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From the President's Office, October 2006

Dear Friend:

Later this month, a Nonprofit Congress will convene here in Washington, with hundreds of participants from around the country. In a joint statement, co-chairs Audrey Alvarado, executive director of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations, and Robert Egger, president of D.C. Central Kitchen, explained the reasons for the Congress:

Why GuideStar Uses Cookie Technology

GuideStar employs cookies to make it easy for users to stay logged in at our site. If you allow GuideStar cookies in your Web browser, you don't need to log in each time you visit. If you choose not to accept cookies, you'll be returned to this page every time you try to search for nonprofits.

What Is a Cookie?

An HTTP cookie, or a Web cookie, is a parcel of text sent by a server to a Web browser and then sent back unchanged by the browser each time it accesses that server. HTTP cookies are used for authenticating, tracking, and maintaining specific information about users, such as site preferences and the contents of their electronic shopping carts. The term "cookie" is derived from "magic cookie," a well-known concept in UNIX computing that inspired both the idea and the name of HTTP cookies.1

Cookies are subject to a number of misconceptions, mostly based on the erroneous notion that they are computer programs. In fact, cookies are simply pieces of data unable to perform any operation by themselves. In particular, they are neither spyware nor viruses, despite the detection of cookies from certain sites by many anti-spyware products.2

Most modern browsers allow users to decide whether to accept cookies, but rejection makes some Web sites unusable. For example, shopping baskets implemented using cookies do not work if cookies are rejected.3

For more information on how GuideStar uses cookies, see our privacy policy and terms of use.

Sources Cited

  1. Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia,
  2. Ibid.

Writing Knockout Proposals

Excerpt from How to Write Knockout Proposals: What You Must Know (and Say) to Win Funding Every Time

Ours is the land of fundraising opportunity. Anyone, and everyone, can write a proposal. If you doubt it, visit a local foundation and behold the reviewer's desk, if it hasn't buckled under already.

But precious few people can write a "knockout" proposal, a document of such force it catapults the funder down the hall. I exaggerate—but you get the point. To help you enhance your own proposals, here are three tips.

Avoid Pointy-Headed Prose

Your proposal may involve the vagaries of anything from the law to health to archaeology to rocket science. Moreover, you're probably working with program officers who have a deep understanding of their fields.

Still, as a general rule, your proposal should be written in layman's language. That means plain English of the kind used in a well-written daily newspaper.

How would the New York Times describe your project? A Times writer would probably avoid jargon and explain complex concepts (without "dumbing it down" completely).

In a medical story, he would explain the meaning of the word "aneurysm" in the first reference. In describing a conservation project, he would define "bioreserve"—or avoid the term completely.

In other words, assume your reader is a well-educated individual without training in the field you're writing about. How would you describe the project to a bright neighbor or friend? That's how technical you should get.

If you work in an institution brimming with jargon-jabbering experts, you may find those specialists don't want you to write in English. They'll insist anything other than a precise technical term will be incorrect. That's nonsense. Remind them that you're writing for non-experts.

Ah, but the foundation officer who will read my proposal is a health specialist, you say. He knows how the cardiovascular system works, so I can be technical in describing our new therapeutic approach.

Be careful! Other staff members at the foundation who don't know a ventricle from a ventilator may read your proposal. They shouldn't find it as challenging as  Ulysses.

Consider attaching a technical summary of your project in an appendix. You can reference it in your text, and keep the specialists happy. When the money comes in, they'll be delighted that you insisted on communicating clearly with the funder.

What Funders Want

Now and then, someone will ask funders what they dislike in the hundreds of proposals they receive each year. The responses seldom vary. Most funders complain about long-winded, vague, poorly conceived submissions.

Their urgent advice: Communicate clearly what you want, who you are, and why we should support you. Be concise. Be sure your project fits the guidelines. Do your homework. Marshal your facts. Make perfect sense. Read what you've written several times. Show your draft to someone outside your field. Make sure you've thought out your budget and plans for future funding.

Several foundation heads responding to my own survey not long ago said the quality of proposals has been getting better in recent years. Maybe, given increasing competition, that's not so surprising. But it does make your work even harder, for only proposals of the highest quality are going to be seriously considered.

Time and again, funders emphasize three things: Guidelines. Guidelines. Guidelines. Like everyone else, these individuals maintain a discard pile. The proposals given serious consideration form a much smaller stack at the other end of the desk. What makes them special? Hard facts, a passionate belief in the project, and writing that is strong, clear, and easy to read.

Write that kind of proposal, send it to the right place, and you stand a good chance of winning support.

