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In examining a 990-PF filing, if grant seekers know what to look for and how to interpret what they see, they may improve the results of their prospect research.


This post covers several useful aspects of 990-PF filings, such as but not limited to contact information, application procedures, and grants awarded.


Reporting Period:

On Page 1, near its top, are blanks for the period a Form 990-PF filing is to cover. By definition, a calendar year starts January 1 and ends December 31. Many foundations use it as their fiscal year. If a foundation’s fiscal year is not a calendar year, the blanks will state different start and end dates. The fiscal year governs the timing of a foundation’s grant-making activities and thus may affect the timing of an applicant’s proposals.


Contact Information:

Page 1 asks for the foundation’s current name and address (Section G), and its telephone number (if it has one) (Section B). Potential applicants should crosscheck the specifics with the foundation’s website, if any, since the information may not be up to the moment.


Foundation Assets:

On Page 1, Section I states the fair market value of the foundation’s assets as of year-end. This figure is one indicator of the foundation’s size. In general, each year, by rule, foundations must expend 5% or more of their assets in making qualified contributions, gifts, and grants. Consequently, at a bare minimum a foundation’s assets should be at least 20 times greater in value than the applicant’s possible grant request.


Foundation Staff:

In Part I, Lines 14-15, reports employee salaries, wages, and benefits. Sums significantly larger than zero imply that the foundation has at least part-time staff (one or more) to handle applicant queries.


Grants Awarded:

In Part I, Line 25, Column D gives the total contributions, gifts, and grants the foundation paid during the year of filing. This amount reflects the foundation’s recent actual grant-making activity. It should be several multiples larger than the applicant’s possible grant request.


Foundation Management:

In Part VIII, Section 1 names the officers, directors, trustees, and foundation managers, among others. The list represents who manages the foundation and who makes decisions about grant proposals. Researching their biographies may reveal possible connections between the applicant’s Board or staff and the foundation’s Board or staff; it may also disclose possible leads for initial contact and/or proposal selling points.


Charitable Activities:

Part IX-A lists the foundation’s four largest direct charitable activities during the tax year. The list is one source of possible insights into the foundation’s priority beneficiaries and program areas. Review of the foundation’s website and publications, if any, may verify whether these priorities remain in effect after the reporting period ended.


Application Procedures:

In Part XV, Section 2 summarizes the foundation’s application submission procedures: to whom to address the application (Line A), what type and content of application are required (Line B), submission deadlines (Line C), and restrictions and limitations (Line D). A checkbox, if left blank, will indicate that a foundation accepts unsolicited requests for funds. Again, applicants should crosscheck the particulars by reviewing a foundation’s website, if any.



Grant-Making History:

In Part XV, Section 3 lists recipients – and amounts awarded – of grants and contributions made during the year or approved for future payments. The more that the details (e.g., type of recipient, location of recipient, amount awarded) match those describing the applicant and its contemplated grant proposal, the stronger the foundation should be as a lead for future funding.


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  1. […] post discusses where grant seekers can find and view these returns. An earlier post discussed how to extract useful information from a Form […]

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