking at a 990-PF, most grant seekers are looking for the following:
- Fiscal year. Some foundations run on the calendar year but others have their own fiscal years. You'll need this to know when the foundation is likely to be accepting grant applications.
- Assets. You'll want to compare the assets reported over several years to get a sense of whether the foundation is growing or not.
- Revenue and Expenses. Are revenues growing? If so, the foundation may be poised to make more grants.
- Information about officers, directors, trustees, foundation managers, highly paid employees and contractors. Does the foundation even have employees? Many small foundations do not. The list of trustees may reveal ties to your own directors or donors.
- List of Direct Charitable Activities. This will tell you the grants made, to whom, and their size.
- Information about grant application...how applications are made and requirements. Note that some foundations do not accept grant applications at all.
Pamela's Grantwriting Blog has a good article about Six Critical Things to Look For in a Foundation’s 990 For Successful Grant Funding.
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