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

5 Insights Into Nonprofit Board Practices You Should Know

Recruiting and managing an effective board of directors is easier said than done. Many nonprofit struggle with engagement, volunteerism, giving and overall health.

3 Steps to Smart Year-End Fundraising

It's that time of year again! People are out there, actively searching for good charities to support. Sure, some of them just want to make a tax-deductible donation before the end of the year – but all of them want to make the most out of their charitable donations. Money for Good II research shows that 9 out of 10 donors care deeply about the impact that their donations are having. So how can you break through the noise that inevitably comes at this time of year to ensure that these well intentioned individuals find your nonprofit?

Web Forms Are This Year’s Santa’s Little Helpers

Year after year December is the prime time of months when it comes to charitable contributions. Report findings show that December is held accountable for 17.5% of yearly donations, and let’s not forget, Giving Tuesday is just around the corner. Therefore, it’s clear that for nonprofits this is the busiest time of the year and making the most out of it is a must.

Another Billion Reasons to Love GuideStar: Our Impact through Your Impact

As we move forward with GuideStar’s 2020 vision, an important part of our work is improving the methods we use to measure our success and impact. And since our primary mission is to serve as the definitive resource for the nonprofit sector, the best way to measure our impact is through your impact!

For the second year in a row, GuideStar asked you what you were able to accomplish by leveraging the resources we provide in our annual Impact Survey. We’ve often heard the adage that there are no stories without data and no data without stories. Your responses to our Impact Survey provide the much needed human, real-world stories that provide context to our own internal usage data. Together, we have both stories and data.

And, just like last year, we are doing amazing things together! GuideStar is a nonprofit ourselves. Every donation that we receive helps power our organization while we work together to build a better sector.

Our survey asked you to complete this sentence, “In the last year, GuideStar helped me or my organization to ….”

Collectively, you told us that GuideStar has helped you …

- Save 1,194,080 acres of land.

- Provide 60,980,761 meals to the disadvantaged.

- Distribute 320,216 diapers to children under 3 in the United States.

- Teach 29,930 children through various programs.

- Save 42.5 million disadvantaged lives across the world.

-Move $1,036,461,414 through the sector. This anecdotal evidence is in addition to the $5.5 billion we know were granted by just the top 10 foundations using our tools in their grantmaking process.

These are just a few highlights of the answers we received. Our true impact is considerably higher considering these were pulled from less than 500 voluntary responses and a tiny fraction of the millions of visitors to our site, thousands of customers, and many other diverse partners.

More stories, more impact

We received many answers and more are included below as a testament to the powerful work that you are doing. We are incredibly proud to support nonprofits as they accomplish great change in the world and we are grateful to everyone that took the survey!

c/o Second Sense


-Teach 5 undergraduate courses or workshops about nonprofits

-Solicit 15 million dollars in donations

-Teach about 250 different programs to funders

-Teach 1,500 nonprofit professionals and volunteers in California


-Secure 23 donors to provide funding for food in Mexico

c/o OBAT Helpers

-Gain 20 more donors and sponsors for students and programs in Uganda

-Teach 800 disadvantaged children in Nicaragua

-Treat 103,826 patients in North Korea

-Deliver 18,000 advice sessions to the disadvantaged in Israel

Disadvantaged Populations

-Provide one-to-one counseling to 2790 disadvantaged children in the four county Philadelphia region

-Enhance the lives of 41,000 disadvantaged in Colorado

-Donate 173,000 “Smile bags” to the disadvantaged in Arizona

-Provide 2,016 bilingual, culturally competent counseling sessions to the disadvantaged in Delaware


c/o Seeds of Literacy

-Help 361 first generation college students graduate in California

-Teach 10,000 blind or visually impaired students in the world

-Provide 2.3 million scholarship dollars to students in Virginia

-Deliver 25,000 solar lights to students across the world

-Teach 1,500 teens and young adults to appreciate the arts in Florida

c/o Fellow Mortals Wildlife Hospital

Environment and Animals

-Deliver 31 water systems to youths in Vietnam

-Save the lives of 4,230 homeless and unwanted animals in the US

-Provide care to 2,000 injured and orphaned wild animals in California

-Monitor 4 animal rescue nonprofits in Pennsylvania

-Teach 600 people about wildlife rehabilitation around the world

-Begin the expansion and upgrade of an animal facility in North Carolina


c/o Guardian Angel Settlement Association

-Find 555 adoptive families for children in California

-Transform the lives of 1.2 million children by letting them grow, explore, play, and learn through a museum in Indiana

