The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

What Can Tell You About Nonprofit Legitimacy

I’ve talked before about our new Quick View summary on our nonprofit reports, and today I want to focus on the section dealing with legitimacy. Check out my video here:

GuideStar Shares the Love: Introducing Our New Search Provider

The following is a guest post from Mahogany Johnson, one of GuideStar’s PR & Social Media interns. You can reach her at

“Yes, M.A.M.” – The Case for Saying Yes to Mergers, Acquisitions, and Meaning

Peter Deitz

Making GuideStar More Convenient and Even More Informative

Three new developments make GuideStar more convenient and more informative for you.

After the Yes: 12 Questions You Can Ask Donors Once They Say Yes

Adapted from Grassroots Fundraising Journal

How Jimmy Carter Can Inspire the Nonprofit Sector

Russell Family Foundation

Happy #GenerosityDay – We Love You, Nonprofits!

Happy (almost) Generosity Day! Tomorrow we’re joining many others in the nonprofit community in celebrating Generosity Day—essentially a day to be generous and say yes. Created by Sasha Dichter and others two years ago, Generosity Day has become a movement in the philanthropic sector to use Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to turn words into real action. As Sasha says, “Let’s make the day about love, action, and human connection – because we can do better than smarmy greeting cards, overpriced roses, and stressed-out couples trying to create romantic meals on the fly.”

Capitalism in crisis: Lessons continued

I’ve been writing about what we in the nonprofit sector can learn from the ongoing debate about the value of private equity. Just to underscore there is a nonprofit for every occasion, POLITICO reports that the Private Equity Growth Capital Council (PEGCC), a 501c6, has launched “Private Equity at Work,” a new initiative aimed at educating media, policy makers and the public about the private equity industry, including videos and an advertising campaign.

The Power of the People

I have believed for a while that the feedback of real people is an important source of data when evaluating the work of a nonprofit organization.

Capitalism in crisis: Lessons for the nonprofit sector

Bob Ottenhoff interviews for Money for Good II

Developing You

If you head a nonprofit, you probably tend to spend most of your time and energy on working to make your organization the best it can be. You want to fulfill that mission, and there never seems to be enough hours in the day (and nights) to accomplish everything you want to. Yes, you have good staff and a supportive board, but still it seems that your days are filled with e-mails, phone calls, meetings, and rushing from one place to the next. Technology, which is supposed to ease the burden, makes you available 24/7, demanding quick responses and eliminating time for reflection and recharging.

With all the effort you're putting into making your organization better, how much have you spent on making yourself better? The reality is that a better you will be a more effective leader and will likely result in even greater results for your organization as well as greater self-satisfaction. Here are five simple strategies that will help.

Get a Mentor

Mentors are not just for young, developing professionals; they're for all of us. Everyone, especially a leader of an organization, needs a trusted friend who knows you well enough to give you frank feedback. A mentor is someone who will listen to your challenges and problems but will do more than empathize. He or she will give you some straight talk about what you may be overlooking or dynamics that you may not be aware of. This kind of communication requires a tremendous level of trust and candor. It can't come from an employee who reports to you or a board member who is your boss.

It takes effort to develop the relationships that lead to great mentoring, but the payoff is worth it.

Engage in a Professional Association

Don't just join up with an association or group sharing similar goals and allowing you to network; really engage in that organization. Attend the meetings, volunteer to help with programs, or even serve as an officer. You'll be amazed at the return on this investment of your time. You'll learn things that aren't part of the group's presentations or newsletters. No matter how senior you are or how large your organization is, there are opportunities to learn new tricks from the smaller (sometimes more entrepreneurial) members of the group. Virtually every nonprofit segment has an appropriate association either locally, regionally, or nationally (and often all three). Ask your colleagues; they're probably already members.


I'm constantly impressed with the quality of work published on leadership, management, nonprofits, development, etc. These resources present tremendous opportunities to improve yourself at your own pace and on your own time. To make sure that you're reading the highest-quality books, ask around—especially your board members. Many of my best ideas have come from books that were not specifically targeted to nonprofits but whose themes certainly applied. And don't forget the books that will stretch our concepts of philanthropy and what impact it can have (e.g., Do More than Give, by Crutchfield, Kania, and Kramer). Although we may not all have the resources their examples have, the concepts are applicable on all scales.


You're already reading GuideStar's Newsletter—excellent start! There is a huge variety of very good online resources. Even if you don't have time to read many books, you certainly can take advantage of online resources, which come in smaller bites. I find value in receiving newsletters, as they prompt me on a regular basis to click in and read some of those great articles. Experiment with which newsletters are most valuable for your needs and be quick to use the unsubscribe option if the content is not what you need. Keep your reading in-box lean so you know you've got worthwhile content to peruse as time permits.

Not sure which newsletters to sign up for? What a great question for the colleagues in your professional association and for your mentor; they certainly can share what they've found valuable.

Be a Lifelong Learner

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to develop yourself is to make a commitment to be a lifelong learner. Once you've established this mindset, you'll find that you're willing to invest time in yourself and your development. It's not taking away from what you might be doing in your organization; it makes that time more valuable by making you more valuable as you increase your skill set and knowledge level.

