The Form 990, which is filed annually, is used to ensure exempt organizations abide by tax laws. Unlike other tax returns, the main purpose of the form is not to calculate taxes owed but rather to provide the IRS and public details about a nonprofit’s programs, activities, governance, and policies as well as revenues, expenses, and assets. In the context of the Form 990, governance relates to maintaining a nonprofit’s exempt purpose, board independence, and certain written policies and procedures. The Form 990 includes a list of policies and governance best practices.
The Form 990 is automatically uploaded to Candid’s GuideStar, where the public, including potential donors and funders, may review an organization’s Form 990 while making funding decisions. In addition, the Taxpayer First Act requires the IRS to make e-filed returns available in a “machine-readable” format, creating even greater access to these documents.

Since the Form 990 is such a public document, the form can serve as a marketing tool for nonprofits. An organization can feature their mission, programs, successes, and financial stability all through the Form 990. Information captured in the form may include program accomplishments and statistics, volunteer numbers and hours, areas served, and much more.

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IRS Form 990 Series: Available Formats

There are several Form 990 formats available depending on your nonprofit’s annual gross receipts and assets.

Available Formats
Form 990-N, Electronic Notice (e-postcard)
Form 990-EZ
Form 990
Form 990-T
Form 990-PF
File when...
Your gross receipts are $50,000 or less
Your gross receipts are between $50,000 and $200,000 and assets are less than $500,000
Your gross reciepts are greater than $200,000 or assets are greater than $500,000
If you have revenues unrelated to your organization’s exempt purpose, you may also need to file a Form 990-T. Examples of revenues that could be considered unrelated business income include advertising, parking fees, or subleased space.
This form is specific to private foundations

Important Reminders:

Regardless of the Form 990 format your nonprofit is eligible to submit, your return is due by the 15th day of the 5th month after the organization’s accounting period ends (May 15th for a calendar-year filer). Two extensions are possible up to 10 ½ months (after your year-end). Electronic filing is mandated under the Taxpayer First Act, signed into law on July 1, 2019. If a Form 990 is not filed for three consecutive years, the organization will automatically lose its federal tax-exemption.

Nonprofits need to pass the IRS “public support test” to maintain their tax-exempt status as a public charity (as opposed to a private foundation). For most nonprofits this means that at least 33% of your support should come from diverse sources.

Also, remember nonprofits pay almost all state and local taxes. See our separate resource Tax Basics for Nonprofits.

Quick Review of Key Parts

To quickly get acquainted with the Form 990, focus on reviewing the following four sections.

  • Part I Summary (page 1, Form 990): This section provides an organizational snapshot – basic information and a summary of activities.
  • Part III Statement of Program Service Accomplishments (page 2, Form 990): Through this section, tell the story of how your nonprofit is achieving its mission. Remember this is a public document, which can serve as a tool to share accomplishments, areas served, and more to potential donors and funders.
  • Part IV Checklist of Required Schedules (page 3-4, Form 990): Here you will find the schedules to be completed, which should be filed in alphabetical order.
  • Part VI Governance, Management, & Disclosure (page 6, Form 990): This portion is separated into three subsections: governing body and management, policies, and disclosure. Part VI of the Form 990 is a summary of best governance and management practices. Whether you are filing a full Form 990 or not, this is a valuable summary list for any nonprofit to review and ensure their practices are in alignment.

As noted in Chapter 2. Income Statement, nonprofits are required to track expenses by functional classification. 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations must complete all columns of Part IX Statement of Functional Expenses (page 10, Form 990).

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