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

The USO on the Overhead Myth

Kudos to these three great organizations--GuideStar, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator--for taking a stand against the fixation on overhead! Yes, charities should be efficient. But, to be relevant, charities must be effective. That is what donors expect and, for the USO, what troops and families deserve.

Being effective starts with aligning priorities and allocating resources to meet the greatest needs. That process must be informed by empirical data gathered directly from those served. At the USO, we learn a lot about the needs of troops and families in the course of their 9 million visits to our centers and another 2-3 million direct service encounters we have with them each year at locations around the world. All that information feeds our annual planning, budgeting and decision-making.

Sloan Gibson,president and CEO of the USO

But we don’t stop there. We expect every program to deliver specific outcomes. After every program activity we document the outcomes in a written after action review. That’s also how we get better—continuously. Through our annual TELLUSO survey of thousands of troops and military family members around the world, we learn what is most important to them and how well our programs and facilities are meeting their needs. We don’t just assume we are accomplishing our mission of lifting the spirits of troops and military families. We know—because 95% tell us, “… the USO lets me know that my country supports me,” and 98% say, “… the USO boosts my morale.”

Without investing in the infrastructure that makes it possible to track outcomes, we would be hard pressed to let our donors know the good their donations make possible.

We have a different view of efficiency. Donors are interested in the impact a donated dollar has on the community a charity serves. In the USO’s case, we are fortunate to have supporters who provide a range of in-kind goods and services that allow us to get greater value for every dollar donated to us. When you take into account that kind of support, including contributed goods, the value of rent-free centers around the world, contributed celebrity time and talent and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours, we estimate that we deliver $1.52 in goodness for every donated dollar. Keeping in mind that we target those resources where they are needed most, that’s a good return on a donor’s investment!

The preceding is a guest post by Sloan Gibson, the 22nd president of the USO, a role he stepped into in September 2008, after spending more than 20 years in banking. He’s responsible for leading the USO’s mission of lifting the spirits of troops and military families at more than 160 USO locations around the world. Currently, he’s leading the USO’s efforts to support wounded, ill and injured troops and their families through the USO’s Operation Enduring Care. Sloan is a 1975 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and he earned both Airborne and Ranger qualifications as an Army infantry officer. He also earned a Masters in Economics from the University of Missouri in Kansas City and a Masters in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. This post can also be found on the Overhead Myth Blog:

Announcing GuideStar Premium Pro

Our much loved GuideStar Premium product has been given a whole new set of features. After listening to our customer’s comments, suggestions, and data needs, I’m happy to introduce our newest addition to the GuideStar Premium product suite, GuideStar Premium Pro:

In addition to the powerful, easy-to-use search and analysis tools with GuideStar's most complete nonprofit reports that GuideStar Premium offers, those who subscribe (or upgrade) to GuideStar Premium Pro now have the opportunity to more deeply research nonprofits based on various financial and contractor data. GuideStar Premium Pro is the only product that gives people such unfettered access to in-depth, high-quality nonprofit data – including a fuller financial picture of nonprofits.

Those looking to do business in the sector can better target and prequalify nonprofit leads, while nonprofits can further benchmark themselves against others in their peer group to see where they match up with paid contractors or to research what contractors they may want to use.

Learn more about GuideStar Premium Pro or see how it compares to other GuideStar Premium product offerings:

Why Your Nonprofit is Missing Volunteer Recruitment Opportunities

Let’s start with a fact: online conversions are essential for business marketers. In today’s web-driven world, conversions are the main purpose of most online campaigns. For those unfamiliar with the term, “conversion” simply means that someone from the intended audience took action. The action could be calling a phone number, starting a trial, downloading a whitepaper, or signing up for an offer. In the end, the point is for these to result in the ultimate conversion: a sale. Although nonprofits aren’t necessarily trying to sell a product or service, your NPO can benefit from the “conversion mentality”, but just in a different way. Here’s how.

Thinking like a Marketer - What Conversions Mean for Your NPO

A conversion may come in many forms for a nonprofit. It could be a simple thing, such as gaining registrations for a newsletter or likes or shares on Facebook. These are great for branding and may actually increase other metrics. Naturally, though, the most typically sought-after conversion is one that ends with a donation. Let’s be honest; these are crucial for most nonprofits.