-Advocate for 142 abused and neglected children in foster care in Maryland

-Save 150 children in orphanages around the world

-Prevent 220 children from going to families involved in domestic violence in Connecticut

Health Care

-Deliver 42,800 room nights to patients across the world

-Donate $4 million worth of dental care in Virginia

-Deliver 800,000 health care services to women and children

-Grant 4 wishes for children with a recurrence of cancer in the US

As a nonprofit ourselves, every donation that we receive helps power our organization while we work together to build a better sector.

James Lum is GuideStar's first full-time CFO, responsible for orchestrating multi-million dollar financial turnarounds in cash flow and operating income over the past two years. He is responsible for coordinating strategic and financial oversight across the organization and also heads fundraising. James received BAs from the University of Virginia in Economics and Biology and earned an MBA from Columbia University's Graduate School of Business with concentrations in Finance and Entrepreneurship. James recently won the 2014 Nonprofit CFO Transformational Leader Award, demonstrating excellent leadership and commitment to the nonprofit sector.

Lean Startup and Impact Philosophy Falls Short in the Nonprofit Sector

When is it appropriate to edit your nonprofit? When is it time to cut programs and make changes to your structure, and how do you go about making those changes?

I posed this question a while back, offering some guidance for nonprofits finding themselves in this position while alluding to some experience with the subject.

To offer full transparency, I’d like to share the specifics of my experience.

Last month we hosted Nonprofit Boot Camp and made a surprise announcement: we were putting the event on indefinite hiatus.

Whether or not this program will come back is impossible to predict at this time (though I’d like to think it can), but I wanted to share with you the reasoning behind this decision, in the hopes that others in the sector can avoid having to learn – as I did – the hard way.

The decision to take on Nonprofit Bootcamp was made in 2012. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’ve come to realize it was a bad decision for our organization.

I have spent the better part of the past year revisiting that decision, rethinking the program, talking to industry leaders, reflecting and meditating on whether I can really do justice to this program and community.

Here’s what I've learned:

Beware Emotional Decisions. I made the decision to take over Nonprofit Boot Camp and run it under the Social Media for Nonprofits umbrella without fully considering all other factors at play. I’d been involved with the Nonprofit Boot Camp run by Craigslist Foundation as a volunteer and also as a contractor. I credit that program for my robust start in the SF Bay Area nonprofit community, and I had an emotional and historical connection to it.

I’d found out Craigslist Foundation was set to close the day before it was to happen. Over the next two to three weeks, I made the decision to take the program on. My emotional attachment to the program and the impact it had on me colored my view of the situation. What's worse, I was also traveling and under a tremendous amount of stress at the time, making me more susceptible to an emotional decision.

I did not allow enough time to weigh everything that needs to be weighed when making a decision like that, and I did not take a step away and separate my personal bond with the program from its potential role in SM4NP.

Ask The Big Questions. In taking on a new program like that, it would have made sense to consider whether or not I had the expertise to not only continue it, but to scale it. It would have made sense to ask how Nonprofit Boot Camp fit into our current programming, how that would be communicated or even whether I had the deep knowledge needed about this particular space.

I didn't ask the big questions, and I believe it's because I had the wrong hat on.

I wore my hat of event planner and primarily looked at whether or not could I do another event in addition to my existing 12-13 events. As an event planner, the answer was an easy yes.

I didn’t look at it as a marketing professional and consider the ramifications of communicating two very diverse programs to two completely different demographics; one is geared towards marketing professionals and the other towards everyone else in a nonprofit organization.

I didn't look at it from the perspective of my community. Is this what they want? Does taking on this added responsibility serve them?

Instead I banked on my past experience of creating and managing successful events around the globe and assumed it would be much the same. I just leapt. The cost was trying to reconcile two very different programs in scope and style. It was a huge drain on resources because one didn’t lead to the other. They each attracted completely different audiences.

Looking forward, I know I can wear a multitude of hats in any given situation. The leadership opportunity is to be discerning about which hat to wear and even to demand the time for myself and my team to examine the situation from all our viewpoints of expertise.

