Nearly every nonprofit website has a few common elements. There’s the “about us” page. There’s an online donation form (we hope). There’re links to your social channels. Usually, there’s a page about how your community benefits from your work. But there’s another element that every nonprofit should include but is often overlooked — the organization’s form 990.
A form 990 is an important financial document that breaks down revenue and expenses, including salaries, expenditures, and program costs. It’s not a super-interesting document: it doesn’t tell stories, include pictures, or reinforce your mission.
So why is it so important to include your form 990 on your site?
Your donors are looking for information
Not all donors will be moved to give after reading a well-written ask or watching a video. For many donors, giving is more of an investment in a good cause instead of an emotional decision. This is especially true of mid-level and major donors! Those donors are passionate about a particular cause, but they want to be sure they’re spending their money where it’s most useful.
It is these donors that will look for financial information about your nonprofit before they make a gift. They want to know that your nonprofit is financially stable and will invest their money wisely. Since your form 990 breaks down revenue and spending, it will be the #1 piece of information they’ll seek during the research phase. Make it easy for them to find!
Sharing financial information builds trust
Many donors — maybe even most donors — won’t look closely at your form 990 before making a gift. But making it available to them is still worth the effort! Being transparent about your financial information and making that information readily available is a powerful way to build trust.
For-profits can build trust pretty easily. They provide a service, manufacture goods, or sell merchandise. Building trust is a little harder for nonprofits. You “sell” your ability to make a difference in the community. There are lots of ways you can do that: you can post pictures, tell stories, and share testimonials. But donors can’t hold those things in their hands! They have to take your word for it when you tell them you make an impact. Your form 990 is a concrete piece of information they can point to as proof that you’re an effective organization.
Whether or not a donor goes through your 990 line by line or just sees that it’s available, that’s an invaluable level of trust.
Grant makers will want to see it
If you’re applying for a grant, you’ll need to have your 990 handy. Like your donors, grant makers want to know that the nonprofit to which they grant money is a sustainable organization that’s responsible with their money. Grantors will almost certainly ask you to provide your 990, but having it available on your website is a nice extra touch. Its presence indicates that you’re transparent about your finances, and it reiterates that you’re focused on establishing trust with the public. Those are two very valuable traits in a nonprofit!
So where do I place my form 990?
Where you place your 990 is up to you. The key is to make it visible!
Many nonprofits include a “Financial Information” navigation item on their menu, and it’s often nested under their “About Us” tab. Others include it directly on their “About Us” page. Occasionally, a nonprofit will include a link to its 990 on a giving page, especially if that page contains information about how major donors and in-kind donors can get involved.
Why would you ever want to include your tax information on your nonprofit’s websites? Aren’t donors more inspired by heartwarming stories and photos?
Yes! But donors and grantors also want to know that those stories and photos are real results of a fiscally responsible nonprofit. People who are looking to invest in a nonprofit want to know that they’re spending their money wisely — and they’ll want to see your 990 as part of their research.
Building trust with donors is a long, ongoing process. But putting your 990 on your nonprofit’s website is an invaluable first step.