Skip to content

A Long Story Short: Form 990

Source: Chris Richardson, Mckonly & Asbury

A nonprofit’s Form 990 is far more important than just being the annual IRS filing to maintain tax-exempt status. It is a tool for your organization to reach a much wider and potentially helpful audience. This audience includes donors and grantors, potential board members, creditors and banks, vendors, and external evaluators, such as Charity Navigator. With that said, your Form 990 should target these current donors, create a unique selling proposition to attract donor prospects, focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, as well as justice elements of your activities, and enhance your online presence.

There are three areas where your Form 990 can enhance your story by considering your audience.

Part I, Summary

Explain your mission. State what the organization does and for whom. Make sure the messaging in this section aligns with the core messaging of your organization as noted on your website and/or marketing information. This section also discloses information on the amount of funding the organization receives and spends. Additionally, information regarding the breakdown between program, management, and fundraising expenses demonstrates how the organization is spending its money. Finally, net assets show the financial health of the organization.

Part III, Statement of Program Service Accomplishments

Describe the success stories of your organization. This is an excellent opportunity to provide qualitative and quantitative details about the success of your organization during the year. Explain the magnitude and effectiveness of the programs and the impact these programs have.

Schedule O, Supplemental Information

Expand upon the success of your top performing programs, accomplishments, and outcomes with more information. Some examples include information on the volunteer base, value and impact of volunteer time, and support received from various public and private entities. Detail this information in a way that prompts the reader to take action.

Form 990 is a public document and one that you should consider making available on your website. Your website is an effective communication tool and a portal for your organization. Make sure you provide information that will lay the foundation to build trust, help you attract donors, sway a grantor, appeal to potential board members, establish a beneficial vendor relationship, reassure creditors, and work in tandem with external evaluators.

By providing your 990 on your website, it will make it easier for your donors to know they are making a good investment in a worthy cause and increase the transparency of your organization. The information you provide will build a trusting relationship with your constituents. Your difference-making in the community will become the way they make a difference. Grant makers will certainly seek out this information, and its availability on your website will help make their decision easier.

Form 990 is a long and often complicated compliance document, but it doesn’t have to be. Make this long story short for your reader by highlighting (as noted in the sections above) the important work your organization performs.


McKonly & Asbury has built a special reputation for service to the nonprofit sector of the economy. We are proud to serve the area’s most recognized organizations as they strive toward their mission of community support and development. You can learn more about our Nonprofit services by visiting our website.

Scroll To Top