Have The Resources. That might sound ridiculous, since it’s the nonprofit battle cry, and something we are always struggling with and overcoming. But there’s a difference between treading water and being under water.

With my event planner hat on, I assumed I knew the resources needed to present Nonprofit Boot Camp. I did not realize the program would not fit inside our very successful, tested and tried SM4NP model. In fact, the amount of time and resources it takes to produce this program is equal to the time/resources to produce three or four other events around the globe – and those leaner events are a lot more profitable.

Beside the purely logistical needs of the program, I did not look at the expectations of the community. I now know that it takes several times more work and revenue to meet the minimum expectations of nonprofit professionals for an event like this, let alone to thrive and scale. For a tiny nonprofit with two (albeit mighty) full-time staffers, we just don’t have the capacity to continue without compromising quality on all our programs.

The Risks of Failure. The biggest lesson of the past year, as a new nonprofit executive, has been understanding the depth and weight of the responsibility I shoulder.

I started in the for-profit sector, in Silicon Valley, and the way failure is perceived there is very different from the way it is perceived in the nonprofit sector. In the for-profit sector and especially the startup and the tech ecosystem, there’s a positive association with failing. “Failing forward,” they say, recognizing that failure promotes growth. In the commercial sector, the person you let down most is yourself – but you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back to business, lessons learned.

In the nonprofit sector, failure has very high stakes. It’s not just YOU that you let down. It’s your constituents, your donors, partners, sponsors and institutional funders – the entire community.

I’m not saying you can never take risks, but the kinds of risks encouraged in the for-profit sector with much touted, lean startup models are not advisable in the nonprofit sector. Any risks in our sector must be so much more calculated.

In the social sector, when you fail, you don’t fail and move on – you fail an entire community of stakeholders and that’s a lot of weight to carry.

There is one more risk in failure: its personal toll. We actually examined this at Nonprofit Boot Camp this year.

I want this to be a productive failure. It would be easy to berate myself. To wallow in a pity party – but that wouldn’t really accomplish anything, would it?

I’m not happy that this happened – understand that – but I AM grateful. It was a hard way to learn a valuable lesson, but my hope is that this serves as food for thought for social enterprise and nonprofit leaders who are themselves considering starting new nonprofits or programs. My advice for you is this:

  • Take as much time as you need to think through all the points mentioned above. If you find yourself with a shortage of time or false deadlines, then don’t start or take on something new until you’ve had the full opportunity to think it through.
  • Talk to stakeholders – they know better than you what it will take to meet expectations
  • Ensure that you are fulfilling a need in the community and have everything you need to meet that need
  • Experiment with lean startup and minimum viable product models in limited scopes –defined projects like a new website or app development, not overall nonprofit direction.

We have incredible challenges that we are trying to overcome with just as incredibly small resources. When we are frivolous with those, it’s hard to wear the failure as a badge of honor because those small resources could’ve fed someone or clothed someone. All decisions in our sector must be meaningful and thoughtful.

The preceding is a guest post by Ritu Sharma, the CEO and Co-Founder of Social Media for Nonprofits, an organization committed to bringing social media education to nonprofits worldwide. She convenes thought-leaders and leading practitioners in the social media space in the unique TED meet Twitter style conferences in 14 cities in three countries. She speaks frequently around the world on a variety of topics in the nonprofit and social media spheres with a passion for effecting social change through social technologies. She writes a blog at the Huffington Post on the intersection of social media, social change and leadership. Follow Ritu at LinkedIn or on Twitter at @ritusharma1

Coming Soon to the GuideStar Website

Last June, we began updating our website, offering a new home page to users who haven't registered with GuideStar or to visitors who have registered with us but aren't logged in. We also revised the nonprofit reports to make them easier to navigate. A few weeks later, we introduced revamped pages for four of our products: GuideStar Premium Search, GuideStar Charity Check, GuideStar APIs, and Financial SCAN.

Get Ready for #GivingTuesday with the GuideStar Exchange

Questions I'm Most Often Asked About Raising $1 Million

Does the mere thought of asking for a six- or seven-figure gift unnerve you?

Do you wish someone would level with you and help ease the gulp-inducing part of fundraising?

Allow me to try.

Here are answers to key questions I'm asked time and again by both board members and staff. You'll find fuller responses in my book, How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps.