Where the Devil Lurks

Give your donor just enough detail on your program—nothing more. Use your best judgment. When the guidelines say, "Give a brief description of how you will raise other funding for your project," you want to be brief. Generally speaking, less really is more.

A succinct, concrete, fact-filled description of your other fundraising plans is what the donor wants.

If you find yourself blathering on and on, offering vague promises of your intention to find other funding sources, and never nailing down a handful of strong possibilities, you'd best work on your funding plans. Chances are, you don't have any. The funder, having aced the second grade, will notice.

Give your funder solid information. If you think a bit of detail will strengthen a section of your proposal, by all means write on. If you sense the funder might want more explanation, but you feel unsure, put the information in an appendix, which you can reference in the text.

I've added several appendices to proposals many times. They lend credibility, they're a convenient way to elaborate on a point in the text, and they're out of the way for someone trying to give your proposal a quick read. But please—be sure the appendices themselves are succinct.

If a program officer gives you a 15-page technical description, cut it down to 10 pages. If you're given staff résumés with page upon page of publication listings, consider dropping all but the most significant. Even in the appendix, you must maintain editorial standards.

The last thing you want to do is stymie the reader—and interrupt the flow of your text—with unwanted detail.

Joseph Barbato © 2004. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Joseph Barbato is the author or coauthor of several books, two of which were featured on the Today Show. The book from which this article is excerpted, How to Write Knockout Proposals: What You Must Know (and Say) to Win Funding Every Time,  won a coveted Starred Review from Publishers Weekly.

Nonprofits and Antiterrorism: An Interview with Amit Sharma of the U.S. Treasury

On September 29, the U.S. Department of the Treasury released revised anti-terrorist financing guidelines. Dan Moore, GuideStar's vice president for public affairs, asked Amit Sharma, Treasury's senior advisor to the assistant secretary for terrorist financing, to elaborate on the topic for our readers.
GuideStar: We've just commemorated the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th. With the anniversary as a backdrop, can you give us an update on the U.S. government's response—the global war on terrorism? What's important for the U.S. charitable sector to know and understand?

Hallmarks of Effective Nonprofits: September Question of the Month Results

The September Question of the Month asked, "How do you measure a nonprofit's effectiveness?" Participants identified four main areas or approaches: mission; impact and customer/public satisfaction; planning and self-assessment; and business measures. Interestingly, not one mentioned financial ratios. (For GuideStar's position on using ratios to evaluate organizations, click here).

What Major Donors Expect in a Fundraiser

Excerpt from the second edition of Mega Gifts: Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them

I was talking with Malin Burnham the other day. He had recently made a transformational gift to one of the most promising research centers in the nation. It's now called the Burnham Institute (La Jolla, California).

We were discussing what prompted his gift. But more specifically, I wanted to know what qualities he admired most in a fundraiser, someone calling on him for a gift.

Believe me, he's had plenty of folks calling on him. And he's been extremely generous. When I asked the question, he didn't hesitate for a moment.

"There needs to be a near-militant belief in its mission," he tells me. "When someone calls on me, I can tell if there's a passion for the organization. I can actually feel it. If the fundraiser isn't deeply committed, how can they expect me to be?"

Malin also expects a high level of energy.

Just a few days before, a solicitor had called on him. "She was absolutely charged," he says. "As she spoke about her project, there was electricity in the air. I couldn't help but feel the glow."

I could tell Malin was warming up to the subject. "I'll tell you a quality I don't like. Someone calling on me who's pushy. I dig in my feet. Or someone who never stops talking. How are they ever going to know what I'm interested in?"

What he considers the most important attribute of a successful fundraiser, Malin leaves until last.

"Nothing is more important than integrity," he says. "I look for it every time someone calls on me. If it's not there, I can spot it immediately."

I agree with Malin. I consider integrity the mightiest weapon in a fundraiser's arsenal. More important than any other single quality. Its power is explosive. Integrity alone won't get you a ticket to the top, but without it, you can't even begin the journey.

There are some other attributes beyond what Malin Burnham talked to me about.

For one thing, I find the great fundraisers are much like folks who pull up the roots to see if the flowers are still growing! They are itchy by nature. They don't easily suffer standing still or treading water. Status quo is anathema to them.

I'm reminded that every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the lion or it will be eaten. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.

It doesn't matter whether you're the lion or the gazelle—when the sun comes up, you'd better be running. The great fundraiser understands this.

Oh, there's lots more. Self-confidence. Comfort in one's own skin. Genuine affection for people. Authenticity.

But let me finish with a characteristic I find in all of the great fundraisers: They love their work.

