News and analysis
August 09, 2016

How to Find a Charity's Governance and Disclosure

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 know …

… the number of voting members of the governing body.

    Go to Form 990, Part I, Line 3.

… the number of independent voting members of the governing body.

    Go to Form 990, Part I, Line 4. The IRS says a nonprofit simply has to make a “reasonable effort” to determine if a voting member is independent. For details, go to the 990 instructions under “Part VI. Governance, Management, and Disclosure,” Section A. 

… the names of the current officers, directors, and trustees and their compensation, if any.

    Go to Form 990, Part VII, Section A.

    On Form 990-EZ, go to Part IV.

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

… if the organization provided a complete copy of the Form 990 to all members of its governing body before filing it.

    Go to Form 990, Part VI, Line 11a. 

… about a charity’s policies. 

    Go to Form 990, Part VI, Section B, which covers policies on conflicts of interest, whistle-blowers, joint ventures, and document destruction, among other things, as well as the process for determining compensation of the top official and other key employees.

From a Goodwill Industries International’s IRS Form 990

… if a charity engaged in a political campaign or lobbying activities.

    Go to Schedule C. 

… how a charity has made its Form 990 available for public inspection.

    Go to the Form 990, Part VI, Section C.

… whether and how a charity has made its governing documents, conflict-of-interest policy, and financial statements available to the public.

    Go to Schedule O.

From a United Way Worldwide’s IRS Form 990

… if a charity made any significant changes to its governing documents since the previous 990 was filed. 

    Go to Form 990, Section VI, Section A, Line 4.

    On the 990-EZ, go to Part V, Line 34.

    This could be something like a change in exempt purpose, mission, or the size of the board, or it could be provisions to amend articles or bylaws, which could signal a new direction for the organization. 

… the contact information for the person who keeps the organization’s books and records

    Go to Form 990, Part VI, Section C.

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.