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Become a better storyteller at the FREE Weekend in Boca VII

Please join me on May 2 and 3, 2014, as nonprofits from across the country gather in Boca Raton, Florida, to network, share resources, and learn from the best in the sector at the seventh annual Office Depot Foundation Weekend in Boca Civil Society Leadership Symposium.

This year’s theme is “Innovation and Collaboration – Telling Your Story through Performance, Impact and Inspiration,” and it’s sure to be jam-packed with incredible information. As nonprofits, we inherently are story-tellers, but some of us are better than others – and even the best of us can improve! This year’s Weekend in Boca will teach you how to tell your stories concisely and effectively by focusing on:

  • Performance – communicating your success in accomplishing your goals.
  • Impact – communicating the difference that you are able to make over the long haul.
  • Inspiration – engaging the community in supporting your mission through donations, volunteerism, opportunities to collaborate and other ways both tangible and intangible.

They have an all-star line-up of speakers, among which I am honored to be:

  • Carol Cone, Global Practice Chair for Business and Social Purpose for Edelman
  • Melissa Bradley, Founder and Managing Director, New Capitalist
  • Richard Crespin, CEO, Crespin Enterprises, and Senior Fellow, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Business Civic Leadership Center
  • Lindsay Nichols, Marketing & Communications Director, GuideStar USA
  • Stacy Palmer, Editor, Chronicle of Philanthropy
  • Diane Remin, President,

Tickets are FREE, so register today:

I went last year and I can tell you that I have rarely felt so invigorated after a professional development/networking event. The speakers are engaging and have hands-on tips that you can start using that very minute, the energy is high, there is plenty of time for networking—and there is an unbelievable amount of swag that attendees take home! Best of all, you realize you aren’t alone. All of us in the nonprofit sector are working towards a greater good, but we’re sometimes in our own little worlds so much that we forget that. All in all, I remember thinking how lucky I was to be in the audience, and I know you will too. Don’t miss this incredible event!

For those of you that are going, please let me know! I’d love to meet up with you. In addition to taking the stage for a short while, I’ll be live Tweeting—from both GuideStar’s and my own Twitter handles— @GuideStarUSA and @lindsaynichols—using the symposium hashtag: #ODFWIB.

I hope to see you there!

What do you want me to speak about at Weekend in Boca VII? Let me know in the comments below!

Lindsay J.K. Nichols

Lindsay J.K. Nichols is GuideStar’s director of marketing and communications and national spokesperson. Every day she builds on GuideStar’s strong brand position and reputation to sustain awareness of its mission through dynamic and long-lasting relationships with key audiences and influencers. Before GuideStar, Lindsay worked at worldwide public relations firms including Ogilvy PR, Metropolitan Group, Manning Selvage & Lee, and Levick Strategic Communications. Lindsay earned a bachelor’s degree in Broadcasting Communications and Women’s Studies from the State University of New York at Oswego. She is a founding board member of Social Media for Nonprofits and a volunteer of Safe Shores, the DC Children’s Advocacy Center. You can reach Lindsay at

This blog post is being written on a mobile device

This blog post is being written on a mobile device.

For Women’s History Month, Philanthropedia Celebrates 6 Top Women’s Issues Nonprofits

Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health epidemic, and major barrier to solving global challenges such as extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS, and famine. According to the United Nations, up to seventy percent of women experience some form of violence in their lifetime. Although methods vary, violence against women has always been, and continues to be, a global epidemic that knows no national or cultural barriers. The most prevalent forms of violence are rape and domestic abuse. However, practices such as female infanticide, acid throwing, dowry deaths, bride burnings, and honor killings are still widely performed around the globe today.

While the physical effects of violence are devastating in their own right, the emotional and psychological toll is even more detrimental. But violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential.

Nonprofits Leading the Charge in Disaster Cleanup

According to, during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (also referred to as the BP oil spill), more than 200 million gallons of crude oil seeped into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days across 16,000 miles of coastline. The initial oilrig explosion killed 11 and injured 17 people. BP must pay upwards of $40 billion in fines and cleanup costs with another $16 billion under the Clean Water Act.

But in the midst of tragedy, more than 30,000 people rallied to help collect oil, clean up beaches, restore the community and assist sick animals. Who are the volunteers and organizations behind the scenes when environmental disaster strikes? Here's a look at some of the organizations working diligently to restore our communities in times of adversity.

The Red Cross

Founded by Clara Barton in 1881, the American Red Cross helps those in need in the U.S. and internationally through other Red Cross networks. The organization primarily focuses on people affected by disasters throughout the U.S., support for military and their families, blood collection, health and safety training and international relief. Their services expand to help those who suffer from anything from home fires to natural disasters, like Katrina, to environmental disasters.

