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The 990-PF is the grantseeker’s friend

By The NonProfit Times - September 24, 2013

The information summarized in a funding database provides glimpses of a private foundation’s priorities and giving habits. But savvy grantseekers know they need the full picture before making contact or submitting a grant proposal.

Foundation websites can fill in the missing pieces, but many foundations don’t have websites. What’s a grantseeker to do?

According to Barbara Floersch, director of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif., first, use a database to identify foundations that seem like a good fit for your organization. Then, if they don’t have in-depth websites, go to, set up a free account, and take a look at the foundations’ recent tax returns (990-PFs).

Foundation tax returns are public information and they’re invaluable to grantseekers. They provide not only information about assets and officers but also a complete list of grants awarded during the fiscal year – including the amount of each grant and the recipient’s name and location.

Examine each foundation’s 990-PFs to determine whether that foundation is truly a good fit with your organization’s work. For starters, look at several fiscal years to determine:

  • The average amount of funding granted to organizations similar to yours;
  • The average amount granted for the area in which you’ll seek support (i.e., youth services, education, the arts, the environment);
  • Geographic preferences in grantmaking; and,
  • Whether the foundation provides multi-year funding.

Use what you’ve learned to construct a well-informed plan of action and a well-targeted request for support. The 990-PF is not the place to start your research but it can refine your understanding of a grantmaker. When it comes to winning grants, thorough information is essential. The 990-PF can help you fill in the blanks.


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