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Happy New Year? It depends what nonprofit “year” you’re talking about.  

A calendar journal with someone circling the first day of January.

The language of the social sector can feel daunting and confusing. For example, did you know there are at least five different types of “years” when it comes to nonprofit data? In honor of the New Year, I explain the differences between these “years” and why you should know the difference.  

Calendar year 

Let’s start with the easy one. The calendar year is the one you’re used to thinking about, the one your Outlook and Google calendars use. It starts on January 1 and ends on December 31 (assuming a Gregorian calendar).  

Fiscal year 

When we talk about nonprofit data, though, perhaps the most important “year” to understand is the fiscal year. A fiscal year (FY) is a consecutive 12-month period that nonprofits use for accounting and tax reporting purposes. Nonprofits may determine their own fiscal year, provided it starts on the first day of the month. For example, a nonprofit might decide that their fiscal year starts April 1 and ends March 31.  

Many nonprofits select their fiscal year end based on their programing or funding cycle. For example, a nonprofit summer camp may want their fiscal year to end in the winter—after they’ve completed their annual summer programing, while an education nonprofit may want their fiscal year to end in the summer—after the end of the school year. 

The majority of nonprofits (64%) align their fiscal year with the calendar year. That said, many large organizations choose June for their fiscal year end instead. The chart below shows the percentage of nonprofits that have fiscal years ending in each month.  

Month of
fiscal year end
Percentage of
public charities
Total expenses

Percentage of
total expenses
Total assets

Percentage of
total assets
January 1,661 0.33 4.42 billion 0.16 4.12 billion 0.07
February 1,592 0.31 3.16 billion 0.11 5.99 billion 0.10
March 6,409 1.27 43.3 billion 1.55 94.7 billion 1.59
April 4,150 0.82 19.4 billion 0.69 53.6 billion 0.90
May 9,049 1.79 44.5 billion 1.59 115 billion 1.93
June 113,335 22.39 1.07 trillion 38.11 2.67 trillion 44.71
July 8,311 1.64 18.8 billion 0.67 77.7 billion 1.30
August 11,888 2.35 102 billion 3.63 279 billion 4.66
September 22,266 4.40 350 billion 12.51 531 billion 8.89
October 2,793 0.55 5.26 billion 0.19 8.97 billion 0.15
November 1,234 0.24 2.80 billion 0.10 8.28 billion 0.14
December 323,422 63.90 1.14 trillion 40.69 2.12 trillion 35.56
Total 506,110 100 2.80 trillion 100 5.97 trillion 100

Note: Includes 501c3 public charities listed on the IRS Business Master file in December 2022 that file Forms 990 or 990EZ. Financial information taken from most recently available tax form.

Fiscal years are generally categorized by their year-end date. So, a nonprofit whose fiscal year runs from January to December 2022 would record their financials for “FY 2022.” However, a nonprofit whose fiscal year runs from April 2022 to March 2023 would consider that their “FY 2023.”    

At Candid, fiscal year is the primary way that we organize and analyze grants and fiscal data. When we analyze grantmaking for “FY 2020,” we typically include grants made as early as February 2019 (for grantmakers with a fiscal year from February 2019 to January 2020) through those made December 2020 (for grantmakers with a fiscal year from January to December 2020). This is important to understand when analyzing grantmaking in reaction to an event (e.g., COVID), as it’s possible for an event to happen in one calendar year (e.g., 2020) but for related grantmaking to show up in a different fiscal year (e.g., February 2020 to January 2021). 

Form year

If fiscal year wasn’t confusing enough, there’s also form year to contend with. In nonprofit data terms, “form year” refers to the specific version of the Forms 990 that an organization files with the IRS (as noted in the upper right-hand corner of the form, see image below). Form year should generally align with the start of nonprofits’ fiscal year.  

Form year is particularly important to pay attention to on the rare occasions that the IRS makes changes to the form, as such changes will impact the structure of the data from one form year to the next.   

The top section of a Form 990.

Processing year 

Researchers and users of IRS data also sometimes talk about processing year. This refers to the year—or more—that it takes the IRS to collect and process Forms 990. Nonprofit organizations have until the 15th day of the fifth month after the end of their fiscal year to file their Forms 990. So, an organization with a fiscal year that ended on December 31, 2023, would have until May 15, 2024, to file its Form 990.  

However, organizations can ask for up to a six-month extensioni, bringing their filing date to November 15, 2024. After that, it normally takes the IRS about two months to process the Forms 990. This results in data being released in January 2025, approximately two years after the start of their fiscal year (assuming no additional IRS processing delays). The table below illustrates how different fiscal years, form years, and filing extensions result in different data processing dates. 

Fiscal year
Fiscal year
Processing year
        Initial IRS
Data is
1/1/2022 12/31/2022 2022 2022 5/15/2023 11/15/2023 1/15/2024
7/1/2022 6/30/2023 2023 2022 11/15/2023 5/15/2024 7/15/2024
1/1/2023 12/31/2023 2023 2023 5/15/2024 11/15/2024 1/15/2025
4/1/2023 3/31/2024 2024 2023 8/15/2024 2/15/2025 4/15/2025

Report year

There’s one more “year” you’re likely to encounter. Thankfully, this last one is a bit easier to understand—the report year. Annual research reports often include a date to help you know which edition you’re looking at (e.g., Giving USA’s 2023 report).  

A research project’s “report year” is generally considered the year it was published—which is often not the same as year the data was collected (or the fiscal or form year associated with the data). For example, Candid’s 2023 Compensation Report features data from fiscal year 2021.   

And with that, you can now check off your New Year’s resolution to better understand nonprofit sector jargon! Are there other “nonprofit years” I missed? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.  

iA survey conducted by Candid Insights found that the majority (62 percent) of large foundations asked for an extension in 2021. The majority planned to ask for an extension in 2022 as well.


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