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

Sleepy or Scintillating?

Nancy Schwartz

A Fundraiser’s Guide to Effective Gift Acknowledgment

Q&A: What are the advantages and disadvantages of selecting the IRS 501(h) lobbying election?

Generally, the IRS limits lobbying by a public charity to what is called an “insubstantial” amount of its overall activity. Because the meaning of that word is obviously open to interpretation (and disagreement), over the past 40 years, Congress has attempted to clarify what is or is not considered excessive lobbying.

Follow-up to Finding Funding with Foundation Center Webinar

On September 10th, we held the webinar “Finding Funding with Foundation Center" with George Ford and Leeanne G-Bowley of the Foundation Center — in which we discussed best practices in diversifying an organization’s funding mix through foundation grants and an introduction to Foundation Directory Online Professional, the comprehensive database of U.S. grantmakers and their grants. (GuideStar Exchange participants receive a 10% discount on Foundation Directory Online Professional). We also discussed grantseeker training with the Foundation Center and walked through the options available. (GuideStar Exchange participants receive 20% off these courses — excluding Grantseeker Training Institute).

While we answered many of your questions during the live event, we wanted to provide more insight from George and Leeanne for the questions we did not have a chance to answer.

Don’t forget that you can access the recording of the event here and the slides used during the event here. You can also find this Q&A on our Tumblr.

Q: I am new to the Foundation Database. Where is the first place to start my research for funding?

Leeanne G-Bowley (LGB): I would suggest starting with the Search Grantmakers database and begin your search using the Fields of Interest and Geographic Area fields relevant to your organization and programs. You’ll then be able to refine your results from there. The Help section offers tips and tutorials for getting started.

Q: Where can I get information on boot camps and classes?

LGB: Visit for up to date information about our training classes — this includes the Boot Camp and other courses.

As a reminder, GuideStar Exchange participants receive 20% off training courses (excluding Grantseeker Training Institute).

Q: I’m a total newbie — 3 weeks on the job. I have been asked to seek funding for my organization. Where is the best place to start?

LGB: If you are a newbie, you should definitely check out and view all of our free and fee based courses. If you are near one of our offices or a Funding Information Partner (, you should stop by and speak to a reference librarian or network supervisor. In terms of our full day courses, it is a good idea to start out with our Foundation Funding Essentials course.

Q: If I subscribe to one of the categories beyond the basic version, how long does that subscription last and how can it be canceled if I find it doesn’t meet my needs?

George Ford (GF): Foundation Directory Online is offered at monthly, annual, and two-year subscription plans. You can cancel at any time by sending an email to our Customer Service department. Once you cancel, you will be able to access FDO until the end of your subscription period.

Q: Given a limited budget, if you had to sell the cost of your programs to your CEO how would you do it? What would you say?

LGB & GF: In terms of the courses—we keep the registration fees for our classes low because we know organizations do not have very large professional development budgets. Along with expert information you will receive during the training, you will receive a hands-on experience. Our classes are geared toward professionals who need skills and knowledge they can utilize right away. We offer practical activities and group work that really gives participants an understanding of best practices and concepts before they leave the training room. Also, many of our classes come with very comprehensive materials and some even come with a trial of the Foundation Directory Online Professional. As for the Foundation Directory Online Professional—it is a very comprehensive and easy-to-use database. The monthly billing option is great for smaller organizations that may just need access to the database a few times a year. Larger institutions with a dedicated fundraising team will benefit greatly from an annual subscription—as they will use it on a regular basis. Again, the cost is very low considering the power and usability of the database.

Q: Can you go over the costs again?

GF: Subscription rates for all the plan levels are available at

Q: Is there a sliding scale of pricing depending on the size org you are? Meaning, we have a smaller and cannot afford this, but we need the granular data provided at that Pro level.

LGB: There is not a sliding scale, but there are over 470 Funding Information Network partners located around the United States and there are sites in 10 other countries. These Network Partners offer the Foundation Directory Online Professional for free within their location. You can find these Funding Information Network partners at

Hesitation is a fundraiser’s worst enemy

Please understand – I am not an advocate of knee-jerk action-for-the-sake-of-action. Good cultivation and stewardship require deliberation and creativity. But there is a vast chasm between fruitful contemplation and procrastinating. Do you get stuck reaching for the phone when you are about to call a donor to set up an appointment or ask for a gift? If so, read on.

