How to Learn About a Potential Grant Funder

Learn about potential grant funders through their 990

Have you ever stalked someone’s Instagram account or Facebook feed and walked away feeling like you know the person? Or, are you an avid follower of pop culture and feel like you really know a celebrity? Let’s say, for instance, that you are obsessed with Brad Pitt. You follow his Instagram account, Twitter account, have seen all of his movies, and know basically more than you should about his personal life. If you were to have the chance to meet Brad Pitt, you might feel a little funny, because here is this guy that you know EVERYTHING about, and he doesn’t even know your name.


While that might be something you do in your spare time, I have a way to make that skill useful as you seek grants for your nonprofit organization. I want to show you how you can get to know a foundation in a similar way to how you know Brad Pitt.

The goal is this:

I want you to feel like you KNOW (really know) a funder… BEFORE you apply for any of their grant applications.


You can get to know a funder by creating a personal relationship (inviting Brad Pitt over for dinner) or stalking their social media accounts… but. Today I want to show you how you can get to know a funder by examining their 990 tax form.

In this article, we are going to go through the 990 of a foundation. As we do this you will learn exactly what to look for in a potential funder’s 990 that will give you a leg up in the grant seeking process.

You will learn:

  • How to find 990s from potential funders
  • What information to notice in each 990
  • How to analyze the information
  • How you can use the information that you gather to give your organization an advantage during the grant seeking process

Let’s get started.

For this article, we are going to analyze YUM Brands Foundation, the charitable side of YUM Brands.

Foundation Background Information

Here is a little bit of background information about YUM Brands and the YUM Brands Foundation.

YUM Brands owns the KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut franchises.

YUM Brands Locations Map

They are located in 130 countries around the world, and in the United States alone they have 18,166 stores.

YUM Brands headquarters are located in Louisville, Kentucky.

Additionally, YUM Brands Foundation funding priorities are the following:

“As a global restaurant company, our goal is to feed the world—especially those who are at risk of going to bed hungry.”

“We also support organizations that are important to our associates and our franchise partners in the areas of arts, education, social services and diversity. To promote employee giving, the Yum! Brands Foundation manages annual workplace giving campaigns and matching gift programs. Additionally, the Foundation encourages associates to serve on local nonprofit boards by providing financial support to those organizations.”

“The Yum! Brands Foundation is proud to sponsor the Yum! Family Series providing over 100,000 arts experiences annually for youth in our community who would not otherwise have that opportunity. The program focuses on enhancing cultural, economic, racial and age diversity of audiences and has made the arts more readily available to these traditionally underserved groups and individuals.”

“As a leading global restaurant company, we understand how to build people capability. It is our privilege and responsibility to share that development know-how by supporting programs that inspire and unlock potential in other professionals throughout our community. The Louisville Leadership Center’s Yum! IGNITES Louisville Challenge prepares high-potential professionals to expand their career and personal opportunities through community leadership. As part of the challenge, each team is paired with a local non-profit to execute a project that will be judged by a panel in a competition for grant money.”

They additionally provide support for disaster relief.

(By the way, I found all of this information on their company website and foundation website, which is exactly how you can find background information about other potential funders.)

Now let’s move on to the YUM Brands Foundation’s form 990.

The 990

Typically you can find any foundation’s form 990 just through a simple Google search, but if you aren’t able to find a free copy, contact the foundation itself, because 990s are public records and are required to be public upon request.

[download id=”50554″] is the PDF of YUM Brand Foundation’s 2015 form 990.

Step 1: Total Giving Amount 

The first thing to notice on the 990 is how much money the foundation gave away in charitable donations and grants during the fiscal year.

Page 1 of 990

YUM Brands Foundation gave away $3,541,523 (Part 1, line 25).

Step 2: Number of Grants Awarded

Next, we want to look at the specific grants and contributions that the foundation granted during the year. We’ve simplified the list of 600 down to the following examples of who they granted money to:

#1 #7 #6









































The first thing to notice is the number of grants that were funded during the year. According to my estimate, they funded over 600 organizations during 2015 (compare that to Google Foundation that only funded about a dozen organizations and still gave away over $21,000,000 in grants).

Why is this information valuable for your organization?

Two things.

First of all, if you see that a foundation awarded over 600 organizations during the previous year, you know that you have a higher likelihood of being funded than if the foundation only funded 12 organizations. That is 600 chances that you could be funded this coming year.

Secondly, each grant is going to be significantly smaller if the foundation funds 600 grants rather than 12 grants each year.

So, this information is sort of a tradeoff. You know that there is a higher chance that your organization will get funded, but you are looking at smaller awards.