FEMA photo by Andrea Booher via Wikimedia Commons

During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Red Cross collaborated with federal, state and local government agencies to get support to affected communities. Specifically, the Red Cross kept an eye on the hurricane season. The dangerous conditions in conjunction with the ongoing leak threatened people's homes and raised alarms for longer evacuation periods and an increase in supplies.

With an eye on educating the public, the Red Cross works to grow its donation base and develop partnerships with both nonprofits and corporations. Together, their partnerships focuses on everything from increasing blood donations to ensuring better disaster preparedness. The Red Cross works to empower business leaders in the community to help carry on the volunteer legacy. Their "Ready When the Time Comes" program helps corporations across the country and everywhere in between engage their employees to volunteer. The program has helped more than 13,000 employees get involved and prepare for relief efforts and disaster cleanup as soon as the next day.


The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) helps survivors of earthquakes, famine, tornadoes, floods and hurricanes around the world. With an eye on international conflict, they also helped communities in Rwanda and Bosnia rebuild their homes and provide training and education to combat hunger and poverty.

Photo by NWS WFO Norman, OK via Wikimedia Commons

The organization also aided the Japanese effected by the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima oil spill, in part, by supporting Horikawa Aiseien Children’s Home. The home suffered structural damage from the earthquake and the radiation in the area's atmosphere is still rating high since the nuclear disaster. UMCOR helped upgrade the children's home to provide safer conditions. Because the home also helps protect abused children, who are more likely to suffer when living long-term in emergency shelters, they also help rebuild their trust in adults and provide psychological care.

Photo by Michael Osborne via WIkimedia Commons

UMCOR empowers communities to mobilize and respond through a variety of classes and events. The organization helps mobilize and train volunteers across churches, conferences and neighborhoods to respond to disasters. With global health in mind, UMCOR also focuses on strategic responses to issues such as malaria and helping build self-governing health boards in various African countries. UMCOR's growth continues to flourish as they partner with both small organizations and large like the United Nations Foundation.


In 1975, a U.S. jet with 243 Vietnamese orphans crashed into a jungle near Tan Son Nhut with children burning to death and survivors in critical condition. When the U.S. Pentagon said it would not be able to deploy rescue resources for at least 10 days, paper broker Robert C. Macaluey chartered a Boeing 747 and brought the children back to California for treatment within 48 hours. After another high-profile rescue mission in Poland, AmeriCares was formed and has since sent more than $11 billion in aid to 164 countries since 1982.

That philanthropic spirit continues with AmeriCares donating time, money, resources and supplies to victims of typhoons, earthquakes, cyclones, floods, civil conflict and environmental disasters both big and small. In January 2014, a chemical spill sent Charleston, West Virginia and surrounding areas into a water crisis after a chemical leak contaminated local water supplies. More than 300,000 residents were left with no clean water for cooking or bathing, shelters were stretched to capacity and hygiene was compromised. With families in mind, AmeriCares sent Family Emergency Kits to West Virginians suffering from the chemical spill. Kits contained personal hygiene products for a family of four ranging from soap to toothpaste.

Photo by AmeriCaresWebTeam via Wikimedia Commons

To date, AmeriCares partners with more than 200 pharmaceutical and related manufacturers that donate products to help fill upwards of 15 million prescriptions. Unlike many non-profits, AmeriCare is 100 percent privately funded through 250 corporate partners and 100,000 donors to raise upwards of $500 million. The organization looks toward an entrepreneurial ethos with a rooted understanding in health environments to strengthen partnerships.

Leadership to Community

What these organizations all have in common is their focus on passing on leadership skills to the community and empowering others to help their neighbor. One organization alone can't clean up an entire environmental disaster, but giving the community tools and training can create a lifelong legacy of aid and forward progress.

The preceding is a guest post by Susan Finch, a freelance writer with a passion for

Susan Finch

travel deals, arts and great food. She is an eclectic writer with more than 10 years of experience contributing to guidebooks, magazines, iPhone apps, online publications and more. She can be found at

Challenges and Benefits of Nonprofit Event Fundraising

Spring is here and so is the event fundraising season! Events that raise money for causes and nonprofits can take many forms from 5k runs and walk-a-thons to endurance bike rides. In recent years, nonprofits have expanded these activities to include mud runs, polar plunges, even head-shaving! But just like any large undertaking, planning a fundraising event has its benefits and challenges. They can bring in a lot of revenue for the organization, but can also put tremendous strain on a nonprofit’s resources. The operations and logistics can test your organization’s limits; however, the reward can certainly outweigh the risk if executed correctly.

Nonprofit Career Myths: 8 that Nobody Should Believe

Emily Green

Identify, Engage, Solicit, Steward, Repeat

While annual giving seems simple – identify, engage, solicit, steward, repeat – anyone who has worked in annual giving knows that it is anything but simple. Where and how do you find new prospects? How do you create a case for support that resonates and raises money for much-needed general operating support? How much should you ask for? How do donors want to be thanked and recognized?

