Editors’ note: This article is from NPQ’s summer 2015 edition, “Nimble Nonprofits: The Land of the Frugal Visionary.”
Let’s imagine that a deep-pocket donor hears something truly fabulous (and well deserved) about your after-school program. Not only did that donor grow up in the area and have an attachment to it, she is also deeply concerned about the new generation of children growing up in the neighborhood and facing twenty-first century challenges. She decides on a whim to look you up on GuideStar. What does she find?
If you are lucky, she finds up-to-date financials—and by up to date, we mean less than three years old. The financials, however, contain some unexplained quirks. Perhaps one year the operation looks flush and the next it looks like it is losing money hand over fist. Nowhere are these quirks explained, because your Form 990 is up there all by its lonesome. She could do some further research, but if you can’t be bothered to place your information on the most widely used resource for information about U.S. nonprofits, then why should she go looking for it?
This problem has a quick fix, and that is to use the space GuideStar offers to nonprofits to explain their programs, clarify information in their 990s, and otherwise inform potential donors (and others who may be interested in you).
Each of the over two million nonprofit organizations in GuideStar’s database has a profile—a page on its site devoted entirely to the organization so that people can access in-depth information about it. Most of these profiles present data that the organizations have submitted to the IRS. IRS information, however, doesn’t always give a complete or timely picture of your nonprofit to GuideStar’s thirty-five thousand daily visitors—and we’re not even counting the thousands more who access the information via a growing series of application programming interfaces (APIs) that GuideStar has created over the last two years.
When you take the time to update your profile on GuideStar, you’re demonstrating your organization’s commitment to transparency and communicating directly with its stakeholders through GuideStar and GuideStar’s vast data distribution network—for free.
The Limitations of Depending on Your 990 to Tell Your Story
We all know that it takes too long for a nonprofit’s Form 990 information to become available to the public—through www.guidestar.org or elsewhere—after it has been filed with the IRS. As a result, our nation’s social change makers are looking at information that is often more than a year old. We also know that making decisions about philanthropy by relying solely on a Form 990 is problematic, because the information provided on that form is limited. The IRS didn’t develop those data fields for the purpose of evaluating nonprofit effectiveness; in truth, they were designed simply to help the IRS determine whether nonprofits are in compliance with the laws governing exempt organizations. In addition, just under half of nonprofits file the 990-N, which has only eight questions, and public academic institutions (because they are government entities) and faith-based organizations aren’t required to file at all. So when individuals and others look to the 990 to decide where to give their money and time, they’re not even working with the right kind of information.
What Makes Up the GuideStar Nonprofit Profile?
In the same way that updating your personal Facebook and LinkedIn profiles gives you a way to communicate directly with all the people in your life at the same time, updating your GuideStar Nonprofit Profile ensures that millions of prospective donors and funders will find accurate, timely information about your organization. In fact, your information is seen by more than seven million people who access GuideStar data each year, and then by millions more as your information travels through GuideStar’s data-distribution network.
Four Great Reasons to Update Your GuideStar Nonprofit Profile
1. Take charge of your organization’s online identity.
You have the power to choose what millions of people see about your organization each year. Providing the public with your most up-to-date and complete information means that you are sharing your organization’s true story. You get your most up-to-date information in front of GuideStar’s millions of users as well as visitors to more than 220 other websites, applications, and platforms, including AmazonSmile, JustGive, Network for Good, VolunteerMatch, dozens of online giving portals, all major U.S.- based donor-advised funds, thousands of foundations such as the California Endowment, more than sixteen leading community foundations, and more.
2. Increase funding.
Updating your organization’s profile on GuideStar gives you the opportunity to increase funding and visibility for your organization:
3. Save time with your grant applications.
Grant applications can be prepopulated with information that nonprofits have already updated in their GuideStar Nonprofit Profile. In support of the Simplify initiative, this process uses the existing central database of nonprofit information to eliminate the repetitive elements of grant applications and enable more efficient grantmaking.1 GuideStar is working with nine of the largest grants-management software vendors to add this functionality; it will be fully functional with at least two of the vendors by the end of this year.
4. Don’t spend a dime.
Updating your GuideStar Nonprofit Profile is free.
How to Update Your GuideStar Nonprofit Profile
- Go to guidestar.org/update.
- Click on the blue “Get started now” button at the top of the page.