By: Stephen Cox, CPA 

Is your organization utilizing your annual 990 filing to market your programs and mission statement? Many non-profit organizations are required by law to file Form 990 with the IRS, but they are missing out on a free marketing opportunity.

After filing your Form 990, it immediately becomes available for public review through a number of channels. Various websites obtain a copy of your 990 to make it accessible and use the form to rank your organization against other non-profits. Members of the general public can also request a copy of your 990 at any time, and you are legally required to provide it without any questions asked. Common policy dictates potential board members, investors, and government agencies to review your organization’s 990 before making investment or grant decisions.

External users of your 990 have a limited pool of resources available to make financial decisions which makes your 990 more valuable than you think. Your board members need to make sure the information on the 990 is detailed, transparent, and representative of the ultimate mission of your organization. Every board member should review the 990 prior to the return being filed with the IRS. This will allow each board member the opportunity to ask questions or give additional input in what they believe should be showcased on the 990.

Elaborate on Accomplishments

Form 990 requires a description of your non-profit’s three largest program services and mission statement. Instead of providing one or two sentence answers, this is a great opportunity to showcase your mission and biggest accomplishments for the previous year. Explanations for your largest program services should go beyond telling the potential donor what you did and go further into what effects the program has on your overall mission. Your 990 should summarize these accomplishments for readers to easily understand your organization’s goals.

Demonstrate Transparency

Many donors will be looking for an organization that is transparent with the safeguards in place to prevent misuse of funds and where they are spent. Your 990 can answer all of these questions at once. There are various sections in the 990 that require affirmation of certain policies, such as a whistleblower policy, a process for determining officer compensation, and a conflict of interest policy. In addition to the disclosure of current policies, organizations are able to provide a detailed list of expenses incurred during the year. These expenses are listed on the Statement of Functional Expenses and are an easy way to break down where donor funds are spent.

Include Your CPA

Your CPA may have a limited knowledge on specific activities your non-profit participates in during the year; therefore, take the time to write up a brief memo or sit down for a discussion with your CPA to fill them in on what you accomplished for the year and major projects. You can get more value for your CPA’s services if they can provide an informed review of your program service descriptions and major policies. A new idea on presentation may also come up that could generate more interest from potential donors.

Distribute your 990

Your 990 is already available on third party websites and at any time upon request, but the marketing opportunities explained previously are useless if you do not make your 990 available to all possible donors. To make your 990 even more visible, upload a copy to your website with additional information for your potential donors.

Making your 990 publicly available provides donors a comprehensive summary of many key factors in their decision-making process.

The use of your 990 as a marketing tool is a simple and efficient way to provide donors with the crucial information needed to make an educated decision. If you are looking for more information on how to market your 990, please reach out to one of our non-profit advisors today.