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GuideStar Blog

Leverage Social Platforms to Raise Awareness for Your Cause

Nonprofit Social Media Advocacy for Beginners

Social media has revolutionized advocacy. Today, it's a no-brainer that you should be getting your hands dirty with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram to expand your reach, tap into new audiences, and connect with like-minded individuals who are eager to support your nonprofit efforts.

Helping You with Your Year-End Giving



5 Resources To Help Build Your 2015 Fundraising Plan

Sure as the sun rises, the end of one calendar year brings the time for planning for the upcoming year. Every fundraiser reading this blog has this prime opportunity to create your 2015 fundraising game plan. But...

Help Choose GuideStar’s 2015 Webinars!

Jenny Taylor

Big Data Starts with Strong Relationships

In the past few years, nonprofits have begun to wade into the ever-deepening ocean that is big data—an ocean from which corporations and governments have been pumping for a while now. In some respects, NPOs have been fast learners. These days, many are wise enough in the ways that data can help track fundraising dollars. When it comes to gathering, let alone leveraging, information for strategic purposes, though, too many otherwise capable organizations aren’t really sure where to start.

Questions I'm Most Often Asked about Building a Planned Giving Program

The reality is that if you're not asking for planned gifts, someone else is.

2015 Heralds a New Openness for Grantmakers

As we move into 2015, we are witnessing a fairly dynamic and aggressive set of changes in the world of philanthropy. Transparency and communication are both playing a large role in these changes.

I am not a big proponent of referencing too much historical information when it comes to deciding which grantmakers an organization will approach for funding. I generally encourage those doing research on grantmakers to be very cognizant of what the funder wants to fund today, rather than what they have funded in the past. If, however, a grantmaker hasn't changed focus for a number of years, then reviewing that funder's grant award history can help attract savvier applicants.

Today, of the largest 25 foundations (by assets), 15 have online, searchable databases of grants they have awarded. And 7 of them update their grants listings daily or weekly. So we're seeing a definite trend here that could be quite helpful for the person doing research.

A good example is the Kresge Foundation, which offers an interactive, searchable database that includes a map showing which states and program areas receive money from Kresge in any given year.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that these grant award databases are more important than other resources that the foundations provide, but I do think they are starting to play a helpful role in the research process for grantseekers.

And here's another interesting trend! It has been my experience that the public really has little expectation for any level of engagement with grantmakers in their communities. I think we are all pretty used to a one-way flow of information and, if not completely satisfied with that one-way flow, then at least tolerant of the decision making about how grants are distributed in our communities.

But that seems to be changing. Today, there are some grantmakers that are trying to share a lot more information about themselves with the public, such as the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. On their website they clearly encourage grantees' feedback. And they engage the Center for Effective Philanthropy to provide an annual Grantee Perception Report, which assesses the foundation's application process and responsiveness and the charities' overall experience with the grantmaker. Their website even offers an opportunity to provide feedback to a company acting as an independent ombudsman that collects comments from anyone who visits the site, whether a grantee or not.

There appears to be a new mind-set among grantmakers for openness. Part of that is because there is a new generation moving into leadership positions at these grantmaking agencies, so you're seeing less adherence to the old ways of doing things (i.e., everything the grantmaker does is heavily cloaked) to a new openness, an attitude of sharing and collaboration.

The Center for Effective Philanthropy does another interesting survey, the Declined Applicant Perception Report. Like the Grantee Perception Report, this report is conducted as a way to provide funders with comparative, actionable feedback based on responses to a grantee survey. I don't think there is a way for the public to access either report, but just the fact that foundations are undertaking these kinds of surveys is a good sign.

It appears that philanthropists across the globe are committed to looking at their failures as well as their success stories. According to a report published not long ago by New Philanthropy Capital out of the United Kingdom, the United States is the "frontrunner in the idea of failure in philanthropy, with organizations and campaigns springing up to help the non-profit sector 'fail forward.'"

All of these different ways of sharing information originally started as someone's bright idea and have matured into true movements being embraced by philanthropists throughout the world. At GrantStation, we survey grantseekers twice a year regarding the State of Grantseeking, and share the results with the world at large. It is an exciting time to be involved in philanthropy, whether you're looking for funding or making grant awards!

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.

Ready or not, here comes the new single audit

It is hard to believe we are approaching the end of another year. With the commotion of holidays and end-of-year requirements, some – particularly smaller non-profits – may have forgotten about the latest update from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which has new requirements for those who receive federal awards.

