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

Membership Management Software vs. Association Management Software

You’re searching for software for your organization, but two different types of software keep coming up—Membership Management Software and Association Management Software (or AMS). They seem to be similar, but why do they have different names? What are the differences?

Tools for Building a Strong Volunteer Program

VolunteerMatch is the web’s largest volunteer engagement network and has facilitated over 7.5 million connections between nonprofit organizations and interested volunteers since its founding. As part of the Community Support team at VolunteerMatch, I work with nonprofits like yours as you develop and improve your volunteer engagement programs. I love seeing volunteers all over the country reach out to connect with the causes they care most about.

You may have already heard that thanks to a new partnership between GuideStar and VolunteerMatch, GuideStar Exchange Gold or Silver level participants can now access VolunteerMatch’s premium recruiting tools at no cost. (To learn more about this and about using VolunteerMatch tools, we’ll be doing a free webinar on March 18 to help you make the most of your VolunteerMatch account!)

Taking your Volunteer Program Further

Of course, engaging volunteers isn’t as simple as posting your open volunteer opportunities online. Getting volunteers in the door is a great start, but it doesn’t end there.

How do you make sure a volunteer is the right fit for your organization? What’s the best way to provide training? How do you make sure the volunteer’s work is meaningful to them and furthers your mission? Is your volunteer program strategically positioned for future growth and success? How do you use social media to engage volunteers? What do you do when members of your paid staff resist the idea of working with volunteers?

VolunteerMatch is here to help with topics like these, with a full calendar of free 1-hour webinars designed to help nonprofit professionals successfully engage volunteers. The VolunteerMatch Learning Center also comes equipped with a variety of resources and tools to help with your volunteer program.

Staying Informed

The world of volunteer engagement is constantly evolving as organizations find new ways to leverage volunteer talent, connect with passionate individuals, use technology, and collaborate. The VolunteerMatch blog Engaging Volunteers, offers tips, news, best practices and stories about volunteering as a major focus in the nonprofit sector. Topics range from tough ethical dilemmas to creating a volunteer program budget to how college students are helping the homeless.

You can also connect with other organizations to share stories and tips through our active communities on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Engaging volunteers and using new technologies come with challenges. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for you to connect with the volunteers you need and build a strong volunteer program. So check out the resources at VolunteerMatch today!

What are your favorite nonprofit volunteer engagement tools and resources?

Shannon David

Are you already a GuideStar Exchange participant? Don’t miss out on the VolunteerMatch benefits for Silver and Gold participants. Learn more about putting them into action here.

The preceding is a guest post by Shannon David. Shannon joined VolunteerMatch in 2013 as the Senior Associate, Community Support, to support nonprofits in volunteer engagement and to help volunteers connect with causes they care about. She’s a long-time volunteer with 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing center for kids in San Francisco, where she currently co-teaches a journalism workshop for ages 8-11. Connect with Shannon on Twitter.

5 keys to an effective online fundraising campaign

Joe Magee


Image source: Juvenile Justice Blog

Our first Impact Call: We want your feedback

On Monday, February 24, at 2 pm ET, we are holding the first ever Impact Call. If you haven't registered yet, we hope you that you do:

What Do You Think?

Before, during, or after the call we'd love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below to ask questions that you want answered during the call, or to let us know what you think about the idea or our call itself, or for anything else you want to say.

We look forward to connecting with you soon!


Five Perennial Nonprofit Management Issues

Excerpted from the Stanford Social Innovation Review

Questions I'm Most Often Asked about Cultivating Donors

For years I've taught fundraising. I've presented scores of fundraising seminars and workshops and taught a class on the subject at Harvard. My students have included both beginners and people who have been in the field for several years. I've been asked many of the same questions over my career. The ones I answer below are also explored more thoroughly in my book, How to Connect with Donors and Double the Money You Raise.

There's an individual we'd love to involve, but no one on the staff or board has an entrée to her. How would you suggest we start the process of cultivation?

When I was in college, I was extremely attracted to a girl I didn't know. So I sought out those who knew her and asked them to put us together in situations that would be fun for her and show me in a flattering light. It seems to have worked. I've been married to that woman for 46 years now. Finding people to match me up with prospective donors is a never-ending goal of mine.

What would you say is the single most effective cultivation activity many overlook?

