A Valuable Free Tool

Learn how to use Guidestar to better prepare for a nonclinical job search. 

Guidestar reports the data submitted to the IRS for all nonprofit corporations in the U.S.

We use Guidestar to access the 990 reports and the size and location of the company.

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There are three limitations to Guidestar when used for our purposes:

First, the companies covered in these reports do NOT include any private, for-profit companies.

Second, if the organization is part of a system, it will not be listed separately. Guidestar only lists the most highly compensated executives of the system.

Third, the FREE data are 18 to 24 months old. If you need the most current information, you can purchase a membership for about $200.00 per month.

How to Use Guidestar

Three circumstances in which Guidestar is helpful:

  1. Identifying nonprofits to volunteer for committees or boards to gain management and leadership skills.
  2. Discover the salaries of highly compensated executives.
  3. Prepare for interviews when applying for a job at a nonprofit (e.g., hospital or home health agency).

Learn the details in today's podcast episode.


Many clinicians seek work at a nonprofit healthcare organization. The GuideStar reports are helpful in three ways in that situation. 

NOTE: Look below for a transcript of today's episode.

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Transcription PNC Podcast Episode 225

How to Use GuideStar to Improve Your Nonclinical Career Prep

John: You may have noticed that I am recording episodes recently that provided advice about very specific tactics to be used in the career transition process. Not all of our transitions use all the tactics I'm teaching, of course. For some, if you're going to a hospital, they'll be more appropriate. If you're going into a pharma job, that might be more appropriate. But these tactics are foundational enough to help the majority of you to accelerate your job search if they are implemented. Whether it's using LinkedIn or specialty societies or a tool like I'm talking about today, many of you can find ways to use these free resources to help move you along a little quicker.

Today I'm describing how to use an often-overlooked tool to help you in three different, but important ways. And these three ways that this tool, this website can help you is first to identify sources for free management and leadership experience, which will look good on your resumé but will also provide you with real tangible skills to stack on other business and management skills acquired elsewhere. And this can be very important for certain types of jobs.

Second, if you want to look up salary levels, if the position that you're looking for is of a certain type and a certain type of organization, then you'll be able to determine the salary levels for physicians doing what you're planning to do. And third, we've talked about this before, but this is another good source of information to do research on your potential new employer in order to help you decide if you want to pursue a job there and to educate yourself about the organization prior to your interviews.

Some of you may already know what resource I'm referring to, but it is GuideStar, which is found at guidestar.org. What is GuideStar? It is the nonprofit that reports the data submitted to the IRS for all other nonprofit corporations in the US.

The information that we use in GuideStar primarily is the 990 report that is submitted by each nonprofit and published annually in GuideStar. And of course, besides the 990 financial data and the breakdown, the P&L, and all that, there is basic demographic information that helps us determine the size and the location of each of the organizations, which will come in handy in a minute.

Let me go ahead and discuss each of these three major ways that I have used GuideStar in the past. But before we do that, I do want to mention several caveats. When I've used GuideStar, I have used a free version. GuideStar will allow anybody to look at nonprofits 990 because that is considered to be public information. Now there's other information that GuideStar publishes and produces, but that would require a certain level of membership, which can cost somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000 per year, depending on whether you pay monthly or annually.

The other caveat I would say is that these reports do not include any organizations that are private or for-profit or publicly traded companies like that. If you work for a large insurance company or a large pharmaceutical company, these kinds of companies are not non-profit. And so, they will not show up in GuideStar.

Secondly, if the organization is part of a large system, the reports might be buried within the 990. It may not be broken out. So, if it's a part of a five-hospital system, the five-hospital system itself might have a 990, but let's say the local hospital near where you live or plan to work might not be listed separately.

And the third thing I do like to remind people is that the free data is not current. They're usually about 18 to 24 months old because it takes a while for these things to make their way through the process of being submitted and then shared with GuideStar. And then I think they add another year of waiting as a way to separate the paid from the unpaid type of report.

