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Training – Investigating Nonprofit Organizations

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The more than 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations in the United States employs more than 10 percent of the U.S. workforce and contributes more than $900 billion to the economy. The sector offers ample opportunities for business journalists to dive into financial records and databases and find stories that can have a substantial impact on the organizations themselves, their beneficiaries, the communities in which they operate, and their regulatory environment.

This month's training session features a panel of experts who will discuss what’s changed with investigating nonprofits organizations. They will discuss how to:

  • probe 501c3 organizations;
  • use IRS Form 990 and other documents to investigate nonprofits’ financial data;
  • access the Single Audit database (reports from nonprofits that receive large federal grants);
  • look for red flags; and
  • find examples of notable investigative business reports on nonprofits.

Instructions: On the day of the call, dial (512) 879-2134. When prompted enter the access code 846394#.

Questions: Callers may submit questions to the panelists at

Training Facilitator

Brant Houston is the Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting at the University of Illinois, where he teaches investigative and data journalism and oversees an online newsroom. He previously was executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, a nonprofit group of 5,000 members, and before that an award-winning investigative reporter for 17 years. He is co-founder and chair of the Global Investigative Journalism Network, a network of more than 120 nonprofit newsrooms, and coauthor of The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook and author of Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide.


Suzanne Coffman is the editorial director of GuideStar USA Inc., an information service specializing in reporting on U.S. nonprofit companies. She joined GuideStar in November 1999 just two weeks after the company first posted charities’ IRS Forms 990 on its website. Before joining GuideStar, Suzanne was an editor/writer in the publications department of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and history from The College of William and Mary and a master’s degree in American civilization from The George Washington University.

Andrea Fuller is an investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal in New York City. She specializes in computer-assisted reporting using spreadsheets, databases, and computer programming to collect and analyze data for stories. Before joining the WSJ in April 2014, Andrea worked at Gannett Digital, The Center for Public Integrity, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Stanford University.

Cheryl Phillips is the Lorry I. Lokey Visiting Professor in Professional Journalism at Stanford University. She specializes in data journalism and investigative journalism that uses data. She is a founding member of the Stanford Computational Journalism Lab and a member of the California Civic Data Coalition, a collaboration among data journalists to open up California campaign finance data and make it more accessible. Previously, Cheryl worked at The Seattle Times for 12 years where her most recent position was data innovation editor. In that role, she analyzed data for stories, facilitated online storytelling, and coordinated newsroom data journalism training. She also was the deputy investigations editor, an assistant metro editor, and an investigative reporter at The Seattle Times. While at The Seattle Times, she was involved in the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of a landslide that killed 43 people. Cheryl has also worked at USA Today and at newspapers in Michigan, Montana, and Texas. She has taught data journalism and data visualization at the University of Washington and Seattle University. Cheryl served for 10 years on the board of directors of Investigative Reporters and Editors, a grassroots training organization for journalists. She is also a former IRE board president. She currently serves on an advisory board for Tableau Public, a data visualization software tool.

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