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

Proposal Writing Pain Be Gone!

Jessica Walker, Development Coordinator

New Text Message Review Feature Offers Nonprofits Instant Feedback

Ninety-eight percent of text messages are read and the majority are opened within three minutes of being sent, according to Techipedia. In comparison 84% of Facebook news feed stories aren’t viewed, 71% of tweets get ignored and 88% of emails go unopened. To leverage the power of texting, GreatNonprofits created a new SMS, or “short message service”, review feature.

You Said Big Data, But You Meant B.I.

Big Data is not a tool. It’s an approach to managing data and a part of corporate Business Intelligence (BI) that cannot be handled by traditional analytical tools. And though there is much confusion - and hype - about big data, it is a remarkably straightforward concept: store everything for later analysis.

Facebook in 2015 – What Nonprofits Need to Know


Questions From "Demystifying the Form 990" Free GuideStar Webinar

The following is a follow-up of additional questions viewers had from our form 990 webinar on April 15th, 2015 with Polsinelli PC and Capin Crouse LLP titled "Demystifying the Form 990: Tips, tricks, and traps of the Form 990.” To view the full slides and recording of the webinar, click here under "Recent Webinars."

How do I Explain a Reserve to My Donors?

A few months back I was facilitating a board retreat for a historical society in Denver and talking about the importance of fundraising, when a board member named John stopped me and asked me this:

16 (yes, 16!) Easy Ways to Lead Your Organization’s Culture Shift

We’ve all been there. Feeling unappreciated. Working for organizations with a revolving door of staff (especially development directors). Mired in dysfunction. It can all be a bit discouraging, no?

7 jaw dropping things I learned at AFP ICON by Rachel Muir

The fundraising part of my brain was on fire after attending the AFP International Fundraising Conference in Baltimore last month.I’ve been a fundraiser for 20 years and as VP of Training I am constantly studying the subject.Naturally, a 3 day conference dedicated to fundraising is my idea of nirvana.It was a privilege to get to speak and I’m excited to share the highlights of what I learned:

5 trends changing big data for nonprofits


1. What public medicine can learn from baseball.

Just how fatal are certain diseases? In a page taken from professional sports scouting and strategy, public health researchers are using data in innovative new ways to figure out how best to allocate budget dollars to national and global health initiatives. Check off another win for big data.

Do Nonprofits and Donors Align When it Comes to Engagement?

GuideStar Exchange Discounts for Spring and Summer FMA Courses

Limited time only: Discount Enrollment in FMA's Certified Nonprofit Accounting Professional (CNAP) Online Course

CNAP online offers those on the nonprofit financial management and accounting front-line comprehensive training on financial reporting, internal controls, budget development, governance, the form 990 and more.

Featuring a built-in self-assessment component, this course gives participants the ability to immediately apply their new knowledge against their organization's capacity and leave the program with an action plan. Since FMA staff deliver fiscal consulting and outsourcing services to nonprofits nationwide, their experience makes this a well-rounded and thoughtful roadmap to the fiscal office of any nonprofit.

Don't miss out on this opportunity to gain confidence in your skills and take your career to the next level! Eligible nonprofits can receive 40% off of enrollment in the Summer online CNAP course, a savings of more than $300.

The summer course runs Thursdays 2-4pm ET June 25—August 6.

Register here

Register here with auto-filled promotional code (GSExchange2015)

Limited time only: Discount Enrollment in FMA's Webinar: Using QuickBooks as a Small Nonprofit

Inexpensive, user-friendly, and widely used across the nonprofit sector, QuickBooks is often the best choice for small organizations with limited resources to invest in accounting software. However, originally designed for companies in the for-profit realm, QuickBooks has limitations when it comes to tracking and reporting on restricted donations and grants.

Over the course of working with many organizations to build and strengthen financial management systems, FMA has refined a series of QuickBooks customizations and "workarounds" to help facilitate nonprofit accounting in this for-profit system.

FMA experts will deliver a virtual learning series on how to use QuickBooks to "operationalize" financial management best practices. Consisting of two hour-long web-based workshops, the series includes practical tips and guidelines for using QuickBooks to meet nonprofit financial reporting needs.

