Primer on reading a 990. Lessons learned from looking at a journalists’ presentation.

If you don’t know where to start when looking at a 990 to figure out what’s going on, two reporters have provided you a great intro.

Here is a slide deck for a presentation that highlights a few items to look at: Five Tip-offs to Trouble in the Form 990.

A 990 has been highlighted here so you can see where to look for key numbers that tell the story of what is happening in a charity. The sample is an actual 990 with an unflattering story to tell.

Board training opportunity

If you have board members who have a basic idea of how to find their way around a 990 and want them to learn more, show them the above links.

The presentation is from Kris Hundley of the Tampa Bay Times and Kendall Taggart of The Center for Investigative Reporting.

For finance staff in a charity, some things to learn

There’s another reason I mention this – If you want to learn how journalists look at 990s, check out the presentation and highlighted 990.

Also, there are at least three lessons available for finance people in the charity world that are available from reading through the presentation.

First, remember your 990s are out there on Guidestar and the websites of lots and lots of state regulators.  Those 990s can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.

Second, some journalists are very skilled at reading 990s.

Third, lots of other journalists are learning how to read 990s.

Some words of advice to finance staff helping to change the world?

  • Keep doing good work.
  • Think about what your 990 says.
  • Be ready to explain odd things in your 990 and audited financial statements.

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