Form 990 Review – Telling Your Organization’s Story

We file the Form 990 for many of our clients each year. July 15 was a big deadline for us, and with that date behind us, we thought we would take a quick opportunity to talk about Form 990 and its importance in telling your organization’s story. Most nonprofits complete a Form 990 each year, but it is not always the most easily understood document. Organizations that do understand the document well can use it as a tool to promote themselves to grantors, recruit new board members, prove their regulatory compliance, and much more.

In this post we address some of the larger questions surrounding Form 990, highlighting why it is an important document for your leadership (and board!) to understand on an intimate level.

The Importance of the 990, and What to Look Out For

“It is important for executive directors and the board to understand their 990, especially since it is used by outsiders to understand their organization.” 

– Noelle Peck, Client Accounting Manager

The Form 990 provides a snapshot of your organization during a given calendar or fiscal year. It brings together financial data, programming narratives, and your organizational structure into a single document for the IRS and public to review. While the form isn’t something you can become an expert on overnight, there are some high level things to be looking for when filing your own, or looking at a peer organization’s 990. This helpful graphic from RLK LLP gives a page-by-page guide when reviewing the form.

Organizations who prepare for their 990 throughout the year often find that the preparation and filing process is easy and not as intimidating. Having regular (a couple of times a year) meetings with leadership and board to go over tasks or discussion topics can give everyone a sense of understanding and commitment to the document. These meetings can also help drive the narrative sections of Form 990 and ensure your organization’s policies and procedures have intention when it comes to the regulatory compliance sections of the form.



Elizabeth Liddle, Director of Client Accounting says she often gets vague responses on our questionnaire in two specific areas that involve Boards and their development of stronger policies and procedures. She offers some advice and questions to be asked in response to these specific areas of the 990:

1. Part VI Section B Line 11“Has the organization provided a copy of this Form 990 to all members of its governing body before filing the form? Describe in Schedule O the process, if any, used by the organization to review this Form 990.”

This is a great time for the Board to discuss the process. Who should review the Form 990? Is it enough for the Board to be emailed a copy once it is approved by the Treasurer or Finance Committee? Does there need to be a formal presentation of the 990 at a Board meeting with documentation in the minutes?

2. Part VI Section B Line 15 “Did the process for determining compensation of the following persons include a review and approval by independent persons, comparability data, and contemporaneous substantiation of the deliberation and decision? a. The organization’s CEO, Executive Director, or top management official; b. Other officers or key employees of the organization. If ‘Yes’ to line 15a or 15b, describe the process in Schedule O.”

I have seen very few strong compensation policies and processes. Take this question to the Board or Executive Committee and say, this is what the Form 990 is asking. Is our process sufficient or do we need to do more? These are great opportunities to address the topics.

Understanding how Form 990 fits into your organization’s narrative can benefit your mission in several ways. Knowing what to look out for, and areas of the form to focus on are key in delivering a product that tells your story and backs it up with data. Organization’s should be thinking about their 990 throughout the entire calendar or fiscal year. Not necessarily in a direct way, but doing the right things each day can help you and your organization provide great resources to your 990 preparer and ensure that you are showing your full value and mission with this document.


The SKC 990 Team, Stats, and More

The Support Kansas City 990 team consists of six accountants who are trained to preparation and file the forms each year, in addition to their other accounting responsibilities. SKC files roughly 100 Form 990s each year with a majority of the forms due on the November 15 deadline. This team works diligently throughout the year with their 990 clients gathering the necessary information and putting it all together ahead of filing with the IRS. It is hard work, but the team enjoys assisting our client partners with helping build the organization’s narrative that the Form 990 provides. Here are some quotes and messages from members of the SKC 990 team:

“I enjoy preparing Form 990 for our clients which probably makes me a bit of a geek. It is a complex form with multiple schedules and takes time to learn with the diversity of organizations our clients represent.”

Elizabeth Liddle, CPA, Director of Client Accounting

“Having a clean and tidy QuickBooks file can make the 990 filing process a breeze. It also helps when questions from the 990 team are answered by clients in a timely manner. It is especially important to have any and all in-kind activity recorded and provided ahead of time.”

Lindsey Curfman, Accountant II

“When it comes to filing 990s, it is best to be proactive about getting started on the process. As I dig deeper into a client’s file, I usually uncover a new question/perspective that could not have been anticipated in my initial requests. When clients are prompt about sending their questionnaire and responding to other requests, I am able to have the time I need to follow up as new information is discovered.”

Kendall Suhr, CPA, Accountant II

“Reading a 990 can be intimidating, but it is an incredibly useful tool for painting the entire picture of an organization. We are always happy to help explain any part of the 990, especially since we are nerds and enjoy putting it together!”

Noelle Peck, Client Accounting Manager

If your organization’s Form 990 is not currently prepared and filed by SKC, and you would like some assistance or have questions about the process, start a conversation with your SKC Accountant contact today! The 990 team has over 30 years of experience and is committed to providing thorough and accurate filing data in a timely manner.

About the Author

Support KC

For the benefit of the nonprofit sector everywhere, we wanted to provide resources for ways we can continue to operate and grow within this era. And once social distancing begins to fade, what lessons can we take from this to improve our operations permanently. Come back often for more updates.

Accounting & Fiscal Management

  • Structure general ledger, chart of accounts, setup assistance
  • Monthly accounting support: accounts payable, accounts receivable, deposits and receipts, bank reconciliation
  • Payroll preparation
  • Preparation of management reports
  • Financial report preparation for board meetings
  • Grant tracking and reporting
  • Preparation of IRS Form 990
  • Preparation of annual 1099’s
  • Preparation of schedules for independent audit, assistance with audit completion
  • Cleanup of past accounting records
  • Budget preparation assistance, reporting and analysis
  • QuickBooks training

Governance & Strategy Development

  • Governance training
  • Executive mentoring and coaching
  • Board retreat facilitation
  • Strategic planning documents
  • Outcomes and impact measurement and reporting
  • Survey assistance

Database Management

  • Database design and development
  • Gift and demographic data entry
  • Donor acknowledgement letters
  • Import and export of data; mail merges; exports to mail house
  • Data and donor analysis
  • Integration with accounting systems, fund development and social media activities
  • Database training
  • Ongoing support and technical assistance

Fund Development

  • Create annual fund development plan
  • Fund development plan audits
  • Board Training
  • Capital campaigns
  • Grant management: research, writing and reporting
  • Major gifts and planned giving
  • Special event planning and support
  • Annual fund drives
  • Annual appeal mailings