People ask me this all the time and it drives me batty. One size doesn't fit all. The most effective cultivation techniques for one prospect aren't the same for another. There's no magic bullet or formula that works with everyone. As those with any experience know, fundraising is all about the personal, and shaping relationships on the basis of what makes people unique. So, if pressed, I'd say the single most important cultivation activity—some overlook it, some don't—is searching for those unique qualities and predilections.

We're all familiar with the conventional ways of cultivating donors, such as sending birthday cards, relevant news clippings, and event invitations. Share some of the more unconventional ones you've used or heard of others using.

Recently, I received a card from England from someone whose organization I support. More than two years before we'd been talking about the English pre-Raphaelite William Morris, a man whose work I've always admired. In our conversation, I mentioned Morris's beautiful home in the rural town of Kelmscott and said it was worth a visit. The card I received after such a long interval of time read as follows: "Dear Tom. Just visited Kelmscott. Wow! You made my day, month, and year. Thanks." This is the kind of personal messaging that means so much more to me as a donor than a birthday card that I know was prompted by someone's electronic calendar.

What are some of the differences between cultivating younger donors and older donors?

One of the things I notice about my own giving and that of my son is that he and his wife spend a lot more time at charity events with friends. They seem to enjoy the social aspects of their philanthropy that frankly my wife and I now try to avoid. There's also the difference in technology. I don't think my son ever responds to a request—even a personal one—that comes via the U.S. Postal Service. Come to think of it, I doubt whether he receives many. Yet for me, the computer isn't philanthropy friendly and I do look at and respond to snail mail.

What are some specific ways to measure the effectiveness of a cultivation program?

While many things have changed in the world of philanthropy, some have not. Effectiveness is all about looking at the numbers. How many people were solicited? How many responded? What was the average contribution? What was the mean? How does it compare with last year? I also like to use a control group. That is, I divide my prospects into two groups that are matched as closely as possible. One group receives a new cultivation approach, the other doesn't. Assuming that the new cultivation techniques bring in more money, is the difference sufficient to justify the effort and cost?

How many cultivating activities would you recommend in a given year?

I used to believe in the old adage "the more often you connect and the more often you ask, the more you will receive." But I was once stung by the words of a donor who said, "If you don't leave me alone, I'm going to stop giving to you." As a donor myself, I understand the irritation. On the other hand, while I may not like to be asked for money more than once a year, I do enjoy being contacted more often if there's something of genuine interest. When an organization is in touch with me and they're not asking for money, they're often laying important groundwork for the "ask" that'll come later.

What's a sure sign we're overdoing cultivation?

I had a board member who used to joke, "I love this organization, but when my friends see me coming down the street, they cross to the other side." I knew what she meant (she had the nickname "The Jackhammer"). My general rule of thumb is that on an annual basis you'll only get one ask for general support and a second for a fundraising event. Cultivation needs to be geared to this schedule. Of course, special asks will come up from time to time—think capital campaign—and they're in addition to the regular flow. But the trick in your cultivation is to be sure it's clear these special asks don't cannibalize the regular flow of funds.

What is the most glaring misunderstanding executive directors and development officers have about donor cultivation?

That effective cultivation always means trying to be friends with your donors. That can happen, but it's neither the goal nor the most frequent outcome. Cultivation is about building strong relationships … and there are all kinds. Over the years, some of my donors have been like mentors and teachers, and I've treated them respectfully in that way. Others have been people who needed something from me that I could provide, but they had no interest in being close.

The single most important thing readers can take away from How to Connect with Donors and Double the Money You Raise is ...?

How simple it is to be a good fundraiser. Yes, there are technicalities that can be mastered—especially in areas like capital campaigns and planned giving. But for the most part, it's about relationship building, and most of us know how to do that, whether or not we've ever asked for a dime. It pleases me so much when I see people who never thought they could raise money turn out to be masters of the art because they realize that being genuine and being themselves is the most important aspect of the process.

© 2014, Emerson & Church Publishers

Dr. Thomas Wolf's career encompasses the fields of philanthropy, nonprofit management, education, and the arts. After serving as the founding director of the New England Foundation for the Arts for seven years, he established a consulting firm in 1983 (now called WolfBrown) to assist nonprofit organizations and the philanthropic sector.


Informing Regulators When You Alter Your Mission

The following discussion is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice. For advice on how notices related to changes in mission apply to your organization, consult your attorney.

