And the Oscar goes to . . . Take Three

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve had to endure listening to someone rant about how dysfunctional non-profit organizations are compared to their for-profit counterparts, then I’d be a very rich man. Sure there are countless non-profits out there who struggle to survive. They stretch their resources so thin that it is a miracle whenever they achieve their program outcomes or community impact. However, this isn’t ways the case. In fact, there are very large non-profit organizations that no one really recognizes as “non-profit,” and they even do some very big and amazing things.

Nearly 40 million people witnessed one such example last Sunday night when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences produced a little known show that is informally known worldwide as “The Oscars”. That’s right . . . <gasp> that major production was put on by a “non-profit organization”.

So, as it typically does, my curiosity got the best of me and I found myself on looking up the Academy’s 990 tax return for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010. I thought I’d share a few interesting observations with you from my nosing around:

  • The organization’s total revenue according to its last tax return was $86,847,054 with expenses of $67,324,191.
  • Interestingly, they don’t have any traditional resource development program in place. Of course, it is the $81,344,127 they generate from their world-famous television show that brings in the bulk of their revenue. I was disappointed that I didn’t find a clever little special event fundraiser idea or a new twist on an annual campaign, but I guess I’m not surprised.
  • I was guessing that their board of directors would’ve been full of famous movie stars with deep pockets. While I wasn’t surprised to find Tom Hanks listed as First Vice President or Annette Bening and Henry Winkler listed as Governors, the list didn’t sparkle and struck me more as a group of earnest professionals from every walk of Hollywood.

For me, the act of looking up the Academy’s 990s helped me draw two conclusions:

  1. I bet there are very functional (and sometimes large) non-profit organizations that we interact with on a daily basis. I wonder how many benchmarking opportunities exist out there?
  2. I keep forgetting how wonderful really is. I know that the 990 tax returns provide too little information, but even a little bit of transparency can feel refreshing.

What other large non-profit organizations have you seen that deserve spotlighting? Have you ever contacted another non-profit (or even a for-profit) and engaged in a benchmarking project designed to help your agency improve and reach for the stars? If so, let us know how that turned out for you. Finally, how do you find yourself using Guidestar (e.g. finding similar agencies for benchmarking purposes, compensation survey review, etc)?

Please scroll down and share some of your questions, thoughts or observations in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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