Board Misperceptions and Other Issues Related to Major Gifts: Interview with Fundraiser David Lansdowne

David Lansdowne, the author of two books on fundraising, recently spoke with his publisher about raising major gifts. GuideStar has published excerpts from Mr. Lansdowne's books (see the links below), and we're pleased to be able to share his additional thoughts with you.

Let's start with a few misunderstandings boards may have about fundraising. First: Publicity raises money. True or false?

I think it was an Irish poet who said, "All publicity is good, except an obituary notice." So, certainly, publicity can be helpful sometimes. Just don't expect all your well-placed stories to raise money unless yours is an extreme case like the Boston Marathon bombing. To raise significant sums, you have to visit your prospects in person—sit right across from them and ask. Hear your heart thump. Those who think publicity raises money tend to be novices or mildly committed volunteers. They hope the media will do the heavy lifting. When it doesn't, they blame the failure not on themselves but on the lack of exposure.

Ten Reasons (Besides Money) That You Should Plan a Capital Campaign Now!

Do you have big dreams for your organization but find yourself limited to taking tiny steps forward? Wouldn't you love to move forward boldly and make an even bigger—maybe even a huge—difference in the world? Are you ready to be inspired and excited by big thoughts and plans?

Yes? Wonderful! It's time for you to plan a capital campaign.

Your organization's potential is greater than you think it is, and a capital campaign can help springboard you to the next level.

Here are the 10 things that will happen once you commit to a capital campaign:

  1. Your board members will become more engaged. In fact, you're likely to find that your big thinking and commitment to making a transformational difference in your community attracts new, more effective board members.
  2. Your board members will increase their giving. The campaign will provide a bigger context for their gifts and an effective structure for asking them for larger gifts.
  3. You'll strengthen your board. In addition to attracting more effective board members, nothing does a better job of creating effective working relationships than facing a challenge together successfully.
  4. Board members will want to learn more about asking for gifts. Capital campaigns are high-stakes, public affairs that motivate board members to play a more active fundraising role.
  5. Your community will become more visible. Campaigns provide many opportunities for publicity and communication, and new ideas, new programs, and big gifts are natural fodder for the press.
  6. You'll be able to invest in your development program. Your campaign budget will cover additional fundraising staff, better communications, upgraded donor software, donor recognition, consultants. ... And better yet, you'll keep benefiting from many of these upgrades when the campaign is over.
  7. You'll boost your annual fund returns. Contrary to common belief, capital campaigns lead to higher levels of annual fund giving. Why? Because donors become more engaged and excited during the campaign, and thus they're willing to write larger checks.
  8. Your volunteers will become motivated to step up to the fundraising table. The excitement and high stakes of a big campaign will motivate your volunteers to get serious about fundraising and start asking people for gifts through face-to-face solicitation.
  9. You'll engage community leaders in your organization's mission. Your campaign planning committee is the perfect vehicle for inviting community leaders and local philanthropists to become more involved in your organization.
  10. Your campaign's success will make everyone in your organization feel great! Capital campaigns provide many opportunities for celebrating success. And, of course, nothing breeds succeeds like success.

There you are—10 great reasons to do a capital campaign, and we haven't even mentioned the fact that you'll raise more money and be able to make a much bigger difference in the world!

Given all of the great reasons to do a capital campaign, why don't you plant the seed for a capital campaign this fall?

Encourage your board to think about what your organization could do if you raised 10 times your annual fund over the next three years. That kind of thinking will inspire them, inspire you, and make your organization stronger, more vibrant, and more effective. Everyone wins!

Andrea Kihlstedt and Gail Perry, Capital Campaign Magic
© 2013, Capital Campaign Magic

Fundraising consultants Gail Perry and Andrea Kihlstedt are the founders of Capital Campaign Magic, which applies their combined 60 years' experience to the task of helping organizations prepare for successful capital campaigns. 

How to Use Social Media for Nonprofit Crowdfunding

Social media and nonprofit crowdfunding (or online fundraising) go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or Bonnie and Clyde. Or Bert and Ernie...

New GuideStar Nonprofit Compensation Report is Available

The 13th edition of the GuideStar Nonprofit Compensation Report is now available. The report uses Form 990 compensation data for more than 94,000 organizations to report statistics on executive compensation by gender, organization type, and geography.

