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Tools to check a foundation's status

My last blog post gave common reasons why a foundation might not be in Foundation Directory Online (FDO). Fortunately, in most cases, you can confirm a foundation’s status, or at least make an educated guess about it, in roughly 5-10 minutes, and often by using the same resources used by our Ask Us team to help visitors.

Are you sure it’s not listed in FDO?

A single typo in a foundation’s name might lead to zero results, so use fewer keywords, like just the person’s last name. This usually works better than searching for the foundation’s whole name. For example, just search for “bloomberg”, not “bloomberg foundation”. Of course, you’ll want to use more keywords or also use the state field for common surnames like “Johnson”.

Also, check which FDO plan you’re using. Only Platinum and Professional plans list all 130,000+ funders in our database. If you’re using the Basic, Plus, or Premium plan, you’re not able to search for smaller foundations, grantmaking public charities, or corporate giving programs. If you’re not able to upgrade, you can use the Professional plan for free at any of our 470+ Funding Information Network locations.

Does it have a website?

Search the Internet for the foundation’s name as a phrase, usually by enclosing the name in quotation marks. Example: “bloomberg foundation”. Most search engines these days will return close matches even if you don’t have the name exactly right.

If you find a website, find the org’s mission and services. Pages labeled with “About Us” or “Programs”, as well as the homepage, are good starting points. For corporate websites, click on “Foundation”, “Social Responsibility”, “Community Giving”, or similar-sounding links. If the org indeed is a grantmaker, read that website thoroughly and subscribe to any communication channels it has.

Is it an exempt organization?

Use IRS’s Exempt Organizations Select Check. Limit your search to orgs that “Are eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions”. Again, using fewer, more distinct keywords in the Name field often works better. If possible, search them as a phrase by enclosing the partial name in quote marks. If you get zero results, try different keyword combinations.

If the org isn’t listed, this suggests that it hasn’t gotten its exempt status because it’s pending, or it’s a donor-advised fund. Check if it’s registered with its Secretary of State. If it the org is listed, jot down the EIN that’s shown; it might be a public charity.

Is it in other nonprofit databases?

GuideStar or Economic Research Institute also list non-grantmaking charities and are good sources to find 990s for all types of exempt orgs. For a more accurate search, use the EIN you got from the IRS site earlier.

If you find the org in question, glean what you can from its record and any 990s linked to it. Notice if it’s a Form 990 or 990-PF. In either case, if the org does make grants, the 990 will have some info about these activities, like grantmaking goals, application guidelines, and grants made in that year. However, keep in mind that unlike private foundations, public charities don’t have to list the grants they made, but some will do this anyway.

Is it registered with its Secretary of State?

This state agency usually is where you go to search for corporations. If the org in question is registered and active, it might be in the process of getting its exempt status. If the org is listed as inactive, this means that it hasn’t filed its yearly renewal.

If the org isn’t registered as a corporation, that further suggests that it’s a donor-advised fund or some other type of organization. Thus, if you want to continue researching this org, treat it like an individual donor and use the same methods, resources, and tools. See our Knowledge Base Article for tips and resources for individual prospect research.

Has the foundation dissolved?

When a foundation has dissolved, it's removed from FDO, but its 990s will remain in our 990 database (and others). What are the signs of a terminated foundation? Its last 990 has "Final Return" checked on the first page. Its profile in the state corporations database shows a status of "Dissolved" or something similar. An Internet search finds news articles reporting its closure.

We're often asked if we have a list of closed or terminated foundations. No, we don't, and we haven't found one yet. (If you know of one, tell us, please!) One exception is the IRS's list of orgs that had their federal tax exemption automatically revoked because they didn't file 990s for three consecutive years. 

How does this info help you become a better grantseeker?

If you can’t find a foundation that you know exists, you now have more tools to try, other than your search engine, and you don’t have to wait for our Ask Us team to respond.

Also, many grantmakers use these same tools as part of their “due diligence” process to verify that an applicant is exempt and is in good standing. Consider searching your own org in the tools listed above to check if your profiles are accurate. After all, if an org can't keep up with its basic renewal and reporting requirements, chances are that it's not able to keep track of how the grant is used or report on the project's progress and outcomes. 

Any type of work, from home repair to prospect research, is easier when you use the right tools and methods. Based on the type of donor you’re investigating, you’ll also know when to stop looking for certain data, like a list of grants in Form 990, because it just might not be available. Likewise, you’ll know to ask questions if you don’t find a list of grants in Form 990-PF.

What tools do you use to check the status of a foundation, or any nonprofit, for that matter? Help build our communal toolbox by telling us about your favorite tools in our comments area.

--Sandy Pon

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