However, another important conversion often overlooked is the transformation of a website visitor to a volunteer. And it goes without saying that donated time is also a very valuable asset. But what are some best practices to increase volunteer conversions?

Is Your Website Enticing to Volunteers?

Many best practices that apply to business marketing professionals for improving conversions also can be used by nonprofits. Check your website to be sure it includes some standard things common to marketing best practices. For example, one of the cornerstones is having a website that is professionally designed, easy to navigate, and full of useful information (download the slides from our recent webinar with GuideStar). These elements will build trust in visitors, which is essential when selling your call to action. In marketing, you have to tell your prospective customer exactly what you want them to do. Be clear, with a statement like “click here to volunteer.” It may seem overly simplistic, but it does work.

How to Attract More Volunteers using Landing Pages

You’ve looked over your website in general terms, but now let’s take things a step further. One of the best means of increasing your volunteer conversion rate is to create customized landing pages within your volunteer management system. These can be used to brand events or campaigns, each with a specific branding. Research shows that making this “message match” can boost conversions by at least 25 percent. Landing pages can also be used to market to certain demographics or manage events at multiple locations.

Perhaps most importantly, however, a landing page can become a customized portal for corporate employee volunteer programs (EVPs), complete with the company’s logo and postings of special volunteer opportunities unique to that group. This trust-building facet shows your organization is ready and willing to go the extra mile to accommodate an EVP and puts both the company and its employees more at ease when visiting your website. (Continue reading about best practices for using volunteer landing pages.)

Stop Missing Out on Volunteer Conversions

Increasing conversion rates can clearly benefit your organization, so don’t be afraid to leverage a few marketing best practices. Business marketers build trust through branding and targeted marketing. You can use these same strategies to drive more volunteer conversions.

The preceding is a guest post by Corbit Harrison, Chief Operating Officer for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management softwareapplication that offers online event registration, email and SMS (text) messaging, report generation, and much more. Corbit has been actively helping non-profit organizations better engage constituents for over 10 years. Connect with Corbit on LinkedIn. This is part of our ongoing VolunteerCorner series – focusing on issues that you need to know about in the nonprofit sector.

IRS to All Nonprofits: Pay Your Taxes and Document Your Pay!

Earlier this spring, IRS Exempt Organizations issued the long-awaited final report on colleges and universities. Although the report focuses on higher education, all nonprofits should take a look at it, because the IRS states that it has identified "some significant issues ... that may well be present elsewhere across the tax-exempt sector," including unrelated-business ventures and "the importance of using appropriate comparability data when setting compensation."

Start Planning Next Spring's Golf Fundraiser Now: Interview with Golf Fundraiser Par Excellence Tom King

Tom King, author of Going for the Green! An Insider's Guide to Raising Money with Charity Golf, recently spoke with his publisher about golf fundraisers. GuideStar has published an excerpt from the book, and we're pleased to be able to share Mr. King's additional thoughts with you.

This is our first tournament. We're able to mobilize a decent number of volunteers and our cause is fairly well known. We've even got a connection to the local country club. How much can we hope to net on this virgin effort?

If your tournament is supported by the right people, you can raise an enormous amount. I have a friend in California who took a losing tournament and transformed into a massive event that in five years was turning better than a quarter million dollars net profit and had to be expanded to two tournaments.

It's salespeople who are critical—even more than experienced event organizers. There are plenty of folks who can make your event fun and exciting. But if you don't have a fiery sales committee selling sponsorships, your event will fizzle.

How much lead time will we need to organize this?

You want to start as early as a year ahead. Most of the companies you'll be approaching for sponsorships set their budgets for the next year in September or October. Fall is the time to have them commit advertising dollars to your tournament. I like having half of my sponsorships committed by the end of the year for a tournament in the spring or summer. Then I aim to have the whole thing paid for by four to six weeks out.

Everywhere I look organizations are hosting golf tournaments. Should I be concerned about saturation? There are only so many golfers, after all.