There is a willingness to pay the price—whatever the cost. Their work becomes something of an obsession. It burns like fire in their bones.

You've heard the dictum: No pain, no gain. Success is a moving target. Often, a fundraiser can feel a bit like Odysseus, the hero of Homer's Odyssey—"My life is endless trouble and chaos."

There are the long hours, long days, some of which seem never to end. But still there is joy and exhilaration, fulfillment and an inner glow.

When you think about it, the reason is obvious. Fundraising has the power to dramatically impact society in a way no other profession can. And you're an integral part of that noble pursuit.

John R. Mott, one of the great Christian voices of the mid-1900s, was right: "Blessed are the fundraisers," he said, "in heaven they shall stand on the right hand of the martyrs."

Jerold Panas
© 2005. Excerpted from the second edition of Mega Gifts: Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Jerold Panas is executive partner of one of America's leading fundraising firms and author of several books, including Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift; The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards: A 59-Minute Guide to Assuring Your Organization's Future; and Making the Case: The No-Nonsense Guide to Writing the Perfect Case Statement.

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet, Able to Obtain More Relevant Results with a Single Click: GuideStar's New Search Engine

Searching the GuideStar database just got a lot easier.

In a recent survey, users told us that they loved the wealth of information that GuideStar provides but wished that we could improve our search in a few specific ways. We are proud to introduce our new search engine.

New Features

  • The search is faster. Most searches will take just a few seconds; many will come back in less than a second.
  • Your search results will be more relevant. We've fine tuned our search engine so that the top results will better match what you are searching for.
  • We've added a place for you to "Tell us what you think." We want to continue to improve our search engine to meet your needs better. To do that, we need to hear from you—tell us what you like and don't like about our current service.
These improvements will be available to all registered users.  GuideStar Select and GuideStar Premium subscribers will also have user-friendly tools to refine their search results:

  • GuideStar Select users can filter their results to show organizations in a specific city or state.
  • GuideStar Premium users can filter their results by city, state, IRS subsection code, NTEE code, MSA, or income level.

How to Use Our New Search

  1. Look for the GuideStar It box on the home page or the Start a New Search box on the top of any page.
  2. Type an organization name or keyword(s) and click search.
  3. If you're a GuideStar Select or GuideStar Premium user, click on the navigators on the right of the results to refine your search further.

Let Us Know What You Think

You'll find feedback links on the home page, advanced search page, and search results page. Please take advantage of them to tell us what you think of our new search—what you like and don't like about our current service. We'll use your feedback to continue to improve our search engine.

Happy searching!

The Power Team, Part I: The Head of the Board

The position of head of a nonprofit's external governing body is arguably the most critical leadership role of all. Having served as chairman of the board of a 150-year-old boys' school, a large rehabilitation center, and a foundation, I can speak to the chairman/president of the board position from two sides of that hot spot. Of course, I actually believe the two other leadership jobs that will be addressed in this series, the chief executive officer (CEO) and chief advancement officer (CAO), are a bit hotter, since the expectations for those performers are so high. After all, as a volunteer, the chair of a nonprofit board has less salary to lose if the job is not accomplished.

The Young and the Generous: A Study of $100 Million in On-line Giving

On September 3, 2006, Network for Good processed its 100 millionth dollar in charitable donations. In partnership with GuideStar, the on-line donation portal has released "The Young and the Generous: A Study of $100 Million in Online Giving to 20,000 Charities." The study's major findings are excerpted below.

This study by Network for Good in partnership with GuideStar, the leading database of nonprofit organizations, examines $100 million in giving to provide insights on:

  • Who is giving money on-line
  • What times of year, week, and day donors give on-line
  • How on-line givers spend their charitable dollars
  • Why on-line givers choose to give through Internet portals

Finding #1: On-line givers are young, with men and women giving in equal numbers.

The median age of donors at Network for Good is 38, with the average between 39 and 40. This is significantly younger than off-line donors, who tend to be 60+ according to most studies. In terms of gender, 52 percent of donors at Network for Good are female. By way of comparison, a number of surveys of overall giving find a slightly higher percentage of women report giving to charity than men.

Finding #2: Donors are not new to giving, but they tend to be new to giving on-line.

Nearly all—96 percent—of on-line donors reported having donated to charity before, including via church collection boxes, memberships to nonprofit organizations such as museums, and any other tax-deductible gifts.

A significantly lower percentage—62 percent—report having given to charity on-line before, at Network for Good or any other Web site. That number has fluctuated: in 2003 and 2006, it was 72 percent; in 2004 and 2005, it was 62 percent and 57 percent, respectively. This was most likely because 2004 and 2005 were the years of the Asian tsunamis, Hurricane Katrina, and the Pakistan earthquake, which prompted many first-time donors to give money on-line.