Here are a few highlights from the report:

  • Median compensation of females continued to lag behind that of males when considering comparable positions at similar organizations. The gap ranged from 9.0 percent for CEOs at organizations with budgets of $250 thousand or less to 21.0 percent at organizations with budgets between $5 million and $10 million.
  • Since 2001, the percentage of female CEOs has increased for organizations of all sizes. The majority of organizations with budgets of $1 million or less have women as CEOs, although female representation in that role declines as budget size increases. Only 16 percent of organizations with budgets of more than $50 million had female CEOs in 2011.
  • Economic uncertainty continued to affect compensation increases in 2011. In 2008, median increases in incumbent CEO compensation were generally 4 percent or higher. In 2011, increases were below this level for the third consecutive year. However, increases were generally higher than in 2010.
  • As usual, health and science organizations had the highest overall median salaries. Arts, religion, and animal-related organizations brought up the rear.
  • For the eighth consecutive year, Washington, D.C., had the highest overall median salary of the top 20 metropolitan statistical areas (MSA). Portland, Oregon had the lowest.
Chuck McLean

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 increased the penalties for excessive benefit transactions, including overpayment of nonprofit executives. Accurate, complete, and authoritative information on the nonprofit sector is more important than ever, and the GuideStar Nonprofit Compensation Reportis a comprehensive resource to help you ensure compliance with IRS regulations on executive compensation.

Information about purchasing the report can be found here:

Join Social Media for Nonprofits in San Francisco

Is your Bay Area nonprofit looking to raise funds online, use social media to drive advocacy, and turn your followers into fundraisers? Learn how at Social Media for Nonprofits and Nonprofit Boot Camp in San Francisco on October 10 & 11. The program will be the biggest nonprofit gathering of the year in the Bay Area and features an all-star lineup sharing practical tips and tools for online fundraising, marketing, and advocacy, as well as all aspects of nonprofit management.

Follow-up to NEW GuideStar Exchange Webinar

Transparency – it’s one quality that donors, funders and other stakeholders are looking for in a nonprofit and it’s something that nonprofits are striving to achieve. Making information accessible and easy to share isn’t always a simple task, however. With this in mind, we recently overhauled our GuideStar Exchange program to better align with the information our research indicates donors and funders are looking for, and to make it easier for nonprofits to showcase their commitment to transparency. This overhaul included a new tiered program structure, new benefits for participation, a new, easier platform to update information, and many other features.

Marketing Fundraising Events to Baby Boomers: Strategic Planning for Optimal Results

For years, the segment of donors contributing most generously to successful fundraising events have been the moneyed generation, now known as the “matures.” This group ranges in age from the late 60s to the late 80s, with the average being in the early 80s.

Storytelling with Sensitivity

Nothing raises interest in a good cause like telling a good story. And nothing tells a good story like the real-life people behind the real-life cause.

Make Raising Major Gifts Your New Year's Resolution

Only Two Hours Per Week to Major Gift Success!

If you truly want to raise major gifts next year, the time to start is now!

Five Reasons You Should Be a GuideStar Exchange Participant

Reprinted from the GuideStar Blog

Getting a Donor to See You: 11 Suggestions from a Master Fundraiser

Excerpted from Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift, rev. ed.

You'll find that one of the most difficult steps in getting a gift is actually not the face-to-face presentation. And it's not that special moment when you actually ask for the gift.

What's most difficult is getting the visit.

I've been raising funds for a long time, and I agonize more about making the phone call for the visit than I do the actual presentation to the prospect.

But here's the good news. When you get the visit, you're 85 percent on your way to getting the gift. All of our studies indicate this.

Note I don't call this an appointment. That may seem like a small matter, but as we know in this business of asking, success is in the details. An appointment has a negative connotation. If you need to have a root canal, you call your dentist for an appointment. Or maybe a proctologist you call for an appointment, if that's your particular need!

But a visit, that's quite different, quite pleasant. And this call for a visit should be the first step in a joyful journey. You're giving your prospect an opportunity to invest in saving lives, in changing lives. What could be more ennobling, more rewarding than that?