Step 3: Amount of Funding Awarded

I want us to now take a look at the range of the awards and at the amount of each award.

  • Range (lowest amount of money donated to an organization – highest amount of money donated to an organization): $25.00-$314,808.00

This range is a little deceiving because only one organization was awarded $314,808 (WFP USA), and only a handful of organizations were awarded anything over $20,000.

  • Average amount of money awarded: Approximately $1,600 (based on random sample of 32 of the funded organizations)

What do these two numbers tell us?

They tell you approximately what your asking price should be. Since we know they rarely award grants over $20,000, then we will raise our chances of receiving a grant if we ask them for less than $20,000.

This is the same case with other foundations. If you see on their 990 that every grant awarded was around $2,500, then you would not ask them to fund a project costing $20,000.

Step 4: Types of Organizations Awarded

Now take a couple of minutes to look through the list of organizations that were awarded grant money.

Specifically, as you scan a potential funder’s 990, look for the following:

  • Do you recognize some of the organizations?
  • Where are the organizations located?
  • What kind of projects do these organizations provide?

#1 Do you recognize any organizations? 

I recognized The Red Cross, The Salvation Army, Make-A-Wish, and Kids Against Hunger.

I recognized these organizations because they are large, nationwide nonprofits. So, if those were the only names on the list of funded organizations, you might assume that the funder only funds large, stable organizations with a track record.

Luckily for us, the list is also full of organizations that do not ring a bell. Therefore, we know that the foundation is likely to fund smaller, regional or even city-wide organizations, not just the large, national organizations.

This can also be applied when you look at a foundation in your local area. Let’s say your organization knows of a foundation down the street. You find their 990 and scan the list of organizations, and immediately you recognize 3 of the organizations. Two of the organizations are similar in size to your organization and even have similar missions. That is a good sign that your organization would be a good match for the foundation.

#2 Did you notice anything about where the organizations are located, just from their name?

One interesting thing I noticed was a number of organizations that were funded in Louisville, Kentucky, and Kentucky in general, which is where YUM Brands headquarters is located. I would estimate that at least 100 of the organizations were designated by being in Kentucky (and this is just by their name! Imagine how many of them COULD be located in Kentucky that don’t have “Kentucky” or “Louisville” in their name?)

Can you think of why this information would matter to your organization if you wished to be funded by YUM Brands Foundation?

Well, we now know that YUM Brands Foundation is interested in funding projects around their headquarters (this is great news if you are an organization in or around Kentucky). But, let’s say that your organization is located in Idaho. You might end up competing to be funded (and lose) to a similar organization in Kentucky.

Also, if you check out the numbers, YUM Brands Foundation gave the Orange County Boy Scouts (in California) only $150, while they gave a youth organization in Kentucky $5,000. You would have to check this out with other comparable organizations on the list, but this might tell your organization that if you are located in Kentucky, you can ask for more funding than if you are located outside of Kentucky.

Once again, this can be replicated with other foundations. You can look for the location of the organizations that were funded and see if they are around your organization. If they are, then you have a higher chance of being awarded a grant. If they aren’t then you might have a less likely chance of being funded.

#3 Can you tell what kind of projects these organizations provide?

Here are 10 of the organizations from the list:

  1. Humane Society of the United States
  2. Huntington’s Disease Society of America
  3. Disabled American Veterans
  4. Crossroads Recovery Home
  5. Barren Heights Christian Retreat Center
  6. American Heart Association
  7. Kentucky Center for the Arts
  8. Kentucky Junior Golf Foundation, Inc
  9. Ohio State University Foundation
  10. Southern California Public Radio

Just based off of this list we can see that YUM Brands Foundation funds a wide variety of organizations. They funded organizations serving animals, providing disease research, implementing the arts, and cultivating youth development. They even funded a public radio station.

What would this information tell your organization?

What kind of organizations could look at YUM Brands Foundation as a potential funder? Well, based on what we have gathered from this small sample, basically any type of organization has been and could be funded by the foundation.

When you are looking at other potential funders 990s, this information will help you know whether or not your organization has a chance of being funded. For example, if you are an art museum and you see on a funder’s 990 that they have only funded organizations that serve animals, then you know that you are not a match.

Okay, now let’s dig even deeper into this list of organizations that were funded.

We are going to go through three of the organizations (because there is no way that we have time to go through the entire list… BUT as you look at other foundations who haven’t funded as many organizations, you might take the time to look up more).

Specifically, with each organization we are going to find their website and find:

  1. Their Mission Statement
  2. Their projects
  3. Where they are located

Then, using this information, we are going to see if we can understand why they were funded by YUM Brands Foundation.

