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Only days after their debate at the Center for Effective Philanthropy conference, I got a chance to see Mathew Bishop continue his debate with Michael Edwards in Washington DC. The session was at the Hudson Institute, which likes dramatic titles to its events—this was one was called “Philanthrocapitalism: Savior or Emperor?” (A program last month was called “Apocalypse Now for Nonprofits?” and was about the financial crisis.)

Thoughts from the Road: University of Richmond

I spent nearly two days on the campus of the University of Richmond this past week, thanks to an invitation from Kathy Panoff, executive director of the Modlin Center for the Arts giving two classroom lectures, a public speech and meeting lots of interesting people. It was demanding, but loads of fun and I learned a lot about the nonprofit sector from talking to students and faculty.
I left the campus with three questions on my mind:

Welcome! – And Some Background

As a small boy growing up in Chicago, I eagerly waited for the moment when my Dad came home bringing with him the four daily newspapers (and they were all making big profits!). At an early age I knew I wanted a career in the news business. Straight out of college I became the executive producer of the weekend 11pm television newscasts and a radio news producer for an NBC affiliate in Michigan. From there I spent many years in public broadcasting – starting WBGO, a brand new New York area jazz station, as Executive Director of the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority, and finally as COO of PBS.

From the President's Office, April 2009

Dear Friend:

Who Are These People, and What Are They Saying About Us? Charity Reviews Debut on GuideStar

If you've looked at our new report pages, you may have noticed the "Click here to read reviews" and "Click here to write reviews" links to the left of the page. Click on the former, and you'll find reviews written by people who have firsthand experience with an organization. Click on the latter, and you'll be invited to write a review of your own.

The GuideStar Exchange: Taking Nonprofit Participation to the Next Level

From the day we launched the GuideStar Web site in October 1996, we have encouraged nonprofits to update their reports in our database. Give donors your most up-to-date information, we urged. Breathe life into data gleaned from IRS records, we prompted. Take advantage of our neutral platform to engage Netizens' hearts as well as their minds, we suggested. Let the world know why what you do matters, we exhorted.

These statements are as true today as they were a dozen-plus years ago. The Internet, however, is vastly different, and much about the nonprofit sector has changed as well.

Enter the GuideStar Exchange.

The State of Nonprofit Transparency, 2008

When you think of GuideStar, what words come to mind? "Form 990"? "Database"? "Nonprofit information"? "Fabulous newsletter"?

Although all of those terms are appropriate (well, the first three certainly are), there's another that we hope occurs to you first: "Transparency."

GuideStar was founded to promote nonprofit transparency, to provide a central repository of nonprofit information that donors could use to guide their giving decisions. Although both our audience and the ways in which we deliver nonprofit information have expanded over the years, our belief in the importance of transparency has never wavered. In fact, transparency holds a key place in our mission statement: "To revolutionize philanthropy and nonprofit practice by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving" (emphasis added).

That is why we are proud to announce the publication of The State of Nonprofit Transparency, 2008: Voluntary Disclosure Practices, the first-ever systematic review of the information nonprofits make available to the public on the Internet. We focused on disclosure via the Net because we believe it is the fundamental tool for achieving greater nonprofit transparency.

New Tools for Donors

One-Stop Shopping for Donors

GuideStar has always had great information for donors. There was a "GuideStar for Donors" page. There were articles. And, of course, there was the database.

The problem was that donors rarely found the donor's page and articles. They found the database, but many also found it overwhelming.

We've taken care of those problems in our new Web site, which we launched last month. Now donors have a section dedicated just to them. Click the "Make an Informed Giving Decision" button on our home page, and you're there. If you're not on the home page, you can get to the page by clicking the yellow "Give to Charity" tab that appears near the top of every page of our site.

Links on the left of the "Give to Charity" page provide quick access to information that can help you make your charitable giving decisions. A link on the lower right takes you to all of the articles we have for donors. The middle of the page tells you how you can use the site to research your giving decisions or even to give to charity on-line.

Go to the Give to Charity page

New Donor-Friendly Reports

Our new reports are designed to help donors find the information they told us they want most: the organization's mission and how well it accomplishes it. The new reports are available to anyone who comes to—even people who haven’t registered with the site or registered users who haven't logged in. The only time you need to log in is if you want to see an organization's IRS Forms 990, view contact information, look at a nonprofit's annual report, see who is on an organization's board, or use one of our subscription services.

Convenient tabs and intuitive design make it easy to find the information you want—and to ignore details you don't want. Photos and video links let you see nonprofits in action, not just read about their works.

Finally, peer reviews let you find out what board members, supporters, volunteers, and clients think about specific organizations. Thanks to our new partnership with GreatNonprofits, you can read firsthand accounts of people's experiences with individual nonprofits.

Becoming Part of a Community

Our partnership with GreatNonprofits also lets you comment about your own experiences with specific charities. To review an organization, click the "Click here to write reviews" link in that nonprofit's report. All reviews posted on GuideStar also appear on, and vice versa.

Just be sure to follow the policies for posting reviews.

It's a new world for donors on GuideStar. We look forward to finding out what you think about these changes (click the plus sign on the lower right of any page to give us your feedback) and to bringing you more new features and improvements in the future.

Suzanne E. Coffman, April 2009; revised August 2009
© 2009, GuideStar USA, Inc.

Suzanne Coffman is GuideStar's director of communications and editor of the Newsletter.