Thomas Goff Reports - IRS Form 990 Is A Great Marketing Tool for Nonprofit Foundations and Charities

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IRS Form 990 provides a very public and quite intimate report of each charity's activities and governance practices. The narrative portions of Form 990 give each nonprofit a chance to tell their powerful stories to potential funders.

The place to begin telling your nonprofit's story is on page 2 of IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ, where you are asked to describe the organization's mission and then to describe its key achievements of the last year.

An attractive and well-maintained website, rich in narrative, has now become the communications flagship for most serious charities. Every nonprofit director knows how critically important it is to develop and deliver - whether through digital posting or direct snail-mail distribution - honest, compelling stories of need and success that align and validate the organization's avowed mission.

But another communication tool is perhaps more important than a nonprofit's website. That tool is its annual IRS Form 990 or 990-PF, the annual information return most nonprofits must file with the IRS. In fact, Form 990 (whatever the variant) has become an important first-stop information source for sophisticated donors, grant makers, journalists and, of course, regulators. This is facilitated as every charity's completed Forms 990 are public documents that are easily located and can be downloaded free of charge on popular websites such as those of the Foundation Center and Guidestar.

Form 990 is More Than a Financial Report
Form 990 is often thought of simply as an annual financial report to the government. But it also provides a very public and quite intimate report of the charity's activities and governance practices, both in response to objective questions and in detailed narratives. It's the narrative portions of Form 990 that give each nonprofit a chance to tell their story.

Grant makers and donors increasingly scrutinize the Forms 990 of potential grantees. While they review their financial information, they are also keenly interested in how grant applicants describe what they actually do, the results they achieve, how they self-govern, etc.

Unfortunately, most nonprofits treat Form 990 as a chore. They write terse, uninformative answers to Form 990's narrative questions. In so doing, they forsake an incredible opportunity to tell their story in a medium that is almost guaranteed to be read by some of their most important constituents - their funders.

Mission and Achievements
The place to begin telling your nonprofit's story is on page 2 of Form 990 or 990-EZ, where you are asked to describe the organization's mission and then to describe its key achievements of the last year. Use Schedule O to provide a compelling statement of your organization's mission and accomplishments. Click here to see an expertly crafted statement of the mission of the Ojai Music Festival (aka Ojai Festivals, Ltd.).

In the PR trade, we tell clients: "No stories? No story!" That means every institution, for profit or not for profit, needs to report, nurture and broadcast its performance in truthful, compelling "stories" - or the media and, in the case of nonprofits, funders, will simply pass them by.

About Goff Consultancy

Thomas Goff is a senior PR consultant with nearly 30 years' experience providing reputation and PR counsel to C-suite leaders directing some of the world’s largest corporations, foundations and government agencies. An adjunct professor at USC's Annenberg School of Communications, his nonprofit clients in the last year included the Hertz Family Foundation, Texas A&M University, and Dream for Future Africa Foundation. This article also appears Nonprofit Legal Matters, the bulletin published by The Law Firm for Nonprofits.

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