Here we go.

Organization 1: Kentucky Humane Society Animal Rescue League (awarded: $1,550)

Mission Statement: “The Kentucky Humane Society (KHS), located in Louisville, KY, is a private, nonprofit organization that is Kentucky’s largest pet adoption agency and largest no-kill animal shelter. KHS is also the state’s oldest animal welfare organization, founded in 1884. KHS advocates the humane treatment of companion animals through leadership and proactive solutions to pet overpopulation, including adoptions, education and spay/neuter efforts.”


  • Animal protection
  • animal adoption
  • no-kill shelter
  • medical treatment

Location: Louisville, KY

Conclusion: The Kentucky Humane Society Animal Rescue League was possibly funded because they are located in Kentucky. Additionally, we learned from YUM Brands Foundation’s website that they fund organizations where their workers are associated, so the Humane Society might also have volunteers, board members, or employees who are connected to YUM Brands. (You could easily confirm that idea with a phone call to the organization)

Organization 2: Pacific Garden Mission (awarded: $10,000)

Pacific Garden Mission

Mission Statement: “To serve the physical and spiritual needs homeless men, women and children”


  • Overnight sleep arrangements for men, women, and children
  • support programs
  • food programs

Location: Chicago, IL

Conclusion: The Pacific Garden Mission could have been awarded the grant money for their food programs. Since one of the goals of YUM Brands Foundation is to “feed the world,” they are likely to care about feeding the homeless anywhere that they have franchise stores.

Organization 3: Cancer Free Kids (awarded: $500)

Cancer Free Kids

Mission Statement: “The mission of CancerFree KIDS is to eradicate cancer as a life-threatening disease in children by funding promising research that might otherwise go unfunded.”


  • funding “promising and innovative childhood cancer research”

Location: They primarily fund research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus Ohio, and at the University of Miami Hospital in Florida, but their reach is national.

Conclusion: I do not initially see a connection between Cancer Free Kids and YUM Brands Foundation, but there might be one behind the scenes. For instance, perhaps someone on the Foundation’s board has had a family member who had cancer. Perhaps one of their board members or employees are connected to YUM Brands, or maybe there is another reason why this organization was funded.

This kind of analysis is something you can do with any potential funder. You can do it just like we have done it here. First, find a handful of organizations that were funded by the foundation in the past couple of years. Secondly, look up those organizations and find out where they are located, what their mission is, and what they do. Then see if you can draw any connections between them and the foundation. This will give you an idea of whether or not your organization is likely to be funded. For instance, in the case above, two of the three organizations had a somewhat clear connection to YUM Brands. If you were considering applying for a grant application, but don’t have any sort of connection to the foundation, then you might not be funded over an organization that does have a clear connection to the foundation.


If your organization was going to apply for a grant from YUM Brands Foundation, I would specifically look up organizations that are similar to your own.

For instance, I would look up the art organizations that they funded if you are an art organization. Then, after gathering information about their organizations from their websites (like we did above), I would give them a call and ask them about how they applied, what their grant application was like, if you could even get a copy of their application, what specific connections they have with YUM Brands Foundation (for instance is one of their board members a member of YUM Brands Company?), etc.

This can really help your organization because if you realize that every other art organization had a board member who was connected to YUM Brands, but you do not, then that is something that these other organizations might have above yours (a reason why you might not get funded when all of these other organizations were funded).


We made it through the 990!

Are you convinced that you can learn a TON about a potential funder from their 990?

Do you feel like you would be able to analyze one of your own potential funders’ 990s?

If you take the time to analyze potential funders’ 990s, you WILL have an advantage in the grant seeking process. You will know the funder and you will know whether or not your organization is a good match for their foundation. (Plus, you will have several organizations that you can contact for help with the application)

Before we go, here is a summary of what to look for in a potential funder’s 990:

  1. How much money they awarded in contributions and grants
  2. The number of grants that they awarded
  3. The amount of funding awarded
  4. The types of organizations that were funded

And, from this information we were able to learn what kind of organizations were funded, and, ultimately, if your organization would be a good fit for this foundation’s grants.

potential grant funder

Stephanie Tanner

Stephanie Tanner went to college at Brigham Young University where she majored in Human Development and Nonprofit Management. Tanner is a Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) as recognized by the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance. She was a Writing Fellow at BYU, where she tutored undergraduate writing across all of the curriculums. Tanner teaches grant writing, found funding, nonprofit management and has worked with nonprofits based across the United States as well as in places such as Ukraine, Uganda, Ghana, Namibia, Rwanda, and Nepal. She has spent over a thousand hours working hand in hand with nonprofits around the world.

February 7, 2017

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