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Data quality in the GuideStar Exchange


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The Research

GuideStar provides comprehensive data on nonprofit organizations in the U.S. While the focus has been on financial data for a long time, the GuideStar Exchange’s aim is to make comprehensive information on nonprofits (NPOs) available for GuideStar’s users. The GuideStar Exchange data covers three categories donors are especially interested in: basic information (such as contact information, mission statement, etc.), financial information, and information on the organization’s results and impact.

With already more than 35,000 nonprofit organizations having reached the GuideStar Exchange Gold, Silver, or Bronze levels (indicating the organization’s commitment to transparency and level of information sharing), we decided it was a good time to take a deeper look into the database to assess the quality of the information provided by the NPOs.

The two main questions we asked were:

  1. Are the answers of the NPOs correct and up-to-date?
  2. Are the answers complete and do they give a comprehensive and clear picture of what the NPO is doing and achieving?

The research included the analysis of the data of a random sample of 120 organizations that participate in GuideStar Exchange including Gold-, Silver-, and Bronze-level participants, as well as an additional in-depth analysis of the information on the mission, programs, and the program’s results of 90 Gold-level participants. In order to get a more detailed picture, organizations of three different revenue sizes (less than $200K, $200K – $1Million and more than $1 Million) were analyzed. The data was checked against other publicly available information about the NPOs, mainly their websites.

Findings and Conclusions

From the myriad of insights and learnings from the research I would like to highlight four points:

1. High data quality:

The main and very positive finding of the research is the affirmation that information NPOs fill into the online database is correct and up–to-date and therefore, the GuideStar Exchange provides users with reliable information on NPOs and their work!

2. Reporting on outcomes and impact remains a challenge for most NPOs:

The in-depth analysis of the mission, programs, and the results of the programs showed that about 2/3 of the NPOs provide information that reflects well what the programs are doing and achieving. NPOs with a higher budget tend to be a bit better in their reporting in these areas but there are also small NPOs that do very well.

Irrespective of the size of the NPO, information on the program’s outputs is, for the most part, quantified and reported on, while information on outcomes and impact is (if at all) described in a more qualitative way. While it can be very challenging, NPOs should try to report on outcomes and impact as well.

3. GuideStar Exchange is a good framework for reporting and program management:

The analysis showed that for organizations that already have a good monitoring and reporting system in place, it is easier to provide the information to the GuideStar Exchange. At the same time, the GuideStar Exchange provides a good framework for reporting and impact-oriented program management. The Charting Impact questions (that are part of the required information for reaching the GuideStar Exchange’s Gold level) cover the project-management-cycle and can be used as a framework and a starting point for monitoring, evaluation, and reporting that can help to systematically manage and improve programs!

4. The more NPOs and more data fields, the higher the value of the GuideStar Exchange:

The GuideStar Exchange is very helpful for both the users of the data and the NPOs. For the users, it provides reliable information, and for the NPOs, it provides the opportunity to present themselves to the audience of anticipated 15 million annual users of GuideStar. The more organizations that provide high quality data in as many of the sections and fields of the database as possible, the more comprehensive and useful GuideStar Exchange is going to be for both!

On the basis of the research’s findings we are continuously thinking about ways to improve the usability of GuideStar Exchange and we always welcome your feedback!

Bettina KurzThe preceding is a post by Bettina Kurz. Bettina is currently working as a Special Projects Fellow at the GuideStar office in Washington, DC, where she just authored a report on data quality for the GuideStar Exchange program. She is a visiting fellow from Germany where she works as a Social Impact Analyst for PHINEO, a Berlin based not-for-profit-corporation.

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