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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 (http://greatnonprofits.org/ ), 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 (http://www2.guidestar.org/rxg/help/reviews/policies-for-posting-reviews-on-guidestar.aspx), 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