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Form 990 Marketing: Spotlight Your Nonprofit’s Efforts and Achievements

Mar 15, 2019

In 2008, a revised and expanded Form 990 debuted. For some organizations, this new form was indicative of financial mismanagement. Several organizations that rank charities, such as Charity Navigator, use Form 990 data as a component of their grading systems. Now the Center for Investigative Reporting has ranked the 50 “Worst Charities” using the last ten years of available federal tax filings to determine how much of their budget is “blown” on soliciting costs. This kind of negative publicity has meant that not-for-profit organizations frequently view the form as a liability and a burden.

However, the opposite – Form 990 marketing – can be true as complying with the form’s requests for information means adhering to Sarbanes-Oxley best practices and requirements for disclosure. That’s a good thing for organizations that run a tight ship. With careful attention to detail and good planning, Form 990 spotlights an organization’s reputation, attracts new donors, and fosters even greater support.

Consider the following five strategies to maximize Form 990 marketing:

  • Review governance policies. Specific disclosures required by Form 990 include policies for accepting gifts, responding to whistleblowers, handling conflicts of interest, and retaining and destructing documents. Also, evaluate partnerships with taxable entities, as these partnerships might impact tax-exempt status.
  • Make board review of the form a top priority. Form 990 requires organizations to reveal how closely involved the board of directors were in creating policies and reviewing the form. Make the most of this demand by asking the organization’s CPAs to train board members on proper procedures for reviewing Form 990. When board members are involved in reading and analyzing the form, they’re able to provide more effective oversight and more useful feedback.
  • Treat the form as a way to share your story. The updated Form 990 asks for detailed explanations of an organization’s mission, programs, and services. Craft responses that illustrate the organization’s depth of conviction, leadership, and passion for the stated mission.
  • Clearly communicate progress. Include statements that show progress toward achieving the stated goals. Clearly and honestly explain any challenges that make progress difficult and explain unusually high expense and efficiency ratios.
  • Share the form. Post the completed Form 990 on the organization’s website where it’s easy to find, talk about it at speaking engagements, and mention it in newsletters. This information is public, so make it something to be proud of and let donors–current and potential–see why they should support your organization.

The Best Supporting Resource: Form 990

Completing your annual Form 990 takes significant resources, and it’s not optional, either. Let CRI’s not-for-profit CPAs help you shine the spotlight on your organization by turning your Form 990 into a marketing tool. Now that’s an award-winning idea.

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