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Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday, and nonprofits everywhere will be sharing their story and mission, looking to reach as many donors as possible and find new like-minded people to join their causes.

Debunking the 15% Overhead for Good

Can we please stop the management consultants and charity evaluators of the world from poisoning the water with their mantra of 15% overhead? I know they mean well, but constantly harping on this 15% ideal is simplistic and is causing great harm to many wonderful, worthy organizations.

Announcing My Next Book: The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit

This graphic illustration was created by Chrissie Bonner, Illustrating Progress during a keynote talk I did at the Alliance for Nonprofit Management Conference on Oct. 7.

Women in Nonprofits: Then & Now

The author with her daughter Katie, now a practicing attorney in Pittsburgh, PA. 

For a 65 year old woman to be asked to write on Women in Nonprofits: Then & Now seems to assume that I am the Then. The old saw, “you're as young as you feel” assures me that I remain also the Now! But to be given an assignment to think about my life in the midst of living it is a welcome one...and there are both many differences from Then and Now and in some ways, too few.

Never Lose Sight of These Bedrock Fundraising Truths


While some fundraising truths are relative to a community or cause, others are absolute, in my opinion. The three discussed below have relevance wherever you are and whatever you do. You’ll find a fuller examination of these and other fundraising truths in my book, Fundraising Mistakes that Bedevil All Boards (and Staff Too).

People give to your organization because it meets needs, not because it has needs.

This is the most important truth in fundraising. Get this one right and the others will be easier to realize.

Think of the most successful philanthropic organizations in the U.S.—our universities, hospitals, and major arts organizations. They don’t present themselves as needy. They present themselves as organizations meeting needs. They showcase their successes. They quantify their impact.

During the economic downturn of 2009, I received countless appeals from organizations bemoaning their budget shortfalls, constrained annual funds, and stalled campaigns. These groups erroneously thought I’d give simply because they had needs. But I wanted to know exactly what societal needs they were meeting.

By contrast, during the same time Stanford University raised more than $6 billion from 160,000 donors. How was this possible? Because Stanford presented opportunities for donors to invest in programs addressing the long-term needs of our society, such as the environment and energy.

The truth is plain to see: people invest in impact, not in needy organizations.

Values, not wealth, determine a person’s willingness to give

It always happens. A big fundraising campaign is looming. It’s time to refine the old prospect lists and add new names. We use various criteria to build our lists but the biggest one is usually wealth. “John Taylor just built an enormous house; he obviously has money; let’s add him to our list.”

We continually fail to recognize the obvious. John could have all the money in the world, but if he doesn’t share your values or your vision, either he won’t give or he’ll give modestly from a sense of duty.

We’re much better served if we begin with people who share our values. One performing arts organization I worked with during an economic downturn stayed vibrant when others around it were staggering. The executive director engaged her community, found out what type of performances they wanted, paid attention to donors at all levels, and gave them what they valued. Her contributed revenue never went down.

A few years ago, those on the Forbes 400 were asked to name the principal driver of their giving. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that 70 percent identified “personal values.”

Values drive philanthropy for all of us. But there are three other things we need to consider when identifying someone as a viable prospect for giving:

  • a personal connection to the organization,
  • concern for the cause as a reflection of the prospect’s values, and
  • financial capacity to give.

Although common sense tells us that the first two outweigh the third, we persist in starting with the third.

I often help organizations review prospect lists. Someone will hand me a list of potential donors or people to interview for a feasibility study or individuals to invite to a cultivation event. When I ask how these individuals are allied with the organization, more often than not the answer is, “They aren’t—but they have money.”

When generating new lists, resist the temptation to have people list all the high-net-worth individuals they know. Instead, start by asking them, “Who shares our values and is interested in our work?”

There are no “right words” when asking

How tedious it would be if we all carried the same script when calling on prospective donors! And what if all of us used the same foundation or corporation proposals, and if all fundraising letters, e-mails, and tweets were nearly identical? What a dreary landscape that would produce!

While there are certain phrases that work better than others—for example, inclusive language like “join with us,” “be part of,” or “I know from our conversations that you and I share a belief in”—even these phrases can be set aside if you have a better way of saying the same thing and getting the right result.

The only “right words” are those that reflect you and the organization, and those you know are right for the donor because you’ve been a good listener and discerned what he or she cares about.

The best advice is the simplest: be yourself. To be sure, you’ll want to remember what you learned in your training or coaching sessions. You need to remember to avoid phrases such as “Anything you can give will be great” or “I’m sorry to be bothering you.” Use words with which you are comfortable. Accept that the words won’t flow perfectly.

My favorite illustration of this truth is this: One volunteer, intimidated by a prospect she was calling on who was much older and in a higher position in the same company, finally asked the man for the gift—$25,000. He seemed stunned and said no one had ever asked him for a gift of that size. She blurted out the first thing that came to her mind: “Well, I’ve never ASKED anyone for a gift that size.” They both laughed ... and he made the gift.

The preceding is a guest post by Kay Sprinkel Grace, author of The Ultimate Board Member's Book, Fundraising Mistakes That Bedevil All Boards (and Staff Too), and Over Goal!


5 Rules to Get Year-End Appeals Read

The end of the year will be here before you know it!
Working on your year-end appeal?

Around this time of year, it’s common for me to hear one or more of the following — not just from newbies to the profession, but also from seasoned pros:

  • I’m struggling with copy. Just wish it could be more inspiring.
  • I wish I knew some tricks to get more folks to open our envelope (or e-mail).
  • I’d like to leverage our appeal with e-mail and social media, but don’t know where to start.
  • Wish I knew how to make our call to action more urgent.

If these statements sound familiar, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

Nonprofit HR and GuideStar Need Your Insight on Nonprofit Employment Practices

At Nonprofit HR, we help nonprofit organizations strengthen their most important asset -- their employees -- through human resources consulting, talent acquisition, executive search, and education.

For the last 10 years, Nonprofit HR has conducted the industry-leading Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey, which studies employment trends, growth and changes in nonprofit employment. The survey includes information on participants’ staff size and projected growth, recruitment strategies and budgeting, staffing challenges and talent resource management, and is frequently cited in media outlets like The Huffington Post and The New York Times.

21 Discovery Questions to Ask Now

Great discovery is the key to retain and upgrade our donors. If we want donors to understand us we have to start by understanding them. Discovery centers on humans favorite subject – ourselves! Statistically people spend 60% of conversations talking about themselves.

Hidden Business Opportunities in GuideStar Data

Women in Nonprofit Leadership

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at Independent Sector’s annual conference in Miami, where I was invited to be the “young professional voice” on the panel, Gender Inequity in the Charitable Sector. When preparing for the panel, I reflected back on my own career, within and out of the nonprofit sector.

Green 2.0 Reports Lack of Transparency about Diversity by Major Environmental Funders, While Many Smaller Foundations Disclosed Data

Green 2.0 announced that one year from their initial call for transparent diversity data – and months after the Presidents of the Bullitt, Ford, Hewlett, Kresge, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Wilburforce Foundations jointly echoed the need for data sharing by environmental funders – a majority of the 40 biggest funders of environmental work declined to share diversity data on their GuideStar profiles. Green 2.0 reports that many funders outside of the top 40 disclosed their employee and board information. This summer, the six foundation presidents co-signed a letter urging their peers to upload data by August 15. The deadline was extended to September 15, 2015.

Free New GuideStar Report: U.S. Veterans Organizations by the Numbers

In honor of Veterans Day, we looked at nonprofits dedicated to veterans and veterans issues. We’ve published the results in a new report, “U.S. Veterans Organizations by the Numbers,” which you can download for free from our website.

More Than Giving Thanks, A Day For Giving Back

On November 11th, Wednesday of this week, Americans will come together to celebrate Veterans Day. For some, observing the day may involve attending a parade, ceremony, concert or other tribute. For others it may take on deeper meaning of thanks and reflection.

Breaking Down Barriers to Expand Data for Social Good

Jake Porway from DataKind and Neal Myrick from the Tableau Foundation talk about their work with change-makers, to develop new ways for organizations at every level to inform their efforts through data.

Using Guilt in Fundraising


Excerpted from How to Turn Your Words Into Money

It was bad enough that I thought throwing a dirt clod at Kevin would be fun. But I made it worse. A group of us were throwing rocks down a hillside, aiming at a rusty barrel at the bottom. It made a satisfying clang when you hit it. Good, clean fun. But you know how things can go with boys throwing rocks.

