Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Five Tips For Covering Private Companies And Nonprofits

June 30, 2015

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When it comes to reporting on the finances of private companies and nonprofits, the piles of paperwork and legal jargon can be daunting. Taking the time to do some research can make all the difference. Here are our top five tips for reporting on private companies and nonprofits:

1. Make Form 990s searchable.

These mandatory forms will offer valuable insight into how a nonprofit delegates pay and benefits, which will offer you a whole lot of story possibilities. You can find most through a website called GuideStar, but you probably won’t be able to search a file if it’s been scanned. Try asking the nonprofit for an electronic copy directly or simply convert scanned PDFs into searchable PDFs.

2. Know each season’s impact on the economy.

With each season comes different busy months for various nonprofits. Winter, for example, brings a spike in snow-removal contractors and in clothing companies. Spring welcomes a boom in business for those who cater to allergy assistance, agricultural group and restaurants that boast outdoor seating areas. Be prepared by making contacts with these nonprofits and private companies ahead of time so you can get your story when it timeliest.

3. Go beyond Google.

Finding background is one of your most important jobs as a money reporter and prior research will help you form better questions and, ultimately, write a stronger story. Start by searching through the company or organization’s own website, then move forward to corporate records and official city documents. Look for lawsuits, lobbyists, patents and any OSHA scores before publishing your story to prevent and missed legal troubles.

4. Look around your house and in your wallet for story ideas.

Sometimes finding a story can be as simple as looking at your surroundings. Some of the largest nonprofits and private companies make their mark in your home and wallet in the form of pet care, home cleaning and loyalty programs. Talk to local dog sitters or pet hotels to get the scoop on animal trends or outliers, or — as vaildaily.com discovered, speak with your garbage man to see how the local economy is faring. Loyalty programs also offer insight into where consumers are spending and where they are looking to save.

5. Follow the small businesses.

With companies like Etsy on the rise, and looking to open to public investors, other small businesses are looking to grow as well. Report on local entrepreneurs and nonprofits and see where they are headed, what they are selling and what they lack.

Want more? Download our “Guide to Business Beat Basics” for tips on covering money in private companies, nonprofits and other beats.

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