Maximize End of Year Giving While You’re Out of the Office

You worked hard all year. Then came #GivingTuesday. Now it’s end of year fundraising. You’re ready to leave the office and go spend time with family and friends. But wait. There’s one simple thing you can do to put a bow on your hard work all year, especially your year end fundraising.

How to Measure Impact on #GivingTuesday to Apply Next Year & Every Year

The annual day of global giving known as #GivingTuesday (now in its third year) is now behind us, and we in the nonprofit sector are gearing up to acknowledge, celebrate and thank our donors. From the early indications and reports, the day was an astounding success with event close to raising almost $50M (we are being optimistic)!

How Your CEO Can Use Social for Thought Leadership

Slide Share:

How Technology Impacts Your Relationships with Senior Citizens

Today’s senior citizens may take nonprofits by surprise in a variety of ways. Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce and remaining active both socially with friends and relatives and in their communities through volunteerism.

Why Big Data Is Such A Big Deal

In a recent TED Talk, Kenneth Cukier looks at what's next for machine learning and human knowledge.

Kenneth Cukier believes that most people are “probably sick of hearing the term big data.” He notes: “it is true there is a lot of hype around the tool, and that is very unfortunate because big data is an extremely important tool by which human knowledge is going to advance.” In his recent TED talk, posted below, Cukier asks and answers the question: “why big data is such a big deal.”

The New GuideStar Home Page

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.

Today, we launched a new home page for visitors who use our persistent log-in as well as responsive layouts for people who access our site with mobile devices.

New Home Page

#1: GuideStar's Homepage Overview

Registered users who clicked the "Keep me signed in box" when they logged in to GuideStar will soon see the page in the illustration when they visit our home page. Like the home page we introduced in June, this new page puts our nonprofit search front and center, because most people who come to our site do so to search for nonprofits.

Note: you'll need to click the advanced search link (see image #1) to use our knowledge base search, which is available to all users, or our people search, which is available to GuideStar Premium Search and GuideStar Pro Search subscribers.

The new page also adjusts the navigation links, based on what our users told us when we asked them to review and comment on different navigation schemes for our site.

The links at the top of the page have also been simplified:

#2: New navigation bar close-up

But don't worry—the old links are still available. They've just been moved to the bottom of the page:

#3: Relocating links close-up

To get to your My Account page, shopping cart, and sign-out link, you'll click the arrow beside your name at the top right of the page:

#4: My Account

The new navigation will also appear throughout the site as we introduce our new mobile-friendly pages.

Mobile-Friendly Pages

Right now, our site is mobile unfriendly. That's about to change. Although relatively few people visit our site using mobile devices, we want to improve the experience for them. Our new pages will automatically adjust to the screen size you're using, changing horizontal layouts to vertical ones, using larger type that's easier to read on small screens, and displaying larger buttons.

We're excited about the changes we're making to our site. We'll be introducing new upgrades in 2015 to continue making easier to use.

The preceding post is by Scott Menzel, GuideStar's Product Manager.

To Increase Your Organization’s Impact, Work With People Who Reflect Your Values

As consumers, we constantly make purchasing decisions that express our values. A consumer seeking to live a healthy lifestyle might buy organic produce; a consumer conscious of her carbon footprint might purchase a Prius.

How Independent Schools are Focused on Endowments and Fundraising in a More Competitive World

There have been many recent articles on the challenges that private colleges in the U.S. face including lower enrollments, higher costs and tuition increases. Many of these same trends are also impacting independent schools (K-12), which are an important part of our educational system.These trends in the independent school arena include (see Wilmington Trust Report for further discussion):

Top Strategic Mistakes Nonprofits Make, Part 3

Over the last two months, we have published 8 of the 13 key strategic mistakes nonprofits often make. Here are the final 5 mistakes, listed in no particular order.

9. Failing to view marketing $ as an investment

Any money that you put into your marketing, website, social media, search engine optimization, and other promotional and fundraising services should be viewed as an investment that will generate a positive return, ideally within about one year. Along these lines, as you are looking for grants to apply for, don't only look for grants that directly fund programs and services. Also apply for grants to cover overhead costs, including marketing and the other related services mentioned above. There are a surprising number of grants that cater specifically to these types of needs. Good places to search for grants online include Foundation Center and GrantStation.

