Anatomy of an investigation

Kris Hundley
Tampa Bay Times

Kendall Taggart
The Center for Investigative Reporting

IRE San Antonio 2013

Dowload the complete investigation at:

Read it online at:

The Basics

Roughly 1.6 million tax-exempt organizations

About 6,000 use outside fundraisers

Only a small fraction have ever been disciplined

The questions

1. Why would a charity, year after year, give the bulk of the $ raised in its name to an outside fundraiser?

2. What happens after a charity or professional fundraiser gets in trouble?

The fundraising Data

Disciplinary actions

includes about 8,000 regulatory actions taken by states against all kinds of charities and solicitors.

TIp #1

We're in the news business, but history matters.

Tip #2: Who are the regulators?

  • What cases are they most proud of?

  • Is there a pattern to how they investigate cases?

  • What tools do they have?

  • What are the limits of their authority?

TIP #3

Data entry leads to connections

TIP #4

Nonprofits are primarily regulated at the state level. Every state collects different information

Online resources: 

more tips for taking on an investigation of your own

Figure out how much they're spending on programs

From the 990:

(Part IX, Line 25, Column B)
(Part IX, Line 25, Column A)

Program Expenses
Total Expenses

Tip #5

But watch out for accounting tricks
One red flag: Non-cash revenue and expenses

One example: Gifts-in-kind sent abroad
(Schedule F on the 990)

Tip #6

Another red flag: 'joint costs'

Part IX - Line 26 of the 990

Tip #7

FOIA your state regulator for local charities' filings.
Registration forms often ask about disciplinary actions in other states. 

Check their answers against our nationwide disciplinary database.

You might find some stories.

Tip #8

When you've got a year's worth of information, try to organize your major "findings" for each story on a spreadsheet.

Your final story may look nothing like this initial scaffolding, but it helps to crystalize your key points.

Contact info



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