Can we approach individuals like Bill Gates and Oprah to give big gifts? What we do is so important.

While it's easy to imagine such people would want to support your cause, I'm afraid that unless you know Gates or Winfrey—and your cause touches on something they're keenly interested in—it's magical thinking to imagine they'll be large donors to your campaign.

We've never received a gift of even $100,000. Is it really possible we can raise a million dollars?

While it may seem unlikely, it's not so unusual. Think about it this way. Most small or young groups don't ask for big gifts until they're ready to take a leap in their growth. An organization with an annual budget of $750,000, for example, wouldn't usually ask for a gift of $100,000 toward their operating budget. But they may well ask for that much and more for a special project—perhaps a new science center or launching a new program. In the context of a larger goal, requests for large gifts make more sense.

Which comes first, our plan or the money? It seems foolish to develop a big plan if there's no chance we can fund it.

As I make clear in my book, you have to work on your plans first! You'll be pleasantly surprised by the power of big, exciting ideas to inspire donors and leaders. And while it's possible you'll establish ambitious goals you can't fund, at least not yet, these plans will help shape a direction that could become a reality over a longer time.

Our organization is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Would this be a good time for us to have a campaign to raise $5 million?

People often ask me this question. While birthdays are worth celebrating—longevity is worth something—by itself a big birthday is NOT a good reason for a campaign. That said, you can use an upcoming anniversary to inspire a breathtaking plan for what your organization hopes to accomplish over the NEXT 50 years. And that may well be a good reason to have a campaign!

How do we calculate what percentage of our capital campaign goal our board should give?

Lots of people would like a simple, specific answer to this question—say 20 percent or 10 percent. But in reality the percentage of the goal your board should give has everything to do with who happens to be ON your board!

If you're a small organization without people of means on your board, it's unlikely you can raise 25 percent of your goal. But if yours is a "fundraising board" comprising people who serve specifically because of their ability to give and raise money, then 25 percent is probably way too low.

We don't have any donors who seem ready to make a big gift. What's the best way to get them involved?

The old saw "Ask for advice and you'll get money. Ask for money and you'll get advice" turns out to be true. The catch is that you can't ask for advice just to get money. That doesn't work. You've got to be genuinely interested in what people have to say.

Obviously every organization should bend over backwards to make their donors feel appreciated and valued. That's a hugely important part of the process. But there's no better way to draw people in than to actively involve them in the process of developing bold plans for your organization. In my experience, this is the best way to get your major donors ready to give sizable gifts.

How can we get our board members to actually go out and ask for gifts?

I've found that people will go out and ask for gifts if they feel confident they'll succeed. And that takes training. Which is why Andy Robinson and I wrote Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money, a book of 51 fundraising exercises for boards. All too often staff members assume board members know how to ask. But in reality they don't. Every nonprofit would be wise to have a board training program specifically on fundraising. I don't mean a one-time workshop. Board members should be trained in one way or another at every board meeting. You'll see a huge difference in their confidence and willingness to ask.

Andrea Kihlstedt
© 2014, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Andrea Kihlstedt is author of How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps and co-author with Andy Robinson of Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money.

How can you Fundraise SMARTER -- not harder?

We’re just full of paradoxes, aren’t we?

Rolling Out a Platform to Provide Diversity Data

Transparency and accountability are great goals
but without data, it is like a stool with two legs. Good luck with that. Consistent, visible data and goals keep us on a stable platform, and allows organizations and leaders to learn, build and improve. Data about who is leading and working in organizations is just as important as financials and environmental or social change indicators to understanding how an NGO or foundation works and its responsiveness to community needs.

Collaborative BRIDGE Project Makes Big Progress Toward Sharing Crucial Information Worldwide

The Basic Registry of Identified Global Entities (BRIDGE) is a new collaborative project that aims to revolutionize information sharing, in order to better understand the flows of philanthropic dollars and enhance transparency and effectiveness in the global social sector. BRIDGE is a system that assigns non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other entities in the social sector with a unique identifier, a “numerical fingerprint” for nonprofits.

Keep Financial Statements Simple

While it’s challenging to stay current with constantly changing compliance requirements for non-profits, and the increasingly complex accounting standards, the reporting requirements are slightly relaxed compared to other entities. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has an Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) with requirements specific to non-profit financial statement presentation (ASC 958-205).

