Several days ago, GuideStar hosted a free Webinar led by Perla Ni, founder and CEO of Great Nonprofits in San Francisco. (FYI, we began including GreatNonprofits reviews in our nonprofit reports in March. You can read more about them here.) Like most of our recent Webinars, this one was fully subscribed.
Perla has a fascinating background as a social entrepreneur. Before starting GreatNonprofits, Perla founded and was the publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, a terrific journal on nonprofit management and philanthropy. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. She serves on several nonprofit boards, still blogs for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and is a frequent speaker at nonprofit sector conferences and events all around the country.
Most of my thinking about GreatNonprofits has centered on the valuable data it provides about a nonprofit organization, thereby giving users a more well-rounded picture of that organization’s work. The need for such data is one of the points that Jacob Harold, program officer at the Hewlett Foundation, made in his recent GuideStar Webinar as he talked about the data needs of an “effective philanthropic marketplace.”
Jacob and his Hewlett colleagues call the GreatNonprofits data “stakeholder” or “constituent” views—the opinions of beneficiaries, peers, donors, and experts. As one foundation professional put it to me, “I need to learn the facts about that organization, but I also want to know what their community thinks about them and the work they are doing.”
Perla’s Webinar helped me to think about the reviews in another context, however—the benefit of reviews to the nonprofit organization. Perla urges nonprofits to aggressively promote the review function to your constituencies so you can begin to collect their “stories” about your organization. Like what? You know, the stories you like to tell to your donors and friends—how a life was changed, or how you made a contribution to your community. It is a way to “humanize” your organization and give it a face. And better yet, the more your constituency writes about you, the more likely they are to stay connected and engaged. Two representatives from Pennsylvania nonprofits on the call said they actively promote the reviews on their sites and to their donors. One said GreatNonprofits has been a great way to “unearth” inspirational stories about their organization that they weren’t aware had happened.
As usually happens, several callers wanted to know about negative reviews. Not surprisingly, there have been relatively few. Just in case, there are real-time moderators on-line to make sure the comments don’t violate community guidelines. (Read the guidelines.) And if you think the comments are unfair, you can appeal to GreatNonprofit’s advisory board or you can write your own response. At its best, this should be a way for you to learn about improvements you need to make to your service.
All in all, the Webinar was a great learning experience for me. I went into it thinking it was about the part of GuideStar’s mission dedicated to helping donors make better decisions. And although it decidedly was, I learned that GreatNonprofits is also a terrific way to address another part of GuideStar’s mission: helping nonprofits be more effective and efficient.