May 11, 2016; GuideStar and original Nonprofit Quarterly reporting
GuideStar, the nonprofit repository of information on 2.4 million U.S. nonprofits visited by 7 million people annually, is adding a new way for organizations to report quantifiable data in support of their program achievements. GuideStar Platinum was developed as a way for nonprofits to provide non-financial data to demonstrate effectiveness, thereby addressing the pitfalls of the “overhead myth,” which gauges an organization’s worthiness of support by measuring its effectiveness in terms of its expenditures on program services versus management and fundraising.
GuideStar Platinum features can be used without charge by any nonprofit organization, and may be accessed by any visitor to the GuideStar website. In addition, the program-based data submitted by nonprofits will be shared with GuideStar’s 180 “data partners,” including Amazon Smile and JustGive.org. However, only nonprofits that have also completed the disclosure requirements for GuideStar’s bronze (basic information), silver (finances), and gold (qualitative impact) recognition will be able to display a “GuideStar Platinum Participant” badge on their organization’s GuideStar page.
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The most ambitious aspect of the program is its effort to promote dialogue about what is being measured by nonprofits. GuideStar provides a “Common Results Catalog” of 800 sample metrics with definitions. In prerelease testing, 900 nonprofits used 1,300 metrics to describe their program accomplishments. GuideStar officials hope that long-term community dialogue about metrics will help develop common definitions for metrics as well as refine which metrics are most meaningful in common usage.
While GuideStar Platinum addresses the overhead myth by giving nonprofits a free and flexible way to report data, the major drawback is how relatively few nonprofits actually upload their own information to GuideStar. Most GuideStar entries provide only a small amount of basic information on a nonprofit, along with its most recent Form 990 returns provided by the IRS (historical Form 990 data and GuideStar reports on selected nonprofits are available with a paid subscription or for purchase). For GuideStar Platinum to be successful in both data aggregation and community discussion about metrics, more nonprofits will need to be encouraged to—and see the value of—adding their own information to their GuideStar-provided data.—Michael Wyland