Question: If we alter our mission a bit, what steps do we need to take to update the relevant agencies (e.g., state agencies, IRS, etc.)?

A change to a nonprofit organization's mission likely will require notice to the organization's state of incorporation and the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS").

Most nonprofit organizations are incorporated as nonprofit corporations in a particular state. The document filed with the state in order to obtain corporate status generally is called the articles of incorporation or certificate of incorporation (depending on the nomenclature used in the particular state's law). An organization's mission is very often set forth in its articles of incorporation, and perhaps in its bylaws as well. As the organization's articles of incorporation is a document that is on file with the state, any amendment (even a very minor one) to any portion of the document also needs to be filed with the state. Note that most states set forth certain minimum approval thresholds and processes that organizations must meet in order to formally approve amendments to articles of incorporation.

Once amendments are approved, an articles of amendment (following the form required by the state) should be submitted to the applicable state office. State officials are known to scrutinize closely these filings and will reject them if there is not technical compliance with all legal requirements; as such, it is often advisable that counsel be consulted before undergoing the amendment process.

If the organization's mission statement also is contained in its bylaws, it also will need to amend that document so that it is consistent with the articles of incorporation. An organization's bylaws is generally viewed as an internal set of regulations; revisions to this document generally do not need to be reported to the organization's state of incorporation.

Further, if an organization changes its mission statement, particularly if that change entails amending the articles of incorporation or bylaws, the organization will need to report that change to the Internal Revenue Service as part of its annual Form 990 filing. Specifically, Part VI, Line 4, of the Form asks whether an organization has made any significant changes to its organizing or enabling document or bylaws and, if so, to report that change as part of its Form 990 filing. In the instructions to the Form 990 on this question, it lists examples of changes which should be viewed as "significant." One of the examples is "changes to the organization's exempt purposes or mission."

It should be noted that smaller organizations—those that are only required to submit the Form 990-N postcard filing with the IRS—are not obligated to notify the IRS of amendments to their articles of incorporation or bylaws.

George E. Constantine, Esq., Venable LLP
© 2014, Venable LLP

George Constantine is a partner at Venable LLP in Washington, D.C. He co-chairs Venable's Regulatory Practice Group.


6 Questions to Ask to Get That Corporate Sponsorship

Here are 6 questions you need to ask to help get that corporate sponsorship.

Why Should Nonprofits Take Advantage of the Mobile Web?

Businesses of all types have recognized mobile marketing as a vital element for future success, and as a result are creating entire campaigns within the mobile realm. Nonprofits can look at these strategies and draw parallels to their own marketing, recognizing areas in which they can update and improve. Here’s a look at some statistics and tactics you should pay attention to and use to take full advantage of what mobile marketing has to offer.

Developing Loyal Brand Ambassadors

A recent Wall Street Journal article (Feb. 12, The Boss’s Next Demand: Make Lots of Friends by Rachel Feintzeig) spotlights how several major corporations are looking for “influencers” within their companies — those who have robust networks and clout with their peers — to assist management with getting employees on board with major changes, such as a merger, and helping to disseminate other important information company-wide.

5 Nonprofits Share Their #NonprofitLuv

Happy Valentine’s Day, readers! Each February, GuideStar asks people to share photos or images that showcase their favorite nonprofits on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr using the hashtag #nonprofitluv. We then use our Storify #NONPROFITLUV page to collect and showcase these photos, videos, and more. As always, your support has been fantastic!

Nonprofits and HIPAA Violations: An Overview


Share Compelling Models to Build Marketing Buy-In

Have marketing naysayers among your colleagues or leadership? Honestly, they’re there in every organization I know!

Engaging the New "Giving Generation"

image via

4 of the Biggest Challenges Facing Nonprofits This Year

With political squabbling on Capital Hill and a wildly fluctuating consumer confidence, 2014 brings some new challenges to nonprofit leaders. Recent legislature passed by Congress and more in talks may make it difficult to gain donor support, and smart nonprofit leaders need to stay on top of these changes.

The "Gillette Miracle"—How a Hospital Foundation Increased Giving to Its Newsletter by 1,000 Percent

Excerpted from Making Money with Donor Newsletters

I gave a workshop on newsletters.

People from Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, Minnesota, attended. Their donor newsletter, mailed quarterly to 20,000 people at that point, racked up an annual net loss of $40,000. Was there a better way, they wondered?

