How To Find A Nonprofit's Form 990

Reviewed by:


May 16, 2024

Last Updated:

May 16, 2024

As a grant writer or manager, you know the value of a foundation’s 990 form.

Because the IRS requires all tax-exempt organizations to file a 990 annually, they offer a ton of helpful insights into the causes and nonprofits a funder gives grants to.

Knowing how to find and review a nonprofit’s Form 990s will show you:

  • where past grantees are located, and
  • what kind of grants they’ve won or awarded

But there’s a BIG problem…

990 forms are LENGTHY, DENSE, and HARD TO READ.

At Instrumentl, we kept hearing how hard it was to dig through dozens of 990s. So we fixed it.

Now, Instrumentl makes it easy to find and read a nonprofit’s Form 990s.

We organize the information into easy-to-read 990 reports so you can stop tearing your hair out and get the information you need quickly.

Grant writers like Jennifer Gonzales-Granzin, a grant consultant, have said, “The ability to see the percentage of grants given to new grantees and the median amount awarded is invaluable information.”

Testimonial about Instrumentl's 990 breakdowns

This information gives you an edge in finding more good-fit grants faster.

Ready to be like Jennifer? In this guide we’ll show you how.

Why Nonprofits Should Care About Form 990s

According to Giving USA, in 2021, charitable giving climbed to $484 billion, with $90 billion coming from foundations, which is a 3.4% increase from 2020.

Grant funding is out there, but how do you narrow down your options to only the best-fit funders—and do it efficiently?

By using the Form 990.

Screenshot of nonprofit 990 forms

The IRS requires all 501(c)3 nonprofits to file Form 990s annually or else they could lose their tax-exempt status. What this means is that foundations giving out grants also have to file Form 990s.

Here’s why this is such a big deal:

Every year, you can access up-to-date data on key details about a foundation’s giving that you can use to determine if you should take the time to apply for their grant funding.

This data includes:

  • Who’s on their board so you know who to reach out to
  • What kinds of programs or services they award grants to via NTEE codes
  • The size of their grant awards so you know if they’re worth pursuing
  • If their past grantees include nonprofits like yours
  • The specific geographic locations where they give out the most grant awards
  • Their openness to new grantees to see whether or not you have a chance
Key insights you'll find from a foundation's form 990

Applying for a grant could take weeks—or even months—of time from your staff, so being able to spot trends like emerging grantees, geographic giving patterns, and grant sizes quickly will help you determine if your team should take the time to apply for a funder’s grant opportunity.

That way, you won’t waste time on irrelevant grants but only pursue those that will really make a difference for your nonprofit.

Related: For more great tips on using the information in Form 990s to find grants, check out this helpful webinar: 5 Ways to Use Funder 990 Data To Get Your Dream Grant w/ Margit Brazda Poirier.

Using Instrumentl to Access Form 990s

Like we mentioned before, 990 forms are lengthy, dense, and difficult to read.

We know that the numbers included in them can be intimidating, which is why Instrumentl extracts the information from 990 forms to create instant, detailed foundation profiles.

How do we do this?

Instrumentl utilizes data from 990 filings and the Exempt Organizations Business Master File (BMF) to power our 990 report pages. The BMF is the IRS’s basic record source for information about these tax-exempt organizations, so the information Instrumentl provides you comes directly from the IRS.

This means with an Instrumentl account, you have access to 990 reports at your fingertips from a database of more than 400,000 funders and 17,000 active opportunities. All of this work saves you time in your grant research.

Hear what Susan Cowley, Executive Director of Talitha Koum Institute had to say about Instrumentl’s 990 breakdowns:

“Instrumentl is the grant tool of my dreams! I especially love how the information area for each grant lets me directly access the funder's 990s and past grantees instead of my needing to locate the 990 elsewhere and then wading through two dozen pages getting to the grants awarded.”

There are actually two different ways to look up a funder’s Form 990 in Instrumentl. Keep reading and we’ll show you how!

Finding Form 990 Using Your Matches

First let’s discuss looking up 990 forms from your matches.

While browsing funding opportunities in your personalized list of matches, look for the '990 report' tab at the top of the grant page. Select the tab and this will take you to the 990 information Instrumentl compiled for you.

Screenshot of PDF 990 forms that can be downloaded from Instrumentl

Finding Form 990 Using Quick Find

If you want to look up a 990 form for a specific funder, you can use Instrumentl’s ‘Quick Find’ search option, located on the top left of your screen and directly beneath the Instrumentl logo.

Instrumentl's quick find feature

You can simply type in the name of a funder or grant and a list of results will appear below. The top of the list will have active grant opportunities with names related to your search, and the bottom portion will list the 990 reports of any private foundations with names related to your query.

