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.
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