The advent of 2008 brings two exciting advancements in GuideStar's efforts to provide you with quality nonprofit data. From many fronts—individuals, professionals, and the media—we hear many ideas about how to encourage better philanthropic decision making, but all of these ambitious plans require better source data.
Two recent developments will help us make progress in achieving our goal of being the most important source of timely and accurate nonprofit data: the beta launch of the GuideStar Exchange and the IRS's release of the new Form 990.
GuideStar ExchangeLast month, we announced the launch in beta of the GuideStar Exchange, a new program to expand the nonprofit information we offer our users. Like our current program, which has more than 126,000 participating organizations, the GuideStar Exchange allows nonprofits to provide valuable context for information gleaned about them from IRS records. Both the Exchange and our current program enable nonprofit leaders to present information about their missions, programs, goals, accomplishments, and leadership to GuideStar's users.
The GuideStar Exchange, however, takes this vital activity to a new level. Donors and funders expect more from nonprofits than they did when we launched our current program more than a decade ago. They want to know that the organizations they support are legitimate nonprofits. That's why we require that every nonprofit listed on the Exchange have an official IRS letter of determination.
Donors and funders also want to know that the nonprofits they support are financially stable and that they use their gifts wisely. That's why we require every nonprofit listed on the Exchange to provide an independent annual audited financial statement.
Just as donor and funder expectations have changed, so has the Internet. An increasing number of users seek to interact in cyberspace, rather than just use it as a huge information repository. Organizations listed on the GuideStar Exchange can reach out to this audience by posting logos, photos, and video on their beta report pages. As time passes, we expect to increase the interactivity provided through the GuideStar Exchange.
As I write this, the GuideStar Exchange is in beta. That means we are collecting feedback on the program's scope, the information required for a listing on the exchange, the mechanics of providing that information through the GuideStar Exchange Form, and the effectiveness of communicating the data via our new beta report pages. Your comments and questions are guiding the development of the next generation of the GuideStar Exchange.
In the meantime, you are welcome to provide information through our current program. Just log in, click Update my nonprofit report at the top of the page, scroll to the bottom of the next page, and click Manage my eDocs and old nonprofit report.
New IRS Form 990As you know, posting IRS Forms 990 on our Web site put GuideStar on the map. Since October 1999, when we first made the returns available to our users, millions of people have come to GuideStar to access 990s.
To be frank, however, the current 990 has its strengths and weaknesses as a source of nonprofit data. On the plus side, it is the only form filed annually by hundreds of thousands of exempt organizations. It is a public document. It can provide valuable information about a nonprofit's mission, programs, and finances.
On the other hand, Form 990 was designed to provide the IRS with the information needed to ensure compliance with the U.S. tax code. It doesn't always tell people what they want to know about the organizations filing the return, and the data it does contain are often difficult to locate and interpret. The accuracy of the information provided can be questionable (even professional preparers disagree about the data required for a complete and accurate return) and outdated (with extensions, a nonprofit can file its return 10½ months after its fiscal year ends).
The IRS released a new Form 990—the first wholesale revision of the return since 1979—December 20, 2007. I want to take this opportunity to applaud the IRS for listening to the diverse needs of the sector and for fashioning a responsible new Form 990. The revised return clearly reflects the service's consideration of the more than 700 e-mails and letters (totaling approximately 3,000 pages) it received about the draft version of the revised form. On the whole, my colleagues and I believe that the changed form and its staggered introduction will increase the accuracy of the data collected, and we urge the IRS to continue exploring ways to improve the form in future years. Read more about the new Form 990 >
This looks to be an exciting and eventful year, and we plan to do our best to be your trusted partners in this interesting and important adventure!
Happy New Year,
President and CEO