The GiveWell Blog

Don’t talk to me about the Form 990

I already knew the Form 990 was useless, but sheesh. Elie and I are currently going through 990s of hundreds of charities, trying to find the ones that might be eligible for Clear Fund grants – we’re currently working on the International category, looking for charities that work in Africa – and I can say that a solid 95% of the time, the 990s of these international charities (including the “Purpose” and “Program Accomplishments” fields) DO NOT SAY WHAT COUNTRIES THEY WORK IN.

As a reminder, the Form 990 is the only information that is publicly available for every public charity. It is where everyone has referred us for “substantive information about charities.” It is the only piece of information used by most charity evaluators, including Charity Navigator. And not only won’t it tell you what a charity does, it won’t tell you where it does it. So please, don’t tell me to look at a Form 990 until you’ve looked at one yourself. Thanks.


  • John Berger on May 26, 2007 at 9:07 pm said:

    This is completely true, and made worse by the fact that the accounting standards for charites are almost useless. There is no substitute to on the ground due-dillagence

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