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Ignore GuideStar? Not Now!

October 7, 2015 | Sheldon Bart, Senior Associate 

You might as well start thinking of GuideStar as the prime social media platform of the non-profit sector, because GuideStar is certainly thinking of itself that way.  GuideStar is not just publishing 990s anymore.  With the aim of providing more content than what is available in IRS records, GuideStar is moving to include detailed information on the mission of non-profit participants, their objectives, results, and, soon, their patterns of governance as well.

The service boasts of 35,000 visitors daily and 7 million annually.  Further, more than 110,000 nonprofits have taken advantage of the expanding GuideStar platform to update their profiles with more information than the numbers appearing on their IRS Form 990s.   

GuideStar reasons that the annual IRS filings were only designed to enable the government to be sure that a charitable organization is in compliance with the laws regulating its tax-exempt status.  Donors and grant-makers, however, want more information than the financial data conveys, and, like most people in today’s world, they want that information NOW. 

To further its quest to be the “world’s largest source of information on non-profit organizations,” GuideStar has even devised a grading system to rate nonprofits on their performance as the Web site’s information providers:

  • Bronze participants are those providing basic information on mission, leadership, and programs
  • Silver participants are those which, in addition, upload their audits
  • Gold participants go further and answer questions about their impact and effectiveness

Most development professionals don’t realize that foundation funders often turn to Guidestar to assess grant-seeking agencies.  The inescapable conclusion is that, just as for-profit manufacturers and service providers need Web sites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and perhaps more, nonprofits need to render unto GuideStar, if only to keep pace with the competition.

Uploading information on GuideStar costs nothing and is fairly simple.  For a good guide on how to proceed, please see “Valuable Free Real Estate Available at GuideStar: Ignore at Your Own Risk” by Lindsay J.K. Nichols, Gabe Cohen, and Ruth McCambridge.  This article was published in the Summer 2015 edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly. 

Please let me know how you are responding to GuideStar’s increased role. 

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