As you pick up the phone, don't be concerned if you feel pangs of anxiety. I've found that without challenge, there's no achievement. To ease those palpitations and help ensure that you get to see the person, follow these 11 suggestions:

  1. Always send a letter in advance of calling for a visit. I've worried about this. Will the letter actually prompt some turndowns or make it impossible to get through on the phone? Does it give the prospect extra time to prepare arguments for closing off a visit? I can assure you that sending a letter is the most effective way possible of securing the visit. And on top of everything else, it does save 5 or 10 minutes in trying to explain on the phone why you want to see the person.
  2. Practice (practice, practice) your opening. Even with all my years, I still write out what I'm going to say on the phone.
  3. Even though I use a script, so to speak, I don't read it of course. It has to sound spontaneous. But writing it out means I don't miss anything. And the truth is, the script gives me confidence. Keep in mind Churchill's admonition: "I have to practice a great deal in order to make a speech sound spontaneous."
  4. Have a calendar handy. Remember, your purpose in making the call is to set the date for the visit. Get ready.
  5. This is probably the most difficult part of all. Have you ever done this? You stare at the phone. Minutes go by. You know at some point you have to punch in the numbers. But you hope someone will phone, so you won't have to make the dreaded call. But the telephone doesn't ring.
  6. Resolve that you'll fling the whole weight of your spirit into it. Okay, get ready. But wait. There's one thing I'm going to suggest that I know will help you.
  7. Stand up. If you don't believe this helps, just try it. Standing releases a flow of energy that simply doesn't exist when you're sitting. Best of all, I actually like a cell phone so I can do some pacing. You know what? When I stand I feel I can lick the world. I can make that call. I'll get that visit. I'm standing and I'm determined. You'll feel exactly the same.
  8. Smile when you talk. Your prospect will "hear" the smile in your voice. Explain that you're following up on the letter you sent and want to know when it might be convenient to meet.
  9. Keep the small talk brief. Oh certainly, be cordial and pleasant. But your focus has to be on setting the visit

    "Hi, Mary. This is Jerry Panas. I sent you a letter the other day about the new library at Middleton School. When is a good time to see you and John, next Tuesday or Thursday?"

    That may strike you as terse. Okay, do what's comfortable. But your task isn't to engage in extended conversation. Your job is to get the visit.
  10. Be upfront about the amount of time you'll need. "I'd like an hour with you. Will that be all right?"

    What happens if the prospect says she can only give you 20 minutes? "Well, I was hoping for more, but if you're tight on time, let's do it in 20 minutes. This program's so important I'm willing to take whatever time you've got." (You've probably found, as I have, that when a person tells you he can only give you 15 or 20 minutes, he ends up giving you all the time you need.)
  11. Be focused. Your job is to set the date for the visit. It's not to make the sale or discuss the case. Don't fall into the trap of trying to make the sale on the phone. It won't work.
  12. Move the conversation on and set the date. I like giving a person a choice of dates: "What's best for you, John, next Tuesday or next Thursday?" Social psychologists tell us that a person is much more apt to make a positive decision if there's a choice.

Great! You've got the date. You're well on your way to getting the gift. Follow this immediately with a letter of confirmation and appreciation. Make it brief.

I never call to confirm a date before the visit. In fact, I try to make myself virtually unreachable! I don't want to make it convenient or easy for a person to cancel at the last minute. I let my letter put all the arrangements in place.

One last tip. Call your best prospects first, those you feel are the easiest to talk with. After a few calls, you'll have the model down pat.

Jerold Panas
© 2013, Jerold Panas. Excerpted from the newly revised edition of Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift. Excerpted with permission of Emerson and Church, Publishers.

Jerold Panas is the executive director of one of the premier firms in America and co-founder of the Institute for Charitable Giving. His popular books include Asking (newly revised), The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, and Mega Gifts.

Online Funding 101: Fundraising for Nonprofits and Campaigns

If you aren’t using the Web to raise funds for your nonprofit or campaign, you’re missing out. According to a report by Chronicle, online gifting yielded $2.1-billion in 2012, up 14 percent since 2011. With the help of new sites and technology designed to streamline campaigns, online fundraising is easier, and more lucrative, than ever. For instance, one Minnesota radio station raised $128.8 million in online donations just by offering an online auto-renewal for monthly donations, notes If you want in but aren’t sure where to begin, read on to discover the many resources designed to help you succeed:

Happy Labor Day!

Take a moment to make a wish today