In a word, "Yes." Still, golfers love to golf. If you create a tournament different from the others, get some buzz going, and can draw enough sponsors to support it, you can outdraw the competition. It's hard work, but like any business endeavor, the spoils go to whoever creates the best product.

In Going for the Green! you mention the four key ingredients to attracting players. Say a few words about each.

The cause is the most important thing to the organizer, but it's not necessarily the main attraction for players. A lot of golfers play charity tournaments because it's an excuse to take the day off, hobnob with local big shots, and, well, it's golf.

The buzz you create around the event itself is more important. If you attract the right people and get the word out that something special is happening at the event, you'll attract players.

The location can be a big draw. Look for new or exclusive courses that few have played—you'll get players knocking down your doors to buy tickets.

The tournament format can be just the thing to draw players. Everybody does scrambles. They're easy. But other formats like golf marathons, turkey shoots, and off-road golf tournaments can provide the wow factor that can help attract a full crowd, especially if you're hosting a fledgling tournament.

Describe what I need in a tournament chair.

A golf tournament is, in reality, a fundraising campaign. So first and foremost you need a campaign organizer. The rest can be learned. The job is NOT for shy people. The chairperson has to be part slave driver, part cheerleader, and part diplomat.

I take away from your book that golf tournaments are labor-intensive events. How many volunteers are we talking about for a goal of, say, $50,000 net?

That'll vary depending on the length of the tournament, sidebar events, how you handle lunches or dinners, and a dozen other things unique to your tournament. What you want to keep in mind—what you MUST keep in mind—is the critical need for volunteers who love to sell stuff, who won't take "no" for an answer, and who love your cause enough to put in the hours it takes. Find those people first, and the rest will take care of itself.

If we're going to go through all this effort, I hope it means we can convert a good number of players into regular supporters, maybe even volunteers for our organization. What's your experience with this? Is a tournament simply a money raiser, or can it function as a means of recruiting people to join our cause?

The way I see it, a golf tournament at its best is a community saying to you that they care about your cause enough to come together in a big way to raise money to support what you're doing.

By all means, use the event to introduce yourself to potential donors and talk about what you do. But I think it's a mistake to stake your hopes of future fundraising on a charity tournament.

A lot of tournaments use celebrities as a draw. Is it worth the time, effort, and expense?

Celebrities can be a godsend or a drain on profits. I've seen celebs paid good money to show up and then be rude to players, refuse to sign autographs, and generally alienate everyone. On the other hand, I once saw Dallas Cowboy coach Tom Landry show up for a fundraiser and raise a million dollars. Don't get a celebrity just because you think you need one.

Participants pay to play, so that's one source of revenue. What are the other revenue sources for a tournament?

It's almost unlimited what you can sell sponsorships for. You can have sidebar event sponsors, pre-tournament and post-tournament event sponsors, registration table sponsors, beverage cart sponsors, driving range sponsors, T-shirt sponsors, hat sponsors, score card sponsors, pencil sponsors—virtually anything you can hang a name onto can be sold as a sponsorship. Also, you might be able to get a company to donate something for an auction or raffle drawing. You may not sell all the sponsorships you have available, but the more you have the better.

Of all the tournaments you've been involved with, if you talked with the organizers, how many do you think would say "We'd definitely do this again"?

Everybody I know who's done a golf tournament wants to do it again, even when they lose money on the thing. Golf tournaments are a flat-out fun way to raise money. Just make sure you choose your tournament committee wisely. One duffer and you'll find yourself in the woods.

© 2013, Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Tom King has worked with nonprofit organizations for more than a quarter century as a teacher, recreation therapist, program director, executive director, PR director, development officer, workshop facilitator, media consultant, advocate, and organizer. A veteran charity golf tournament organizer, he has planned and directed a string of successful charity tournaments and special events.

Add These to Your Board Meeting Agenda

Reprinted from Kivi's Nonprofit Communications Blog

Nonprofit Emaciation: Confessions of a Do-Gooder Who Starved an Organization

My name is Kjerstin, and I used to run an international nonprofit organization. A pretty great one, at that: my organization, FORGE, helped more than 70,000 refugees in war-torn Africa recover from conflict and prepare for a peaceful and self-sufficient future. In refugee camps across Zambia and Botswana, we built libraries, created computer training centers, provided micro-finance and agricultural finance, started preschools, ran health education programs, and more. In short, we helped refugees determine not only what they needed but how they could build it for themselves. No one else was doing what we did, and we could squeeze more out more out of our money than a souvenir penny press.

