Sunday, 22 April 2012

Researching non-profit US organisations...

If we law librarians are totally honest, I am sure that many of us can empathise with that sinking feeling you get when certain names appear on your phone screen when it rings...I can't deny that I have a few fee-earners who, although are perfectly nice people, still make my heart sink whenever they appear at my desk/ring me up/appear in my inbox. This is because without fail they are going to ask me to carry out a piece of research which a) I have never had to do anything like before and which b) even none of my most experienced colleagues have had to carry out. Very often there is also c) the question is related in some way to US law, which means even more trouble, as a lack of resources comes into play, and so favours with our US law librarian counterparts need to be called in...

In case you couldn't tell already, a), b) and c) all happened to me this past week, in the shape of a query about finding out more information about a particular foundation based in the US - specifically, information about its charitable status, and if available, any financials.

After my initial few minutes of feeling frozen with fear as to how I was going to go about this, I started with the obvious - finding out if they had a company website so that in the first instance, I could just get it clear in my head exactly what they are and what they do. Some of this information formed the preliminaries of my report.

My manager then suggested that I contact one of our US colleagues in order to get a bit more information on where we should be looking. They suggested the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website as there you can search for tax-exempt organisations:,,id=249767,00.html,,id=249767,00.html

Unfortunately the company I was looking for did not appear on this section of the website, which was disappointing, as it seemed they do not have a tax exempt status, which surprised us.

I was also advised by the US to search the New York Attorney General's Charities database, but again there was no evidence of them having a listing here. My US colleague again suggested that I check this website, as she thought that they would have had to file something here.

In the end, the research is non-conclusive. I am waiting to hear if the fee-earner wants me to try contacting the IRS directly to try and obtain more information. I was also able to look at the skills of some of our US attorneys to see if any have experience of non-profit organisations, and suggested perhaps contacting one of them too.

I have to admit, I find this kind of conclusion totally unsatisfactory! It's very frustrating when you can't find a definitive answer to something, but unfortunately in the law library, it's very often the case that there IS no definitive answer out there, but rather, a likely answer must be pieced together from a number of different resources/materials etc.

Welcome to the joys of the corporate law library....

Image courtesy of: Salvatore Vuono /

1 comment:

  1. I too had to look for a charity in the US recently... Mine turned up on the list on the IRS website, but once I had found it there, I then wondered: what next? At the time it didn't seem obvious that you could view accounts etc, like you can here with the Charities Commission? Unless I missed something, of course!