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The GuideStar Exchange: Taking Nonprofit Participation to the Next Level

From the day we launched the GuideStar Web site in October 1996, we have encouraged nonprofits to update their reports in our database. Give donors your most up-to-date information, we urged. Breathe life into data gleaned from IRS records, we prompted. Take advantage of our neutral platform to engage Netizens' hearts as well as their minds, we suggested. Let the world know why what you do matters, we exhorted.

These statements are as true today as they were a dozen-plus years ago. The Internet, however, is vastly different, and much about the nonprofit sector has changed as well.

Enter the GuideStar Exchange.

Reaching Out to Donors and Funders, in More Engaging Ways

One size does not fit all on the Internet anymore. Web users expect to find what they're looking for quickly and easily; if they don't, they'll abandon a site faster than you can type "mouse click."

Similarly, Web sites made up entirely of static text pages are rapidly going the way of rotary telephones and dial-up Internet connections. Today's Web surfers are used to multimedia. The donors and funders who rely on GuideStar are no exception.

The GuideStar Exchange has been designed to let nonprofits speak directly to these important audiences. New report pages, accessible to anyone who comes to our site (even people who have not registered with us), let Exchange members tell donors and funders want they most want to know about: missions, programs, and accomplishments. The ability to upload photos and link to YouTube videos allows Exchange members to show GuideStar's users the difference they're making.

Taking Nonprofit Transparency to the Next Level

Nonprofit transparency has also evolved. In 1996, disclosing IRS Form 990 "upon request" was the norm; today thousands of nonprofits post their returns on their Web sites. (And we post them on GuideStar, of course.) Best practices, however, demand more. As the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector states in its 2007 guide, Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice:

A charitable organization should make information about its operations, including its governance, finances, programs and activities, widely available to the public. Charitable organizations also should consider making information available on the methods they use to evaluate the outcomes of their work and sharing the results of those evaluations.

To participate in the GuideStar Exchange, a nonprofit must provide certain documents to GuideStar. Organizations that do so will receive a GuideStar Exchange seal, demonstrating their commitment to operating in an open and accountable manner. Exchange members also have the option of posting additional documents, such as annual reports and applications for exemption, to their reports.

Nonprofits that choose not to share these documents with GuideStar are welcome to update their reports, but they will not receive the seal.

Learn more about the requirements for the GuideStar Exchange >

Going from Participation to Community

Twelve years ago, the Internet was primarily a reference source, a kind of huge cyber-encyclopedia. It still is, but it's also a ginormous marketplace, meeting place, advocacy arena, and more.

Nonprofit participation on GuideStar will soon enter the world of social media with the launch of a GuideStar Exchange blog. In the meantime, we invite all of our nonprofit users to apply to join our Forum of Nonprofit Advisors, an on-line discussion group whose members share their opinions about our features, tools, and policies—anything and everything to help make our services for nonprofits better.

Learning More about the GuideStar Exchange

We invite all nonprofits registered with the IRS to join the GuideStar Exchange. There is no charge to participate, and organizations listed on the Exchange receive a free GuideStar Premium subscription.

Learn more about participating in the GuideStar Exchange (now GuideStar Nonprofit Profiles)

Suzanne E. Coffman, April 2009
© 2009, GuideStar USA, Inc.

Suzanne Coffman is GuideStar's director of communications and editor of the Newsletter.
Topics: Products and Services Nonprofit Leadership and Practice Nonprofit Programs