Five Steps to a Stellar GuideStar Nonprofit Profile

As you may have heard,
we recently launched the our brand new, completely redesigned GuideStar Nonprofit Profiles. Our new profiles display your information in more engaging ways and make it easier for donors and funders to learn about your organization.

4 Mistakes that Doom your Nonprofit's Information Design

Most nonprofits aren’t blessed with their own in-house design teams. Resources are tight, so when it’s time to create an infographic for a report or a chart for your website, the task often falls on someone who isn’t trained in design.

If you’re that person, the task can be daunting. And the results aren’t always pretty.

As the co-founder of a design firm that works with nonprofits, I’ve seen a lot of do-it-yourself information design projects that could have been improved if they had only aimed to avoid making 1 or more of the 4 most common mistakes:


When you’re tasked with designing an infographic or other data visualization, you should aim to organize your presentation around one main point — often something that is interesting or surprising.

You then build your piece around showing that key point and support that point with no more than 2 or 3 sidebars that provide context or related information.

Often, however, those who are charged with creating infographics try to present way too much information.

If you’ve ever tried to navigate a long, scrolling infographic online like this one, you can see what happens when the designer succumbs to information overload. In this treatment, there is simply too much information, and the information is not organized or presented in a way that helps the reader understand its key points.

When a piece has no central insight and/or tons of equally weighted sidebars, many readers will simply tune out.

Contrast that long, scrolling infographic with this one, which is organized around a central idea and is supported by 3 clear sections.


We are so familiar with pie and bar charts, that we sometimes forget that these charts are supposed to be used to accurately and precisely represent information.

When we decorate or alter these graphs and charts, we can skew the presentation of the data they represent.

For example, when we create a pie or bar chart in 3D, it alters the data behind the graph. By introducing depth, we exaggerate the differences between values. A 3D bar chart, like the ones below, forces the viewer to compare volumes when the data is actually being measured by height.

Even a treatment such as the one to the left, which is more visually pleasing than a flat chart, distorts the information.


While many infographics have far too much information, there are almost an equal number that convey almost no data but take up a lot of space.

Common Problems with Infographics

This often happens when the creators forget to ask themselves if they really needed an infographic in the first place.

When you create an infographic, if a chart – or even a sentence – would tell the story more effectively, you wind up with a lot of noise and almost no useful information.

By trying to be cute, this piece uses a lot of real estate to do what a few vertical lines or even a sentence would have done much better.


Infographics should be thoughtful in the presentation of data. While it’s understandable that people want to liven these pieces up to grab attention, flash shouldn’t come at the cost of making the information easily accessible.

This piece, for example, organizes the carbon footprints of various countries to make the shape of a foot. While the designers surely felt that was an important tie into to the idea of a footprint, the presentation makes it difficult for viewers to understand the data it is trying to convey.

Viewers would be able to make far more interesting observations of the data if it were organized in a number of other ways such as by physical geography, size, or growth rates.

The preceding post originally appeared on the Social Media for Nonprofits blog, click here to read. About the author: Matthew Scharpnick is the Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Elefint Designs, a strategic design studio that works with good causes. Combining strategy with design, Elefint helps nonprofits, NGOs and other social sector organizations tell compelling stories and achieve greater impact. Matthew specializes in branding, design strategy, storytelling, and data visualization.

3 Unique Ways Your Current Donors Can Help You Acquire New Donors with Social Media

 Imagine there is a new, hit show on TV. You’ve vaguely heard about it, but you haven’t seen it yet and you’re not sure if you will.

One day, you’re in line at the bank and the person in front of you is raving about how talented the leading actress is. You make a note in your head to watch the show, but you don’t add it to your DVR quite yet. The next afternoon, your friend won’t stop talking about the show at lunch. Now you just have to check it out.

Top Giving Tuesday Strategies and Resources

Where has 2015 gone? We only have a few more months left, and 2016 is just around the corner!

But before you start buying new calendars and making those important resolutions, make sure your nonprofit is taking advantage of all of the strategies and resources that can help you generate more revenue with Giving Tuesday!