Monday, September 16, 2013

990s one step closer to being useful

We're still waiting for the open data movement to take hold within the IRS and for the annual tax forms from nonprofits and foundations (known as 990s and 990PFs) to be made machine readable, searchable, and downloadable.

Until we get there, The Foundation Center has given us a very useful interim tool - FDOFree - which allows you to run a free, keyword search across all 990PFs in The Foundation Center's (massive) database.

Here's how: 
  • Go to
  • Click on top right - "Search 990s"
  • Enter your search phrase, in quotation marks, in the search box.
  • Up pops a list of grantmaking foundation - click on the name of any foundation and you will be redirected to a digital copy of their 990 form. The form itself has information on grants, contact information, assets and expenditures, and financial holdings. 

I tried several test cases, including "transitional justice," "chinese music" "tea party," and "Luis Ubinas." The first case delivered 29 foundations, "chinese music" delivered the names of 7 foundations, "tea party" identified 31 funders, and the last test brought up just the Ford Foundation, from which Mr. Ubinas recently retired.

Once you are have the 990 on your screen, you can download it to your desktop and search within it, using whatever program you generally use to search a pdf.  I tried this with one sample from each of the test categories above, and, sure enough, the coding was accurate and I found what I was looking for within the text of the 990s.

One more important step in the right direction toward making these forms actually useful. Thanks, Foundation Center.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Thanks for sharing this, Lucy! It's a really big step towards more transparency.