These tax records are the Forms 990-PF, the informational forms that all private foundations are required to file with the IRS each year. These records contain important information about assets and liabilities, board members, compensation for top-level employees, and grants. They are often the primary publicly available source for information about foundations, especially if a foundation does not publish an annual report. Although it is true that access to Forms 990-PF is quite difficult before 2001, it is not always impossible. Subscription to Guidestar, for instance, will often include access to 1998-2000. For earlier forms, more drastic measures are necessary.
And that’s where the Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives steps in. The Foundation Center Historical Foundation Collection contains annual reports (searchable here), historical info files, and 990-PF tax forms from 1971-1997. The forms are stored on aperture cards. Data is stored two ways on these cards: the punch card portion records basic information about the foundation, and the microfilm inset contains up to 15 pages of the tax form. Depending on the size of the foundation and the completeness of the information it provides, a form may fill only one card (such as the Trump Foundation) or hundreds (the Ford Foundation’s 990-PF is a good example of a massive tax form).
When the library caught wind of Christina Wilkie’s article, we quickly searched our collection and discovered forms from 1990-1997, which we scanned* and made available to her. We’re also making these forms available to everyone through our eArchives repository. Read the forms and draw your own conclusions!
We are currently seeking funding to digitize our collection of Forms 990-PF, an important resource for the history of foundations and the development of the nonprofit sector. Please share this post to enourage support for our efforts.
*The process of digitizing and redacting the social security numbers that pepper these forms is time consuming, as is searching for the cards themselves. We currently take requests through this form. Scanning costs $.25 per page, and we currently only scan whole forms. Any forms that we have already digitized are available to the public for free. We are happy to provide estimates!