Questions I'm Most Often Asked about Boards and Fundraising

Boards and fundraising. It's a hot-button issue for almost everyone—from monolithic hospitals to closet-sized food pantries. In my years of consulting I've fielded hundreds if not thousands of questions on the subject. Here, I offer answers to the six questions I'm asked most often.

High-Speed Trends in Philanthropy: An Oxymoron

For many decades if you were referring to a "trend" in philanthropy, you were embracing the definition of trend in its totality, which is a general direction in which something is developing or changing.

In this new world that is driven by the interchange of thoughts and opinions flying back and forth across the globe, philanthropy has taken on a new guise.

Let's explore one of these trends that I find particularly exciting.

"Giving while living" is the new mantra for many family funds. The trend is simply to spend down the corpus of a family fund within a set period of time. The debate continues between the idea of giving in perpetuity and the instant gratification that comes with giving it all away in the near future. This discussion, which can become quite heated, has been going on for decades, but it seems to have accelerated in the past several years as more family funds are inherited by a generation of individuals wanting to see quick returns on their investment.

Accompanying this new trend is the increased willingness for the grantmaker to take risks in order to achieve a specific vision. Because there is limited time to achieve their goals, these grantmakers are investing in advocacy as well as untested ventures. That allows the grantseeker the opportunity to propose projects and approaches that would not typically be funded.

What Does All of This Mean for the Grantseeker?

First, collaboration is the key to unlocking these funds. Limited life foundations clearly recognize the need to partner early and often to meet their goals—and to encourage their grantees to do the same.

Second, when submitting applications to funds that have defined life spans, it is important to include a sustainability plan. You need to recognize openly that there is going to be limited support from a particular grantmaker, and that you have a plan to carry on your work beyond that funder's involvement. Sustainability is a topic unto itself, but it is imperative to both your organization’s success and your own peace of mind.

And third, I would suggest that groups establish endowment funds now in order to be ready to accept large gifts. Those who are ready are most likely to inherit the larger amounts of money that may be spent down in the last year of a fund's life.

So, let me sum this up by noting that by the year 2020, philanthropy, not only in the United States but throughout the world, will wear a new face. I feel confident that these changes will open an expanded door of opportunity in the area of grantseeking for nonprofit organizations. A global sensibility combined with an array of innovative technologies will birth a new way, and perhaps a new wave, of giving.

Cynthia M. Adams, GrantStation
© 2014, GrantStation

Cindy Adams is CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online fundraising resource that provides information on more than 6,500 funders accepting inquiries. You can learn more about trends in philanthropy in her weekly podcast: Talk2020, part of GrantStation's Vision2020 series to help nonprofits prepare for future grantmaking.

Increasing Donations for Charities Has Never Been Easier

In recent times, technology has completely revolutionized the way nonprofits can raise money and engage with their supporters.

3 Tips to Help the College-to-Workplace Transition


Finding the transition from that easy-going college lifestyle to the strict, daily grind of the working world jarring? You aren’t alone.

How NOT To Waste Money on Branded Swag

You probably never thought twice about that pen you use that has your local bank’s name on it, but when you become the one ordering branded swag for your nonprofit, suddenly all you can think about are questions. Which branded swag is best? Should you order pens, or should you get T-shirts, car magnets or banners? All of the above? And when you order them, how do you stay within budget? Who designs these items? Is it you? If so, how do you know if you’re doing it right?

Key Findings for 2013 Charitable Giving Report

Steve MacLaughlin

The Affordable Care Act and Nonprofit Organizations: An Overview


What are the implications of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for nonprofit organizations? Are there any exceptions for employer-based insurance coverage for nonprofit organizations that struggle to provide for this financially?

Jargon & Gargoyles: How to Not Bore Your Donors to Death

Do you use non profit jargon when talking to your donors?

Comprehensive nonprofit data and information: There’s an API for that

I am thrilled to announce that GuideStar has a new suite of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces)! This means:

Time to Recommit to Your Privacy Policy

Privacy policy? Didn’t we all do that already, during the advent of our websites and email programs?

Performance Insights: If It Matters, It Can Be Measured

If you’re working to bring about big systems change, how will you know you’re getting anywhere? For organizations working to engage citizens in democratic life, can success really be measured? Is it worth the time and cost of trying to determine an organization’s impact when the work is structured around a series of issue campaigns?

Avoiding Legal Issues when Posting on Social Networks

With more than 400 million people communicating on Facebook every day, social networking sites offer endless entertainment as well as viable business opportunities. However, despite their many advantages, these online networks have instigated a multitude of legal issues.

