Attracting and retaining donors can be among the more challenging tasks for your nonprofit organization. So you’ll want to take every opportunity to help potential supporters recognize the value of your mission. IRS Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax, offers a convenient vehicle for getting your story out.

The Internal Revenue Code generally requires most tax-exempt organizations to file a Form 990. In addition to providing your organization’s financial information, Form 990 gives you a venue for describing your mission, programs, and accomplishments in detail. Would-be donors may rely on this form as their primary source of information about your organization, so take the opportunity to shape their perception with the information you present.

Your Audience

Who is looking at your organization’s information? Donors and grantors, potential board members, creditors, and third-party evaluators may rely on nonfinancial information from Form 990 to ensure that the organization’s mission aligns with their values and goals; assess program accomplishments and their alignment with the mission; and evaluate governance structure, policies, and compliance.
Vendors and service providers may also use Form 990 to determine whether your nonprofit could benefit from their services.

Creating the Narrative

After you’ve defined your readership, think about the story you want to tell. Your message should focus on points that are most likely to resonate with your audience, such as your organization’s unique programs or services, their effectiveness, and your methods for accomplishing your mission. Financial and nonfinancial information on Form 990 should work together to communicate your story. Writing should be clear, concise, and free of jargon. Remember that your goal is to convince potential donors and others that your organization is effective in carrying out its mission and worthy of receiving their charitable contributions.

Places To Shine

Charitable organizations can educate donors and other interested parties on their work in these sections of Form 990:
Part I — Summary. In this section, you’ll be able to describe your organization and/or its significant activities and the population it serves.
Part II — Statement of Program Service Accomplishments. This section allows you to highlight your nonprofit’s most important accomplishments. This is your opportunity to include specific information about your programs and services, such as the number of clients served, events held, the geographical area of the program’s outreach, etc.

Schedule O. Here you can expand on and support the description in Part 3 by presenting quantitative information to explain the effectiveness of your programs.
Using Form 990 to increase awareness of your not-for-profit’s programs and activities can be a strategy that will pay off by attracting donors to your cause.