Paul Brest's Thoughts on the Overhead Myth

In the Overhead Myth campaign, Art Taylor, Jacob Harold, and Ken Berger outline the pernicious consequences of relying on the overhead ratio as a proxy for a charity’s performance. Coincidentally, in the days preceding their blog post, the Nonprofit Quarterly featured two writers taking the opposite view. Brian Mittendorf, an accounting professor at Ohio State University, acknowledges that overhead is not a proxy for impact, but argues that such accounting metrics are more reliable and comparable than impact metrics. William Schambra, director of the Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, asserts that donors’ desires to have as much money as possible go directly to recipients rather than to indirect costs reflects their laudable emotional connection to the objects of their charity.

Mittendorf concedes that reliance on overhead is at most a second best solution—in his words, looking for the lost keys under the proverbial lamppost. Even so, given the extent to which nonprofits manipulate overhead data (as shown in the Taylor-Harold-Berger letter), the lamp is pretty dim.

Schambra extolls donors’ common sense rejection of performance metrics, an interest that he disdainfully attributes to “experts.” Putting to one side his antipathy toward experts, Schambra’s point about donors’ empathy with their intended beneficiaries is a plausible explanation for their antipathy to overhead. But for donors who care about actually improving their beneficiaries’ lives, overhead is not merely an unreliable heuristic but often a counterproductive one. For just one example, an increasing number of charities use performance management systems to provide better outcomes for their clients; yet the costs of building and maintaining these systems all count as overhead.

I think that Schambra demeans ordinary donors when he implies that they don’t care about the impact of their gifts. The Hope Consulting Money for Good I study, which he approvingly cites, reports that 85% of donors say they care about nonprofit performance but only 35% do any research to learn about it. Given how frustrating it is to learn about performance from the charities themselves and most of the on-line rating services, 35% seems a pretty high number. In any event, there are improvements in sight, due in large part to BBB Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar, and Charity Navigator.

Robust impact metrics are available only for a tiny number of organizations. However, BBB Wise Giving Alliance and GuideStar, together with Independent Sector, have promoted a new suite of proxies for impact that are far superior to reliance on overhead alone. Their Charting Impact standards ask organizations to answer five basic questions:

1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish?
2. What are your strategies for making this happen?
3. What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?
4. How will your organization know if you are making progress?
5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

Paul Brest

While an organization’s ability to answer these questions is no guarantee of impact, its inability to answer them makes any pretensions to impact dubious. Without abandoning accounting measures, Charity Navigator’s CN 3.0 adopts a similar scheme, and it also takes account of an organization’s feedback from its beneficiaries.

Neither Charting Impact nor CN 3.0 is a substitute for knowledge about actual impact, and neither provides anything as simple as a single number. But they are great steps forward in helping wean donors from a metric that, alone, provides a distorted view of an organization’s success in improving people’s lives—which is what charity is ultimately all about.

Paul Brest is professor of law, emeritus; and former dean of Stanford Law School. He currently teaches in the Law School and Graduate School of Business, and is faculty co-director of Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society; From 2000 to 2012, he was president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. This post can also be found on the Overhead Myth campaign blog:

What Do Good Outcomes Cost?

For several years, I’ve been interested in (many would say obsessed with) the need to break out of the nonprofit starvation cycle, where donors and nonprofits alike fixate on overhead rather than on what good outcomes cost. So I was thrilled to hear the joint announcement,, from GuideStar, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator denouncing the overhead ratio as a valid indicator of nonprofit performance.

What do good outcomes cost? The for-profit world does not measure success by focusing on overhead, but if it did (by looking at sales, general and administrative costs as a percent of total sales), the average rate would be 25%. For service industries, perhaps the best analog to the social sector, it’d be 34%. Intuitively, we’d expect that a high-performing nonprofit would hire the best people, train them to be as effective as could be, and monitor results to improve as it went along. That involves HR, training, and performance measurement. Overhead, overhead, overhead!