Getting Started as a Fundraising Trainer

Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money

Stuck with Impossible Goals? Here's Help!

Reprinted from Fired-Up Fundraising

It happens all the time.

Smart nonprofit staffers come to me and share their secret: the goals they are assigned to accomplish are completely unrealistic.

They are in a situation where their operational and performance goals are more than anyone can possibly accomplish. Some of the goals they have been given are not even carefully vetted or thought out.

Extra tasks to do are simply dumped on staff without any priority or thought.

These staffers are in serious "overwhelm." Work is a drudge. And life is no fun either.

Have you ever been in this situation? It's not pretty.

I can't imagine anything more awful than being stuck with goals that are impossible to achieve.

A Happy Story of a Nonprofit That Got Organized

Here's a happy story of how smart planning is getting everyone on the same page, protecting the staff, and even sharpening up expectations of the board.

My friend Dan Bruer, CEO of the Frankie Lemmon School (for children with developmental disabilities, here in Raleigh, N.C.) and his board are the heroes of this story.

He and his board have just created an ambitious new strategic plan.

Now that the strategic plan is completed, he and the board are at it again—they're crafting a smart business plan to achieve the strategic goals.

I love this approach.

It's not often that the board is involved in helping to think though exactly HOW to implement the new goals.

The beauty of involving them is that they'll all be on the same page if there are any new investments in staff or programs. Yay!

"Having the board thinking through HOW we would reach these new goals is absolutely essential," Dan said.

"It never put the staff in the place of defending themselves or staff salaries to the board.

"Because it's the board members themselves who are helping us decide how much staffing we'll need to reach these new, aggressive goals."

Here's a blow by blow of what happened:

1.The board and leadership developed a lofty new strategic plan.

Then they handed it to the staff.

So far, so good.

Our CEO Dan started wondering—"How do I implement this with my current staff and funding strategies? Is this realistic?"

He knew that the school was not staffed up to do all this.


So what did he do?

2. Dan asked for more help from his board.

He went back to his board and said, "I need your business acumen. Help me develop a business model and smart staffing structure that will help us reach these wonderful goals."


3. Together they looked carefully at the staffing—what are they focusing on all day?

Now Dan and the board are working together to line up staff work responsibilities with the "strategic priorities" that the board had identified.

And everything will be tied right back to the overall strategic plan—its objectives and goals.

So every staffer's work will be based on one of the objectives of the new strategic plan.

And they are making sure that they are building in accountability—so all the staff will clearly know what to focus on and what they will be evaluated for. YES!

What's more—any new staff hired will be people to focus on the strategic priorities.


Now, here's where it gets interesting:

4. The board members decided what kind of board they needed in order to execute the strategic plan.

The board decided on a profile for new board members ... and they are focusing on philanthropy.

The new profile was clear: largest donors; broadest networks; committed to advancing the mission.

As Dan says, "We wanted to grow. So we decided to speak the truth about what our goal is for the board."

Because the plan was for a big expansion of programming and services, they knew it would take money. So they were all OK with saying "It IS about the money."

Now this really is a dream come true for many nonprofits.

5. The board members decided to hold themselves accountable.

So they created a board scorecard with only 5 points, that tracked the key activities they needed board members to do.

Dan says that the board members are now all over those items on the scorecard—and are making sure they are getting them done.

It's the old cliché for both board and staff—what gets reported—gets done!

Check, check, and check again!

What made all this work?

  1. First Dan had the guts to go to his board and ask for help.
  2. He had business folks on the board who could take an idea and help him make it into a hard plan.
  3. The board members were willing to hold themselves accountable.
  4. They took a firm business-like approach to the planning process—one that made everybody a winner!

Bottom Line

Your plan can protect you. If you are confronted with impossible tasks, pull out the plan and say:

"Here's our plan that we have all agreed upon. I can do this OR this but I can't do BOTH this and this. Can you please help me set my priorities?"

Good luck, and may the smart planning forces go with you!

Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE, Fired-Up Fundraising
© 2014, Fired-Up Fundraising. Reprinted with permission.

Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE, is an international fundraising consultant, trend spotter, speaker, trainer, and thought leader. Her Fired-Up Fundraising approach, developed over the past 25 years as a nonprofit philanthropy expert, has helped organizations raise hundreds of millions in gifts and support. She is the author of the Fired-Up Fundraising blog and newsletter. Her book, Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action, has been called the "gold standard guide to building successful fundraising boards."

Nonprofit Insurance Coverage: You Need More Than a Directors and Officers Policy

The following discussion is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice. For advice on the types of insurance your organization should carry, consult your attorney.

Question: How protected is our nonprofit's board if we have directors and officers liability insurance? How can we protect our organization?