Screenshot of Instrumentl's Search Function

Once you select the 990 report you are interested in, you’ll be brought to a page that details all of their 990 data needed for further analysis.

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Analyzing Form 990 Data

Instrumentl’s Form 990 reports include valuable information that you can use to identify best-fit funders and increase your grant success. Here’s an overview of the key data to focus on in these reports:

Contact Information

One of the first things you’ll see when you click into a funder’s 990 report in Instrumentl is their contact information and the names of their key stakeholders.

You can leverage this list of “Key People” to see if anyone on your board has any connections or could make any introductions.

Key people from a foundation can be found in Instrumentl

When asked about grant management best practices during the pre-award phase, Sarah Lange, CEO and nonprofit consultant, explained:

“Do your homework! Take a look at their list of Trustees and see if you know anyone. If so, are they willing to champion your application? Also, add them to your communications list -- you want them to know about all of the good work you're doing BEFORE you apply! Follow them on social media, and connect with their staff on LinkedIn.”

The “Key People” lists in Instrumentl’s 990 reports make it easy to identify who the decision makers at a foundation are and who to try to connect with.

Past Giving

Instrumentl’s 990 reports also include snapshots of an organization’s past giving trends, including their:

  • Total giving
  • Their minimum, average, and maximum grant amounts
  • Number of grants
  • Assets
Instrumentl's key financial insights on funders

Because past giving is typically a good indicator of future giving, this data makes it easy to quickly identify if their grant ranges match your funding needs.

As Margit Brazda Poirier, founder of Grants4Good LLC, explains,

“Instrumentl calculates for us the average grant amount. I love this kind of information because I don't want to go through all of the funders, all of the non-profits that got funding from this foundation and calculate the average or the median grant amount…It saves me a lot of time.”

Openness to New Grantees

Not all funders are open to awarding grants to new grantees. Fortunately, Instrumentl’s 990 reports can show you how often a funder gives to new vs. repeat grantees, helping you avoid wasting time on proposals that are unlikely to be funded.

Instrumentl's feature shows you a funder's openness to new grantees

You can also see how a funder’s grant sizes vary between new and repeat grantees, which helps you know what an appropriate ask might look like.

See the grant range from a funder in Instrumentl

Past Grantees

One of the coolest parts of Instrumentl’s 990 breakdowns is the “Past Grantees” section where you can see who the funder has actually awarded grants to in the past.

Within this section you will see:

  • Where the organizations are located.
  • How much they were awarded.
  • What the grant money was used for.
See past grantees from a funder

This data is incredibly valuable in your analysis because you can evaluate whether your nonprofit is similar to the organizations the funder has given to in the past—both geographically and missionally.

Finally, you will also want to review the “Giving by NTEE Code” section in the Form 990 to better understand the funder’s mission, activities, and goals.

NTEE stands for “National Taxonomy of Exempt Employees” and categorizes an organization’s focus area. Instrumentl analyzes this information and then displays it in a helpful bar graph, making it easy to see the types of causes a funder gives to the most.

See the causes a nonprofit supports by their NTEE codes

As you can see from the examples above, having all of this Form 990 information in one easy-to-understand dashboard will free up countless hours of research for you and your team. As Dr. Bev Browning, Author, Grant Consultant and Coach, explained:‍

“Instrumentl does in about 20 minutes what used to take me 40 hours.”

Now that you have the Form 990 information you need, let’s integrate these insights into your fundraising strategy!

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Integrating 990 Insights Into Strategy

Leveraging the data found in Instrumentl’s 990 reports will help you determine which funders you should take the time to pursue.

Connect 990 insights to inform your grant strategy
Connect 990 insights to inform your grant strategy

For example, knowing how much a funder has given to past grantees will prevent you from lowballing a proposal or asking way too much. You can also use the data to only focus on funders who have given to your specific area instead of wasting time reviewing information on awards given to grantees somewhere else.

Other questions you should incorporate into your strategy include:

  • Does the funder primarily work with repeat grantees or are they open to new grantees?
  • Is their average amount of giving in line with our funding expectations?
  • Have they awarded grants to nonprofits like ours in the past?

Integrating these 990 insights into your current fundraising strategy is imperative to saving your team precious time and effort.

Wrapping Up

We understand you don’t have time to dig through a potential funder’s 990 form line-by-line, which is why we’ve developed a faster and easier way to evaluate funders. Our 990 breakdowns make it easy to spot big-picture trends and draw out key insights.

We encourage you to integrate these practices into your regular nonprofit grant management routines. If you’ve never tried Instrumentl, you can start by signing up for a free, 14-day trial.

Stephanie Paul Morrow

Stephanie Paul Morrow

Stephanie Morrows holds a Ph.D. in Media and Communications and is a professor at PennState Harrisburg.

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