To find detailed information on foundations that do not have Web sites or issue annual reports (most do not), you will need to refer to their IRS return, Form 990-PF. The IRS requires that every private foundation file a Form 990-PF each year. IRS returns provide detailed financial data, a complete list of grants awarded, the names of the foundation's trustees and officers, and other information on the foundation. The Form 990-PF may be the only source where you will find complete grants lists for smaller foundations. The amount of detail provided on each grant will vary from foundation to foundation.
The Foundation Center offers online access to Forms 990-PF in Adobe® Portable Document Format (PDF). You will need to download the free Adobe Acrobat reader in order to view the returns. The most recent returns can be found using 990 Finder, Foundation Finder and The Foundation Directory Online Subscription Services.
Since it is recommended that you look at several years' worth of returns to identify the giving trends of a particular foundation, the Foundation Center provides multiple years where available. If you are interested in acquiring returns older than three or four years, see our FAQ "Where can I find historical tax returns and annual reports for foundations?"
The Foundation Center updates its Forms 990-PF with new returns every 4 to 6 weeks.
The IRS has published its regulations guiding the public disclosure for tax exemptions and annual reporting information by private foundations. Under the regulations, which took effect March 13, 2000, foundations are required to provide, at a "reasonable fee," photocopies of their three most recent tax returns—including Forms 990-PF and 4720 ("Return of Certain Excise Taxes on Charities and Other Persons Under Chapters 41 and 42 of the Internal Revenue Code")—as well as their original application for tax-exempt status to anyone who requests them in person or in writing. Requested copies of the Form 990-PF and the exemption application are required to be made available on a same day basis for walk-in requests, and within 30 days for mail-in requests. As with other tax-exempt organizations, the requirements will be waived for private foundations that make the documents "widely available" through the Internet. For more information on the new disclosure regulations, see "Private Foundation Disclosure Regulations Finalized" in the Independent Sector's Exempt Organizations Update, January 2000.
You can also order copies of individual Forms 990-PF from the IRS for a fee, using Form 4506-A, which you can request from the IRS by calling 1-800-829-8815. This service is also available on the IRS Web site. Alternatively, you can write a letter, including the full name of the organization, its Employer Identification Number (EIN), and the year(s) needed. (EIN number, city, state, and zip code are available in Foundation Finder.) You should either mail or fax your requests to: Internal Revenue Service, Mail Stop 6716, Ogden, UT 84201 Fax: 801-620-7896.
The IRS generally takes four to six weeks to respond, and will bill you for all charges. The cost will vary, depending upon the number of pages involved.
State attorneys general may have copies of Form 990-PF returns for foundations in their states as well. If the organization you are looking for is in California, for example, the State Attorney General's Office of California has posted nearly 90,000 California state charity and foundation tax returns (Forms 990, 990-EZ, and 990-PF) at its Web site.
GuideStar, an online database of information on the activities and finances of nearly one million nonprofit organizations, run by Philanthropic Research Inc., offers current foundation Forms 990-PF on its Web site. Free registration is required in order to view Forms 990-PF at Guidestar's Web site.
The typical IRS filing deadline for most foundations is approximately six months after the end of the foundation's fiscal year. It then takes another few months for the IRS to process and scan the Forms 990-PF into a digitized format. For example, if a foundation's fiscal year ends on December 31, 2005, you can expect its Form 990-PF to become available sometime in the Fall of 2006. Foundations can also request a filing extension from the IRS, which can lead to further delays in the 990-PF becoming publicly available. For more information, see our FAQ "What is the lag time between the close of a foundation's fiscal year and the date a copy of its 990-PF is available on the Foundation Center's Web site?"
All five Center libraries and some Cooperating Collections offer educational classes that cover use of the 990-PF in fundraising research (Guide to the Resources on the Foundation Center’s Web Site). There is also an online tutorial called Demystifying the 990-PF.
Can't find the answer you're looking for in our FAQs? Ask our Online Librarian.