GuideStar Receives $3 Million Strategic Investment towards $10 Million Capital Campaign

Earlier this year, GuideStar unveiled its new strategic plan, GuideStar 2020, to build the information scaffolding for social change to help ensure the nonprofit sector is capable of addressing the great challenges of our time. It is an exciting and ambitious vision, true to the innovative and transformational spirit that has been the cornerstone of GuideStar’s work for the past 20 years.

The #1 Reason Board Members Fail

Most board members fail because the proper expectations weren’t set in their recruitment. On top of recruiting great talent your single greatest blueprint for board member success is setting clear expectations. A detailed robust board contract takes you across the finish line. If you need some help setting clear expectations in your board contract, try this free sample board contract.

Join Us for a Live Special Announcement During Our Third Quarter Impact Call

Dear Friends,

Nonprofits: Ban These Phrases from Your Vocabulary

GuideStar, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator don't ever want to hear you say these words again:

"Only X% of your gift goes to overhead." OR
"Only X cents on the dollar go to overhead costs."

Why? Because you do both your organization and your donors a great disservice when you focus on overhead as the key indicator of your worthiness to receive donations.

Your overhead ratio—the percentage of total expenses devoted to administrative and fundraising costs—tells people nothing about your organization's effectiveness. It fails to measure the most important thing of all: how well your nonprofit is accomplishing its mission.

The heads of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and GuideStar have joined together to demonstrate why the Overhead Myth is harmful and how nonprofits can battle it.

Say Goodbye to the Overhead Myth

In a letter released October 21, 2014, Ken Berger (president and CEO of Charity Navigator), Jacob Harold (president and CEO of GuideStar), and Art Taylor (president of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance) note:

While overhead can help us identify cases of fraud or gross mismanagement and serve as a part of an organization's dashboard of financial management metrics, it tells us nothing about the results of your work (i.e., how you meet your mission).

The focus on overhead, they continue, leads nonprofits to shortchange their organizational needs, which in turn limits their results. In the end, everyone suffers:

This starvation cycle hurts nonprofits and donors, but, most important, it hurts our shared work for a better world.

We hear you panicking. "Donors expect us to talk about overhead," you say. "If we invest in infrastructure, donors won't give to us."

We can help you with that. In fact, we can all help each other with that.

It's true that over the years, donors have been taught (brainwashed) to rely on overhead ratios to evaluate nonprofits. Working together, however, we in the nonprofit sector can change this state of affairs.

Say Hello to the Overhead Solution

So what exactly do Messrs. Bergen, Harold, and Taylor say you should do? Three things:

  • Demonstrate ethical practice and share data about your performance.
  • Manage toward results and understand your true costs.
  • Help educate funders (individuals, foundations, corporations, and government) on the real cost of results.

The letter elaborates on these goals and provides resources to help you achieve them. The Overhead Myth/Overhead Solution website also offers free tools to turn myth into solution.

Working toward the Overhead Solution won't be a quick fix, but it's one whose impact will increase as more nonprofits embrace it. In the words of the three leaders, "Let us drive a conversation about nonprofit trustworthiness and performance that is worthy of the people, the communities, and the ecosystems we all serve."

  • How useful did you find this article? Give us your feedback

Suzanne E. Coffman
© 2014, GuideStar USA, Inc.

Suzanne Coffman is GuideStar's editorial director and editor of the GuideStar Newsletter.

Fundraising Training Exercise: Fundraising from the Inside Out

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

Top Strategic Mistakes Nonprofits Make, Part 2

Last month we published numbers 1-4 of the 13 key strategic mistakes nonprofits often make. Here are mistakes 5-8. Again, they are listed in no particular order.

5. Failing to understand what makes donors give

If you examine what makes donors give, here are two factors that consistently bubble to the top:

The first is feeling like they're making a difference. The closer you can tie donor action to results—past, present, and future results—the more likely you are to get more people to give more. Consider these two scenarios. In scenario one, you simply ask someone to donate $100, perhaps online. In scenario two, you first demonstrate that $100 can house a woman and her children in your domestic violence shelter for one week—and THEN you ask donors for their $100. Or better yet, you permit them to choose one of the women in your shelter (names redacted for privacy, of course) and sponsor her and her kids for one week for $100. In that case donors might even get periodic updates on how their sponsees are doing, or a thank-you note directly from them. Now, in which of these scenarios do you think the donor is more likely to give?!

