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

Clearing Up the Myth about GuideStar and the Overhead Ratio

There's a scene in the movie French Kiss in which Meg Ryan tells the clerk at the Hotel George V in Paris that his rudeness is making her "completely insane." And then she starts pounding madly on the service bell until he snatches it away from her.

How to Be Unique: 3 Creative Ways to Amplify Your Reach

The preceding is a cross post of Ojanjo's June 3rd article on their blog, "3 Creative Ways to Amplify Your Nonprofit Reach." To read that article, visit here.

4 Tips to Create a Powerful Nonprofit Video Marketing Strategy

Video traffic already accounts for two-thirds of consumer Internet traffic and will encompass 79 percent by 2018, according to Cisco Visual Networking Index. As video's popularity expands, video marketers are able to reach larger audiences as illustrated by YouTube's 1 billion unique visitors per month. Advertising and PR consultants are taking note of these trends, with Nielsen reporting that 64 percent of marketers plan to focus their future promotional strategies on video. Marketers promoting nonprofit campaigns are beginning to tap into these trends as well, realizing the power of video to promote their causes to bigger as well as more targeted audiences.

GuideStar Unveils Strategic Vision for Strengthening the Nonprofit Sector by 2020 during Next Impact Call

Like you, GuideStar is a tireless supporter of nonprofit transparency, and yet we know there is still more progress to be made in this area. We know that it takes a lot of time for data and information about philanthropy and nonprofits to travel through and across the social sector, just as we know transparency needs to be to be more timely, interactive, inclusive, and comprehensive. We know this – and we’re prepared to do something about it. We’ve introduced a new avenue to get outcomes to key stakeholders in a more meaningful way: the free Impact Call. Loosely based on the quarterly earnings calls held by publicly owned companies, our Impact Calls are open to everyone and are meant to be:

Rising Expectations in a Rapidly Changing World

We live in a digital culture which give us immediate, real-time data, access to all kinds of information, and provides new ways of connecting and engaging. This culture also emphasizes a new expectation of donor engagement and new demands to show results.

Unleashing Organizational Possibilities, Part Three: The First Big Gift

This post is the third in a series about instituting major gifts fundraising at an organization that has been funded by a membership program, events, government or foundation grants, membership, or any combination. The first two posts (Post 1 & Post 2) described how the possibility of big gifts gets sparked at an organization and how that idea gains traction when it is embraced by a handful of people. In this post we will explore the importance and the impact of the first big gift.

How Your Charity Can Avoid the Donor Fatigue Trap

Many nonprofits are constantly asking themselves a single question: How can we consistently keep donations flowing in to support our cause?

Justin Bieber vs. the Gates Foundation

This following post first appeared on Glasspockets’ Transparency Talk blog. Click here to view the original post. Glasspockets, which champions philanthropic transparency in an online world, is a service of the Foundation Center.

Branding yourself as a nonprofit consultant

Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising

The New Donor Engagement Reality: Bottom-Line Priorities for the Online Experience

Community impact is all about people—the customer experience. Making a difference through philanthropy is the result of donors getting connected to causes they care about. The deeper the engagement, the deeper the impact. That's nothing new.

But what does donor engagement mean now, in 2014? And what does it mean to your institution's future success? The answers to those critical questions might just be online. Literally. Here's the reality:

  • The online environment continues to transform our lifestyles. Cloud storage, mobile devices, social media, and "big data" analysis are now part of contemporary life.
  • Software will continue to shift its emphasis to the quality of the user experience. Donors want a clear, relevant, and interactive digital experience. Online applications must be engaging, easy to navigate, and compatible with mobile devices.
  • Online transactions are the accepted norm and an integral part of society.
  • An organization that delivers an engaging online experience will drive asset growth and will secure the long-term loyalty of its donors.
  • A few years ago, the mere existence of an online transaction-oriented platform could be a compelling selling point for a philanthropic institution. Now, the mere existence of a system is not enough. The overall online experience, not simply a system's existence, is the key.

For donor-advised funds, it is essential that the online account system continuously improves so that it meets donor expectations. For Internet users, the absence of a positive, effective online experience is like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Consider the reported by the Pew Internet & American Life Project:

In addition, a growing number of Americans now trust and use online services for a variety of financial transactions. Even large corporations understand the importance of online technology to the customer experience. Consider these statistics:

  • In 2013, 51 percent of American adults, or 61 percent of Internet users, banked online. In 2010, the numbers were 46 percent and 58 percent respectively. These figures are up from 18 percent in 2000.
  • Some 60 percent of executives note that they plan to invest most heavily in websites, 40 percent in e-commerce, and 51 percent in mobile applications.
  • In 2013, 35 percent of mobile phone owners banked using their mobile phones, up from 18 percent in 2011.

And here's the real kicker for donor-advised fund programs. Consider these statistics of affluent individuals (those earning more than $70,000 a year), the population most likely to engage in philanthropy:

  • Some 96 percent use the Internet and 75 percent bank online.
  • Some 44 percent with mobile phones use them to conduct banking.

The upshot here is that savvy philanthropic institutions—especially community foundations—are figuring out how to respond to donor demands for a comprehensive online experience. Donors expect a high-quality and integrated online experience that meets all of their online needs, from accessing contact information to finding dates for events to recommending a DAF grant. Oh—and it has to be visually pleasing, too. Clunky just doesn't cut it anymore.

Why does a comprehensive online experience matter? Because what's at stake is the bottom line. How would your bottom line change for the better if you knew your website—and your online account platform—were working hard, synergistically?

Consider this chart:

What can you do to get started? Begin by testing a few theories internally. For example, consider the following scenarios in an executive team brainstorming session:

  • Evaluate the cost of a major event, involving 100 or more donors. Could the goals of that event have been accomplished through online engagement? Donors are faced with too many events pulling for their time, and they might welcome an alternative to an evening out. The math can be compelling. For instance, if the event cost is $50 a head, 100 donors at an event is a $5,000 expense. Staff time would likely add an additional $5,000, for a total $10,000 expense. The question here is, might there a better use for the funds and staff time? Would the organization be better served through a content-rich website that gives donors great information and a place to collaborate and make grants with other donors?
  • Conduct a scan of multi-generational donor families engaged with existing funds. If your foundation is already working with more than 10 multi-generational families, ask yourself whether you offer a compelling online option to encourage family members to work together and communicate? If you don't, you may be missing an opportunity to retain the next generation and generate those powerful donor-to-donor referrals.
  • Pretend you are a donor preparing to make an online grant. Hop onto your website. What is your honest impression of your foundation's brand and quality of technology? Pay attention to the look and feel of the online environment as you are walking in your donors' shoes, toggling between the core website content and the online account system. Is it a seamless and pleasant experience? Or do you feel whiplash?

So, the key to the new donor engagement reality is simple. Philanthropic institutions must acknowledge that it is the quality of the online experience that matters, not the mere existence of an online presence and transactional system. A positive online experience creates a positive return on investment. A negative online experience creates a negative return.

It's time to take it seriously.

Learn more about the new donor engagement reality or join the conversation

© 2014, Crown Philanthropic Solutions

Crown Philanthropic Solutions creates a powerful donor engagement platform that empowers clients with the ability to create passionate donors by managing their donors' experiences.

What Does Your Organization Do? How to Answer This Question with a Compelling Story

Reprinted from The Storytelling Nonprofit Blog

Questions I'm Most Often Asked About Raising Major Gifts

I'm not sure who first engaged in organized fundraising. Some say a trio from Harvard College in the 1630s, others point to Charles Ward and Frank Pierce, who in the early 1900s spearheaded the Y's early campaigns.

A list of social enterprises: why does it not exist?


Despite the buzz, energy, and enthusiasm surrounding social entrepreneurship, we are missing something fundamental: a list of social enterprises. Several leading organizations have begun to compile such lists but we will need a shared effort if we are to build something comprehensive.

5 Strategies to Generate More Donations at Your Nonprofit

While generating donations for your nonprofit can seem like a never-ending battle, there are ways to make it easier. The Internet has changed the face of nonprofit fundraising, and as an ever-increasing number of donors give online, it is crucial to ensure that your organization is up to the task of accepting these gifts.

Balancing Philanthropic Travel and Voluntourism with Family Time

The tourism industry represents one of the largest service industries in the world, employing 102 million people around the globe in 2013, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, and generating $2.1 trillion in economic output in the U.S., claims the U.S. Travel Association.

The Next Big Thing

There is a lot of talk, across many diverse industries, about “big data.” But what does that really mean? It’s really nothing more than what it sounds like, data – and a lot of it. The real value is in the information and insight it can provide, if it is used properly.

Millennials and Philanthropy: Musings from the Field

Two weeks ago, I abandoned my Metro card, business casual attire, and commuter shoes for a brief foray into an alternate universe filled with camping, live music, port-a-potties, and crowds of millennials known as Firefly Music Festival 2014 in Dover, Delaware. Naturally, one would think that this festival is great opportunity for charities to engage with millennials and enlist new donors and volunteers, and why wouldn’t it be? With 80,000 people in attendance and performances by artists such as Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley, and OutKast, concertgoers were relaxed, friendly, and listening to the type of music that makes one feel as if they are on the verge of a social revolution or spiritual breakthrough—otherwise known as the perfect captive audience.

