Question: Our staff just received a request for a copy of our foundation's Form 990-PF. Are we required to provide this information?
Answer: Yes. A foundation’s tax return on Form 990-PF provides a wealth of information about the organization including asset size, board members, salary information, investments, grants and other charitable activities. For this reason it may be of interest to a variety of individuals–reporters, potential grantees and potential employees to name a few. Under public disclosure laws, the IRS requires private foundations to provide Form 990-PFs filed with the IRS within the past three years to individuals requesting such information if the request is made either in person or in writing.
When providing the Form 990-PF to a requestor, all schedules and attachments should be provided. For those corporate foundations that are organized as public charities, Form 990s filed in the past three years must be made available with all schedules and attachments but the names and addresses of donors may be redacted from Schedule B.
Occasionally, an individual might also request your foundation’s application for tax-exemption (Form 1023). This document (with all schedules, attachments and correspondence from the IRS with regard to the application) is also required to be provided to an individual making a request for the information in person or in writing. Note that if your organization obtained tax-exempt status prior to July 15, 1987 and did not have the application on hand as of that date, you are not obligated to produce a copy of the application.
If a request for any of these documents is made in person, you must generally provide a copy of the requested documents on the day of the request. If the request is in writing (including email) you must respond within 30 days of the request. If you choose, you may charge the requestor a reasonable fee for the cost of copying (currently defined by the IRS as $.10 per page) plus postage.
You can include additional documents when you respond to a request, such as an annual report or a description of your foundation’s activities or finances. It is helpful to include contact information for a person at the foundation who can answer additional questions a requestor may have.
An alternative to providing hard copies of requested documents is to make copies of these documents “widely available.” For example, you can provide the document free of charge in pdf on your foundation’s website. Then, if you receive requests for the information, you can simply direct the requestor to the documents on your website.
Interested individuals and potential grantees may actually access your Form 990-PF without even making a request from your foundation; they may access your recent forms through GuideStar  posts charities’ Forms 990 and 990-PF on its searchable database available at www.guidestar.org . While the postings on GuideStar do not technically meet the public disclosure requirements, the information provided does meet the needs of most information seekers. You may want to check out your own foundation’s listing under GuideStar and consider submitting additional information describing your foundation’s activities or grant guidelines.