Better Research During Your Job Search


By: Joe Patti

Always Doe Never Bucks

One of the most frustrating experiences in a job search is the salary line in a job description. Or rather, lack of thereof. If you actually see a salary range rather than DOE (depends on experience) or something along those lines, you may find yourself about to faint.

Job descriptions can be incredibly detailed, listing obscure duties you will actually only perform for one hour every year, but somehow the authors experience deep uncertainty when it comes to deciding how much they are willing to pay such a person.

Vu Le recently made an impassioned post detailing all the things employers should do better during the hiring process, including arguing for listing the salary range.

Take An Active Role In Your Search

Rather than waiting for that minor miracle, people seeking positions at a non-profit can take an active role in evaluating whether a job is worth applying for.

This can be accomplished by researching the organization’s 990 filing on sites like Guidestar. Non-profits are required to list salaries of anyone compensated in excess of $100,000. If you are looking for a job that pays more than that, you can get a quick sense of whether the people in your desired position receive that compensation.

Henry David Thoreau Spyglass
Henry David Thoreau’s Spyglass, Concord Museum

Up until 2008 non-profits were required to list any positions being paid more than $50,000. It is unfortunate that this requirement was increased because the lower amount meant that a wider range of jobs were listed on the 990. People seeking more mid-range positions could get a sense of what those jobs paid.

Even if you know the job that interests you won’t pay $100,000, it is worth taking a look at the 990 because many organizations list a number of their highest paid employees, even if they fall below the $100,000 threshold.

Since 990s from multiple years are available, you can also compare salaries from year to year. Are they going up or going down? Is the executive director’s salary going up and everyone else’s is going down? Of course, it is important to remember that if the person vacating the position has worked there 25 years, you may not be making what they made right from the start.

Another thing to be aware of is that some organizations have an auxiliary support foundation associated with them. Strange as it may seem, the position for which you are interested in applying may be paid by them. Pay attention to 990 listings with related names or entities with names that appear on the organizational website.

Your Position Not Listed? Still Much To Be Learned

While you are in looking at the 990, it doesn’t hurt to do some due diligence and examine the rest of the filing. The quality of 990 filings can vary quite a bit. Some organizations only complete the bare minimum required.

Other organizations, savvy to the fact that many donors and foundations use the filing to make funding decisions, take advantage of the optional sections to showcase their strengths. Groups seeking to demonstrate fiscal transparency might be among those who would list employees making less than $100,000.

This can also be a two-edged sword. Knowing that funders are looking at 990s, organizations may re-categorize expenses in order to give themselves a lower overhead ratio. The organization’s commitment of funding to programming may appear impressive when the reality is that their rationalization of lease payments as program costs is probably inappropriate.

It is worth learning to interpret 990s forms, not only for your job search, but also because they are becoming increasingly more important in the decision making process of many companies and foundations. Compensation reporting is becoming more sophisticated and now that the IRS is going to make 990 forms machine readable, their contents are likely to become more widely disseminated.

Joe Patti
Joe Patti
In addition to writing for ArtHacker, I have been writing the blog, Butts in the Seats ( since 2004. I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. ( I am currently the Theater Manager for the Rialto Theater in Loveland, CO. Across my career I have worked as the Executive Director at The Grand Opera House in Macon, GA, at University of Hawaii-Leeward Community College, University of Central Florida, Asolo Theater, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Appel Farm Arts and Music Center and numerous other places both defunct and funky.
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1 thought on “Better Research During Your Job Search”

  1. The website also is a good resource for salary information. It relies on anonymous reporting for employees or former employees, so they don’t have to worry about revealing their own earnings to the world.


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