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

How to Convert More "Super Supporters"

“Super supporters” are those who contribute significantly to your nonprofit's fundraising and volunteerism programs. So, when you take a step back and look at your donor and volunteer lists, how many contributors could be classified as "super supporters?"

5 Considerations for Protecting Your Nonprofit From Spear Phishing Attacks

Emily Green

Share the love for your nonprofit

Please join our second annual #NONPROFITLUV campaign and share the love for your favorite nonprofits! Just:

Leveraging Social Media for Nonprofit Events: Webinar Follow-up

Below is a follow-up by Ritu Sharma of Social Media for Nonprofits and Laura Huddle of Eventbrite to a handful of questions submitted by participants during the January 14, 2014, webinar “Leveraging Social Media for Nonprofit Events." To view the presentation or listen to the recording of the webinar, please click here. You can also read our Tumblr post here.


Mary Beth Westmoreland

How to Find Sponsorship for your Home-Based Non-Profit

With any organization, the key to success is an influx of money. Running a non-profit from home can be particularly challenging. You need to find a sponsor, but how do you go about doing that? Here are a few ways that you can find a sponsor for your home-based non-profit.

Communicating with Compassion

Nelson Mandela

Eight resolutions for fundraisers

Photo courtesy of BostInno

New Year’s Resolutions for Nonprofit Organizations

As your organization greets the New Year, the following resolutions are good ideas to make sure your house is in order.

Nonprofits must look beyond the features of branding to appreciate the benefits

Too often, nonprofits fail to take advantage of critical marketing tools and resources.

A New Way to Give Get

How often have you wished you had a way for your passionate supporters to contribute IN ADDITION to cash, especially when they don’t have disposable cash?

Questions I'm Most Often Asked about Direct Mail Fundraising

Is the Internet the death knell for direct mail?

Interview with GuideStar President and CEO Jacob Harold

Reprinted from Alliance magazine

A Few Bad Apples Bruise the Brand of the Entire Sector

Reprinted from Branding Bytes

In the communications business perception is reality.

And lately the media has provided the giving public a large dose of perception that many nonprofits are often less than accountable or honorable in the use of the funds they raise, as well as the tax-exempt status the government bestows on them to do public good.

The sad fact is that there is truth in many of these stories.

Sadder yet is that the skepticism that stories such as these generate makes it increasingly difficult for the overwhelming majority of trustworthy nonprofits to raise funds, especially during these harsh economic times.

The Issue

In June, CNN, in partnership with the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting, ran a long, detailed story on the results of their year-long investigation to identify "America's worst charities."

The CNN story named names and gave specific examples of how some "charities," in particular those that employ for-profit companies to raise their donations, use names similar to those of legitimate charities to fool donors, lie to donors about where their money goes, secretly pay themselves consulting fees, along with other questionable practices.

More recently, the Washington Post published a front-page story entitled "Millions lost by nonprofits, with little explanation," that has spurred federal and state officials to launch numerous investigations into whether hundreds of nonprofits properly reported financial losses to authorities, including hundreds of millions of dollars in the aggregate lost to fraud and employee embezzlement.

Then there are the one-off stories about mismanaged organizations that fall under the rubric of nonprofit that tarnish the entire sector's trusted brand image every time they are mentioned in the media.

Not a pretty picture for donors seeking to ensure that their donations serve the greatest good.

The Challenge

Some within the sector fault the media for airing the dirty laundry of what they rightfully note turns out to be a relatively small number of "outliers" that give the public the impression that the entire nonprofit world teems with such dubious activities.

Outliers or not, these marginal nonprofit organizations are still legally part of the sector, taking advantage of their tax-exempt status—and donors.

Besides, we who work in or for the sector can't blame the media for exposing these bad apples. It's the media's job to investigate and report such things.

In fact, as citizens whose taxpayer dollars subsidize the tax-exempt status of the sector, we should all take heart when outliers are exposed. Every dollar donated to one of these problematic organizations is a dollar legitimate nonprofits—and the communities and people they serve—are doing without.

However we care to rationalize this situation, it should not absolve us from asking what should be done to reaffirm the public's trust in the sector and its all-important work.

Some Suggestions

  • Educate the public.

    In most cases, the giving public does not do its research, nor does it always understand exactly to whom and for what it is giving. Many people simply give based on a nonprofit's name or to appeals that come through e-mails, social media, or heart-wrenching TV commercials.

    It's incumbent on the entire sector to educate the public about responsible giving to inform donors to check with organizations such as GuideStar, Charity Navigator, the Case Foundation's, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (, among others, before they make a donation, regardless of how large or small that donation might be.

    Giving to responsible, trustworthy nonprofits deprives the outliers of funding and helps ensure that generously donated financial resources are put to the best and highest uses.