Having appropriate insurance coverage—not just directors and officers liability insurance but all relevant insurance policies (such as property insurance, commercial general liability insurance, errors and omissions insurance, fiduciary liability insurance, and meeting cancellation insurance [in certain circumstances], among others)—is a critical risk-management tool for any nonprofit. Such policies help to protect both the organization and its staff and volunteer leaders against the risks that arise in the functioning of every nonprofit. These policies function collectively as a safety net in the event that other risk management practices fail, sometimes through no fault of the organization or its management.

Securing and maintaining good insurance coverage—coverage that is appropriately tailored to the organization's risks, provides limits of liability that are reasonable and affordable, that minimizes coverage gaps, and that contains other important features (and avoids the more problematic ones)—is a best practice in the nonprofit community. Importantly, insurance coverage can cover not only the ultimate judgment and settlement amounts, but also the very significant fees that can accompany any lawsuit, investigation, or similar legal process.

Beyond insurance coverage, individual nonprofit leaders—both staff and volunteers—can be protected personally through indemnification (often contained in the nonprofit's bylaws), state volunteer protection statutes (not always applicable to all types of nonprofits or to all volunteers), and the "corporate shield" of the nonprofit corporation itself.

Of course, if volunteer leaders—such as officers and directors—fail to fulfill their fiduciary duties of care, loyalty, and obedience to the corporation, then irrespective of all of the above, the nonprofit can hold them liable for any harm that befalls the organization as a result of their acts or omissions.

For more information on nonprofit insurance coverage issues, see:

Jeffrey S. Tenenbaum, Esq., Venable LLP
© 2014, Venable, LLP

Jeffrey Tenenbaum is a partner at Venable LLP and chairs the firm's Nonprofit Organizations Practice Group.


Fundraising Training Exercise: Where Do You Stand? Fundraising Continuums

Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money

When you consider the ubiquitous raffles, benefit events, cookie and candy sales, most of us have far more fundraising experience than we realize. Many people have sales backgrounds and ask for money every day. Others have prepared grant proposals or solicited corporate gifts. The purpose of this activity is to assess the fundraising skill level of your team and to reinforce the idea that your colleagues know more than they think. It's also a fun, physical activity that gets people moving.

Why Do This Exercise?
To uncover useful information about how best to engage members of your fundraising team

Use This Exercise When
You want to address board assumptions about fundraising, or during an early meeting of your development committee, campaign committee, or other fundraising group

Time Required
10 to 20 minutes, depending on the number of questions you ask

Anyone involved with your fundraising campaign: some combination of board, staff, and volunteers

A space with enough room for people to move around. If the weather's nice and you have a reasonably quiet location, this activity works well outdoors, too.

A bell, whistle, or other noisemaker is useful but not essential

Facilitating the Exercise

  1. Ask everyone to stand in one line shoulder to shoulder in random order, facing you.
  2. Explain that you'll be asking a series of questions such as "How many years of experience do you have in fundraising?" and "What's the biggest amount you've ever asked for?" According to the answers they give, participants will then position themselves along the line, those with the most experience standing at one end and those with the least experience at the other. Emphasize that to create the correct sequence they need to talk to each other as they move around: "I have three years of fundraising experience—who has less than that? Who has more?"
  3. Sample questions; choose the ones that seem most interesting and relevant.

    • How many years in total have you been doing any sort of fundraising? For your organization, other groups, your church or school, as a staff member or volunteer. (For instance, selling Girl Scout cookies counts.) How many total years?
    • What's the largest amount you've ever asked for face to face? You can include a charitable solicitation, a grant proposal—if you met with the funder in person—or raising money for a business. You can even include asking your parents, but you can't include your mortgage. Notice that the verb is "ask," not "get." What's your largest face-to-face ask?
    • How would you rate your comfort in asking? This end (point to one end of the line) equals deeply uncomfortable. At the other end (point in that direction), asking is no big deal. Where would you stand on the spectrum?
    • In a typical year, how many different nonprofits do you support financially?
    • How would you rate the amount of planning you do as a donor? At one end (point to one end of the line), you tend to give money spontaneously. At the other end (point), you tend to plan—maybe you even have an estate plan so organizations will benefit when you pass away. Where do you stand?
    • How many hours per month—realistically—do you have available to help with fundraising for our organization?
  4. Once you've asked a question and participants settle into their positions along the line, you may need to ring a bell or blow a whistle to get their attention and quiet the conversations. Go down the line, asking each person to name their number: number of years, largest ask, level of comfort. You can also call on people as you see fit to provide more detail. "Joe, you say the largest amount you've asked for is $1,000? What was the circumstance?"

    Look for opportunities to draw useful conclusions. For example, "There are 10 of us in the room, and we've got more than 100 years of experience among us. I bet we know more about fundraising than we realize." Or try this: "Looks like we have a wide range of available time; some of us can offer only a few hours per month. Maybe we should choose at least a few fundraising strategies that don't require a big time commitment."

