The 990 of a Private Foundation (990-PF) is a wealth of knowledge if you know where to look. It can be key to vetting the Foundation for your organization and getting the grant- even if you don’t have a grant database. In case 990 is a new term, it is an IRS form that nonprofits fill out to maintain tax-exempt status and is made public. Grant databases and Guidestar use this information but it can be found on the IRS website too.


The five secrets I’m going to tell you, I figure it out on my own. I’m not one to go scaring financial statements! But I made an exception because I kept hearing people talk about how important the 990 was to grant writing. I’m glad I learned about this before I started writing grants professionally!


Before I begin applying and using these secrets, I read a lot of grants that weren’t going to get funded even before I sent them off. Why? Because the 990 told me so. I just didn’t know where to look for the information. I can only imagine the number of grants that could have been funded with the same organizations if I knew just these 5 secrets.


So, what are the secrets?


Fiscal Year


Right there on page one of the 990 is our first amazing secret- the foundation’s fiscal year. If their fiscal and calendar year are the same, you may find this left blank. If their fiscal year is different, they will tell you in the top right-hand corner.


Why is this important? Foundations must give away a defined percentage of their income during their fiscal year to remain IRS compliant. If a Foundation doesn’t have a deadline, then applying for a grant at the end of their fiscal year will get you funded at least a little if not all.  Sometimes, Foundations are looking for somewhere to give away enough money to satisfy the IRS requirement.


On the flip side, knowing the beginning of their fiscal year allows you to ask for money when they have the most funding to give.


Find the Foundation’s Mission


On page 2 at the very top, the Foundation describes their mission. This is helpful when you are weeding through foundations. You want a foundation whose mission aligns with your own. You don’t want to try to make your mission fit theirs.


So Much Gold on Page 10


Page 10 of the 990 tells you how to apply. You will find out who to send the proposal to, if the foundation accepts unsolicited requests, where to send the proposal, how they want the submission- proposal, application, letter of inquiry- submission deadlines, and any other information like geographic location and types of organizations they give to.


This is the one page I always go to when I’m looking at grants. It tells me everything I need to know to  apply for the grant. If you do not look at any other page, look at this one. You will save yourself a lot of time and effort on a proposal that they will not accept.


Officers, Directors, and Trustees


Knowing who is in charge at the foundation can mean the difference between funding and no funding. On page 7, you will see a list of every officer, director, and trustee. Does anyone at your organization know someone? Reaching out can help get your proposal noticed.


Grants and Contributions Paid


About page 11, you should find the section called grants and contributions paid during the year or approved for future payment. This page lists the organizations who have received payment, the purpose, and the amount. I use this page to see if they’ve given to a similar organization as I am researching for. I also use it to see if  the grant was  for a specific purpose or general operations. This page also shows you the amount that was given to the organization. A quick look at that column will tell you the amount they like to give most often and the range they give in. When you are applying, knowing how much to ask is half the battle. If this is the first time we are applying for the grant, I often go with the lowest amount to get us in the door.

If you want even more inside grant information, join Grants Magic U’s free class titled The 10 Steps to Get You Where You Want to Go. It’s July 22nd so sign up today!

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