The truth is, funders love to support programs, but too many don’t understand the real cost for nonprofits to get powerful results. So if we want to move beyond “how much do you spend on overhead?” to “what do good outcomes cost?” funders must change the way they think and act.

But is there anything that nonprofits can do to speed the change?

Yes. First, nonprofits need to communicate honestly and clearly about costs. A few years ago, I was in a conference session on social media for nonprofits, and the speaker pulled up what he considered to be a great Facebook page for a big NGO. There, front and center, was the message “100% of your donation will go to support the refugees.” As a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article points out, organizations can claim this NOT because their overhead is actually zero, but because board members or other funding sources underwrite overhead needs. This sort of communication is misleading and only contributes to the starvation cycle.

Second, nonprofits need to gain a deeper understanding of their full costs. This is hard, and funders struggle to understand the concept of “full costs,” too. What are programmatic costs? What are “indirect”? What goes in overhead? Getting this clarity is possible, and it is vital to articulating what good outcomes really cost.

Seeking to address these needs, Donors Forum, the state association of grantmakers, nonprofits, and their advisors in Illinois, recently partnered with The Bridgespan Group to have “Real Talk about Real Costs,” which brought together 300 practitioners in a near-equal mix of funders and nonprofits. The convening built on a year-long Community of Practice focused on tackling the overhead challenge. To support ongoing efforts, Donors Forum aggregated resources to help funders and nonprofits answer the question “what do good outcomes cost?” One of the most powerful and easy-to-use resources is this two-minute video with accompanying discussion guide.

Yes, this will be hard – and yes, a lot of the responsibility for ending this obsessive focus on low overhead rests with donors themselves. But I’ve come to believe that simply waiting for donors to change understates the power and responsibility that nonprofits have to create the big shift that they and their beneficiaries want and need.

Ann Goggins Gregory

The preceding is a guest post by Ann Goggins Gregory, Senior Director, Knowledge, in the San Francisco office of The Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit advisor and resource for mission-driven organizations and philanthropists. This post can also be found on the Overhead Myth campaign blog: Ann joined Bridgespan in 2005, spending three and a half years in the strategy consulting practice before transitioning into a knowledge role. In her position, she leads the organization’s efforts to reflect on insights emerging from strategy consulting and plays a pivotal role in identifying opportunities for external knowledge sharing that arise from client work.

In her consulting work at Bridgespan, Ann worked with a number of education clients – including charter management organizations and a statewide public/private partnership focused on reforming high school education – and also worked on business plans for several leading youth-serving nonprofits. She has been an active contributor to knowledge projects since she joined the firm, co-authoring "Nonprofit Starvation Cycle" in the Fall 2009 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review and "How Governments Can Spur High Charity Performance," published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (December 2009). Ann has helped lead Bridgespan’s national research on how nonprofits are “Managing in Tough Times.”

Prior to joining Bridgespan, Ann worked as a consultant at Deloitte Consulting and has also consulted to several large youth development organizations, including Public Allies and YouthBuild USA. Ann earned her BA in International Relations and German with honors from the University of South Carolina Honors College. Ann holds an MPA from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Launching a campaign to end the Overhead Myth

My nonprofit friends, it’s time we changed the conversation about “the overhead ratio”: the percentage of your organization’s expenses that go to administrative and fundraising costs.

For too long, we’ve let a few bad apples—the rare cases of outright fundraising fraud—confuse donors about what matters when judging a nonprofit.

This confusion is actively harming the nonprofit community, creating what the Stanford Social Innovation Review called “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle.” Experts agree that many nonprofits should invest more in overhead, particularly administrative costs. You all know this as well as I do: you need to invest in your organization to be able to effectively serve your missions.

We’ve been calling for a more nuanced understanding for some time, as have others, and today we have stepped up the effort.

My counterparts at BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator, Art Taylor and Ken Berger, respectively, have joined me in signing an open letter to the donors of America denouncing the overhead ratio as an indicator of nonprofit performance—though recognizing its rare utility as a filter for fraud.