  5. Once you've commented on responses to one question, ask another. Feel free even to make up your own, but note that this exercise doesn't work with yes-or-no questions. Your questions must allow individuals to rate themselves along a continuum.
  6. Ask everyone to return to their seats, then debrief the exercise by asking the following questions:

    • What did you learn about our group?
    • What did you learn about your experience and expertise in relation to the other members of the group?

Training Tip

Pay attention to everyone's body language. Depending on the number of questions you ask and how talkative people are, this exercise can easily run too long. If you see people starting to sag—leaning against walls, moving away from the line to take a seat, or just physically slumping—look for an opportunity to end the exercise promptly and have everyone return to their seats.

Read more training tips

Other Excerpts from This Book

Andrea Kihlsted and Andy Robinson
© 2014, Andrea Kihlsted and Andy Robinson. Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money: A Cookbook of Easy-to-Use Fundraising Exercises. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church Publishers.

Andrea Kihlstedt is author of How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps. She has served the nonprofit sector for more than 30 years as a fundraiser, trainer, consultant, teacher, writer, and speaker. She has trained nonprofit boards and staff throughout the United States on effective major gifts fundraising, capital campaigns, and how to ask for gifts. Kihlstedt is cofounder (with Gail Perry) of Capital Campaign Magic, providing online learning about capital campaign fundraising.

Andy Robinson provides training and consulting for nonprofits in fundraising, grantseeking, board development, marketing, earned income, planning, leadership development, and facilitation. Andy has worked with organizations in 47 U.S. states and Canada and is the author of six books. His latest include How to Raise $500 to $5000 from Almost Anyone, The Board Member’s Easier Than You Think Guide to Nonprofit Finances, and Great Boards for Small Groups.

A Common Reporting Framework for the Nonprofit Sector: Opportunities and Challenges

Reporting in the Nonprofit Sector

The first thing that comes into one’s mind when thinking about reporting in the nonprofit sector may be the thought that reporting is a task that is mainly carried out in order to meet funders’ criteria. However, reporting is more than that. Within and outside of an organization, reporting has different purposes and is aimed at different stakeholders. Therefore, reporting plays an important and complex role in the work of nonprofit organizations.

Building Trust Through Transparency

There is much debate about how to measure the effectiveness — or strength — of a nonprofit organization. Some argue that measures like percentage of “overhead” or CEO compensation tell you everything you need to know about an organization. Others, including both of us, argue that organizational effectiveness cannot be reduced to crude financial measures — that to truly understand organizational effectiveness, you need to understand what the organization is trying to accomplish, what its track record of success has been, and what its plan for future impact is.

Anne Wallestad

At the heart of this debate is the critical question of trust. Donors are asking, “Can I trust this nonprofit to do what it says it is going to do?” “Will it use my resources wisely and effectively?” “Is it stable and sustainable enough that an investment in it is an investment in the future?”

These questions are both emotional and rational, and get to the core of the delicate and essential trust between donors and organizations. And while there are lots of mechanisms to help donors and organizations build that trust, we often overlook the very important role of the board of directors.

Boards — by definition — exist to preserve and protect the public’s trust. They have both a legal and an ethical responsibility to ensure that there is meaningful oversight of their organization’s operations and finances. They guarantee that the chief executive is held accountable to an independent body of individuals who protect and serve the organization’s mission and — by doing so —safeguard the public’s trust in the organization.

All too often, though, basic information about nonprofit boards is hidden from view. Left with no way to tell which organizations are following clearly established governance best practices, the public is left in the dark and organizations are subject to speculation and skepticism.

Jacob Harold

That is about to change. In a move that we believe will create a seismic shift in the public’s understanding of governance and board leadership, BoardSource and GuideStar are launching a new tool to help organizations share information with the public about its highest level of leadership: its board of directors.

Beginning today, organizations will have an opportunity to share information about their board’s practices as a part of their profile on the GuideStar Exchange. It now includes questions about board orientation and education, CEO oversight, ethics, board composition, and board performance — key elements of strong oversight and accountability. Soon, as a part of the ongoing evolution of GuideStar’s website, this information will be visible to the public in a new section of the GuideStar profile focused on “People and Governance,” creating transparency around what has all too often been hidden from the public’s view.

We hope that organizations will embrace this opportunity to share more information about how their boards are leading their organizations in thoughtful, intentional ways and help build trust with their donors and the public at large. And for those organizations that have not yet embraced the essential governance practices that are highlighted in the profile, we hope that the questions will serve as a catalyst for self-reflection and change within their boardrooms.

Ultimately, we hope that boards begin to be seen for what they truly are: an essential mechanism to ensure that nonprofit organizations are worthy of the public’s trust. And for those boards that might be asleep at the wheel, we hope that this will be a wake-up call — and an opportunity to fulfill the promise of good governance.

The preceding is a co-authored article by Anne Wallestad, president & CEO, BoardSource, and Jacob Harold, president & CEO, GuideStar. This is cross-posted on the BoardSource blog, Exceptional Boards, here. BoardSource is the recognized leader in nonprofit board leadership and supports, trains, and educates 90,000 nonprofit board leaders from across the country each year. GuideStar is the go-to resource for individuals searching for reliable information about nonprofit organizations, with more than 6 million users in the last year.

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Microsoft Lync is an essential tool when working remotely

Why GuideStar is Not a Charity Watchdog


For many years, I have been speaking on behalf of GuideStar on the subject of charity watchdogs and the inherent problems with them as a gauge for “good” or “bad” charities. During this time, GuideStar has often been characterized as one ofthose watchdogs or ratings services. As an employee of GuideStar for the past 13 years, I am very familiar with its programs and am consistently baffled by this characterization. GuideStar has never assigned “star ratings” or told people which charity is good or bad. Nor do we advise people to give to one nonprofit over another—that’s not what we’re about.

Impact Call Webinar Follow-up

Below is a follow-up to a handful of questions submitted by participants during our first Impact Call on February 24, 2014. To read comments from participants, read our blog post here. To view the presentation or listen to the recording of the event, please click here.

Q: Is there a certain component or components preventing [GuideStar Exchange] Gold-level participation? To what do you attribute the significant difference between Gold-level participants and other levels?

A: The main different between GuideStar Exchange Gold-level participation and other levels is completion of the Charting Impact report. Here’s a breakdown of the GuideStar Exchange requirements and benefits here:

Due to the in-depth nature of these strategic questions, reaching Gold may take more time for nonprofits. That being said, Charting Impact remains a useful tool to help nonprofits think strategically about how they will achieve their goals, while creating a concise, detailed report that can be shared with key stakeholders, including the public. As such, nonprofits are taking that step to signify their impact and effectiveness transparency every day.

Find out the full requirements for all participation levels of the GuideStar Exchange here.

Q: What is the main benefit for organizations achieving [GuideStar Exchange] Gold-level status vs. silver or bronze?

A: In addition to signifying the highest level of transparency by providing basic, financial, impact, and effectiveness information, GuideStar Exchange Gold-level participation also unlocks several benefits exclusive to this level of participation: 1 free seat of GuideStar Premium – a $1,500 value – and completely waived Eventbrite Service fees. Of course, Gold-level participants also enjoy all of the benefits of lower participation levels as well. See above for the graphic of GuideStar Exchange requirements and benefits or find it here.

Q: If you are a [GuideStar Exchange] Gold-level participant, have you submitted all of the information necessary for Simplify?

A: Simplify will begin with core information that most grantmakers need from applications. Over time, it will likely expand to include additional information. Nonprofits that already have information in the GuideStar Exchange will not have to add it again. When Simplify expands to offer funders additional information, participating nonprofits will be invited to update their profiles.

So, nonprofits need only worry about making sure their GuideStar Exchange information is up-to-date.

Q: Is there a cost for nonprofits to maintain their profile on the GuideStar Exchange?

A: No! Participation in the GuideStar Exchange is completely and totally free.

­Q: With regard to the 990 and an organization’s financial profile, what actions does GuideStar do when a 990's content appears to be suggest questionable management practices?­

A: At GuideStar, our goal is to facilitate organizational transparency by providing the means for organizations to share information, such as IRS Forms 990. We equip donors and others to make informed decisions individually. Armed with information provided in Forms 990, as well as many other important organizational documents, we believe donors and the public are best suited to make appropriate decisions.

Many people think that we are a charity evaluator or a watchdog. We aren't. Instead, we are a 501(c)(3) public charity that collects, organizes, and presents the information you want in an easy-to-understand format while remaining neutral. Providing nonprofit information to a broad audience at no cost to those users is an important part of our public service, one that we pledge to continue.

Q: What is GuideStar doing to raise the awareness of small to medium-sized nonprofits to potential funders, especially those will little public exposure?

A: The best way for small to medium-sized nonprofits to reach potential funders is by participating in the free GuideStar Exchange. Increasingly, more donors and funders are relying on the information provided through the GuideStar Exchange to make their funding decisions. By providing as much information as possible to GuideStar, small to medium-sized nonprofits signal their commitment to transparency alongside many large nonprofit organizations, helping level the playing field. Nonprofits can then leverage their participation status in promotional materials.

Q: What is GuideStar doing to help small/medium nonprofits to be better equipped to develop data for their GuideStar profile, especially those with little to no experience with evaluation/measurement tools?