10. Not considering partnerships

Many nonprofits were founded by well-meaning visionaries who are passionate about providing specific programs and services to pursue their missions and make the world—or at least their local communities—better places. Unfortunately, many nonprofit founders, boards, and management don't consider whether there is already a nonprofit that does the same or similar things, even in a different geographic area. For most nonprofits, there are other organizations that are:

  • Doing exactly or almost exactly the same thing
  • Doing complementary things
  • Serving the same clients (but with different services)
  • Serving a similar geographic area as other similar nonprofits

By partnering with organizations you may be able to:

  1. Avoid reinventing the wheel
  2. Learn from others' mistakes
  3. Capitalize on others' strengths

Ultimately, joining forces—through mergers, acquisitions, and strategic alliances—can enable you to attain a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

11. Failing to cross-sell and upsell

If a donor gives you $100, you should obviously ask him or her to give again in the future. You should not, however, ask the donor to give $25. You should ask for $100, $250, $500, or "other." Moreover, when someone supports you in one way, he or she is then more likely to support you in other ways. For example, ask your volunteers to donate, ask your event attendees to volunteer. And so on.

Also, use wealth research and prospect screening to assess the giving capacity of your supporters. For example, you could use Zillow to assess the value of a donor's home. Finding out that a donor's home is worth $200,000, or $2 million, or $20 million should have dramatic implications for your future cultivation of that donor.

This leads to the concept of relationship cultivation. The moment a new person begins a relationship with your nonprofit—as a client, donor, volunteer, event attendee, even website visitor, e-mail list or blog subscriber, or social media follower—you should already have a plan for how you are going to cultivate that relationship over the long term so that it produces maximum results—not only for you but for that person as well. For example, you may want to get new contacts' e-mail addresses so you can initiate an e-mail "drip campaign," whereby they will automatically receive specific e-mails on a regular basis to help improve the relationship, inform them about what you do, and get them to take various actions to support you. Before and during the cultivation of each relationship, it's essential to figure out what you want that person to do. Which leads us to our next point ...

12. Failing to understand what you want and ask for it

If there's something you want and you don't ask for it, you're unlikely to get it!

For example, ask yourself if you want more donations. Of course, the answer is yes. But now ask yourself if you want recurring donations, donations via eCheck, more event registrations, membership dues/renewals, product sales, in-kind donations, investment donations, or planned gifts. Chances are there are some elements on this list that you want—but you're not effectively asking for them—for example, on your website and in social media. You may also not be asking for them effectively via e-mail, print, U.S. mail, or in person. Notice that these were all financial transactions.

There are probably some non-financial things you want, too. For example, you may want people to volunteer, refer your organization to friends and family, sign up for your e-mail list, friend/follow you on social media, provide feedback, and much more. Again, if you're not asking for these things effectively, especially online, you are unlikely to get them.

13. Not running your nonprofit as a for-profit

The main difference between a nonprofit and a for-profit is that the for-profit pays taxes. Unfortunately, there are a lot of nonprofits that aren't run like for-profits, but should be.

Just like any well-run for-profit, your nonprofit should:

  1. Invest in growth. As mentioned above, consider the cost-benefit analysis behind each key decision, especially financial decisions.
  2. Streamline your decision-making process. Many nonprofits do not empower their executive directors to make strategic decisions. Instead, these decisions must be made by a board that often meets monthly for a short time that is chock full of other agenda items. As a result, decisions can take a long time to make or be made with without properly considering and discussing the best information.
  3. Plan. If you don't know what you're trying to achieve, you won't know when you've achieved it! Create a business plan, strategic plan, marketing plan, Internet or technology plan, and fundraising plan. At least start with just one of those. Each plan should not only include a frank assessment of where you are today and a realistic target as to where you want to get to but also specific strategies and tactics to get you from here to there.
  4. Free is not always best—as discussed in part 2. Yet, many nonprofits are so used to getting volunteers and other things for free that they are lured into the siren song of a well-meaning person or vendor who offers them something for free—when the right decision might be to pay to get it done better, more quickly, more effectively, and with a higher return on investment.
  5. Make everyone accountable for results. Most successful for-profits realize that their boards, management, and staffs will behave in a way most conducive to the organizations' goals if their compensation is tied to those goals.
  6. Realize that you are competing. Of course, for-profits compete for customers. Yet, nonprofits also compete with each other (and sometimes for-profits) for scarce donations, grants, event attendees, volunteers, investment donations, corporate sponsorships, planned gifts, capital gifts, and more.

Other Articles in This Series

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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

Statistics and Damn Lies (and Your Case Statement)

Even 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli had something to say on the subject. "There are three kinds of lies," he said. "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."

I'm careful about statistics. I much prefer inspiring and convincing anecdotes. Statistics have all the spontaneity and passion of drying paint.

The typical reader doesn't have the time or patience to slog his or her way through a sludge of stats. But you'll find he or she is open to anecdotes. They provide action and feeling and more dramatically reveal your organization.

I'll give you an example.