There are effective ways of using your website and social media to help convey to existing and prospective donors what you are doing with their money. For example, when Living Homes wanted to create the "greenest" home in America, they posted a one-minute video showing the complete construction of the home, starting with the foundation. For donors who already gave, the video was tangible evidence of the impact of their donations. For prospective donors, the video showed that the organization could truly deliver impressive results.

Another great donor motivator is gratitude. Again, consider two scenarios. In the first scenario, a $1,000 first-time donor is either never thanked, or thanked weeks later in an impersonal manner. In the second scenario, that donor is thanked in an immediate, personal, and meaningful manner, perhaps even thanked in more than one way. Again, the Internet can be a powerful way to accentuate your gratitude. Of course, you could send donors an immediate, perhaps automatic e-mail (for online donations). But beyond that, you could send them a personalized thank-you video. You can send such videos for free from MailVu. Better yet, the next time you have a fundraising or educational event, each attendee could, that day, receive a personalized thank-you video from your executive director, founder, or board chair. These personalized thank-you videos are surprisingly inexpensive—as low as a couple dollars per recipient.

As a recent headline in the Chronicle of Philanthropy aptly stated: "Donors Say They Would Give More If They Saw More Results."

6. Failing to deliver some services online

Traditionally most nonprofits limit themselves to serving people in their local community, and even then, their programs and services are typically delivered face to face. Why not reach out to people who need your help but cannot access it in person—whether they are 1 or 1,000 miles away?

For example, a nonprofit that helps special needs kids could offer online counselling to the children's parents, online discussion forums, resource referral, application for various funding, educational training, and much more—all online.

You can deliver a surprisingly wide variety of services to desktop or mobile devices through:

  1. E-mail
  2. Social media
  3. Chat
  4. Texting/SMS
  5. Instant messaging
  6. Skype, FaceTime
  7. Webinar
  8. Podcast
  9. Interactive website/training

In this way, you may be able to deliver more services at lower cost more quickly to more people. Equally important, you can deliver online services to people far from your office. Some nonprofits object to this concept with the rationale that "we were created to only serve our local community." If so, why, and why can't this change? If you truly have value to add to those in your community and can easily expand that value to those far beyond your community, why not do so? The key here is easily. If doubling the geographic area you serve would double the personnel and money you need to offer those expanded services, then you may not want to consider doing it. If, however, the additional cost is minimal, or perhaps close to zero, why not do it? In fact, by offering some of your services online—without discriminating against potential recipients of your help based on where they live—you could even LOWER your costs while serving more people.

Moreover, expanding the geographic reach of those you serve may result in a similar geographic expansion of those who support you. Serving people in, say, Vermont makes it much more likely you'll get donations from Vermont.

7. Failing to encourage feedback

Most nonprofits do not actively solicit feedback. They should—even if that feedback seems critical.

Consider the following two cases: Several years ago, both Hewlett-Packard and Dell created Facebook and other social media outlets for their PC customers to give them feedback. Both were quickly deluged with complaints. HP's approach was almost to sweep these criticisms under the carpet and hope they would go away. (Of course, they didn't.) In contrast, Dell assigned a team dedicated to handling these complaints. They would immediately, in a personalized way, acknowledge the complaint. Then they not only did whatever it took to resolve the complaint but they also implemented systemic changes within Dell to minimize the likelihood the problem would occur for anyone else. Finally, they not only communicated the resolution back to the person who originally aired the complaint but also to the online community at large. As you can imagine, Dell saw positive results. HP did not.

Some nonprofits reject the idea of permitting anyone from the public to air their complaints about the organization online, for fear of negative publicity—especially if it emanates from a disgruntled party. Consider these four points, however. First, if you run a nonprofit, or a portion of it, wouldn't you WANT to know if people are thinking or saying negative things about you, your staff, your employees, your programs, or other aspects of your organization? Second, if someone does post something harsh about you online, often you'll see lots of other people from outside your organization jumping to your online defense by offering their positive points of view. This can be a healthy dynamic. Third, if you take an approach like Dell—where you acknowledge the complaint, fix it, make organizational changes so it never happens again, and communicate all of that to everyone transparently online, you look good! Finally, if you don't provide people with a convenient forum for airing their grievances, in a way that you have visibility into and control over, they will certainly find lots of other online venues in which to do so.

