Help Me Narrow Down A Big List
January 4, 2015 4:03 PM   Subscribe

I plan to interview Oregon non-profit organizations this year. Not counting Guidestar, I have compiled a list of about 1800 NPs in the state from six other lists (Charity Navigator,, Oregon Department of Justice, Combined Federal Campaign Oregon, Non Profit Association of Oregon and GiveGuide2014). I want to explore the work of some of those little known who never get publicity or don't have a lot of money but have missions worthy of attention.

I thought to eliminate those NP's that appear on more than one list as well as those with multiple locations but all belonging to a single parent organization (American Red Cross of Portland, Eugene, Salem, etc.) And those left (about 1300) I'd use a random number generator to create a list of about 84 - that's how many interviews I want to do this year. Then I would research them. If a NP was actually big, I would eliminate it and pick a new one. And if they spent more than 50% on administrative costs, I would eliminate it and pick a new one.

This is the process I'm using, but I'm open to suggestions to improve it.
posted by CollectiveMind to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I haven't looked at Charity Navigator or those other sites for a while, but maybe you could also narrow down your list by money raised per year? You probably already have, but I'd say lower it, whatever it is. Also, are you looking for NPs with a particular mission or missions? If not, you might want to do that as well.
posted by dovesandstones at 4:16 PM on January 4, 2015

Can you go straight to the source and look at 501(c)3 filings? I've also worked with groups that were too small to afford the 501(c)3 at first and got "umbrella" certification by a non-profit - that might be a useful search term for really small/new groups.

Ask the people you interview for referrals - they'll likely be a good source of info. I would also consider lowering your threshold for admin (and fundraising?) costs - 50% is pretty high.
posted by momus_window at 4:50 PM on January 4, 2015

Best answer: Nonprofits get created for a lot of different reasons. In my state, we have an organization that is equivalent to the Non Profit Association of Oregon; the executive director of my state's NP org told me several years ago that of the 5,000 or so NPs on the books in our state, only about 1,300 were viable orgs with a mission, the rest were created for some single event and/or are relatively inactive. The point being that in your quest to find "little known who never get publicity or don't have a lot of money but have missions worthy of attention", you may end up with a bunch of very specific or inactive orgs. Your question details a couple of different ways you are cropping off the "too big" nonprofits; I think you need a way to identify the "too small" as well (e.g. the once a year 5K race that is structured as a non-profit).
posted by kovacs at 7:11 PM on January 4, 2015

Best answer: You can look at media reports. If you google the non profit's name and location, and there is no media coverage for the past six months, put them ahead in the queue.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:48 PM on January 4, 2015

Are you doing this to raise awareness with possible donors? Or are you looking for somewhere to give your money to? Givewell gives charities heavy scrutiny to show people where their giving does the most good...not sure if that is at all helpful for what you're doing.
posted by stellathon at 1:19 AM on January 5, 2015

Response by poster: dovesandstones, I am trying to balance my choices according to the NTEE NP designators so I cover all categories as equally as I can. stellathon, I'm doing it because I like to raise awareness with the general public. They may become new donors, but I think people don't know the range of help that is out there.
posted by CollectiveMind at 11:21 AM on January 5, 2015

Response by poster: momus_window, as it happens, Oregon's DOJ just adapted a law as it affects NPs that penalizes them if they direct less than 30% of what they raise to their charitable purpose. So, it looks like you're right - that number needs to be 30%.
posted by CollectiveMind at 12:19 PM on January 5, 2015

Actually, you have it reversed: Oregon's new law requires that nonprofits dedicate at least 30% of their donations to program expenses, which means they could spend up to 70% of their budgets on administrative costs and still retain their tax status.

In general, overhead ratios are a bad way to measure nonprofit performance. The public's insistence that nonprofits keep their overhead costs at ridiculously low levels is actually harmful to their ability to do their work effectively. In addition to raising awareness about some of your local organizations, you could do a valuable public service by raising awareness about the Overhead Myth as you profile these organizations.

The "umbrella certification" that momus_window is referring to is called fiscal sponsorship. I know for a fact that NAO offers fiscal sponsorships to smaller organizations in Oregon so you might reach out to them if you'd like to talk to nonprofits in that situation.

kovacs also makes a good point about the proliferation of nonprofits. It's not difficult to get your nonprofit designation at the state level; it is more difficult to make it through the IRS's approval process. In either case, however, a certain tax status doesn't mean that the organization is effective or sustainable. They may have a great mission but no realistic way of accomplishing it, so I would encourage you to look beyond stated mission and marketing materials and ask for evidence of impact or at least a statement of their theory of change, which is how they articulate the way(s) in which they fulfill their mission.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 7:22 AM on January 6, 2015

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