Don't leave this growth to chance; set goals for your professional and personal development during your annual goal setting—it's easily as important as your other performance goals. Decide how often you'll be meeting with your mentor (have coffee once a month? a phone call once a week?), make a commitment to engage in your professional association (and how often), set a goal for the number of work-related books that you'll read each year, and know how much time or how many newsletters you can commit to each week. Above all, write down these goals and record what you actually do. Although you don't want to spend too much time tracking these activities, you do need to organize your own self-development, and recording your progress is the best way to see if you're doing what you've committed to do.

Will Rogers famously said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." Make sure that you're sharpening your skills, and that'll make sure that you keep moving forward!

Bill Hoffman, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC
© 2012, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC

Bill Hoffman has over 30 years' expertise in various aspects of the nonprofit sector, having worked at all levels of nonprofit organizations, including serving as chief executive of a $6 million education foundation for 9 years. He and his firm have written and presented on topics ranging from board development to community and volunteer engagement, organizational development and performance, and best practices in national, regional, and state publications and symposia.

Nine Clever Ways to Thank Your Donors

Reprinted from

Saying thank you to your donors, and saying it well, is only polite, right? The truth is that good thank yous are much more than good manners: they are a very smart and savvy fundraising strategy.

Donors Are Testing Nonprofits, and Nonprofits Are Failing

Sixty-five percent of first-time donors don't make a second gift. That's what Penelope Burk's donor-centered research tells us. Donors want something quite simple: a prompt, meaningful thank you letter and additional communication that explains how the donation was used. That's it. Eighty percent of donors say that would convince them to make the second gift.

And yet the typical thank you note that many nonprofits send is more like a transaction receipt that speaks to a donor's inner bookkeeper more than a donor's inner angel. Let's speak to that angel! Here are nine clever approaches to thank yous.

1. Write a Greeting Card, Not a Business Letter

The best nonprofit thank yous feel friendly, warm, and personal. And yet they are still relatively short. Even if your thank you appears on stationery, think of a good Hallmark card as you write (not the ones with four paragraphs of flowery script, but the shorter ones that lay it all out there in under 30 words). They feel personal, even though we know they were written for thousands of others.

2. Share Recent Progress, However Small

Your supporters want to know that they matter. So give them little gems of progress that show that with their support—and directly because of that support—you are bringing about some kind of change, or making life easier for someone, or advancing the cause. Maybe it's a short anecdote, or a telling testimonial, or an impressive statistic.

3. Add an Invitation—But Not to Something That Requires Another Donation!

You want your supporters to stay on with you, so invite them to do so, without asking for another financial donation. Invite them to your next free event, a behind-the-scenes tour, or a special conference call with a staff expert. Mention any volunteer opportunities, and ask them to follow you on Facebook or Twitter.

4. Use a More Creative, Personal Opening

Forget "On behalf of" or "Thank you for" and start your letters with a more creative and personal opening. Try something like "You made my day" on one line by itself. Then jump into a story: "Your donation crossed my desk today and ..." Explain how the money will be used. Or start with, "I have a great story to share with you." Launch right into a success story and then talk about how the donation will create even more happy stories.

5. Include Results-Oriented Photography

Including photos, either in the body of the letter or stuffed in the envelope, will make an instant connection between your donor and your work. A photo of a client or smiling people making a difference out there in the world will light up your donor's day. Get a group of people whom your organization helps together and take a photo of them holding a big banner that says, "Thank You."

6. Record a Video Message

One of my favorite thank-you e-mails came from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), with a link to a short video. The video features real TNC scientists around the world—not polished spokespeople—in their own countries, speaking in many different accents, saying, "Thank you for helping to save [whatever natural area they work on]." It's so genuine, and yet so easy to duplicate!

7. Send a Postcard from Behind the Scenes

Several digital photo apps let you turn your photos into instant postcards (see Postagram or Touchnote, for example). What if your program staff took some photos during the course of their everyday work out of the public eye and turned those into personalized postcards for your supporters? It's hard to get more timely and personal than that.

8. Be Specific about How the Gift Is Being Used

Very quickly but clearly describe a specific program where the gift will be used. If you are fundraising for specific programs this will be easier than if you are fundraising for general support. But even then, you still need to give supporters a sense for what you're doing with the money. You can use anecdotes as examples for how the money is being spent, or you can assure donors that their gifts are going to "where the need is greatest."

9. Change Who's Saying Thank You

If you have clients who benefit from programs funded by individual donations, ask a few clients to explain in their own words how your organization has changed their lives and to thank the donor for making it all possible. They write the letter, but you send it. Or ask board members to send a separate hand-written thank you note or even an e-mail, as a follow-up to your "official" thank you letter.

Kivi Leroux Miller,
© 2012, Kivi Leroux Miller, Reprinted with permission.

Kivi Leroux Miller is president of, where she writes the top-ranked blog on nonprofit communications and teaches a weekly webinar series on nonprofit marketing, communications, and fundraising. She is the author of The Nonprofit Marketing GuideStar: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause.