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GuideStar Blog

From the President's Office, January 2007

Dear Friend:

We are determined to make GuideStar a service that you not only value highly but also one that you help to design and customize to meet your needs, one that ultimately you are eager to recommend to your friends and colleagues. We hope that through continuous improvement we can meet—and eventually exceed—your expectations. This month, I want to focus on your feedback regarding a new service and two recurring issues.

One of GuideStar's most significant accomplishments last year was the launch of our new search engine, thanks to your advice and encouragement. Our new search engine is much faster than its predecessor—the average time it takes us to return search results has decreased by 83 percent, to less than a second.

Our new search engine is also more accurate. Many users have commented that they are now able to find the exact organization they are looking for closer to the top of the search results.

A few users have had questions or suggested improvements. I'd like to take a few minutes to respond to the most frequently mentioned of those comments.

  • Searching for Organizations by Name
    Some users have said that they were unable to find an organization using its name as a search term. For best results searching on an organization's name, omit terms that are sometimes abbreviated and sometimes spelled out, such as "Co.," "Company," "Inc.," and "Incorporated."

    Deleting such generic terms as "Fund" or "Foundation" can also help. One of my colleagues was looking for the "mexican american legal and education foundation" (the search engine is not case sensitive). When a search on those terms was unsuccessful, she deleted "foundation" from the query. She found the organization, the Mexican American Legal Defense Educational Fund.

  • More Search Fields
    Some people have said that they would like more search fields. Any user can access our advanced search, either from the link under the "GuideStar It" box on the home page or the link under the search button at the top of all other pages.

    Which GuideStar service you subscribe to determines how many advanced search fields are available to you. GuideStar Basic, our no-charge access available to all registered users, gives you 4 advanced search fields; GuideStar Select, our mid-level subscription service, gives you 9; and GuideStar Premium, our subscription service for our power users, gives you 12.

  • Search Results Order
    Some users would like their search results to display alphabetically rather than by relevance to their search term(s). GuideStar Select and GuideStar Premium subscribers can sort their search results alphabetically. The "sort by" tool appears at the top of the search results. (FYI, nonprofits that update their nonprofit report on GuideStar receive complimentary access to GuideStar Premium.)

Please let me know what other questions or suggestions you have to help make your searches more productive.

Finally, I want to mention two issues that are not related to our search engine but that appear frequently in our feedback section and in inquiries to our Customer Service Department.

  • Form 990 Dates
    Users frequently tell us, "I clicked on the link for a 2004 990, but when the form came up, it was for 2003." Actually, that was the 2004 Form 990. GuideStar follows standard accounting conventions and uses the end of the fiscal year as the date of a return. The large date on the upper right of the 990's first page is the form year; the IRS uses the beginning of the fiscal year for the form year.

  • Currency of the 990s
    "Can you get fresher 990s?" Usually the 990 you're looking at on GuideStar is the most current one available. An organization that gets two extensions can file its return 11½ months after the end of its fiscal year. GuideStar receives 990 images directly from the IRS, usually about two months after the returns are filed. Because nonprofits have different fiscal years, we receive images year-round. For more information, see our .
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to share with us their thoughts about our new search engine. Please continue to use the feedback links on our home page, advanced search page, and search results page to let us know about your experience using GuideStar. We have already made several changes based on your comments. Your feedback is invaluable as we fine-tune our search engine and continue to improve GuideStar to serve your needs and interests better.

Happy New Year,

Bob Ottenhoff
President and CEO