Covering nonprofits can get tricky. From figuring out how to read a 990 tax form (which all 501c3 nonprofit organizations must submit) to writing your next story on a nonprofit or charity, this story pack will help you through.
Start with structure when beginning your nonprofit investigation with these helpful tips from an award winning investigative reporter.
How to find nonprofit leaders lining their own pockets
Find out who is really profiting from nonprofits. With the possibility of dozens in a community, learn how to wade through 990's and what to look for.
Digging into Profits: IRS form 990
Campbell gives some basics of the form 990 - what it includes/excludes. He gives detailed descriptions of some of the more important parts of the form - lines where you'll find useful information. He also includes a list of other useful schedules to review when investigating nonprofits.
Investigative Business Journalism
Cohn's detailed tipsheet discusses investigative tips and techniques for covering foundations, nonprofits and charities with examples of the types of documents and resources critical to this type of reporting - from 990s to human sources. Part 2 of the tipsheet explores investigations of private companies.
Covering Nonprofits with CAR
This Power Point presentation discusses how to utilize 990 forms when covering nonprofits. Hall covers which organizations file 990s, as well as what information can be found in each line of the form. Hall also includes some questions to ask charities that can lead to good stories.
These six stories cover financial problems surrounding one of of Glendale's most notable nonprofit organizations, New Horizons. The series started as an article on the long-delayed construction of a planned $4-million childcare center, but quickly grew into a much larger investigation of financial misrepresentations made by the nonprofit's founder and lax city oversight of federal funding. In addition to finding significant budget problems at the nonprofit, the stories revealed that city officials had repeatedly doled out limited federal funds at a time the nonprofit's own records showed they had little funding for the project.
Under the Radar
An investigation of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association found that the nonprofit group was providing almost no assistance to veterans and current U.S. troops and instead spending millions of dollars on conservative campaigns across the country.
"Charity Starts at Top"
Certain charities have been paying their executives "excessive salaries" despite federal laws designed to prohibit such an act, the Observer reports. Loosely enforced rules and a lack of staffing in the IRS office that audits nonprofits allows many of the large payouts to go unnoticed.
Corruption in the 2-million-member Service Employees
This investigation of the nation's fastest-growing labor union uncovered corruption in its largest California local as well as questionable financial practices at several affiliated organizations and its national headquarters. The stories revealed that the president of the California chapter - who represented nearly 200,000 working poor people, caregivers making about $9 an hour - had funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in dues money to himself his relatives, and spent similar sums on golf resorts, expensive restaurants and a Beverly Hills cigar lounge. They also showed that Tyrone Freeman misused two nonprofits for financial gain and political purposes, and that the head of the SEIU's largest Michigan local misappropriated funds from one of the charities. In addition, the stories reported that the SEIU's national office, while holding itself up as a model of reform, paid millions of dollars to consulting firms, nonprofits, and individuals with family ties and other personal connections to the union's top leaders.
Washington, D.C. suffers from the highest rate of AIDS cases in the nation. While the health department awarded more than $25 million to nonprofit agencies to deliver services to ailing AIDS patients, many rendered substandard or no services at all.
The Nonprofit Gold Rush
As part of the San Francisco Bay Guardian's annual Freedom of Information issue, this investigation looks into the world of nonprofits and their place in public services and social programs. Every year, nonprofit organizations bid for contracts and provide services which account for 10 percent of San Francisco's spending, and 20 percent of its General Fund. The problem lies in tracking how the money is spent and where it goes. In some cases, nonprofit organizations have diverted public money to finance political campaigns.
U.S. News & World Report investigates various tax-code violations by nonprofits. Many nonprofits look and act like normal companies, the story finds. They operate numbers of successful ventures, make profits, and report exorbitant executive compensations that have caught the eye of the Internal Revenue Service. Many big names, including National Geographic, NASDAQ, and the National Rifle Association, enjoy tax-exempt status along with more than 1.1 million nonprofits. Some of the key findings are: many nonprofits spend huge dollars on lobbying the Congress; hospitals for indigent patients are not much different from hospitals operating for profit; nonprofits usually report their businesses as related to their main activity, consequently to their tax-exempt status.
NICAR provides the data in two ways: As a one-time purchase or a one-year subscription, updated monthly.
This database is a listing of all organizations granted tax exemption by the IRS. Because different entities are subject to different financial reporting requirements, some Asset and Income fields are complete while others are empty. The data includes the organization's name, address, contact person, total annual income, total assets, and codes describing their activities generically.
Most reporters use this database as a tipsheet to focus on specific companies in their area. Once you've got a short list, it's a good idea to get the paper documents from the IRS concerning those organizations.