At a board retreat I recently facilitated, the members couldn’t stop talking about social media and how they really needed to focus on making sure their nonprofit is highly visible on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. I agreed that social media is here to stay and creating a strong presence could be useful for them. However, I told them that there was something else they needed to pay attention to first and that was the web sites that their donors and potential donors may be looking at. One board member strongly responded that their web site was excellent and updated regularly. I agreed with her but then said that was not the site I was talking about.
There are two web sites that every nonprofit needs to follow if they want to see what their donors may be reading about them:. Both web sites focus on providing information to potential donors but in very different ways.
GuideStar basically uses input from the nonprofits themselves and this allows you to create the material you want your donors to see. You can (and should) sign up for the free membership (if you haven’t already) and then take the time to completely fill in the profile for your organization.
GuideStar allows you to put in your mission statement, your impact statement, background information and how you are funded. It also has an area where you can share your financials and your annual reports as well as information on your staff and recent news you want potential donors to read. GuideStar gives you the opportunity to let your potential donors know all the reasons they should support your work – and this is at no financial cost, just a small amount of your time.
If you don’t fill in your organization’s information, all that will appear when someone types in your nonprofit’s name are your most recent Federal 990’s. Do you any donors or potential donors who have the interest (or stamina) to go through this lengthy and tedious document? Commit today to inputting and updating all the information about your nonprofit on a regular basis so that donors and potential donors will see exactly what you want to see when they are researching your organization. Don’t miss this opportunity. For those of you who do large direct mail programs, this is particularly important. You may send out a fabulous piece of mail but if the potential donor goes to GuideStar and sees incomplete or contradictory information, they are not likely to write you a check.
Charity Navigator identifies itself as “America’s premier independent charity evaluator”. Its purpose is to “advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of over 5,500 of America’s largest charities.” Although independent research provides most of the information about the charities, there is an opportunity for those listed to update some of the information.
Why is this site important if your nonprofit isn’t listed? It gives you the opportunity to look at sites with similar missions and see how they are ranked. Charity Navigator gives both an organizational efficiency rating and an organizational capacity rating for the current year and the previous two years. Not only does this give you insight into your competition; it can also help you learn what figures may interest your potential donors.
In addition to giving you the opportunity to look at detailed information about these charities, Charity Navigator offers much more. It has a very interesting blog which is updated regularly. There is a “Tips and Resources” section that gives practical advice on a wide variety of topics. The “2010 Metro Market Study” provides useful figures that you can use to compare your financial ratios with those of similar nonprofits in your market. And its “Top Ten Lists” provide information, sometimes amazing, sometimes shocking, that provide fascinating reading.