Eligible nonprofits can receive 25% off of enrollment for the spring course, held May 27th, 2015 from 2-3:30pm EDT.

Register here

Register here with auto-filled promotional code (GSExchange2015)

Identifying Donor Experiences That Drive Commitment


Excerpted from Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life

As I see it, the fundamental flaw in our conventional fundraising belief system is this:

"Donors are born, not made."

Those who believe this are convinced that if only they find the right data overlays, the right predictive models, or hit upon the right mailing lists and magic message, there's an enormous reservoir of new donors that'll come their way. Countless millions are futilely spent trying to break the supposed code.

Fortunately, there's a more accurate and actionable approach to take if you really want to improve commitment, retention, and donor lifetime value.

Establishing the proper relationship dynamics (i.e., reliability, consistency, fidelity, trust)—the so-called functional and personal connections that cause commitment—is crucial.

That's only part of the equation, however. What is equally important is identifying the range of organizational actions required to make a good donor, especially those driving the donor toward greater commitment.

We call these essential activities drivers.

Identifying Key Drivers of Donor Commitment

In a DonorVoice study of 250-plus organizations, donors were asked to rate 32 drivers in terms of importance to them. The 32 drivers were:

Personal Connection Drivers

  1. Timeliness of the organization thanking me for my support
  2. Sending a personalized thank-you for my support
  3. Thanking me for my support in a way that makes me feel good about my donation
  4. How regularly the organization thanks me for any ongoing support
  5. Providing me with a feeling of accomplishment made possible by my support
  6. Providing me with a feeling that my involvement is appreciated
  7. Providing me with a feeling of being part of an important cause
  8. Being an innovative charity
  9. Being focused on the mission
  10. Being a well-respected charity
  11. Providing me with opportunities to take action for the cause [e.g., sign petition, organize others, attend rally]
  12. Providing me with opportunities to get more involved [e.g., see the organization's work firsthand, meet staff, volunteer time]
  13. Providing me with opportunities to make my views known [e.g., solicit my opinion on where effort should be focused, make it easy to make suggestions.]
  14. Publicly recognizing my contribution

Functional Connection Drivers

  1. Informing me how my donation was used
  2. Explaining the tax benefits of my donation
  3. The organization's knowledge of the issues it focuses on
  4. Efficiently spending money
  5. Effectively trying to achieve its mission
  6. Using donations ethically
  7. Asking me for appropriate donation amounts
  8. Keeping me informed about how the organization is getting results
  9. Sending information that shows who is being helped
  10. Sending information that makes me glad I support the organization
  11. Sending information that reflects my specific interests
  12. Providing readable information
  13. The frequency of requests for donations
  14. The frequency of information not requesting donations
  15. Creating a sense in me that the organization would do a good job of responding to a complaint or question
  16. Knowing what to expect from the organization each time it interacts with me
  17. Communicating with me in the way I prefer [e.g., by mail, e-mail, phone, mobile device]
  18. Having a similar look and feel to all communications with me.

That's a long if not unwieldy list, I realize, but we wanted to survey donors with as many options as possible. So let's home in on the drivers and experiences donors found most important.

Here are the even key drivers we've identified that most influence donors. They've been scored and ranked in order of their relative importance in improving loyalty, commitment, and value:

  1. Donor perceives your organization to be effective in trying to achieve its mission.
  2. Donor knows what to expect from your organization with each interaction.
  3. Donor receives timely thank-yous.
  4. Donor receives opportunities to make his or her views known.
  5. Donor is given the feeling that he or she is part of an important cause.
  6. Donor feels his or her involvement is appreciated.
  7. Donor receives information showing who is being helped.

Absent a study specifically focusing on your own organization, your retention efforts will be well served by placing your attention and efforts on these seven key drivers.

These drivers have a math-based, cause-and-effect relationship to loyalty and commitment. As you move donors from low to high commitment, the frequency, and amount of their giving will rise dramatically.

I'll venture that one of the most powerful, productive—and fun—sessions you and the key players in your organization can have is discussing and brainstorming actions you can put in place to enhance each of the seven key drivers and tailor them to your organization.

All that's required is an open mind, a pad of chart paper or a white board, and the creativity to adapt the drivers to your own organization.

The preceding is a guest post by Roger Craver. A fundraising pioneer since the 1960s, Roger brings an experienced and critical eye to the greatest problem faced by today's nonprofits: donor retention. He has conducted capital and annual fundraising campaigns, advocacy and membership drives in the United States, Canada, and throughout Europe.

Fundraising: Do Your Board Members Understand the Big Picture?


Remember the fable of the elephant and the blind men? A group of blind men come upon an elephant and seek to learn what it is like. They each touch a part of the elephant, but only one part. The man who feels the trunk thinks the elephant is like a serpent. The man who feels the tusk thinks the elephant is like a spear. And so on. Though each man was partly right, on the whole, all were wrong.

3 Tips for Building Social Engagement with Volunteers

You know social media has become ingrained in our culture when “Facebook” is now a verb, as in “Just Facebook me.”

Ask Andrea: How to Raise Money for a Very Small Organization

Hello, and welcome to the third blog post in which I answer your questions about fundraising! I’ll select interesting or frequent or thought-provoking questions each month and write my answers to them in this forum on the third Thursday of every month

Questions from Board Building Sessions

The following is a follow-up of additional questions viewers had from our 3-part webinar series with Orr Associates, Inc., titled “Making the Most of Your Board.” To view the full slides and recording of the series, click here

Ten Signs of Financial Trouble for Board Members

Over 90% of BoardAssist placements are serving as leaders on the boards where we place them within 12 months of being placed. What does being a leader mean? Among other things, it means being able to support your nonprofit in fiscal matters by spotting the early signs of trouble before it is too late. This week’s guest blogger, finance pro Paul Konigstein, provides us with a terrific check list for trouble in this week’s terrific guest post. Thanks Paul!

Ten Signs of Financial Trouble for Board Members

My computer programmer friends have a saying: garbage in, garbage out. In other words, if the data entered into your program is no good, the reports won’t be any good either. As a Board member, you are the governance program. The information you receive from staff is the data entered and your actions are the output, or reports. Here are ten signs the information you receive may not be of sufficient quality for you to take proper actions.

1. FINANCIAL INFORMATION IS LATE – The benchmark time to prepare financial reports is one month for the most complicated nonprofits. For example, the Board should expect a report for the period ended September 30 by the end of October. A longer turnaround time is an indication that either the finance function is understaffed, financial processes are inefficient, or finance is not a high leadership priority, or all of these.

2. FINANCIAL INFORMATION IS INCONSISTENT FROM REPORT TO REPORT - I consulted with an organization whose cash flow projections swung dramatically from report to report. One month the cash projection would show months of cash on hand . The next month the same report would indicate an urgent need to borrow. This sort of inconsistency is a sign that the report preparation process is broken, and the Board cannot rely on the financial information it receives from the finance team. In this case, the Board should consider an independent assessment of the reporting process.

3. FINANCIAL REPORTS CANNOT BE UNDERSTOOD – Financial reports should clearly show the financial capacity of the organization and how the organization is doing compared to plan and compared to prior years. If these key performance indicators cannot be seen at a glance, Board reports are too detailed and need to be simplified or summarized.

4. VARIANCES FROM BUDGET CANNOT BE REASONABLY EXPLAINED – There are many reasons why financial performance may differ from plan. Reasons include program expansion or contraction, changes in funding levels, and environmental changes. If the staff cannot provide a logical reason for a significant variance from budget, this is a sign of either accounting errors or misuse of funds.

5. EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR DOES NOT PERMIT BOARD CONTACT WITH OTHER STAFF – Senior staff should have direct lines of communication with their associated committee chair to discuss critical issues in their function. For example, the Development Director should meet regularly with the chair of the Fundraising Committee to discuss goals, performance, and Board reports. Executive Directors who act as a single point of contact with the Board may be preventing critical governance issues from reaching the very individuals charged with governance. However, the type of communication senior staff has with the Board should be clearly defined to avoid overloading Board members.

