By Helen Weeber, CPA
Director, HW Nonprofit Advisors

What do you think of when you hear the word “branding”? Chances are, you think of a retailer or other for-profit business trying to attract customers. While branding is important for businesses, it’s also critical for nonprofits.

Your nonprofit’s branding has a direct impact on its financial health, as good branding can attract donors. According to Nonprofit PRO Magazine, a strong nonprofit brand can help strategically advance a nonprofit’s goals—mission and impact—and can translate into:

  • Greater financial support; when supporters feel connected to your brand’s story, they are more likely to donate on an ongoing basis.
  • Credibility in the eyes of your donors to deploy resources effectively and with greater flexibility than organizations with weaker brands.
  • Acquiring amazing talent, board members and volunteers.
  • Attracting and maintaining useful partnerships.

The first step is to identify your brand. Why does your organization exist? What are its core values? What should people think of when they hear your organization’s name?

Next, what’s the best way to communicate your nonprofit’s brand? There are lots of traditional ways that jump to everyone’s mind: social media, your website, email newsletters…all good options. But, are you overlooking one of the best ways to communicate your brand? The 990.

The 990 is SO much more than an IRS requirement for nonprofits. It is, in fact, a public document and you’re required to make it available, for public inspection, for three years from the date of filing. Some nonprofits even have it accessible on their websites.

There are, of course, the usual reasons why you have to complete the 990:

  • The IRS requires it of nonprofits
  • State Attorney General offices use it to monitor how the organization is functioning in a charitable manner.
  • Charity monitoring sites (GuideStar, Charity Navigator, BBB) use the form for rating purposes.

But, there’s another side of the 990…think of the power it has and how you can make it work for your organization.

  • The narratives (mostly found on pages 1+2) are where you should position your organization’s brand.
  • What its goals are and how they are accomplishing those goals during the reporting year.
  • These narratives should closely mirror what’s on your website and social media.
  • Potential donors use it to find out more about the organization, its mission and how it spends its money.
  • The media can use it if the organization is in the news.


Are you taking full advantage of what the 990 can do for your organization and its branding? If you’d like to discuss your nonprofit’s 990, we’d love to chat. Email