Most nonprofits are required to file an annual Form 990 with the IRS, which is often seen as a hassle, but you can also use it to your advantage if you see it as an opportunity to tell the public about your organization. A lot of the information it calls for is straightforward about your finances, but there are also sections with narratives, and accompanying schedules that fill in extra details about your operations. People outside your organization will read your 990 for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Potential donors and grantors wanting to know that your mission aligns with their values
- Potential board members evaluating your governance structure and looking for information about your programs, accomplishments, and financial health
- External evaluators assessing how well your programs and accomplishments align with your mission
Readers of your 990 are making decisions that impact your ability to raise funds, attract board members, and achieve your mission. It’s easy to see the form as simply another piece of compliance to check off and send to the IRS, but don’t lose sight of how you can tell grab stakeholders’ attention, tell them your story, and draw them into your orbit.
If you file the full Form 990, rather than the 990 EZ, one of the first lines you’ll fill in is about your mission. In part 3 of both versions, you’ll describe your program service accomplishments, and have the option to provide additional detail in Schedule O. All 3 spaces give you a chance to supplement your financial information with more of your story, and give context for the rest of the information in the form. Put in the most important information that readers will want to know, and make them want to donate to or interact with you.
Readers will be interested in a range of information – your financial stability, the effectiveness of your programs, information about who you serve, the accomplishments and outcome of your work, etc. Work this into the narrative sections to communicate your unique qualities, who you’re serving and what programs you provide for them, the results of your programs, the impact you’re having, and how you’re navigating challenges. You can include both quantitative and qualitative information to show your stakeholders the impact you have in your community and with your constituents.
Your 990 won’t be your primary communication method with people evaluating your organization, but it’s easy to overlook. Donors, volunteers, and board members who are attracted to your mission will often dig deeper before diving in, and 990s are a common place to go. This is especially true if they’re considering a larger commitment, such as a major donation, joining the board, or considering working for you. These can be the most important readers of your 990, and you want to make a great impression. Use the opportunity to catch their eye and draw them in.