6. FINANCIAL STAFF NEVER TAKES A VACATION – Who doesn’t like to take a vacation? Only people who are afraid that the wheels will come off the bus while they are away. If the finance department cannot continue to function in the absence of a key staff member, this is a sign of poorly designed financial processes and poor staff training. It may also be a sign that the vacation avoider is afraid something that has been hidden will come into the open while they are away.

7. FINANCIAL STAFF CHOOSES THE AUDITOR – An inherent conflict of interest exists when the Chief Financial Officer or Executive Director chooses the auditor. Human nature makes us all crave positive evaluation of our work. A CFO or ED may be inclined to choose an auditor who is more likely to overlook financial shortcomings. Staff may recommend an auditor, but the Finance or Audit Committee of the Board should direct the selection process.

8. AUDITOR DOES NOT MEET WITH BOARD – For New York nonprofits required to have an annual audit, the Nonprofit Revitalization Act requires that the Board meet with the auditor twice: before the audit to understand the audit goals and activities and again afterward to review the results. For nonprofits anywhere, failure to have these meetings leaves the Board without the knowledge required to exercise its fiduciary duty to safeguard the organization’s assets.

9. BOARD DOES NOT REVIEW IRS FORM 990 – To many, reviewing a government filing is about as enticing as a root canal. Indeed, parts of the form are deathly dull. However, the 990 also contains information critical to Board governance such as whether the organization continues to qualify as a public charity, key employee salary disclosures, and the ratio of administrative to total expenses. In addition, one question on the form asks whether the Board has reviewed the 990 prior to filing. Avoid the embarrassment of a funder asking why the Board wasn’t interested in exercising this fiduciary duty.

10. EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR CHOOSES BOARD MEMBERS – To effectively perform its fiduciary duty, the Board must be independent from the staff. If the Executive Director chooses the Board members, the Board is dependent on the staff. Potential Board members should be identified, recruited, and recommended to the full Board for approval by a nominating or governance committee of the Board. Staff may recommend candidates to the Board, but the Board should control the process.

Paul Konigstein is a Senior Consultant at Accounting Management Solutions, helping nonprofits improve their finance, accounting, and governance. Paul is equally comfortable as an interim Chief Financial Officer or as an adviser for a specific project. Before joining AMS, Paul spent over twenty years as a nonprofit financial executive with arts and culture, education, and international development organizations including Helen Keller International, the New York Hall of Science, and the Metropolitan Opera. Outside the office, Paul is the former Board Treasurer for The Animation Project, which transforms the lives of at risk youth using digital art technology as a therapeutic medium and a workforce development tool. BoardAssist brought Paul and The Animation Project together.

The preceding is a cross-post from our friends at BoardAssist, a New York based nonprofit corporation. The original post can be found here on their new blog. BoardAssist is the leading personalized board recruiting resource available to the tri-state nonprofit community. They offer New Yorkers who want to make a real change in the nonprofit world a wide selection of board options and advice on selecting the right one for them. Nonprofit clients range from start-up organizations to some of the most established names in the nonprofit community, and serve interest areas from arts and education to the environment and poverty relief. Though most BoardAssist clients are New York-based, they serve locally, nationally and internationally. BoardAssist has been responsible for bringing over $55 million into the nonprofit community through our board placements over the last 10 years.

5 Tips to Shine in LinkedIn Groups

5 Tips to Better Participate in LinkedIn Groups

Nonprofits digging into social media may be aware that LinkedIn offers great opportunities to network and find talent whether volunteers, board members, or a new CEO. But LinkedIn’s professional network is much more than a glorified resume sorter. It’s a place where thought leaders gather to share their expertise, and there’s no better way to do that than by cultivating an active presence in LinkedIn groups.

A Theory of Everything

"There is nothing as practical as good theory." -Carol Weiss

Building community: another term for fundraising


Guess What Percentage of Volunteers do the Majority of the Volunteering

Everyone knows volunteer organizations thrive because of champion volunteers who put in more time than the rest of us. They are passionate, they are responsible, and they are absolutely the foundation of the entire volunteer program. But we wanted to know exactly what percentage of volunteers actually do the majority of the volunteering.

The ALS Ice Bucket Donor Retention Challenge

Beth Kanter with Barbara Newhouse, President & Chief Executive Officer, ALS Association