It's late. I turn off the lights in my office and begin walking to the parking lot. I'm crossing the quadrangle when I feel a hand on my arm. It's one of our students. It's obvious she wants to talk.

First, let me tell you about Helen. It's one of the most extraordinary stories we've had at the College. When Helen first came to us as a student. ...

Something like that is so much more striking than saying, "A third of our student body is on some type of financial assistance."

Think in terms of the pelican.

You could write about "the odious British Petroleum spill off the coast of Louisiana. The worst ever. Over 680 million gallons of oil." But it's impossible to comprehend that much oil. And it certainly doesn't make the heart race.

Try this instead:

On the shore you can see pelicans—thousands of them. A rescuer is feverishly working on one whose wings are stuck like glue. Solvent can't undo the damage.

When the rescuer tries to open the pelican's beautiful long beak, he finds it stuck, too. He knows he's going to lose this majestic bird. He's working against time. The death will be slow and painful. But inevitable."

That's a lot more concrete and descriptive than recording that an estimated 3,000 pelicans were killed as a result of the oil spill.

Here's another example. Let's say your student body has increased dramatically over the last 10 years, or your membership has skyrocketed 15 percent every year for the last 5, or your admissions to the emergency room have grown exponentially in the last 3 years. All of these lend themselves effectively to statistics and a graph.

If your statistics are impressive, by all means you should use them. It's what Walter Carpenter, former CEO of DuPont, referred to as "the eloquence of facts." But use them as a drunk might use a lamppost. Only for support, not illumination.

Long rows of statistics will make an actuary or accountant weep with joy. But for most, the eyes glaze over. Instead of the drudge of numbers, use graphs. They tell the story with impact and in a flash.

Here's when to consider statistics:

When showing your program is relevant. The need for your proposed program must be relevant. Donors look for that. The case you build and substantiate must be faultless and impregnable. To demonstrate relevancy, you need facts, details, and back-up information. This is where statistics lend a helping hand.

At St. Mary's, we treat patients day and night. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. Last year, 128,000 people used our emergency room.

There isn't another hospital within 60 miles. The flow through our emergency room is unending. It's impossible to calculate how many would not make it through the night if it weren't for St. Mary's.

You can't fake relevancy. That would be like what the former governor of Texas, Ann Richards, described as "putting lipstick on a pig and calling her Monique."

When demonstrating the allure of your program. The case for your program must have dramatic and emotional appeal. It has to sizzle.

Statistics won't really help in adding drama, but at times they do open the door a crack for you. The great film director Fellini said: "Sometimes if you pull a little tail, you will find an elephant at the other end."

Use statistics when you want evidence of impressive growth.

When demonstrating urgency. There's nothing more critical to the success of your program than describing the urgency for the funds. As the great German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote, "Urgency is the source of everything."

This is one place where statistics can be a welcome friend—when substantiating urgency. The increase in the number of people served. Admissions to the emergency room. The number of homeless on the streets.

Your job is to convey the gravity of the situation—to make the situation dire:

It is February and frigid weather has struck. If we don't have the funds now, there will be 900 on our streets tonight without dinner or shelter. More than 350 of them are children.

But tread lightly. If you present a barrage, it can have all the drama of a diva in decline. Whereas used judiciously to prove a point, stats can strip the flesh bare.

Other Excerpts from This Book



Jerold Panas
© 2014, Jerold Panas. Excerpted from Making a Case Your Donors Will Love. Excerpted with permission.

Jerold Panas is author of Making a Case Your Donors Will Love, from which this article is excerpted. His other books include Asking, The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, and Mega Gifts.

Program Redesign & GuideStar Membership

2014 has been an exciting year for GuideStar. We celebrated our 20th anniversary and launched several new products and initiatives, all aligned with our GuideStar 2020 vision for building the information infrastructure for social change and ensuring that the nonprofit sector is equipped to tackle the great challenges of our time.

The Gift of Technology: Maximizing the Holiday Giving Season

A trip to the mall, a stroll through the neighborhood and the latest TV commercial say it loud and clear: the holiday season is here. In addition to shopping, presents and time with family, a big part of the next several weeks will include donors looking to give to charitable causes.

When Storytelling Isn’t Enough

A lot has been written about storytelling this year – from articles calling it the Biggest Business Skill of the Next 5 Years to foundations creating tool kits and resource centers focused on nonprofit storytelling.

On Walking the Walk: Being a Better Donor

It’s December already – that time of year for cold weather, holiday spirit for those who celebrate, and the nonprofit end of year campaigns! It’s also the time of year that donating with your head, rather than your heart, tends to fly out the window.