Diligent Job Research

I have been covering a lot of arts theory lately so I think it is time to share some practical tips. Here is one for your job search process. If you are trying to do a good job in your search, you will attempt to throughly research an organization before you apply so you can craft a cover letter that connects your experiences with their programs and goals.

You also want to know if the organization and environment is for you. What you especially want to know is what those catch all phrases like “competitive compensation” or “salary commiserate with experience and education” really mean.

Web sites are a great place to start, but for more intensive research, one of the places to consult if the organization is a non-profit is its annual 990 filing. If you go to Guidestar, create a free account and search for the organization, you can get access to these documents. There are other sources of information you can peruse as well if you become a paid subscriber to the service.

Organizations have to report the salaries of their highest paid directors and employees making in excess of $50,000/year. You can find out directly what the person in the job you are seeking made if they are listed there. This information either appears around page 5-6 in section V-A or Part I of Schedule A which tends to be page 9-10.

If the position is not listed there it is either because 1-the person doesn’t make more than $50,000 a year or 2) There are more than five people making more than that. (Companies are only required to list top 5 employees.)

In this case, you have to extrapolate what the salary for your position might be. If you are going for Marketing Director and the Executive Director isn’t even listed as making $50,000, chances are the best you can hope for is low 40s. You might also take a look at page 2 of the 990 where they list total amount paid in salaries. If their website shows 4 employees and the total they paid in salaries is $85,000, chances are the salary for your position won’t be very high.

Other than scoping out possible salary range, one can also check out the health of the organization. The form contains a balance sheet that shows how much the company began and ended the year with, what form their assets and liabilities are in and how much grant and donor support the place enjoys. Schedule A has a 4 year financial history of the organization so you can see what the general trend has been.

Often the filing will also include expenses listed by category so you can get a sense what your budget might be as marketing or technical director based on how much was spent for promotion or construction materials.

Finally, there is often a narrative about their recent activities which can give you additional insight into what the organization is all about.

The caveat is that these filings may not provide a complete or truthful picture of the situation. If large corporations can be evasive and creative with their accounting, so can performing arts organizations.

Also, you need to be aware of what the numbers you are looking at really represent. Seeing a listing of assets in the millions may look impressive if you aren’t looking to see how much of that is land, equipment, buildings, etc versus liquid assets like cash with which salaries and day to day operation costs are covered. The most gorgeous facility with state of the art equipment doesn’t do much good if an organization has poor cash flow management and can’t pay anyone to perform.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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