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GuideStar Then and Now: The Impact of a “Simple” Idea

GuideStar Then and Now: The Impact of a Simple IdeaOn September 6, 1994, a new business opened in an office park in Williamsburg, Virginia. Philanthropic Research, Inc. (PHR), sought to transform philanthropy by gathering nonprofit information and making it available to donors. PHR was a for-profit entity staffed by five people (founder Buzz Schmidt and four employees).

Not surprisingly, a lot has changed in the past 23 years. PHR is now GuideStar. We’re now a nonprofit, having received our tax-exempt status in August 1996. Our staff now exceeds 80 people. We have offices in Washington, D.C., and Oakland as well as Williamsburg, and several employees work remotely from locations along the East Coast, in the Midwest, San Diego, Seattle, on Maui, and in Japan.

And our audience has grown exponentially. Donors still rely on GuideStar, but so do many others: grantmakers and other funders; the nonprofits in our database; businesses and individuals that provide services to nonprofits; local, state, and federal charity regulators; instructors and students; academic researchers; and journalists. Some 8 million people a year visit our website, and millions more access GuideStar data through the more than 200 sites and applications that partner with us, including AmazonSmile, Facebook, Network for Good, and the major U.S. donor-advised funds.

For me, this last point is the most striking thing about GuideStar’s history. A relatively simple idea—“There’s no place for donors to get independent information about the charities asking them for money. We need to create one so donors will make better decisions”—has affected so many people. After 17 years at GuideStar, I still marvel that making nonprofit information widely available has had such a broad impact.

But I really shouldn’t be surprised: the nonprofit sector is full of simple ideas that have changed lives: “A fighting chance for every baby” (March of Dimes). “We build strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter” (Habitat for Humanity). “Put a stop to animal cruelty” (ASPCA). “Medical aid where it is needed most” (Doctors Without Borders). The list is almost limitless. And, of course, the concepts may be simple, but executing them is not.

It’s an honor to be part of the sector that strives to improve the world. It’s humbling to know we’ve made a difference. We’re grateful to everyone who’s been on this journey with us. And we look forward to continuing it in the years to come.

Better data. Better decisions. Better world.

GuideStar Then and Now: The Impact of a Simple IdeaSuzanne Coffman is GuideStar’s editorial director. She joined GuideStar in November 1999, not quite a month after GuideStar posted the first 990s on its website. Those were interesting times! You can learn more about GuideStar’s evolution on our history page.

Topics: GuideStar