Fundraising Training Exercise: What Drew You to This Work?

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

Many boards and committees are all business and devote little time to discussing the personal and emotional aspects of an organization and its work. Nobody ever joined a board or volunteered for a nonprofit because they loved going to meetings, talking about policies and procedures, or looking at spreadsheets. They join because they want to make a difference in the world.

As a fundraiser, your greatest asset is your enthusiasm for the mission and work of your organization, so it's helpful to remind yourself why you care. This exercise can generate useful language for building your case and talking with donors.

Why Do This Exercise?
It reduces fundraising to its elemental level: two people talking about something they both care about

Use This Exercise When
You want your board members and volunteers to know one another better and understand their motivations for serving on the board

Time Required
10-15 minutes

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

A quiet space large enough for people to pair up, talk, and hear each other


  • Flip chart paper and markers (optional)

Facilitating the Exercise

  1. Ask people to pair up, preferably with someone they don't know well.
  2. Instruct the partners to ask each other the following questions:
    • Why are you involved with this organization?
    • Why is our work important to you?
    • Tell me about a time when you saw our mission in action and what it meant to you.

    Encourage partners to add whatever follow-up questions are needed to flesh out the answers. Such a follow-up might be "Can you tell me a specific story or example about your involvement with our work?"

  3. Give the pairs five to seven minutes to complete this task. Part-way through, you might warn them, "You've got another two minutes, so if you haven't told your own story yet, please do so now."
  4. Reconvene the full group. Debrief the exercise with the following questions:
    • What was the most memorable thing you heard from your partner?
    • What did you learn about our organization?
    • As we’re discussing this, what common themes are you hearing?

    If you like, you can write key phrases on the flip chart.

  5. Conclude the exercise by summarizing the range of reasons why people choose to be involved. Skilled solicitors are always listening for the link between the work of the organization and each individual donor’s interests, passions, and experiences.

Training Tip

Writing ideas or comments from the participants lets them know that they've been heard and that they're doing valuable work. If you choose to paraphrase, check with the speaker first and ask permission before changing the words: "May I write that as ...?"

Other Excerpts from This Book


Andrea Kihlstedt 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.

Visit the website for this book

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.

What You Need to Know about Giving USA 2014

Reprinted from the Fired-Up Fundraising Blog

New 1023-EZ Form Makes Applying for 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Status Easier; Most Charities Qualify

IR-2014-77, July 1, 2014

The Future of the Nonprofit Workplace: Introducing the Mobile Office

From GenMobile to telecommuting, the nature of work and the office are fast changing: nonprofits, are you ready to cut the cord?

Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Excel to Manage Grants

Most nonprofits rely on grant funding to support their programs and services. In fact, 41% report that grants make up over a quarter of their funding.

Yes, the Donor Pyramid is Really Dead: An Open Response to Andrea Kihlstedt

[I am responding to Andrea Kihlstedt’s Open Letter to me, Is The Donor Pyramid Really Dead, posted in the GuideStar blog June 25th. She was responding to my recent posts on the death of the Donor Pyramid in Fundraising Success Magazine: R.I.P. Donor Pyramid? and Maximize Social Business Blog How Social Media Toppled the Donor Pyramid – What that Means for Nonprofits.]

Key Questions to Engage, Upgrade and Solicit Your Donor

Our time with donors is a precious commodity. To make every second count we have to be prepared to ask strategic questions to reveal their interests. Ask the right ones and your donor will tell you how to engage, upgrade, solicit and steward them. They can reveal how much they’d like to give, how, what for, and who should make the ask.

Build Strong & Lasting Relationships -- A Case Study

Our daughter, Charlotte, is away at Camp Harlam for 3 1/2 long weeks this summer. It’s her second time, and our pleasure in relaxed evenings and quiet weekend mornings is punctuated by severe pangs of missing her.

12 Ways to Liven Up Your Board Meetings – And Your Board

If your board meetings are regarded as an unpleasant obligation, it’s time to bring a fresh perspective: board meetings are an opportunity to exchange ideas, resolve issues and deepen commitment.

3 Ways Companies Can Reach Millennials Through Cause Work

It’s not exactly a new concept: Millennials (individuals born from 1980 and 2000) are changing the ways businesses, organizations and communities operate. Millennials are arguably the most studied and critiqued generation of all time, and that is because they’re rapidly becoming the leaders and innovators directly shaping our culture.