Here are some specific ways you should solicit feedback:

  1. Feedback cards(print and online)
  2. QR codes (create your own QR codes for free at
  3. E-mail (even video e-mail)
  4. Surveys, polls, questionnaires ( is one good place to do this)
  5. Website
  6. Discussion forums
  7. Interactive blog
  8. Social media (especially Facebook and Twitter)

8. Failing to consider internal costs—and benefits

Let's say that you want to build a new website. You are offered two choices. One website developer offers to build you a site for free. The other want to charge you $20,000. Many boards and executive directors would immediately conclude that they should go with the free option. They may, however, fail to consider such additional details as:

  1. The free website might not bring in any additional revenue, while the paid website might help raise an additional $50,000 per year. In this case, a simple cost-benefit analysis shows that the paid website is the far better investment.
  2. The free website might not lower costs at all, but the paid website might—perhaps substantially. Again, this helps create a potentially significant return on investment (ROI).
  3. The free website might require lots more time and effort from you and your staff and board to implement and maintain. Of course, your time has value, and must be factored into your decision.
  4. The free website might take longer to implement, causing you to wait in order to start benefitting from the new site.
  5. The free website might be of inferior quality relative to the paid website. If this is true it could end up costing you in increased costs and/or decreased revenue. For example, an online donor who would have donated to you if your website looked professional and portrayed your organization in a highly positive manner might not donate if the website looks shoddy or doesn't portray you in the best light. Moreover, if the free website does not incorporate effective search engine optimization techniques, it might get far less traffic than the paid website.
  6. If you have any issue with your site before or after it goes live, you might get delayed and/or poor support for the free website. After all, the person who builds the site for you is likely busy, and his or her priorities may emphasize spending time in ways that will generate money, no matter how well meaning the developer is. On the other hand, the paid website may come with 24/7, effective support.
  7. The free website might require some maintenance by people outside your organization (since they have the technical skills to do so), causing you to wait for and potentially pay for each change to your site. On the other hand, the paid site might include the ability for your staff to make any changes to your site immediately and without technical skills—or cost.
  8. The free website may never get implemented!

Often there is a reason for the adage "you get what you pay for"! So, whether your decision involves a website or any other way to spend or raise money, consider the full impact of the decision, including benefits and internal costs—not just the surface costs.

Allan Pressel, PowerSite123
© 2014, PowerSite123

Allan Pressel is CEO of PowerSite123, which helps nonprofits create world-class websites, social media, SEO, and marketing. Allan is a world-renowned ePhilanthropy speaker. Allan is co-author of Internet Management for Nonprofits. He was given the Volunteer Service Award by President George W. Bush. Allan was co-founder of i-Cube, which had a highly successful IPO. Feel free to contact Allan with any questions at (310) 363-0095 or

GuideStar Exchange + #GivingTuesday + AmazonSmile = your nonprofit’s fundraising success

On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will celebrate #GivingTuesday by coming together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give. Is your nonprofit ready?

The free GuideStar Exchange gets your nonprofit in front of millions of potential donors and funders. Make sure you’re maximizing your nonprofit’s #GivingTuesday donation potential by claiming and updating your nonprofit’s report on the GuideStar Exchange here.

Let the power of Amazon help your cause

Did you know your charity can receive donations through the AmazonSmile program? As long as your nonprofit is listed on GuideStar and meets AmazonSmile’s eligibility criteria, customers will be able to select your organization. When customers shop at, Amazon donates a portion of the purchase price to eligible charities.

As the countdown to #GivingTuesday begins, make sure your nonprofit’s information is accurate and up-to-date! The GuideStar Exchange allows you to manage the information available to the public on GuideStar—and AmazonSmile—for free. Take full advantage of AmazonSmile this giving season! To update your GuideStar Exchange report, click here.

Don’t forget!

GuideStar Exchange participants at the Gold and Silver levels have access to a huge number of great discounts and free products. Click here to learn more.

Warmest wishes from your GuideStar colleagues, and may you have a profitable #GivingTuesday!

The preceding post is by Lindsay J.K. Nichols, GuideStar's senior director of marketing and communications.