GuideStar is a valuable online nonprofit resource whose mission is to “revolutionize philanthropy by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving.” Information on 1.8 million nonprofits is available on GuideStar through a free basic search. Most savvy donors check a nonprofit’s profile by going to GuideStar.org before writing a check or clicking that ‘Donate Now’ button.
Through GuideStar, donors can have access to a nonprofit’s mission, financial statements, staff leadership names, board of directors information, annual reports, program information, impact data, and a wealth of other organization-specific documents. But unless the leadership of a nonprofit organization takes the time to upload key organizational documents into its GuideStar profile, all that donors may see when they research a nonprofit is the name of the organization, its mailing and web address, phone number, founding year, and three years of 990 tax filings automatically provided by the IRS.
Having a GuideStar listing that’s up-to-date is so important that Community Foundation Sonoma County includes this statement on the Organization Profile Forms that nonprofits interested in funding file with them: “Because many of our donors use GuideStar to research nonprofit groups, you may want to visit its website to ensure that accurate, current, and complete information about your organization is available there.”
J Mullineaux, vice president for Philanthropic Planning at Community Foundation Sonoma County, said, “Our donor-advisors have an online account and we provide them with a direct link to GuideStar. When they conduct any online research of nonprofits, which we encourage, they are most often using GuideStar. In addition, the Community Foundation staff is using GuideStar all of the time to conduct due diligence on non-profits.”
Nonprofits with a high level of commitment to organizational transparency can earn a Gold, Silver, or Bronze level logo by having a complete up-to-date profile. Only organizations with impact and effectiveness data and audited financial statements, usually undertaken by nonprofits with over $1 million in revenue, can qualify for Gold level. Most other nonprofits without a financial audit can earn a Silver status by providing a GuideStar Basic Financial Statement. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley is probably the only Gold Level organization based in Sonoma Valley. Sonoma Valley-based Silver level nonprofits include Seeds of Learning, Sonoma Valley Hospital Foundation, La Luz Center, and WillMar Family Grief & Healing Center.
Just this month, La Luz Center and WillMar Center earned the Silver GuideStar level. When asked about their recent Silver level status, La Luz Center Executive Director Juan Hernandez said, “This is a great opportunity to showcase the great work La Luz Center is doing in Sonoma County — we’re the only bilingual/bicultural organization serving Sonoma.”
Barbara Cullen, WillMar Center Executive Director, commented, “GuideStar is a wonderful tool for nonprofits and funding agencies, alike. WillMar Family Grief & Healing Center uses GuideStar as a way to communicate with the funding community with consistent, transparent, and honest fiduciary reporting. We value our standing as a Silver level participant. Funding agencies and foundations rely on GuideStar as a vetting tool to make sure we are fiscally responsible and reliable.”
Nonprofit leaders wanting to ensure that prospective donors have as much information as possible about their organization should consider reviewing their GuideStar profile to see if it needs a little updating to get to the Silver or Gold level of public accountability. And donors unable to find current comprehensive information about their favorite Sonoma Valley nonprofits on GuideStar might just encourage the leadership of those nonprofits to increase their transparency and work toward having Gold or Silver status.
Dr. B.J. Bischoff is the owner of Bischoff Performance Improvement Consulting, a Sonoma firm specializing in building the capacity of nonprofit organizations and public sector agencies to better serve their stakeholders. She assists her clients with strategic planning, training resulting in performance improvement, fund development, and community relations. She is Past President of Impact100 Sonoma and provides assistance to the Sonoma County Department of Human Services in its implementation of the Sonoma County Upstream Investments initiative. Contact her at [email protected]