How to Read the New IRS Form 990

Here is a new version of “How to Read the IRS Form 990” that is based on the newly redesigned and expanded Form 990 that was first required for 2008 filings. We will refer to this (relatively) new and expanded Form 990 as “the expanded Form 990” or the “core 990” or the “990 proper.” This guide, based on the 2010 IRS Form 990, was written by Peter Swords, former executive director of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York (NPCC). The first version of this paper covering the Form 990 before its 2008 expansion was prepared with the assistance of Victoria Bjorklund of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Jon Small, former executive director of NPCC. It was supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation. It can be accessed here.

As you address the expanded Form 990 and its many schedules you are confronted with a lot of paper and a mass of data. You should not get discouraged. There are relatively easy ways of finding much out about the group whose Form 990 you are looking at. You don’t have to be a wizard at analyzing quantitative data. This paper is designed to show you the places to look at to find valuable and interesting information about the organization whose Form 990 you are studying.

If you are interested in just one or two specific things, you might wish to go directly to the chapter that covers your topic of interest. Going through all of the chapters, however, will let you gain a pretty comprehensive understanding of the filer whose Form 990 you are considering. Each chapter below will open as a PDF in its own window so you don't have to print out the entire document. You can return to this page by clicking on the red icon at the beginning of each chapter. We also provide a link to the IRS Form 990 which may be useful to have while reading.

How to Read the New IRS Form 990: Introduction

Chapter 1: Basic Facts about the Filer

Chapter 2: What Kind of Programs Does the Filer Run and How Much Does It Spend on Them?

Chapter 3: Who are the Filer’s Board Members and How Does the filer Govern Itself? Did the Filer Change in Any Significant Way During the Year?

Chapter 4: How Much Income Did the Filer Receive and from What Sources?

Chapter 5: What Did the Filer Spend its Money On?

Chapter 6: How Much Do Top Earners Get Paid and Salary Information

Chapter 7: What Can You Tell from Net Assets?

Chapter 8: Did the Filer Engage in any Self-Dealing or Excess Benefit Transactions During the Year?

Chapter 9: Is the Filer a Public Charity or Private Foundation?

Chapter 10: Does the Filer Lobby and About the 501(h) Election

Expansion: Section 4958: The “Intermediate Sanctions” Rule

Expansion: Endowments

Expansion: Part VIII (Statement of Revenue)

Expansion: Related Organizations

Link to IRS Form 990

Copyright © 2011 Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York, Inc.
All are welcome to link to this page ( or to photocopy this guide for unpaid distribution. However, no part of this document may be reproduced either online or in print without the express permission of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York.
Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York
135 West 36th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10018
phone: 212-502-4191