A: One tool that small/medium nonprofits who have little to no experience with evaluation or measurement will find particularly helpful is Charting Impact. This report, fully a part of the GuideStar Exchange, guides nonprofits through a series of questions that help facilitate a discussion around strategic goals and objectives for the organization.

Additionally, GuideStar Exchange participants will find informative tips within the GuideStar Exchange platform to help.

Q: What types of innovation will GuideStar take part in with their great cash results?

A: Building on top of GuideStar’s already robust data supply chain, we have an opportunity for immense data innovation, creating new forms of value from our data. Operationally, we will execute this through GuideStar Labs, our cluster of research and innovation functions. We will develop new products, new tools, and new insight driven by:

  • tackling the hard questions about the nonprofit sector – questions of nonprofit programs, performance, and impact;
  • connecting different types of data together; linking nonprofit data to information about issues, interventions, and capital flows; and
  • making things much easier for our users – and integrated into their existing systems and processes.

Q: Are you doing any studies to determine the longer term impact of your work – i.e. how funding has shifted as a result, how NPOs are run better, etc?

A: Our impact can be measured in two ways, how our data is used and what our data is used to accomplish. We are exploring ways to measure the “how” and the “what” aspects of our impact. Historically, we have been pretty good at measuring how, where, and who was using our data.

Late last year (2013), GuideStar conducted a simple survey of our users to start answering the “what” portion of this complicated question. Respondents were asked to complete this sentence, “In the last year, GuideStar helped me or my organization to ….” Using responses to date, we found that GuideStar has helped other nonprofits:

  • Move more than $1 billion of funding through the nonprofit sector
  • Save the lives of 1,000 youth in Kenya
  • Feed more than 18 million meals to the disadvantaged
  • Teach more than 300,000 kids in various programs
  • Improve 52,373 units of housing for low-income people in New York
  • Make healthcare available to 60,000 disadvantaged people in southwest Uganda

These are just samples of the answers that we received. Our true impact is considerably higher since these were culled from only 900 responses, a tiny fraction of our thousands of customers, 10 million site visits, and myriad partners.

We will continue our efforts to measure the impact of our data, tying how it is used to what it is used for.

You can read more about the survey’s results here:

We will continue to try to determine our longer-term impact of our work in the year ahead. Stay tuned!

­Q: What's your take on donors increasingly treating philanthropy as "investments" rather than just donations? For example, do you find that donors are treating philanthropy as they would treat their financial investments in the commercial sector?­

A: Donors are as diverse as the landscape of nonprofits. For some, donations to charity are a means to an end – they want to support a cause, help out a family member, make a more meaningful one-time gift, etc. For others, they think of donations as long-term investments and they care deeply about the nonprofits they support with their hard-earned money. We are strong supporters of both kinds of donor paradigms and are working hard to provide both the qualitative and quantitative data essential to their decision-making processes.

Q: Do you know how many individual donors use GuideStar?

A: We get more than 10 million visits to every year – and 98 percent of that information is accessed for free. Soon we are revamping our navigation so we can determine what kinds of people are coming to our site – individual donors, institutional funders, researchers, accountants, attorneys, etc. Until then, we can’t estimate the number of donors using GuideStar – but stay tuned!

Q: With increased global efforts, how is GuideStar engaging ALL nonprofits (international include) in creating a comprehensive database that is multifaceted to meet the interests/needs of potential funders, donors, investors and partnerships?

A: We are working with Foundation Center, GlobalGiving, and TechSoup Global to develop the Basic Registry of Identified Global Entities (BRIDGE). BRIDGE is a system that assigns non-governmental organizations (NGOs), NGO programs and projects, and other entities in the social sector like schools and churches across the globe with a unique identifier, like a “numerical fingerprint” for nonprofits. The BRIDGE project synchronizes data from each unique organization registered in the databases of Global Giving, GuideStar, TechSoup Global, and Foundation Center, totaling approximately 3 million NGOs.

This synchronization makes it easier to share and compare data among databases, providing a more accurate and holistic picture of what’s happening in the international development arena.

BRIDGE is the first project resulting from Markets for Good, an initiative to discover how the social sector can better use and share information to improve outcomes and change lives. For more information about BRIDGE or an update on our progress, check out the BRIDGE blog:

Q: What is the status of your PRI loan with Packard?

A: We are up to date with payments and will have it paid off by the end of 2015. We then have a two-year period (‘16/’17) with no debt payments followed by $600k to pay off our Wells Fargo PRI in 2018.

Q: Can you provide a concrete example of web service hits?

A: A web service is much like an API (Application Programming Interface). It’s a way for other software developers to integrate GuideStar data into their application or website in a “real-time” fashion. For example, on Network for Good's website, you can search for charities. When you click the search button on their site, their application code calls out to our web service to perform the actual search on our database. Every time a call is made to our web service, we call that a “hit."