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GuideStar Blog

Tapping into Social Networks, or, Creating a Funding Treasure Map

If nonprofits truly believe in their missions, they should be thinking about how to be self-sustaining in their funding. Many of the dedicated, smart people who really care about the missions of their favorite nonprofit organizations eventually ask the same questions: "How much money would it take to endow the operational funding gap here? How much would it really cost to achieve financial sustainability for this organization?"

This clear focus ultimately will take the suffering out of funding operational needs and allow the organization to focus on its mission—be it curing disease, cleaning up the environment, or improving the life of one person.

From the President's Office, September 2005

Dear Friend:

My GuideStar colleagues and I extend our sympathies to all affected by Hurricane Katrina. If you are with an organization that is involved in the recovery efforts, take a moment to add "Hurricane Katrina" to the keywords listed in your GuideStar Information Form (GIF). Adding them will ensure that your organization comes up when donors search our database using "Hurricane Katrina" in their search criteria. You also will appear in "Hurricane Katrina" searches donors perform on our partner sites, which include Network for Good, JustGive, and the Schwab, Fidelity, and T. Rowe Price donor-advised funds.

Americans are already responding openheartedly to this tragedy, and I am certain they will continue to do so. Every year when I receive the latest statistics from Giving USA, I am reminded of the generosity of the American public. Last year, individuals donated nearly $188 billion to charity; that's three-quarters of all charitable giving for 2004. So it has been for at least half a century: individual donors large and small drive American philanthropy.

As in years past, religious institutions received the largest proportion from individuals in 2004, more than $88 billion. That's a lot of money—35 percent of total giving for 2004. Conventional wisdom holds that people give generously to faith-based institutions because they have a personal connection with the values and activities of the institutions.

The IRS Business Master File, however, lists more than 159,000 churches, mosques, temples, shrines, and other places of worship. Most of these organizations are automatically tax exempt. Only a handful—a little more than 5,000—must file IRS Form 990. Thus, the majority of faith-based nonprofits have no documents that they are required to disclose to the public—no applications for exemption, no letters of determination, no annual IRS returns.

I believe that we would all benefit if faith-based organizations made themselves more transparent and accountable to the broader public. It would increase confidence in the entire sector if these organizations, which make up such a significant portion of nonprofits, voluntarily released information about their activities and finances.

Fortunately, some religious organizations are embracing transparency. For example, more than 1,100 participate in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), an organization dedicated to increasing public trust in Christian ministries. ECFA members agree to adhere to seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship, which range from conflict of interest policies to ensuring truthfulness in fundraising communications.

Our experiences at GuideStar also reflect this trend. Today, more than 3,400 religious organizations have completed the GuideStar Information Form, and more ask to be added to the database every day. In case you're wondering, only 370 of them are required to file a 990; that's 3,000-plus that have provided information often not available elsewhere.

We will continue to add religious nonprofits to the database one organization at a time. In the meantime, I hope that those of you who are involved with a religious institution will encourage it to join the transparency revolution. To be included in the database, a faith-based organization must have its own IRS-issued Employer Identification Number (EIN) and provide us with its EIN and its listing in a religious directory, such as the Kenedy Directory, Lutheran Directory, or state letter for churches (fax a copy of the listing to us at 757-229-8921). If you have questions, contact


Bob Ottenhoff
President and CEO

Promoting Your Not-for-Profit through Public Relations

Public relations is vital to the success of not-for-profit organizations. No matter how important your cause is, you should not expect that everybody will know about it or even about your organization. Proactive communications is essential to success. From building awareness and credibility to supporting fundraising efforts, a well-executed, strategic public relations program can make the difference between achieving one's goals or falling desperately short of them.

In fact, not-for-profits stand to benefit a great deal from successful PR programs. The following tips and tactics will illustrate how easy it is to launch your public relations—no matter how large or small your organization.

To Audit Committee or Not to Audit Committee, That Is the Question(Along with "How?")

You've agreed to serve on a charity's board. You arrive at your first meeting ready to learn how to promote the organization's mission, pitch in with fundraising, and help recruit volunteers, only to find that what the board really needs to do is set up an audit committee. Great—the closest you've ever been to an auditor was when you passed the IRS building during a trip to Washington, D.C. And your fellow board members don't know much more about auditing than you do. What's a board member to do?

For one thing, relax. Help is available.

Finding the Right Charity to Help Hurricane Victims

Williamsburg, Va., and Washington, D.C.—GuideStar, the public charity that connects people with nonprofit information, offers these suggestions for donors who want to help victims of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita but don't know which charity to support:

  1. Identify your preferences.

    "Disaster relief" comes in many forms—emergency shelter, food, clothing, potable water, medical assistance, even communications as aid workers coordinate activities and survivors search for family members.

    Think about which activities you want to support. There's no right or wrong answer, just what's right for you.