  • Educate your staff.

    The overwhelming majority of people employed by nonprofits come to the sector because they are honest, honorable, often-passionate people wanting to do good by helping others.

    What's at risk, however, if they become sloppy with their financial oversight or ethics?

    Everything, including their jobs—as well as the jobs of all their coworkers—should the organization be forced to close its doors because of public distrust.

  • Understand the difference between doing what's legal vs. what's ethical.

    Lots of organizations get themselves in trouble here.

    If you're sitting around a conference table wondering if the decision you and your colleagues are about to make is legal or not, a red flag should immediately shoot up.

    Doing what's legal does not always translate into doing what's right.

    There's nothing illegal, for example, with spending what the public could perceive as an inordinate amount of your resources on direct mail or telemarketing fundraising instead of on the constituents your organization serves, a not infrequent allegation the media has made against numerous nonprofits.

    Rather, ask yourself, what would my mother think if this decision I'm about to make finds itself on the front pages of newspapers or on the six o'clock news?

    The sector can do without any more negative stories.

  • Be accountable and transparent.

    Poor bookkeeping is no excuse.

    Yearly, if not monthly, budget reviews are a must, not a luxury! And dual sign-offs on invoices is a wise internal financial control policy.

  • Don't be afraid to blow the whistle.

    If you know of someone in your organization—or any other nonprofit, for that matter—who is doing the wrong thing, don't be afraid to blow the whistle.

    You'll be doing the entire sector—including the hundreds of thousands of nonprofits doing all the right things, the millions of honorable people who work for them, and those whom they serve—a big, big favor.

This is the sector in our economy that I've been most proud to serve for nearly four decades. Let's not let a handful of bad apples take that pride from us.

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2013. Reprinted from Branding Bytes, issue 32, fall 2013. Reprinted with permission.

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding and leadership. His books, Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization and Aha! Moments in Brand Management: Commonsense Insights to a Stronger, Healthier Brand, have sold thousands of copies both here and abroad.

Join us for the first ever Impact Call: Expanding the definition of transparency

GuideStar led the first revolution in nonprofit transparency by posting IRS Forms 990 online nearly two decades ago. That resulted in greater accountability in nonprofit practice and greater transparency in compensation, program effectiveness, and giving across the sector.

Nonprofit Interns: IRS Regulations and Liability


It seems unclear for nonprofits who can have volunteer workers what the proper use of interns should be per IRS regulations. Specifically, we’re concerned with liability. What are the differences in terms of liability between volunteers and interns? Is one set preferable over the other?

How to Build Email Trust with Supporters

This fresh approach to creating the most effective email campaigns possible is a priceless reminder built on famed psychologist Abe Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Although created for for-profit marketers, is equally relevant for us cause communicators and fundraisers.

Data quality in the GuideStar Exchange


GuideStar Exchange logos

Recommended Reading from Jacob Harold

About once a week, GuideStar’s President and CEO Jacob Harold writes a note to staff that tackles a variety of topics, most notably updates on the organization’s mission, vision, strategy, and results; insight into analytics, tensions, and trends across the nonprofit sector and philanthropy; and articles and think pieces that impact our world and our work.

Filling the Gap When You Have a Vacant Leadership Position: Webinar Follow-up

Q: What steps should staff and interim leadership take to maintain trust and assurance of existing and potential partners, especially if an “outsider” fills in ED position, whether temporarily or permanently?

A: We recommend being as honest and transparent as possible with your key donors and prospects. Informing these constituents of the changes in a timely fashion is crucial to a smooth transition and your ability to maintain strong relationships. Inform them that your organization has a solid foundation and a solution in place.

We also recommend using leadership changes as an opportunity to meet with your prospects. Help them feel confident about your organization during the transition by talking about the great things that your organization is accomplishing, despite leadership changes.

Q: Fundraising is all about relationships – what is it you DO as a temporary CDO?

A: There is no standard formula for a temporary CDO role. Each organization we work with brings different priorities for the short and long term.

Fundamentally, an interim CDO might take on all of the fundraising management and leave the relationship development and solicitations to other staff. An interim CDO might also work on both the management of the office and relationship development simultaneously. In this case, an interim CDO typically works closely with other leadership to help maintain consistency in relationships (i.e., program staff, the Executive Director, board members, etc.). It is important for donors to have a continued relationship with the organization, but to also maintain contact through a transition.

Q: Who should be involved in creating a succession plan? Board, all executives, etc?

A: The board is a key partner creating the strategy for a succession plan. It is equally important that executive/senior staff is a part of the process to ensure continuity of mission and vision. A smart nonprofit will go the extra mile and involve the opinions of other relevant staff members (e.g., fundraising staff for CDO succession planning) whom are directly affected by the succession plans.