Jacob Harold

The letter, published today on a new website,, states that “Overhead costs include important investments charities make to improve their work: investments in training, planning, evaluation, and internal systems—as well as their efforts to raise money so they can operate their programs. When we focus solely or predominantly on overhead…we starve charities of the freedom they need to best serve the people and communities they are trying to serve.” The letter instead recommends that donors focus their attention on more relevant factors behind nonprofit performance: transparency, governance, leadership, and results.

I ask you today to stand with GuideStar, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator to end the Overhead Myth. You can support the campaign in four ways:

  1. Print out the letter, which is under a Creative Commons license, and include it in you donor solicitations, or on your website, or however else you wish.
  2. Spread the word about the letter among your networks. For those of you using social networking sites, we’ve created a social media tool kit with language that you can copy and paste.
  3. Sign the pledge on and publicly commit to shifting the conversation from overhead to impact.
  4. And, most importantly, you can offer donors an alternative by sharing detailed information about your programs, strategies, measurement systems, and governance. Tell a data-rich story about the people, communities, and ecosystems you serve. If we do that, we can end the overhead myth.

Will you join us in the campaign to end the Overhead Myth? Please leave a comment below!

The above can also be found on the Overhead Myth campaign blog:

The DonorEdge Learning Community: Creating Organizational Effectiveness and Positive Social Change

In recent blog posts, I highlighted how each community foundation in the DonorEdge Learning Community (DELC) is transforming philanthropy in their communities by new strategies, nontraditional collaborations, and a culture of willingness to experiment. In many of these efforts, the DELC uses DonorEdge nonprofit profile data internally for improved grantmaking and organizational efficiency, shares the data with community funders and stakeholders, and presents the knowledge from DonorEdge data with donors and the community at large to increase community philanthropy and affect positive social change. The DELC are now at various points of reflection and are assessing the return on investment (ROI) experienced to date with their individual organizations and collectively in sector leadership.

The 16 community foundations members of the DELC are diverse:

  • Founding years of 1915-2000
  • Asset sizes of $14 million-$1 billion+
  • Staff sizes from 3-60
  • Service areas of one county to two states
  • DonorEdge implementations from 2002-current
  • DonorEdge sites with 70-1,300 nonprofit profiles

Because of these diverse demographics, the criteria and framework of reflection and ROI is also diverse. Regardless of this challenge, we continued the conversation and presented ground-breaking progress in assimilating evidence-based, quantitative metrics to demonstrate the ROI for improved DELC organizational effectiveness, capacity building of nonprofits in their communities, and ultimately positive social change at the 2013 DonorEdge Learning Community Annual Conference. Some of the metrics used to build this quantifiable story of ROI and social change are:

  • Web analytics
  • Cost efficiencies and higher quality information for grant making for the community foundation and funders, and grant application submissions for nonprofits
  • Change over time:
    • Community foundation asset size, contributions, grants
    • Number of nonprofits creating and maintaining DonorEdge profiles
    • Aggregated and sector nonprofit reports
    • Educational curriculum offered at local universities
    • Stakeholder surveys

As this exciting evidenced-based story of social change takes shape, more information will be shared through this GuideStar Blog.

The DELC has data from almost 6,000 DonorEdge nonprofit profiles. Aligned with this growth and technological innovation at GuideStar, we will soon announce exciting changes in the design, look, and pricing of DonorEdge. GuideStar will have a DonorEdge that fits your community foundation just right!

If you are interested in learning more about DonorEdge or the DonorEdge Learning Community, please contact Lori Larson, senior director GuideStar DonorEdge,

Lori Larson

Lori Larson is senior director of GuideStar DonorEdge and is responsible for GuideStar’s market and product strategy for DonorEdge, and growth of and customer relations of the DonorEdge Learning Community. Prior to joining GuideStar, Lori worked for the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, leading teams including knowledge development, nonprofit outreach, and donor relations. Previous to her foundation work, Lori was the operations manager of a multi-entity oil and gas corporation in Houston, Texas, and was assistant publisher of a software company in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Lori holds a B.A. in Economics, With Distinction, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and an MBA in Finance from Baker College Center for Graduate Studies. Lori holds a Ph.D. (ABD) in Leadership and Organizational Change at Walden University. Her dissertation, “Adaptive Business Models for Community Foundation Resilience,” is in progress with expected full doctorate graduation December 2013. You may reach Lori directly at

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Lori Larson

Mission Envy vs. Mission Impact

Mission envy—most nonprofits have at least a minor case of it. Thinking that another organization in your community has it "made." Knowing that the reasons they are so successful are because they have the perfect board members, the easy-to-sell mission, the broad base of community support, the beautiful building(s), the smart and outgoing executive director, a strong development staff. In short—they clearly have it all!

