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GuideStar Blog

From the President's Office, January 2005

Dear Friend:

Like so many of you, my GuideStar colleagues and I are taking stock of 2004 and making resolutions for the New Year. As we reflect on GuideStar's activities last year, we are pleased by our progress in several areas, which we are using as the basis of our goals for the coming months:

  • The database. We made our nonprofit database larger and more useful. In 2004, we added more than 450,000 IRS Form 990 images and digitized information from more than 373,000 returns. We now have nearly 2.5 million images and digitized information from more than 2 million 990s on GuideStar.

    We will continue to enrich the database with Form 990 images and data in 2005. We will also strive to streamline the processes that take the 990s from the IRS center in Ogden, Utah, to our servers in Virginia. And we will look at adding new organizations to the database and expanding the types of information we offer on the nonprofits already in it.

  • Nonprofit participation. More than 90,000 charitable organizations updated their GuideStar Reports in 2004, increasing the total number of Nonprofit Participants more than 12 percent. It is exciting to see so many nonprofits reaching out to the vast audience that uses GuideStar each day. It is even more exciting to know that these organizations have embraced nonprofit transparency and accountability.

    We will continue to encourage nonprofits to update their information on GuideStar. Many of us are already slated to speak at nonprofit conferences in 2005, and we know that the year will bring even more opportunities to spread the word about the benefits of participating in GuideStar. 

  • Use of GuideStar data. The number of people registered to access detailed information on GuideStar—at no charge, thanks to generous foundation support—grew by more than 200,000 people in 2004.

    We developed additional ways to help organizations and companies meet their business objectives, licensing data for a variety of uses. We fulfilled more than 200 requests for slices of our data, and we prepared customized research and analysis for several clients, including the Hawaii attorney general's office. We welcomed several new partner sites, including and the California Department of Justice.

    In 2005, we will continue our efforts to take GuideStar data to new audiences and to ensure that we are providing the nonprofit information people want and need.

  • Increased self-sustainability. Like most public charities, GuideStar can no longer rely on a few grantmakers to support us indefinitely. In order to meet our mission objectives, in 2005 we will continue to diversify our revenue sources, generating increased income from products and services, and relying on more support from the corporations and foundations that use us every day.

    Sales of GuideStar products and services increased 27 percent in 2004. To encourage foundation support, we launched TrueNorth, a membership program for the foundations and corporations that use GuideStar every day.

This year also promises to be an important one for the entire nonprofit sector as well. In February, a panel of experts convened by Independent Sector will deliver recommendations for charity reform to the Senate Finance Committee. (For background on the Senate Finance Committee's deliberations, see "Congress Looks at Charity Reform.") The panel's recommendations will address a broad range of topics: governance and fiduciary responsibilities; legal framework; oversight and self-regulation; small organizations; and transparency and financial accountability. It is difficult and important work, and I am pleased proud to be serving on the Transparency and Financial Accountability Work Group.

I welcome your thoughts and concerns on how the Independent Sector work can best strengthen your organization in providing services to your constituents.

Happy New Year,

Bob Ottenhoff
President and CEO, GuideStar

Insurance Trips and Traps for Nonprofits

Last month we discussed the unique issues presented by nonprofit directors and officers insurance. There are issues lurking in other parts of your insurance program, too.

Staying on the E-mail Up and Up: What Nonprofits Need to Know about CAN-SPAM

Note: The following discussion is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice. For specific information about the CAN-SPAM law, consult your attorney.

Scenario A: You receive an e-mail from a charity asking for a donation. You purchased a product from the organization two years ago but have not had any contact with it since then. As you follow the instructions for removing yourself from this nonprofit's e-mail list, you wonder: should you report the organization to the FTC for spamming you?

Scenario B: Your nonprofit wants to conduct a survey on a topic related to your mission. A coworker suggests purchasing a list of e-mail addresses and sending all 500 people on it a message inviting them to participate in the survey. Will your organization be violating federal anti-spam regulations if you do?

Scenario C: A charity that trains the working poor for jobs in the food-services industry starts a catering program. The new enterprise will give trainees practical experience as well as provide income for several of the nonprofit's charitable activities. A board member urges the executive director to send everyone who subscribes to the organization's newsletter a special e-mail advertising the venture. After all, the board member points out, charities are exempt from the CAN-SPAM law. The executive director asks, "Are they?"

According to Scott Johnson, a principal attorney with Ober|Kaler in Baltimore, Maryland, the answer to all three questions is "No."

What Has GuideStar Done for You Lately?

Periodically at GuideStar, we like to step back from our day-to-day activities and look at the bigger picture of what we do. As part of that effort, December's Question of the Month asked, "Has GuideStar affected the way you do your job or make charitable donations?"

More than half (52 percent) of the people who responded answered, "Yes." Another 28 percent said, "No," and 20 percent responded, "Neither yes nor no."

So what has changed for the 52 percent who said, "Yes"? The responses identified five areas where GuideStar is making a difference: