Nonprofits often see their annual Form 990 as simply a compliance requirement for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) - another box to check. However, this publicly available document should be given a closer look since it can be leveraged as a powerful marketing tool.

The Form 990 return details the financial position, activities and governance for each year the organization is in operation. Unlike many other types of tax returns, the Form 990 is a public document. Current and prospective donors are two parties that may find this tax return useful in learning about the organization to decide whether they should continue or begin contributing to help further the mission of the organization. Donors and grantors can easily find this information on public websites, without needing to request it from the organization at all.

While there is prescribed information that is required to be disclosed in the return, there is one area that can be used as a blank canvas to paint a picture of your organization – Statement of Program Service Accomplishments.

The Statement of Program Service Accomplishments, located on Page 2 of the Form 990, is likely one of the first pages an external party will read. This statement includes the organization’s mission and three main program services conducted for the year. However, you’re not limited to the three spaces. There is a fourth section which carries into Schedule O – Supplemental Information to Form 990.

This section of the return is an opportunity to provide specific details about your programs. Here are two short examples of how this section can be utilized. Which one captures your attention?

  • Our organization provides meals to those in need.
  • Over 150 volunteers helped our Organization serve over 10,000 meals to those in need during 2020.
Donors want to see how their contributions are being used and the second example above provides a much more vivid (and inspiring) picture.

These descriptions can change each year, and key data that you would include in your annual report or other promotional materials can be summarized here. Put as much thought into how you may grab a donor’s attention with this Statement as you would any promotional document.

Before you file your next Form 990, take a moment to review Page 2 of your prior year’s return and ask yourself:

  • Do these narratives accurately depict our activities?
  • Are we telling the whole story?
  • Are there metrics we can add to our narrative to provide more detail? (i.e. number of volunteers or volunteer hours, number of clients served, etc.)
  • Were there any extenuating circumstances that had a significant impact on our activities this year that should be disclosed? (i.e. the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Federal Form 990 is an opportunity to tell the story of an organization. What story do you want to tell?