Q: Is it common for organizations to have a succession plan for a CDO? I have only heard of a plan for a CEO departure.

A: As fundraising is becoming an increasingly vital arm of all nonprofits, we recommend you develop a succession plan for your top fundraising position. Given the turnover rates the sector is seeing, having a plan in place will ensure that you can maintain fluidity in your fundraising leadership when transition needs arise. Often organizations will have the next fundraiser in line as the de facto successor (e.g., Director of Major Gifts, Senior Corporate Officer, etc.). Like the succession planning for a CEO, you should consult with various teams in your organization to plan for this. The Development Committee, should you have one, is the natural leader for a succession plan strategy.

Q: Are there any statistics on how often organizations use interim executive directors, and is there a typical position within the organization that takes that role?

A: This a great question - it forced us to search for an answer! The truth is we couldn’t find statistics to answer this accurately. However, given the scores of agencies and independent contractors providing this service, it is safe to say nonprofits are utilizing interim executive directors regularly, especially in times of unexpected turnover. What we did find was that a typical tenure for an interim executive director was four to eight months, during which they worked on average 24-30 hours per week*. These statistics show that outsourced model is being used by some organizations instead of temporary on-staff replacement. Some organizations will fill the gap with a rising leader (CDO, COO) or even a board member.

* SOURCE: Interim Executive Directors: The Power in the Middle, a report produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund

Q: There is a large discrepancy between the vacancy of a CEO and CDO, any idea why that is?

A: There seems to be higher turnover in CDOs when compared to CEOs because there are so many fundraising jobs available and often CDOs move from job to job to take on bigger campaigns and initiatives at new organizations. Also, new nonprofit CEOs do not always come from within the sector. Some transition from for-profit to nonprofit or from government to nonprofit, which increases the pool of candidates for strong CEOs. CDOs, on the other hand, almost always come from within the nonprofit sector, with a few exceptions for those who transition from marketing or sales into fundraising.

Q: When talking about succession plans, is that something that is done internally or one that you recommend an organization seeking outside assistance in putting a plan into place?

A: We think both options have value.

When you create a succession plan internally, the parties involved know the organization and what the organization needs in a leader. They also know the culture and quirks.

When you create a succession plan externally, often you will find that the neutral parties involved often surface the best strategies for moving forward because they can integrate feedback from all parties involved as compared against best practices from the industry.

The preceding is a follow-up by Steve Orr and Emma Kieran of OAI to a handful of questions submitted by participants during the December 11, 2013, webinar, “Filling the Gap When You Have a Vacant Leadership Position," and a cross-post of our Tumblr post here. To view the presentation or listen to the recording of the webinar, please click here.

This ONE Thing Will Transform Your Marketing and Fundraising in 2014

The opportunity you have right now is SO big, that it's a bit overwhelming. ... You have a blank canvas of a year in front of you, and the marketing and fundraising actions you take right now will have a huge impact on 2014 results.

New Options for Automatically Revoked Organizations to Apply for Reinstatement

Reprinted from EO Update

State Registration Requirements for Fundraising

The following discussion is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice. For advice on how state fundraising registration requirements apply to your organization, consult your attorney.

Question: Fundraising in all 50 states via (1) the Internet and (2) mailed solicitations. What do we need to know? Do we need solicitation permits in each state? What are the current laws regarding this type of fundraising?

The 2013 GuideStar Newsletter Top 10

Bob Ottenhoff, GuideStar's CEO emeritus, used to say that publishing a GuideStar Newsletter article on fundraising or compensation was the equivalent of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. We knew those topics would grab subscribers' attention.

How to Create New 6-Figure Streams of Income for your Organization

New Trends for the New Year in Charitable Giving

Whether you are a large or small nonprofit organization, you may not realize this but you live on a Big Lake with Big Fish in it! Put away the tin cup, and let’s go fishing … where everybody wins!

A New Year Challenge: Create an Organization-Wide Calendar

The start of the New Year is always filled with potential. We suddenly have a fresh slate and can start “life” off right – whether that is related to personal goals, family life, fitness levels, or work.

New Year, New Strategy: Activating Donors in 2014

The number of donors engaging with nonprofits has been declining over the past two years. In 2012, every 100 donors gained resulted in 107 lost, and the numbers were similar in 2011. As the donor population ages, nonprofit organizations must rethink fundraising strategies to reach donors of every generation. After all, it’s a new year - the very best time to start fresh.

Marketing Tips for a Nonprofit Organization

Advice From Funders: Interview with Gina Nocera, Executive Director of the Jared Polis Foundation

The following is a transcript of an interview with Gina Nocera, executive director of the Jared Polis Foundation. The interview was conducted by Amanda Johnston, principal consultant at Amanda Johnston Consulting.