How to Research a Nonprofit During Your Job Search


Research: the job seeker’s best friend!

For several years, I led the nonprofit ethics program of the Cincinnati Better Business Bureau, where my job involved close examinations of nonprofit financial statements, annual reports, and fundraising materials, to evaluate whether local charities met national standards of accountability. If you’re considering a position at a nonprofit, here are some key documents and resources to include in your research, especially if you’re applying for a leadership role.

Note: These are primarily resources for researching 501(c)(3) organizations, which are the most common and most widely recognized type of nonprofit. Other groups, such as political, labor, or trade associations, will have some of these documents available. For churches, synagogues, mosques, and some religiously affiliated organizations, you’ll need to rely on their internal documents if you want to do this kind of research.

Annual Reports

Most established nonprofits put together an annual report of some kind. It might be nothing more than a special issue of their donor newsletter, or it could be 64-page glossy magazine expensively designed and produced. The annual report is often available on the organization’s website or by asking for a copy.[1] The annual report, if it’s done well, will contain several key pieces of information that will greatly help you in your research: Continue reading

On Citing Wikipedia

Let’s be clear: You should never, ever cite Wikipedia in an article or book, unless you writing about Wikipedia itself. But it drives me crazy when people hear the word “Wikipedia” and immediately respond, “Wikipedia? Give me a break. It’s so unreliable.”

There is nothing wrong with using Wikipedia to get a quick sense of a subject and to lead you to more reliable sources. Encyclopedias, survey-level textbooks, desk references, and similar resources have been used the same way for generations. If you are trying to nail down some definitive piece of information, then you should never settle for Wikipedia. As your starting point, however, I think there are few options that are much better.

For that matter, Wikipedia is an excellent resources for certain subjects, such as:

  • Controversial subjects that many people, with many different perspectives, care a great deal about. Theology is a great example. If Catholics, Calvinists, Wesleyans, Orthodox, and even Swedenborgians can come up with an article on justification that they all more or less accept, I bet that’s going to be a pretty decent article.
  • Obscure pop culture facts, like alternate versions of the comic book character Nightcrawler.
  • People you are encountering for the first time, and need to get a quick triangulation on them, like Emanuel Swedenborg.

I use Wikipedia everyday, and there’s nothing wrong with it. If Wikipedia is your only source of information, then there’s something wrong with you, but don’t blame Wikipedia.