How to check out a nonprofit, part two

In yesterday’s post, “How to Check Out a Nonprofit”, I showed how to find out who’s calling the shots. The board of directors makes the strategic plan, which must be in line with the funders’ wishes. Why? Because a nonprofit lives or dies by its funders. I’ll go through this one more time, adding a couple other details.First a caveat: know when to stop. There is so much information out there that you could spend an infinite amount of time investigating a nonprofit or looking at the various connections between the nonprofit sector, billionaire foundations, and corporations. Don’t do that.

Let’s look at the National PTA today. They partnered with the nonprofit DQC to put out a white paper called “What Every Parent Should Be Asking about Education Data and Privacy.” It was extremely reassuring and evaded the real questions, like “what exactly do the federal privacy laws allow, and what don’t they?” It turned out that DQC is funded and directed by corporate interests who stand to make a profit off student data.

Why would the National PTA partner with them?

The National PTA does a lot of good. It’s a powerful voice for children. It’s mission has maybe changed a little recently, though. Their new motto, “Every Child, One Voice,” is a little concerning. Aren’t there a whole lot of voices with conflicting ideas about what constitutes a good education? In particular, there’s the question over whether our schools should be privatized. Some parents think yes, some think no.

Who funds it?

The National PTA is funded partly by its members and partly by its sponsors. It’s accountable to both its members and its sponsors. By and large, the sponsors support privatization, and that’s enough to tip the balance. The sponsors are:

  • AXA Equitable
  • Jamba Juice
  • Lifetouch
  • Promethean
  • Target

Two jump out. Promethean is “a leading education company committed to developing interactive learning technologies that inspire teachers and engage students.” They have a business interest in big data.

And then there’s Target. I shop there sometimes. I see the big sign that says it gives back 5 percent of its income to local communities. It doesn’t say that it gets power and influence by doing so. Now, didn’t we see Target somewhere before? Oh yes, they are also a funder of DQC, which coincidentally authored the white paper with the PTA.

Who’s on the board of directors?

Looking at the board of directors, I see a lot of people doing a lot of good. Big shout-out to Laura Bay, who as head of the Washington PTA supported the “Simple Majority” initiative, which made it easier for local communities to pass school levies.

The president, elected just this year, is a little unusual. Usually you see people with a background in education.  But President Otha Thornton has a military background. From his bio:

He is a retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel and his last two assignments were with the White House Communications Agency and United States Forces-Iraq in Baghdad. Thornton earned the Bronze Star Medal for exceptional performance in combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom 2009-2010.

The military hasn’t got an interest in the PTA, has it?

He is also currently a senior operations analyst with General Dynamics in Fort Stewart, Georgia. Well, what do they do? Oh, they’re a defense contractor. They have an Information Systems and Technology group, which works with “defense, intelligence, homeland security, civilian government and commercial sectors.” Oh.

I don’t have any time to look into this further. My kids need breakfast. Remember what I said earlier? Know when to stop.

But I promised to show to more ways to investigate nonprofits: their annual report and their IRS tax form (Form 990). Sometimes these are hard to find or unavailable online. New nonprofits aren’t required to file Form 990 for three years. But it’s worth taking a look. Sometimes you find out that a small nonprofit suddenly got a big influx of cash, and its mission changed.

The National PTA has a page for annual reports and financials. It links directly to their 990 form and their annual report.
You can also find the 990 form really easily by going to the Foundation Center’s “990 Finder”  page and typing in the official name of the organization. In this case it isn’t “National PTA,” it’s the “National Congress of Parents and Teachers”. Type that into the “Organization Name” box and there you go!

They did have a jump in income between 2009 and 2010, from 16.7 million to 24.3 million dollars in total assets. Somebody started giving them cash.

Checking their 2009 and 2010 annual reports, I see a big change. In 2010, for the first year, their annual reports got glossy and colorful. The annual reports don’t show the jump in income, so I can’t tell right off the bat where it came from. If I had more time, I could figure it out.

But it’s time for breakfast!

One positive sign: it looks like they take in more cash from members from sponsors. That means that in theory they are more accountable to the members. But that depends on people keeping a really close eye on them. And this is how to do it.

So that’s how to check out a nonprofit.

Also see:

 

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3 responses to “How to check out a nonprofit, part two

  1. Really interesting and informative posts. Thanks a lot for sharing!

  2. Pingback: How to check out a nonprofit | Kristin King

  3. Pingback: Are nonprofits our frenemies? | Kristin King

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