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Online Resources for Business Research (August 2016): Researching Small Businesses & Nonprofits

Celia Ross

Researching Small Business & Nonprofits

Small business and entrepreneurship are increasingly popular, vital areas of research in libraries.  Similarly, much research is being done on nonprofit, philanthropic, and nongovernmental organizations.  In addition to the resources highlighted earlier, the following websites offer assistance targeting the needs of both entrepreneurs and researchers.

Small Businesses

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) website is as an excellent starting point for queries related to this business segment.  In addition to business plan templates and information on financing and grants, there are links to individual state sites and other useful sources.  The SBA-sponsored SBDCNet site offers small business researchers links to various industry resources as well as overviews of small business topics such as demographic data, consumer expenditures, and more.  Another partner of the SBA, an association called SCORE (formerly Service Corps of Retired Executives), has offices located in each state.  Now branding itself as “Counselor to America’s Small Business,” the SCORE website can help small business entrepreneurs answer tax questions and help locate funding, and provides links to free templates and forms for loan requests, break-even analyses, or profit-and-loss projections.  Success stories are highlighted, and visitors can use the site to connect with personal mentors located in their area.

A common request by patrons is for sample business plans.  Many business libraries own printed compilations of templates or individual titles profiling particular kinds of start-ups—everything from diaper delivery to coffee shops to pet sitting.  A handy online tool for making the most of the many print sources and hundreds of online sources of business plans is the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Business Plans and Profiles Index.  Business plans for different fields are organized alphabetically by type of business, with clear see also references.  Entries link to online resources or simply index the print sources.  One such work is Business Plans Handbook (CH, Jun’95, 32-5742), a longtime standard that compiles actual plans for an array of businesses.  Gale Cengage Learning’s Small Business Resource Center provides full-text access, and users can search by keyword or browse by business type to find planning documents, along with other handbooks, reports, and magazines.

EBSCO’s Small Business Reference Center or its Entrepreneurial Studies Source, along with ProQuest’s Entrepreneurship Database, all provide comparable indexing and abstracting of publications of interest to the small business audience, including white papers, practical guides, and scholarly journals.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) is a project from the Global Entrepreneurship Research Association.  Funding comes from universities, including the London Business School and Babson College, as well as the International Council for Small Business and Canada’s International Development Research Centre.  The project offers an assessment of national and global entrepreneurial activities and attitudes, with key indicators by country and year available as full data sets enabling users to create custom charts, graphs, and maps.  Reports are also available on special topics such as women and entrepreneurship.

One of the areas of focus for grant making and operations evident on the Kauffman Foundation website is entrepreneurship; education is the other.  Users can find information on start-up communities, entrepreneur demographics, teaching entrepreneurship, or entrepreneurship policy, and the site is also a great source for news.  Blogs offer insights into various entrepreneurial developments, and a Multimedia section points to relevant infographics, videos, and photos searchable by keyword.

The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance serves as a directory of federal funding resources available to nonprofits and small businesses.  One can use the advanced search screen to search across all types of assistance, such as grants, training, and employment.  A user guide makes navigating the directory and website less unwieldy.  Additional explanation on types of assistance along with a primer on writing grants can be found under the General Info tab.

Nonprofit Organizations

GuideStar is a key resource for researching nonprofits.  To find nonprofits’ interest areas, one can search by metro area, type of organization, financial ranges, or other attributes, and access revenue and expense data along with annual reports and IRS Form 990 data (including details about top-paid officers and outside consultants as well as board chairs and board members).  The database also provides access to articles and press releases related to relevant topics such as board development in the nonprofit sector.

The Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online profiles over 140,000 US-based foundations to describe programs, areas of funding, types of support, and recent grants.  In addition to researching grant makers, users can search by company name to identify their areas of corporate social responsibility.

The National Center for Charitable Statistics website at the Urban Institute offers the ability to search across nonprofits’ IRS Form 990 filings, and it also publishes a Nonprofit Almanac (CH, Nov’08, 46-1271) that compiles data on the philanthropic sector, including wage and employment trends, financial trends, trends in private giving, and public charities.  A Quick Facts and Figures section points to top charities by size and state, and a Custom (also Regional) Report Builder feature allows users to screen across various types of reports for all registered nonprofits, public charities, or private foundations.  A Charitable Giving by State section has downloadable data on households, derived from deductions listed on federal tax returns.

The website of BoardSource, a national organization formerly known as the National Center for Nonprofit Boards, serves as a resource for funders, partners, and nonprofit leaders looking for guidance and ways to improve performance.  Much of the information is available to members only, but a Community Resources section offers a free “Board Basics 101” series of publications on topics such as assessing board performance or benefiting from diversity.

Subscribers to The Chronicle of Philanthropy have access to additional resources and tools such as a checklist of what to consider before holding a celebrity fund-raising event, and a template for mapping out an organization’s resources, showing how they are used and what impact they have had.  Some freely available articles cover corporate support, individual giving, management and leadership, and government regulation.

The Charity Navigator is a useful resource for evaluating the reputability of a charity.  Specific charities are rated with a star system and upgraded or downgraded, depending on performance.  Users can browse lists of four-star charities and see top-ten lists that cover those that are the most followed or celebrity related, the most consistently inefficient fund-raisers, or low-rated charities, among other categories.  A useful Tips for Donors section is available, as is a thorough explanation of the methodology.  A similar charity-monitoring resource is the Better Business Bureau’s BBB Wise Giving Alliance.  Its website provides information on charities’ governance, effectiveness, finances, solicitations, and informational materials.

Benefit corporations (B Corps) do not technically fall under the category of nonprofits but are included here as there is considerable overlap.  B Corps are in fact for-profit entities that also strive to have a positive impact on society and the environment.  Certified B Corporations is a useful website that gives an overview of these entities now currently legislated in over half of the US states.  It features a worldwide directory that screens across certified companies, and their assessment and certification process produces a “B Impact Report” score for each company in categories such as the environment, workers, customers, community, and governance.