For many years, I have been speaking on behalf of GuideStar on the subject of charity watchdogs and the inherent problems with them as a gauge for “good” or “bad” charities. During this time, GuideStar has often been characterized as one ofthose watchdogs or ratings services. As an employee of GuideStar for the past 13 years, I am very familiar with its programs and am consistently baffled by this characterization. GuideStar has never assigned “star ratings” or told people which charity is good or bad. Nor do we advise people to give to one nonprofit over another—that’s not what we’re about.
A couple of weeks ago I participated in a panel discussion for the DMAW called Charity Watchdogs, Donor Perceptions and The Overhead Myth – A Panel Discussion. There, I finally gained insight into why there has been so much confusion.
There may be some confusion because we partner with GreatNonprofits -- a Yelp-like service where people can give charities a1-5 star rating. The organization’s star rating then appears on both GuideStar and GreatNonprofits reports, but again, those stars are from everyday people and customers—not GuideStar.
The main confusion, however, lies in this: GuideStar was the first to post comprehensive information about charities online—nearly two decades ago. To that end, we offered the only comprehensive look at any charity “health” standard that existed. And so,by virtue of GuideStar providing charity financial data to the public, (which before that time had seen nothing at all of scale on charities) we became watchdogs in the eyes of charities as well as the public. Therefore, from being the default leaders in open nonprofit data, we inadvertently created a myth that we were also evaluating the charities at the heart of that data – which was, and remains, untrue.
Not that we didn’t try to clarify that myth, however. GuideStar has had a no-cost way for charities to tell their own story online 24/7 for more than a decade now, although it is not through star rankings or anonymous reviews. Instead, it is through our GuideStar Exchange Program. While GuideStar displays the IRS Form 990 and the financial information from that reporting document today as a base line of accountability and transparency for the Charities in the US., GuideStar has always recognized that this information alone cannot be used to judge whether a charity is effective or efficient. Thus, GuideStar developed the Exchange program and has been asking, pleading, cajoling, and incentivizing charities to fill out a more robust profile of information that can offer insight into their good works. We do this so we can tell everybody through our partnerships and clients the real story of what nonprofits do and how they do it.
This challenge for us is never-ending. We are still out there every chance we get, asking nonprofits to share their own data with the world. Today, we are trying to move the needle even more by including impact questions for nonprofits to consider and fill out, as well as providing the capacity to add additional documents. This is why we still provide the GuideStar Exchange platform today at no cost to nonprofits, and with the high benefit of reaching all the major Donor Advised Funds in this country and 60 + platforms for giving.
Why do this? Our interest has always been about transparency, accountability, and empowerment of the nonprofit sector on a large scale. GuideStar has the capacity to be the conduit for the charities-- to tell the world about their viability, effectiveness, and efficiencies.We are already well on our way to becoming this. GuideStar is already the number one provider of in-depth information about charities to the world We are proud to be this, and are excited to see what more we can accomplish.
So – let’s be clear:
GuideStar is not a watchdog organization.
GuideStar is not a rating service.
GuideStar is a globally-used, ever-growing compilation of quality, trustworthy information on charaties and nonprofits.
The preceding is a guest post by Bunkie Righter, a business development director at GuideStar. Bunkie Righter has 20 years of experience in both nonprofit management and fundraising. During the last nine years with GuideStar, Bunkie has worked in a variety of roles, and for the last eight years in her current role, where she focuses on developing partner relationships and delivering comprehensive data solutions from the GuideStar database for partners and clients. Beyond the distribution of GuideStar’s extensive database through licensing partnerships, she travels throughout the country talking with nonprofit professionals about GuideStar’s role in the nonprofit sector.