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From the President's Office, August 2008

Dear Friend:

It's been a busy summer here at GuideStar, with a surprising number of inquiries from reporters about nonprofit subjects and an unusual number of articles about how to give to nonprofit organizations.

I thought I would share a few highlights.

Compensation continues to be one of the issues reporters raise most. I try to get them to focus on context: What skill sets does the job require? What do comparable organizations pay? And have the decisions been made deliberately by the governing body in a meaningful process? I recognize that if we hope to attract and retain talented people in the nonprofit sector, we need competitive salaries. But we are not telling the story of our compensation strategy very well, and our fundraising appeals often sound as if we are desperate, thereby leaving the donor confused or conflicted.

How to make a good giving decision also comes up frequently. Donors want to do the right thing. Be proactive, I urge; don't just react to emotional telephone or mail appeals. Start with your own values as a donor. Identify what's important to you, then find the nonprofits whose work supports your values. Naturally, I suggest GuideStar as a resource for finding those organizations.

Coupled with giving tips is a growing concern about whether an organization is effective and efficient. I urge reporters to tell their readers to start by asking whether the organization is accomplishing its mission. Can the organization articulate what it is trying to do, and can it tell you how it is doing? This answer is not particularly popular—journalists are looking for ratios and ratings, quantifiable, easy-to-understand evaluations they can point their audiences to. But I give it the old GuideStar try, explaining why we don't believe in one-size-fits-all ratios and evaluations. And I enjoy the challenge of convincing a skeptical audience.

What scams should I be most concerned about? Even the  Wall Street Journal devoted an entire column to avoiding nonprofit scams in July. Yes, I acknowledge, there are people who try to take advantage of others' generosity. Donors need to protect themselves. Confirm a nonprofit's legitimacy by looking it up on GuideStar. Always initiate on-line giving yourself—never by clicking a link in an e-mail. And never, never give your banking or credit card information in response to a phone call or e-mail that claims to be gathering the data for a charity.

These conversations remind me how important it is for those of us in the sector to communicate with the world around us. We need to focus more energy on telling the public about our missions and programs. We have to share both the facts—appealing to the head—and our passion—touching the heart. In short, we have to give people the information they need to make confident decisions.

That's what GuideStar is all about. Every day, we strive to make this meeting of the minds possible.

How has your summer been?


Bob Ottenhoff
President and CEO