Perhaps there is another side to that story. If you were to talk to the nonprofit's board members, executive director, or staff, you might find that they have their own unique challenges in overcoming that perception that they have it all. They may be grappling with such issues as how to balance funding cutbacks, how to keep their board members engaged, how to convey their most urgent needs in order to fulfill the next big chunk of their mission.

Even if the illusion of that perfect organization were true, so what? How does that pertain to your organization?

I believe that mission envy is merely a justification for putting off dealing with the core issue—how to fulfill your organization's mission impact.

I recommend, rather than spending time comparing your organization to others in your community, that you spend time looking at the broader impact you intend to make in the community, and then take stock of where you currently stand in relation to that goal.

This will take some serious truth telling. In fact, the sooner you can get everyone on your team to tell the truth about your unique challenges, successes, and the next gap to be filled on the path to fulfilling your unique mission, the sooner you can get on with the real work of engaging your community in helping you to fulfill that mission.

You may soon realize that the very reason those "perfect" nonprofits (the ones you are seeking to emulate or envy) got where they are is because they began focusing on mission impact long ago. They set clear goals for the fulfillment of their missions. Then they put their noses to the grindstone and, rather than looking up to compare themselves to others, they got to work on attaining their goals.

Mission impact answers these questions: What specific variables in the world would be altered if our mission were fulfilled? Which of these variables do we choose to track and measure our success on? On each of those variables, what is our current baseline? How far do we want to move the needle, and by when?

It's time to take the envy and comparison out of the picture. Those are merely distractions that keep you from buckling down and focusing on the challenges your group is facing right now. That same valuable time could be spent working with a group of dedicated people—and a smart strategic planning consultant—to clarify your mission impact, determine the metrics you will use to measure it, and make your plan for getting on with attaining it. Focus on mission impact.

Terry Axelrod, Benevon
© 2013, Benevon. Reprinted with permission.

Terry Axelrod is the founder and CEO of Benevon,, a Seattle-based organization that has trained and coached more than 4,000 nonprofits to build sustainable funding from individual donors.

Which Causes Do Most Nonprofits Serve?

We wondered: which cause areas have the most nonprofits working in them? And which have the fewest?

Feasibility Studies: An Unnecessary Expense Designed to Make Consultants Rich, or an Important Part of Your Next Fundraising Campaign?

Why in heaven's name would you hire strangers to talk to your most valuable donors and volunteers? How do you know that a third party will represent you and your organization the way you wish to be seen? Will your prospects, donors, and volunteers really confide in someone they don't know?

The DonorEdge Learning Community: Transforming Institutions into Resilient Philanthropic Leadership

GuideStar enjoyed co-hosting the 2013 DonorEdge Learning Community Annual Conference last week with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. The conference was filled with thought provoking guest speakers; engaging, open conversations about problems and solutions for community foundations and community philanthropy, and the future of GuideStar and GuideStar DonorEdge. Thank you to our guest speakers:

The content presented from speakers and emerging, group conversations were diverse with a couple of highlights described below:

  • Examples of successful collaborations and communication strategies:
    • Leadership alignment
    • Willingness, readiness, capacity, and culture
  • Data, information, and knowledge:
    • The importance of visualization and design for meaning and sense-making
    • Using information and knowledge to facilitate evidenced-based (data) impact and positive social change
  • Sustainable strategies and tactics proven effective by the DonorEdge Learning Community to:
    • Become philanthropic leaders and knowledge experts in their communities
    • Strengthen relationships with donors and prospective donors
    • Build nonprofit capacity
    • Transform their community foundations into adaptable, resilient organizations

Two simple, but profound, expressions were stated at the conference that were memorable:

  • Philanthropy defines community.
  • The remarkable gets remarked about.

Each member of the DonorEdge Learning Community is defining philanthropy in its community by nontraditional collaborations and their willingness to experiment and learn from mistakes that may occur along the way. Each member of the DonorEdge Learning Community is remarkable and gets remarked about because of this same willingness and nontraditional culture and leadership. These community foundations are adapting to the rapidly changing, innovative, and disruptive world in which we live.

Stay tuned for my next blog post about how DonorEdge can help connections with millennials and how the DonorEdge Learning Community is creating evidenced-based stories of organizational effectiveness and positive social change, through data, information, and knowledge.

If you are interested in learning more about DonorEdge or the DonorEdge Learning Community, please contact Lori Larson, senior director GuideStar DonorEdge,

Lori Larson

Lori Larson is senior director of GuideStar DonorEdge and is responsible for GuideStar’s market and product strategy for DonorEdge, and growth of and customer relations of the DonorEdge Learning Community. Prior to joining GuideStar, Lori worked for the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, leading teams including knowledge development, nonprofit outreach, and donor relations. Previous to her foundation work, Lori was the operations manager of a multi-entity oil and gas corporation in Houston, Texas, and was assistant publisher of a software company in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Lori holds a B.A. in Economics, With Distinction, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and an MBA in Finance from Baker College Center for Graduate Studies. Lori holds a Ph.D (ABD) in Leadership and Organizational Change at Walden University. Her dissertation, “Adaptive Business Models for Community Foundation Resilience,” is in progress with expected full doctorate graduation December 2013. You may reach Lori directly at

LAST CALL: Social Media for Nonprofits & Nonprofit Boot Camp Silicon Valley

LAST CALL for Social Media for Nonprofits & Nonprofit Boot Camp on June 12 and 13 in Silicon Valley! Register now to take advantage of expert nonprofit insights, best practices, and social media training from Beth Kanter, Mitch & Freada Kapor, Kay Sprinkel Grace, and more.

Register now and use “Star” code to save $20:

San Francisco Bay area nonprofits: you can get a FREE scholarship via Knight Foundation to attend. Organizations working with digital inclusion can apply now at

We hope to see you there!

Get Personal to Get (and Stay) Relevant

Getting personal in your communications is the first step in building strong and long-term relationships with donors—current and prospective.

Here's how to do it...

Personal Is a Two-Way Street

Typically, we think of getting personal as a one-way street. Your organization learns all it can about the folks you hope to engage to move your mission forward, and uses those insights to:

  • Personalize communications to bond by integrating the first names of your community members in salutations, subject lines and the like
  • Customize communications to increase relevance by:
  • Segmenting your list, breaking out members by special interest, wants, location or any other combination of selections
  • Using this understanding to deliver focus, content, frequency and tone that's the best fit with each segment's profile

Take It One Step Further - Get Personal Personally to Get More Relevant

It's been proven time and time again that sharing some of oneself speeds relationship-building.

Think of a recent conversation you had -- doesn't have to be work related. When you share something of yourself -- an experience related to the topic of conversation, for example -- that strengthens your growing bond. Your conversational partner gets that you get it (and her)!

Here are some quick ways to put this strategy to work:

  • Unleash the power of your first name: Sign emails and other communications with your first name (as long as your full name is in your email signature).

*Also, consider including a graphic of your signature in bulk emails. No one else's is just like it!

  • Include your name in your email "from line" when you're publishing organizational emails. It's a must for advocacy and fundraising emails; optional for e-newsletters. It's good to know that there's a human there on the other end, and this simple change will make your emails more recognizable in the daily onslaught. (Caveat: Let list members know if you make this change.)
  • Share more of yourself than you currently do, in keeping with the culture of your organization and the preferences of your community. For examples, feature something about your passions or family in your professional bio, and make sure your colleagues do the same (more on strong organizational bios here)

How are you getting personal, and is it helping strengthen your ties with donors and prospects? Please share your story in the comment section below.

Nancy Schwartz

The preceding is a guest post by Nancy Schwartz, Speaker-Author-Strategist, Nancy helps nonprofits like yours succeed through effective marketing. For more nonprofit marketing guidance like this, subscribe to her e-update at