Finding #3: New York and California were the most generous states when total charitable dollars donated were considered, and North Dakota was the least generous by that standard. When the data were evaluated according to population size, the District of Columbia and New York were the most generous and Mississippi the least. Average donation was also analyzed; New York was the most generous by that standard.

Finding #4: On-line donors are generous.

Whether due to income levels, the impulsive nature of on-line giving, or the credit card effect, on-line donors give significantly more than off-line donors.

Finding #5: Giving follows a classic long-tailed distribution, with a few well-known organizations receiving half of donations but thousands of smaller or lesser-known organizations combining to account for an equal amount of giving.

The "long tail" phenomenon—a term devised by Wired Editor Chris Anderson to describe how the Internet creates and serves long-tailed distribution markets—is evident at Network for Good when numbers of donations are charted by organization. At Network for Good, 50 percent of donations go to 1 percent of charities (excluding crisis giving). The rest is spread out along the long tail. Just as Amazon and Google have enabled consumers to access products and information that meet their particular needs and interests by providing one-stop access to many, diverse choices, Network for Good has enabled donors to contribute to many, diverse nonprofits by putting a fragmented nonprofit "market" in one place.

Finding #6: Disaster relief is the leading category of giving and ranks among top searches; other leading giving categories are international causes, animal-related causes, human services, and education.

High volumes of disaster relief giving, such as the $24.5 million in combined giving for the 2004 tsunamis, Hurricane Katrina, and the Pakistan Earthquake, pushed the categories of disaster relief and international organizations to the top of the list of types of charities supported by Network for Good donors. Animal-related charities were third, primarily because of the large number of donations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which left many animals stranded.

Human services organizations were fourth in number of donations, followed by education, health, and "public, society," which includes advocacy and technical assistance organizations, professional societies, and research institutions. Religion was a distant tenth and environment fourteenth.

Finding #7: Total on-line donations are fairly evenly divided by size of organization, with half of donations going to small- to medium-sized organizations and half to medium-large organizations. When disaster organizations are removed from the analysis, the proportions shift significantly, with small-medium organizations—many of which use Network for Good to process all of their donations—accounting for about 70 percent of giving.

At times of disaster, donors tend to give to large, familiar organizations such as the American Red Cross and Salvation Army. But when humanitarian crises are removed from the equation, it is clear that smaller organizations play a big role in on-line giving. This is not the case off-line. In the nonprofit sector, a small number of large organizations (in terms of annual revenue) account for 1 percent of the organizations but the lion's share of charitable giving. But at a giving portal such as Network for Good, where donors can choose from more than one million charitable organizations, smaller organizations benefit. Similar to the long tail phenomenon at Amazon, where bestsellers may sell many copies but not as many as the sum total of niche titles, Network for Good found that most giving goes to smaller, "niche organizations" rather than big-name organizations.

Finding #8: Donors turn to the Internet at times of disaster and for year-end giving.

About 40 percent of giving through Network for Good was in December, when, just as off-line donors, on-line donors do most of their giving because of the holidays and the end of the tax year.

About 30 percent of giving was in response to disasters. The Internet is ideally matched to charitable giving at times of disaster, when technology can turn the impulse to help into a donation within seconds. For example:

  • Tsunami: Web traffic 10 times normal volume, donations six times normal volume
  • Katrina: Web traffic 75 times normal volume, donations 20 times normal volume
  • Earthquake: Web traffic double normal volume, donations double normal volume
Disaster giving spiked for the two- to six-day period after each of these crises before returning to normal levels within days or weeks.

Finding #9: People seem to be at their most generous on weekdays, not weekends.

Excluding end-of-year and crisis giving, weekdays are when most donors make their contributions. By dollar amounts, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays are the days donors are most generous. By number of donations, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays are top days.

Finding #10: Most donations are made during normal business hours.

Donors are most likely to give during the late morning, 10 a.m. to 12 noon. There is a dip in giving at lunch hour, and then giving ticks up slightly in the late afternoon and early evening.

Finding #11: The number one reason donors say they give on-line is convenience: it is easier than writing a check.

Donors surveyed by Network for Good say they chose to donate on-line because it is fast and easy. The number two reason was they could give quickly at times of crisis. The other reasons they provided for giving on-line are unique to giving portals such as Network for Good: donors value the ability to give to many different charities in a single transaction, the convenience of storing all their giving records in one place, and the privacy of being able to make donations anonymously.

Read the full report

© 2006, Network for Good