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GuideStar Blog

From the President's Office, July 2005

Dear Friend:

Providing a neutral platform from which nonprofits can promote their commitment to transparency and accountability and then connecting millions of people to this information are two of GuideStar's mission-centric values. Starting in 1996, when we published the Directory of American Charities, GuideStar has consistently looked for ways to improve our service to all those interested in the nonprofit sector.

I'd like to take a minute to highlight the steps we took in the latest version of the GuideStar Web site to improve our free public access to information about exempt organizations.

  1. You can still look at recent 990 images for free.
    Any user who registers can view, at no charge, the three most recent 990s we have received from the IRS for an organization. 

  2. We increased the number of exempt organizations in the database.
    We added more than 340,000 nonprofits (specifically, the organizations that are tax exempt but not eligible to accept tax-deductible contributions) to GuideStar. The addition of these nonprofits gives the public unprecedented access to data on the entire exempt community. The organizations themselves can add information about their missions, programs, goals, and results to the database.

  3. We will be adding Forms 990 for the new organizations.
    Within the next few months we will begin adding Form 990 images for those new organizations in our database that are required to file them.

  4. You now can get more current 990s.
    Many nonprofits do not want to wait the usual 60-90 days it takes for us to receive their Forms 990 from the IRS. They asked us to let them post their Forms 990 as soon as they sent them to the IRS. With our new eDocs service, nonprofits can now post their most current 990s—as soon as they file them with the IRS. Once again, any registered user can access, at no charge, the 990s posted by the organizations.

  5. Nonprofits can still update their information on GuideStar at no charge.
    Any organization in the database can update its GuideStar Report by providing information about its mission, programs, goals, and achievements. There is no charge for updating.

    Why should your nonprofit provide information? Last year, users made more than 5.3 million visits to our site to find nonprofit information. Many were seeking data before they donated, gave grants, wrote stories, or made policy decisions. Updating allows you to reach out to these users. And now all organizations that update will receive a complimentary subscription to GuideStar Select, our new search and retrieval tool, as our way of thanking them for their commitment to transparency and accountability. Other benefits include the ability to accept donations on-line and access to pro bono Web development assistance.

  6. Nonprofits can now post additional documents to their GuideStar Reports.
    Nonprofits can use our new eDocs service to be even more transparent. For a nominal fee to cover our storage and operating costs—the equivalent of one FedEx delivery—any organization in the database can upload PDFs of its letter of determination, application for exemption, audited financial statements, annual reports, budget sheets, marketing collateral, and other official documents to its GuideStar Report. We believe that more public disclosure is essential to closing the "trust gap" that nonprofits face, and that voluntary public disclosure may be the most effective way nonprofits have to address the public's concerns about governance and accountability.

  7. The GuideStar site now offers different levels of access to meet users' varied needs.
    Finally, another key goal of our site redesign was to provide different amounts of information for different kinds of users. We wanted to stop overwhelming casual users with information they didn't want while continuing to make more in-depth information available to those who need it.
A final thought on how we can help you succeed: The final report of the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector notes that IRS Forms 990 "generally do not provide sufficient information about the effectiveness of the organizations' programs to enable the public to make informed judgments about their charitable contributions." Delivered to Capitol Hill on June 22, the report advocates, "Every charitable organization should, as a recommended practice, provide detailed information about its programs, including methods it uses to evaluate the outcomes of programs, and other statements available to the public through its annual report, website, and other means for and to evaluate their own program performance."

We couldn't agree more. And we hope that all of you will see GuideStar as a partner in achieving that goal.


Bob Ottenhoff
President and CEO

Please Pass the Salt

What is it about money that scares us so much?

Believe it or not, it's not asking people for money that makes us so crazy, it's asking for anything!

Think for a minute of the last time you were at a luncheon or dinner gathering. While everyone else was enjoying their meal, you were obsessed with one thing: how to get the salt or butter or salad dressing passed all the way around the table to you. You could see that the person closest to the salt shaker was deeply engrossed in conversation, as were the two people on either side of you. Of course it would have been much too rude to stand up and reach for it. Or holler over to the person nearest to the object of your desire.

Avoiding the Messaging Trap

Messaging is how we use words to move people to take action. The increased sophistication and power of tools at our fingertips has created a dangerous trap, however. A novice can now create a fairly sophisticated Web site or e-mail campaign. A glossy, professional look is necessary but not sufficient in moving a target audience to the desired actions. Similarly, clear, concise, and grammatically correct text is not enough. An excellent and inexpensive guide to how to craft and tune your message is Writing Copy for Dummies.

Key points on how you communicate who your organization is include:

Change Management

Extract of an article on

When it comes to the challenge of adopting new technology, creating a communication centered planning environment and good requirements are themselves probably the most important change management processes. But there are many others which benefit from or even require the leadership of the executive director.

Traditionally, it's said there are three necessary ingredients for intentional organizational change to begin: a desire to change (whether from hope or dissatisfaction), a vision of the change (well articulated in terms that matter), and first steps )short term and satisfying). An executive director who is focused on communication will play a critical role in all of these ingredients.

Raising $$$ through Special Events: June Question of the Month Results

Do you ever wonder about those charity events that seem to be so prevalent? Do they really accomplish anything for the organizations that sponsor them? According to many GuideStar Newsletter readers, they do.

June's Question of the Month asked, "Has your organization ever raised funds through special events such as walks, auctions, dinners, bowl-a-thons, golf tournaments, or similar activities?" A sizable majority (87 percent) of participants said that they had. We then asked those respondents if the events were successful; a resounding 92 percent replied that they were. And 79 percent of those participants said that they would recommend that other organizations sponsor such events.