But here's the thing, this information doesn't change much, at least for the two or three things that we're using it for. Whether the information is two or three or four years old, it doesn't really matter. In fact, usually, there are three reports you can look up on any organization. And so, if you look up those three since each one has two years' worth of data, you can actually get four years' worth of data. So, you can go back three years to the report from let's say three or four years ago, and the report from two years ago. And then between those you'll have three or four years of data because each of the reports has two years' worth. So, it's still very helpful. Things don't change that quickly in what we're using this information for.

All right, let's get into the specifics. First, we have a chicken and egg issue when it comes to getting your first job, your first nonclinical job. And that is that sometimes you need the experience to get the job, but we can't get the experience without having the job first. It's a chicken and egg issue. This comes up a lot in healthcare management, such as a medical director, vice president or director or chief officer or something like that.

Second is that we want to find a way in those kinds of jobs, and this is even true if you're working in pharma or insurance companies, particularly if you want to move up into a management leadership position, how do you get that information and how do you get that experience? And the information experience you want is learning about healthcare, finance, quality improvement, healthcare medicolegal issues, and even just learning human resource management skills.

Those are the kinds of skills that you can easily learn at a nonprofit, even if you're not employed. So, how do we do that? We find a healthcare nonprofit. We go and search for them in GuideStar. You can look in your area and just scroll through them. What you're looking for is a nonprofit healthcare firm, like a hospice, a nursing home, home health agencies, and even a hospital. You might be looking to get a leadership job in a large hospital that you work at, but you might know of a hospital, let's say less than 30 minutes or 40 minutes away that's rather small, free-standing, maybe a specialty hospital or something, or one of these other agencies that I've mentioned, and they all have boards and they all have board committees.

And so, you can do a search on GuideStar, and probably what you want to do is sort all the healthcare nonprofits in an area and narrow it down. If you put down like a city like New York or Chicago or LA, you're going to get thousands of things listed, but you can narrow it down to a smaller town or narrow it by county or possibly even by zip code, even though that might be in the paid version and then sort them by grocery seats. Most hospitals of any size are going to have grocery seats somewhere between 300 million and a billion. And when you get a much higher net, you're pretty much in a system.

If I were looking for a hospice position, I would look for something in the grocery seats of between 5 and 50 million that would cover hospice, nursing homes, and home health agencies. As I said, most hospitals will have larger budgets. It's easier to get on a board for a hospice or nursing home or home health agency or some other firm like that, than at a hospital because people look for those seats in the hospitals. A nonprofit hospital board doesn't usually pay anything, but still, people like to do it.

I do that search in a county or a city. I sort by grocery seats, let's say 5 million to 50 million. See if one of those healthcare organizations exists, then do some additional checking. Look around, do a Google search, see if there's any news. See if you can find someone who's already on the board or somebody that's used that organization or somebody that knows somebody that it's on that board, then go to LinkedIn, see if you can find people there. Just look up the organization and it oftentimes will have off many of its members or employees or the leadership people on there.

And so, that is how you find a nonprofit that you can then get on the board, or even if you can't get on the board, oftentimes you can get on one of the committees, like the hospice that I've been the board president for in the past. It has committees that have members that are not actually on the board. There are also board members who attend each committee. And those committees include the quality committee, finance committee. The closest you can get to a medicolegal committee would be the compliance committee. You might be able to get involved with hiring and firing. If you're in some kind of hospital setting, of course, you might be able to be involved with the credential committee.

And even though you're not being paid, you're volunteering, you're learning, you're contributing at the same time, but you're learning something and you will learn how to read a P&L. You will learn how to understand quality improvement and patient safety and medicolegal and so on. That's the first way that you can use GuideStar if you need that sort of information and want to use that to find a non-paying job that will provide you with more experience that looks really good on your resume, but also indicates that you are stacking those skills.

The second reason to use GuideStar is if you do work for a nonprofit and you're in management or leadership, and you want to compare your salary to others, you can look in there on the 990. It will list salaries for the executive team, for the board. A lot of the nonprofits have no salary for the board members, but there are some exceptions to that. But you have to be a little bit careful because it'll also list the highest-paid physicians. And you don't want to mistake a physician for let's say the chief medical officer. The executive leaders in the organization will be listed individually on the 990 by their job title.

You just go to guidestar.org and look up the organization that you're interested in comparing. If you're going to be applying for a job as a chief medical officer in a hospital in, let's say, Tulsa, Oklahoma, then just open the GuideStar for the other hospitals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or surrounding areas, look on the 990 and see what their chief medical officer or VP are being paid or have been paid in the past.

Now, granted, again, there might be an 18 to 24 month lag time in this information. But it doesn't really matter if you go back three or four years and look at the trends and you see, well, there was $300,000 in total comp four years ago, then it was $325,000 in total comp three years ago. You have to be a little careful because you got to add up the salary and bonuses to determine the gross salary. There are usually three columns actually. You have the direct compensation, you have a bonus listed separately, and then there's money or compensation that's donated to their IRA or 457 or whatever kind of pension or retirement account that they're using at that organization. It'll all be listed there and you can lump that together for the total comp. You always want to compare the total comp at your new job to what you're making now, including everything. And we sometimes forget those bonuses and retirement matching and so forth.

Be careful too, when you're looking up salaries for partial year data. You might see a CMO that looks like they're only being paid $200,000 a year, and then you find out they left midyear. So, maybe it's only six- or seven- or eight- months' worth of compensation. You'll always be shocked by what the CEO and COO are making generally. That gives you an idea, maybe something to shoot for, if you want to go from being CMO to COO and possibly CEO at some hospital in the future.

I think that's basically it as far as using it to look up salaries. On the first one, we're just trying to find a place to get a role on the board or committee of a particular place.

And the second you can look at multiple hospitals, even other cities to get a sense of what the salary level is for let's say a CMO or a senior VP on a hospital payroll. And again, don't get fooled when there's a physician listed there who might be a cardiologist or a surgeon or someone who's got a high salary. He or she isn't really in an executive position always. Be careful to look at the titles that are listed on the 990 generally.

The third major area that we're going to use guidestar.org is in our interview prep. I think I did a whole episode about this recently about preparing for our interviews. We need to get a lot of information together for the organizations that we're applying for a job. We don't want to go in there blind. We want to know as much as we can, and we want to use as much free information online as we can to prepare ourselves.

We want to go into an interview to be able to ask good questions, show that we understand the organization. We know the values, the mission, the vision of the organization, but we also want to know what the gross sales are and maybe the P&L, the income and expenses, for the last few years if we can. Again, on the 990, if you go back three years, you're going to get four years' worth of data because each report has two years and they overlap as they roll over.

And you can learn if the organization is growing, is it shrinking, how large is the organization compared to others nearby? And you could get some idea from the different divisions that might be important and they might break out the revenues for the lab or the revenues and expenses for the pharmacy, et cetera. You can just get an insight into the organization and you can supplement other information, including quality data and things like that from health grades and leapfrog and hospital comparison and so forth if it's a hospital.

Those are the three major ways that you can use GuideStar to help you. If you're doing anything related to a nonprofit healthcare organization, you're going to be able to get lots of information from GuideStar and you can put it together. And if you really, really need to know something more recent, for some reason, you can definitely sign up. It's going to cost you $200 or $300 a month to do that. And you can sign up and then drop off after a few months if you don't need that resource anymore.

That's all I wanted to tell you about today. If you're in healthcare, it's very possible you'll be involved with a nonprofit organization, either as a clinician. So even if you're just working there as a clinician, it's a useful thing to get an idea of what other people are being paid to some extent. It won't give everybody the salary, of course. Or if you're thinking of, or are working as a non-clinical employee, such as a manager, an executive, the GuideStar reporting can be very helpful. All the information basically is off the 990. It's free, unless you need something that's really detailed or sorted in another way, or is more recent.


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The opinions expressed here are mine and my guest’s. While the information provided on the podcast is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge, there is no express or implied guarantee that using the methods discussed here will lead to success in your career, life, or business.

The information presented on this blog and related podcast is for entertainment and/or informational purposes only. I do not provide medical, legal, tax, or emotional advice. If you take action on the information provided on the blog or podcast, it is at your own risk. Always consult an attorney, accountant, career counselor, or other professional before making any major decisions about your career.