Step 1: Defined the population of Minnesota private foundations
The first step in our research methodology was to define the total population of Minnesota private foundations for each year from 1998 to 2016. While this task may seem straightforward, we had to overcome a number of challenges.
- Each year, new private foundations are created and existing private foundations are disbanded or merged with others.
- An organization’s designation as a private foundation or public charity with the IRS can change over time.
- Private foundations can move locations and file their tax forms from different addresses over time.
- Some private foundations are trusts, which are not incorporated entities, so they do not appear in the Minnesota Secretary of State’s online database.
- It is impossible to differentiate incorporated private foundations from incorporated public charities in the Minnesota Secretary of State’s online database.
Considering these challenges, our research team used the following process (sub-steps A-E) for defining the total population of Minnnesota private foundations. This process relied primarily on the address provided by the private foundation in each of its Form 990-PF filings to the IRS. We felt this approach was the most accurate way to initially define a foundation’s location, especially given that the Form 990-PF instructions say, “The address used must be that of the principal office of the foundation.” (Endnote 7)
A. Exported GuideStar List
Using a GuideStar Pro subscription, on May 10, 2017, we ran a query of GuideStar’s database using the Minnesota state geography filter in combination with the Form 990-PF organization filter. This created a list of 1,676 Minnesota organizations with at least one Form 990-PF on record with GuideStar, which we exported to Excel.
B. Reviewed GuideStar List
Our team crosschecked the GuideStar list with the lists produced from similar queries on the Foundation Center’s free “Foundation Stats” website (Endnote 8), as well as with the then-current online member list of Minnesota Council on Foundations. (Endnote 9) We removed duplicate entries and those without an active GuideStar profile with which we could verify the Form 990-PF. We ended up with a list of 1,644 Minnesota private foundations.
C. Created Tracking Spreadsheet
Our team created a spreadsheet to record the status of each of these 1,644 private foundations over the research period 1998-2016. Each foundation had its own row and each year had its own column.
D. Reviewed Forms 990-PF in GuideStar
During the summer of 2017, as our team reviewed the tax documents for each of these 1,644 private foundations in GuideStar, we recorded the years in which the foundation did not exist, the years in which its tax forms were unavailable, the years in which the available tax form was not a Form 990-PF, and the years when the Form 990-PF address was not in Minnesota.
E. Examined Data
As we prepared the data for analysis, we reviewed instances when the Form 990-PF address was not in Minnesota. Before removing a private foundation from the Minnesota population for a given year, we considered the broader context, Minnesota incorporation records, and the location of its charitable activity. Generally, we erred on the side of being overly inclusive.