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GuideStar Blog

Trusting in the Opinions of Others

“Don’t you have a mind of your own?” Growing up, that question usually followed some decision (usually bad, from my parents’ perspective) I made after following the advice of my peers. Not much has changed since then. Sure, as the mother of three, I changed the question a bit—“Why do your friends’ opinions count so much?” It was certainly my way of adding a bit of introspection to the discussion, but the outcome is really the same. For most of us, trusting the wisdom of people we know and respect plays a role in making a decision.

But what about the opinions of people we don’t know personally? Do we trust them as much? There are literally hundreds of sites that allow you to write a review on just about any product or service—from hotels to doctors. Reviewing service providers has raised the “Don’t you have a mind of your own?” question to an art form.

As a marketer, I know the power of a good product testimonial. Nothing beats a real story from a satisfied customer as the ultimate endorsement of a product or service’s value. But opening up reviews to everyone—even dissatisfied customers—adds a new wrinkle. And extending the review process beyond the for-profit world to the nonprofit community has raised a few eyebrows.

Through our partnership with Great Nonprofits ( ), you can read what others think about a charitable organization’s work from a very grassroots level. In addition to the usual ground rules of good taste (, you must have had direct experience with the nonprofit you are reviewing. That means everyone from clients and volunteers to disgruntled ex-employees can write a review. Any organization can rebut a bad review, but some organizations feel as though the damage has already been done and want out of the process altogether.

A recent Washington Post (link) article reports that as a way to combat a proliferation of on-line sites that rate doctors, some physicians are requiring patients to sign agreements that prohibit them from on-line postings or commentary in any media outlet “without prior written consent.” (Source – Washington Post, July 21, 2009).

Now that opens a whole new can of worms. Would you trust a doctor, a nonprofit organization, or any other service provider that would make such a request? Instead of opting out of the discussion, we should embrace reviews as simply one more data point in a donor’s analysis of our work. We need to stay vigilant as we continually educate donors that trusting only one data point—be it a review, one line off the Form 990, a fundraising ratio, etc.—should never be the sole basis of any good giving decision.

Written by Debra Snider, VP of Marketing for GuideStar

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice