How to find nonprofit grants using the Form 990

Form 990s are a free, valuable resource for grant-seeking organizations. Learn where to find them, what to look for, and how to use this information.
Insights article - person looking through paperwork

Nonprofit organizations are always looking for ways to fund their activities and programs, and one important source of funding is grants. However, finding grants can be a daunting task, especially for smaller organizations with limited resources. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provides a valuable tool that can help nonprofits research potential funders: the Form 990. Understanding how to read 990s can help you determine whether or not your nonprofit is a good match for a grantmaking organization.

What is the Form 990?

The Form 990 is an annual return that tax-exempt organizations are required to file with the IRS, with some exceptions including churches, other religious organizations, and a few other types of organizations. The 990 discloses information about an organization's mission, programs, finances, governance, and for grantmakers, what kinds of nonprofits they support. This information can be a valuable resource for nonprofits seeking grants.

Different versions of the Form 990

There are few different versions of the 990 that are used by nonprofits, depending on the size and type of the organization, which include:

  • Form 990 - this is the full form that requires the most in-depth information for organizations with gross receipts that are equal to or greater than $200,000, and total assets equal to or greater than $500,000.
  • 990-PF - all private foundations, regardless of their size or financial status, are required to fill out Form 990-PF. The 990-PF asks for information about income, grants and gifts funded by the foundation, leadership compensation, and more.
  • 990-EZ - this version is for mid-sized organizations with annual gross receipts of under $200,000 and total assets under $500,000.
  • 990-N / Postcard - this is the IRS’s electronic form for organizations with gross receipts of less than $50,000.

How to find a nonprofit's 990

Form 990s are free and publicly available on the IRS tax exempt organization search website. There are also several online databases where you can access and download 990s. A few good options include:

How to read a Form 990 to find grant information

You can learn important details about a funder's grantmaking history by knowing how to read a 990. This includes learning what kinds of nonprofits they've supported in the past, what size grants they've made, what those grants were for, and where the recipient organizations are located. Additionally, Form 990s include general address and contact information for an organization (found at the top of the return) along with a list of board members and key personnel — this can be very useful for discovering connections your nonprofit might already have to a funder and building relationships with the organization.

Here's where you should look on the 990s to find this information, depending on which type of 990 you're looking at:

Form 990-PF for private foundations

  • Part VIII, Section 1 includes a list of board members and highest-paid personnel (if the foundation has paid employees, which many don't).
  • Part XV of the 990-PF contains information about the grant proposal process along with a list of grants a funder has awarded in the current year. Specifically, you'll find:
    • Lines 1 and 2 provide information on the process for requesting funding from a foundation, the contact name and number, and/or website that provides this information. You can also see if a foundation accepts unsolicited funding requests, or if they only support preselected organizations. Note that many foundations claim not to accept unsolicited requests, but this doesn't mean you should give up right away and there are strategies to get around this.
    • Line 3 displays a list of grantees that includes the recipient organization's name, address, grant purpose and amount.

Here's an example showing the grantees section from Part XV, Line 3 of the 990-PF:

Form 990-PF, Part XV example screenshot

Form 990 for other types of grantmakers (not private foundations)

  • Part VII, Section A is where you'll find a list of key personnel and board members. This section also includes information about compensation and number of hours worked weekly for each individual.
  • Schedule I includes a list of grants made and and can help you determine if a funder is likely to fund your nonprofit. You can see which nonprofits a grantmaker supports, grant amount ranges, and grant purposes.

Here's a Form 990, Schedule I example so you can see what this looks like:

Insights article, Form 990, Schedule I example

While it can be time consuming, researching multiple years of 990s for the same funder is a good way to notice grantmaking patterns, giving you valuable insights into whether or not your nonprofit would make a strong grant candidate. Questions you can look to answer include: What types of organizations have received grants from this funder in the past? How frequently do they fund certain nonprofit partners? What are their funding priorities, how have those priorities changed over time (if at all), and how do they align with my nonprofit's mission and programs?

Next steps & additional resources

Once you've identified a potential funding partner using 990s, additional research is needed to find out about open grant opportunities, application requirements, and deadlines. This information can sometimes be found on a funder's website (if they have one), by using a grants search website like GrantWatch, or by contacting the appropriate staff/board members directly. If you or your board members have any connections to people at the grantmaking organization, reach out to have a conversation about their current funding priorities and how your nonprofit could be a good fit.

You can also check out our article, How to find grants for your nonprofit, for additional tips on researching funders, identifying opportunities, and applying for grants.


Cause IQ digitizes and cleans electronic and paper / scanned Form 990s for over 1.8 million IRS-registered tax-exempt organizations. The Form 990 screenshots included in this article come from electronically-filed returns, which vary slightly in layout from paper-filed returns.

Article originally published on May 9, 2023.

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