Periodically at GuideStar, we like to step back from our day-to-day activities and look at the bigger picture of what we do. As part of that effort, December's Question of the Month asked, "Has GuideStar affected the way you do your job or make charitable donations?"
More than half (52 percent) of the people who responded answered, "Yes." Another 28 percent said, "No," and 20 percent responded, "Neither yes nor no."
So what has changed for the 52 percent who said, "Yes"? The responses identified five areas where GuideStar is making a difference:
Researching Giving DecisionsSeveral people said they consulted GuideStar before giving to charity. Lawrence A. Krantz explained, "I use GuideStar regularly to access financial data before making our family's quarterly contribution decision. I rate each non-profit considered using my criteria and your information as part of our personal formula for giving." GuideStar, he concluded, "opens my eyes to the possibilities."
"I always use GuideStar, among other resources, to help me decide whether or not to contribute to requests," an anonymous respondent wrote. Another anonymous donor said, "Rapid access to IRS 990s is very helpful to my decision making for contributions."
Corporate donors also consult GuideStar before making giving decisions. "In order to process a corporate employee gift match donation we prefer to confirm/verify the organization's eligibility as a valid 501(c)(3) and the purpose of the organization via information available on GuideStar," Yvette Magill of TSA, Inc. stated. "If a charity is not recognized through GuideStar it makes it far more difficult for us to determine if the charity is legitimate and fits within the guidelines of eligible charities as outlined in our corporate policy."
Accessing IRS Forms 990A number of respondents specified that they use GuideStar to consult charities' 990s. "Rapid access to IRS 990s is very helpful to my decision making for contributions," an anonymous reader stated. David Diness, a member of two nonprofit boards and a 4 Charity volunteer, noted, "If I can't find a well prepared 990 on the web, 'I ain't interested.' I always ask an organization for Fed ID#. I then go to GuideStar and search the data."
"GuideStar has opened up hundreds of not for profit 990s for review and analysis," commented an anonymous participant. "As a director of a number of not for profits and contributor to many GuideStar has helped me readily gather financial information to analyze and benchmark the performance of many entities."
BenchmarkingMore than one respondent mentioned benchmarking. Caroline Whiddon of the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association stated, "The information provided by GuideStar allows me to get a glimpse at the financial picture of other nonprofits that are similar to mine. I use my knowledge of the financial structures of other nonprofits to inform important decisions as my own organization develops in scope."
An anonymous participant said, "As a non-profit professional, [GuideStar has] given me easy access to best practices in the sector and made it simpler to compare our effectiveness with that of others with a similar mission. I think the result is higher standards for everyone. As a job-seeker, it helps me learn more about organizations I consider applying to. As a donor, personally I haven't used it much as the organizations I give to have already established trust with me. But if I were approached by a charity I were unfamiliar with, I would check them out on GuideStar."
Researching Nonprofit JobsBarbara Sacerdote of the Rural Development Institute also relied on GuideStar when she was researching nonprofit jobs: "As a not-for-profit executive, when I was recently considering switching positions, GuideStar was my single best resource for researching possible organizations."
An anonymous job seeker found useful information on GuideStar: "I used the information to research a potential employer. The links to 990s were helpful in researching the salary range and I realized that it was unlikely they'd be able to offer the salary I currently make. The info helped save both sides time. I've also checked on some of the nonprofits I support."
Researching Funding SourcesFinding grant sources was the final category mentioned. Marilyn A. Lester of the Dominican University wrote, "Future librarians learn about searching for grants for library patrons. I teach a graduate course in Library and Information Science. My students have to research a foundation, identify the officers, assets, and prior grant recipients from the 990s." An anonymous participant stated, "I now research foundations on GuideStar."
A Final ThoughtNewsletter readers are quick to find the nuances in Question of the Month topics, and last month was no exception. One anonymous participant commented, "While I think it's good to have accountability and oversight from third party organizations, I worry that staff members of nonprofits are so wary of this oversight that the people quotient gets left out of the equation while making sure all of the T's are crossed and I's dotted."
The December Question of the Month was more than a feel-good exercise for us. Your responses identified what about our site and database is most important to you. Thank you to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts with us, not only this past December but throughout 2004.
Happy New Year.
Suzanne E. Coffman, January 2005
© 2005, Philanthropic Research, Inc. (GuideStar)
Suzanne Coffman is GuideStar's director of communications and editor of the Newsletter.