News and analysis
August 09, 2016

How to Find a Charity's Status, Mission, Programs, and Structure

Use this guide as a quick reference to find important information on nonprofit groups from the forms they’re required to file with the Internal Revenue Service.

Most federally tax-exempt groups must complete a 990, a 990-EZ, or a 990-N. Churches and state organizations are exempt. (Foundations must file a 990-PF.)

This guide shows where to find information in the 990, the 990-EZ, and any attached schedules. The 990-EZ is mentioned only where it covers a particular topic.

(The 990-N, filed by tiny groups, is essentially an e-postcard with only the most basic information.)

I want to find out … 

… an organization’s reason for charity status.

    Go to Schedule A, Part I. Charities are instructed to check just one box; it can be the same as what’s in the letter each group receives from the IRS that determines its tax-exempt status or it can be different. If a group has more than one reason for charity status, that is explained in Part VI.

From a Task Force for Global Health’s IRS Form 990

… about a charity’s mission and programs. 

    Go to Form 990, Part I, Line 1.

From a Goodwill Industries International’s 990

    For details — including a narrative description of each of its three largest programs as well as the total expenses, grants, and revenue for each — go to Form 990, Part III.

    On the 990-EZ form, go to Part III, which lists the organization’s mission as well as narratives about the three biggest programs.

… whether a charity has local chapters, branches, or affiliates.

    Go to Form 990, Part VI, Section B, Lines 10a and 10b.

… whether a charity has partnerships or related organizations.

    Go to Schedule R to find out about related nonprofit groups, entities that are related to a charity but are taxable as a partnership or as a corporation or trust, and unrelated organizations that are taxable as a partnership.

Additional Information

See the resource section to find out where you can download charities’ tax forms and instructions, data on big grants and donations, and other information. 

Organizations are required to file their 990s by the 15th day of the fifth month after the end of their fiscal year — so for groups that follow the calendar year, May 15. But nonprofits can get an automatic 90-day extension and may request a second one. So it’s common for a form due on May 15 not to be filed until mid-November. If a charity has filed its forms but they’re not yet available on a database like GuideStar or ProPublica, you may be able to get a copy sooner by contacting the nonprofit directly. 

Most federally tax-exempt organizations must complete a 990 as a condition of their tax status. Churches and state organizations are exempt.

Nonprofits that have gross receipts of less than $200,000 and total assets of less than $500,000 may file a Form 990-EZ, which requires less information than the full 990. Those that normally bring in less than $50,000 can file a 990-N e-postcard, which shows only very basic information, including the name and address of the group and the principle officer and confirmation of its gross receipts. 

The Chronicle’s 990 guides were compiled by Alex Daniels, Marilyn Dickey, Joshua Hatch, Megan O’Neil, Timothy Sandoval, and Eden Stiffman, with assistance from Lori Budnick, a CPA and partner at BlumShapiro, and Brian Mittendorf, a professor of accounting at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.