Something amazing happened post-workshop: giving to Gillette's newsletter increased 1,000 percent (not a misprint), after a few changes.

Five Tips for Planning Your Next Fundraising Event

As 2014 is gearing up in full swing, you're probably planning out your events calendar for the year. At Eventbrite, I work with a lot of nonprofits, universities, and faith-based organizations to share best practices for fundraising and trends we're seeing in the industry. Here are five tips to help with the planning process of your next fundraiser:

  1. Choose a theme that will resonate with your audience. People love attending events that benefit a great cause and are fun or interesting to attend. Take some time to think about your audience and brainstorm creative event ideas that resonate. If your audience is predominantly young professionals, consider a wine tasting or date auction. If you're working with corporations, consider tickets to a sporting event or even a game night. Folks in the tech community might enjoy attending a hackathon for a good cause. Creative fundraising ideas don't necessarily need to be expensive to engage your audience and get people excited about attending.
  2. Create a calendar. Begin to think about all of the promotional channels you will use to promote your event. Create a calendar that lists all of these activities in one place. Include the marketing channel, owner, additional stakeholders, and the date. I like to use a Google calendar or spreadsheet because you can easily share it publicly with your team and hold everyone accountable. Then, go back and look for holes in your promotional calendar. Are you utilizing e-mail, social media, and partners to their full capacity?
  3. Incentivize early ticket purchasing. Fundraising tickets typically go on sale four to six weeks prior to the event. Most organizers, however, find that the majority of registrations occur in the last week leading up to the event. Incentivizing your attendees to register early can help to combat this ticketing life cycle and help you plan ahead of time for an accurate head count. Create an early bird ticket price or a flash sale with a special gift for early registrants. Consider a book giveaway, free drink ticket at the event, or even a complimentary T-shirt to help boost those sales.
  4. Build an informative event page. One of the swiftest ways to help your attendees determine whether they can attend your event is to inform them. By answering the basic who, what, where, when, and why on your event page, attendees will have all of the information they need to make a decision on ticket purchase. For example, if you're throwing a gala, include information on parking and dress code. If you're holding a cocktail hour with a speaker panel, include the photos, bios, and even videos of the speakers to get people excited. Finally, answering the "why" on attending is extremely important. If you're able to share how an attendee's ticket purchase will directly affect your organization, interested attendees are much more likely to decide to attend. Focus on quantifying the impact from your goal of fundraising for your organization.
  5. Track, track, track. Let's go back to the promotional calendar for a moment. Be sure to create a tracking link for each one of your activities. Creating these unique links will enable you to monitor and understand which activities led to visits and conversions on your event page. A registration platform like Eventbrite or even Google Analytics will enable you to create these links in minutes. Then you will know for your next event where to pivot and where to double down. We see that 64 percent of fundraiser organizers who met their sales goals log in daily to view ticket sales and analytics—so make sure to do the same!

Laura Huddle, Eventbrite
© 2014, Eventbrite

Laura Huddle is a senior category manager at Eventbrite, the leading self-service, online ticketing platform. GuideStar Exchange Bronze, Silver, and Gold participants receive deep discounts on Eventbrite service fees.

Protecting Yourself on Facebook

New Year, New Tools: Increasing Usage of Your Organization-Wide Calendar

With the second month of the new year already upon us, it’s time to go back and reflect on those New Year’s resolutions we seemingly just made. Some resolutions are already long gone; while others remain, if only as unfulfilled reminders by the nagging voice in the back of our head. Although many of my personal resolutions haven’t been fulfilled, I am keeping on track with my GuideStar resolution: to create and use an organization-wide calendar.

5 Key Fundraising Trends from 2013

Each year Blackbaud reports on charitable giving trends based on data from The Blackbaud Index, which has measured giving on a monthly basis for nearly four years. This year our charitable giving analysis measures actual data from more than 4,000 nonprofit organizations representing more than $12.5 billion in total fundraising in 2013.

Key Questions to Ask When Forming Your Own Grants Review Committee

Why create a grants review committee for your organization?

All too often, one person at a nonprofit is tasked with conducting prospect research, building relationships with grant makers, and writing and submitting the grant proposals. When those proposals come back declined, it’s easy to point fingers, place blame and walk away from the experience without really learning anything.