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How Nonprofits Can Use Form 990 as a Marketing Tool

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Apr 25th 2016
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We’re pretty sure that the IRS doesn’t intentionally craft documents that can make filers look really good, but Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax, has just that potential.

Accountants whose clients include charities, fundraising groups, and other tax-exempt organizations can remind them to use Form 990’s two-line summary (Line No. 1 under Part 1) to toot their horns. As the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) recently pointed out in a blog, the form isn’t just about the numbers.

“Because Form 990 is available to the public, fundraising organizations that view it as merely another compliance requirement are missing a golden opportunity to shine a light on their organization’s accomplishments and attract support for their causes,” writes CPA Sandi Matthews, a technical manager in the AICPA’s Not-for-Profit Section.

In other words, sell it – briefly, but with great oompah.

The public sees this information on sites like GuideStar, and GuideStar links up with fundraising sites, such as CrowdRise, Network for Good, and Kimbia, the AICPA notes. That means Form 990 can be seen by local leaders, policymakers, the media, and current and potential donors. So, how that highly visible two-line summary is written can make a big difference.

The AICPA offers these three other tips for filing Form 990.

  1. The way the form is written should mesh with language in an organization’s annual report, fundraising efforts, and on the website. Use the Statement of Program Service Accomplishments in Part III to offer specifics about what the organization did throughout the year.
  2. Form 990 can be filed voluntarily. So, even if an organization doesn’t have to do it, do it anyway. Small groups that might be required to do shorter versions should do the full form. Some groups, such as churches, will file to attract more donations. Grant-seekers will file because grantees may require Form 990 anyway.
  3. Two 90-day filing extensions are available. The first is granted automatically; the second will require some explaining.

“Preparing Form 990 is not just about getting all the correct numbers in the right boxes to satisfy the IRS,” Matthews writes. “If you view it that way, you may be missing out on an opportunity to help your organization or client stand out from the rest.”

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