In this current environment, it’s common to hear about the importance of transparency. Keeping your own website updated with current information is important, but you also have some control over what the public learns about your organization through other websites, such as GuideStar. GuideStar gathers, organizes, and distributes information about nonprofit organizations in the United States. Users, almost 7 million unique annual visitors, can get instant access to more than 1.8 million tax-exempt organizations, which includes thousands of faith-based nonprofits not required to file an IRS Form 990.
(An important note: GuideStar and Foundation Center have joined together and will operate as a single new nonprofit organization called Candid. The existing products and services from both organizations have not changed and they are committed to ongoing enhancements.)
When was the last time you looked at your organization’s GuideStar profile? Current and prospective donors and funders review your information when making the decision on whether to give. Invest the time to share your organization’s story on this platform. If your organization’s information isn’t filled out, or you can’t remember the last time it was, make it a 2019 resolution to populate the data. If the login information can’t be found, there is a process to “claim your profile” or request access on the GuideStar website.
These are five tips for better transparency on GuideStar:
Take the opportunity to ensure your organization’s name is accurate, has the correct address, and reflects the name of the current CEO/Executive Director. Add your logo and include relevant keywords to help the organization show up in searches. GuideStar has historically mailed 1000 postcards annually to different organizations using the addresses in their profile. They found approximately 20% are returned due to an incorrect address. Imagine not receiving a donation because the organization moved locations!
Program and Results
Show the key programs of the organization and the locations you serve. Then, add three or more years’ worth of results that include metrics, populations served, and notes. To share more in-depth information on results, you can also answer the five charting impact questions.
There is an opportunity to upload Annual Reports and other financial documents under the Program area. Remember, if you include any financial information in the annual report, ensure your external independent auditor and audit committee have reviewed it before the report is published and shared. Once the board has approved the organization’s audited financial statements, add them to the GuideStar profile, in addition to your own website. Once the IRS has accepted the Form 990, add the public inspection copy to the profile, which will be timelier than waiting for the IRS to share the copy with GuideStar. If the organization is preparing any type of Management Discussion and Analysis (MDA), be sure to add that as well.
This is the section where the organization has many ways to be transparent with their story. The first opportunity is with the five questions on board leadership practices. These questions were created in partnership with BoardSource, a national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to encourage organizations to transparently share information about these essential practices.
The second opportunity is with organizational demographics. GuideStar worked with D5, a five-year initiative to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in philanthropy, to create a voluntary questionnaire that organizations can answer to share information on who works in and leads the organizations. These areas include gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability.
The third is with diversity, where the organization can share their strategies and add key notes. Even if your board leadership practices and diversity strategies aren’t robust, you’ll see types of practices and strategies that are recommended and can be implemented in the future.
Seals of Transparency
GuideStar will reward organizations with a seal of transparency when they fill out their profile. There are four types that can be earned: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. The level of seal you receive depends on the information updated in the profile, as each one has specific requirements. Each level takes anywhere from 15 minutes to 90 minutes to fill out. Organizations with a transparency seal show up first in the keyword searches and, by providing a link to the profile, can potentially save time when needing to share financial and programmatic information with others that isn’t found on the organization’s website.
Updating the organization’s profile is a great way to share more information about the organization with the public and show a commitment to transparency. The downside is that maintaining the profile and keeping it current needs to be part of a staff person’s job responsibility. To learn more about GuideStar and the specific transparency requirements, go to www.guidestar.org. To discuss other ways your organization could be transparent, contact one of your Clark Nuber team members.
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