Washington, D.C., and Williamsburg, Va.—GuideStar USA, Inc., the leading source of nonprofit information, recommends that nonprofits getting ready for end-of-year contributions (the "giving season") ask themselves 11 key questions to ensure that their donor outreach is as helpful and impactful as possible. Given the continued decline in philanthropic support across the country, getting donors the information they want, and need, from the nonprofits they are considering supporting is more important than ever.
The results of GuideStar's economic survey published this August showed that about 40 percent of public charity and private foundation respondents saw a further decline in contributions in the first five months of 2010 compared to the first five months of 2009. "We know that the Great Recession continues to hurt the philanthropic sector," said Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of GuideStar. "There are key things that a nonprofit can do to demonstrate that it is being effective and fulfilling its mission, which makes all the difference to people trying to determine which charities deserve their contributions."
GuideStar's top 11 questions are:
11. Are nonprofits letting donors know exactly whom their organizations impact, and exactly how? Donors typically want to see that their charitable gifts are benefiting real people, animals, places, etc., and not just the bottom line of the organization. Take the time to show the end result of the organization's work through stories, photos, videos, etc.
10. Is the nonprofit collaborating with similar organizations on a local, regional, or national level and, if so, has the organization let donors know? Donors want to make sure their dollars go as far as possible, and showcasing that the organization has joined forces with other groups that have similar missions can put donors' minds at ease. Donors also think globally and act locally, so demonstrating that the nonprofit is working in partnership with other organizations across a variety of geographical regions is helpful.
9. What obstacles keep the nonprofit from fulfilling its mission, and how is the organization planning to overcome them? Admitting to challenges up front and honestly—and laying out a plan to overcome those challenges—can assuage donors' concerns. Donors don't expect organizations to be perfect, just transparent and ethical.
8. What are the organization's annual goals, needs, and results? Measuring success in terms of an organization's strategic goals and results for the communities it serves demonstrates that the organization has long-term plans as well as short-term goals.
7. How much employee and board-member turnover has the nonprofit experienced during the last two years? Donors see organization growth and employee retention as key signs of strength. If the organization has had high turnover lately, explain why.
6. Has the nonprofit attracted new people and new ideas to the organization and board? Don't hesitate to flaunt the new skills, creativity, and expertise that the organization has recently acquired in order to meet its strategic goals.
5. How has the nonprofit used funds raised in recent years to fulfill its goals? Showcasing how the organization has used past contributions will let donors know that their charitable gifts are going to be used wisely.
4. What steps is the nonprofit considering (or has implemented) to make the organization more efficient and productive? For-profit organizations restructure themselves on an ongoing basis to enhance their abilities to attain strategic goals. Show donors that the organization is in it for the long haul.
3. How efficiently is the nonprofit run? Demonstrating the organization's leadership and overall ability can convince donors that their gifts will be in safe hands with the organization.
2. Who are the nonprofit's main competitors, and how do their results in recent years compare to the orgnaization's? Show off what the organization's got! It never hurts to set the nonprofit apart from the competition so that donors who are choosing between organizations with similar missions can see just how it exceeds expectations.
1. Has the nonprofit updated its organization's nonprofit report on the GuideStar Web site? By visiting www.guidestar.org, clicking the blue box that says "Tell about Your Organization's Good Works," and following the instructions to update the organization's nonprofit report, the organization is committing to total transparency, which is something every donor wants to see.
"If nonprofits are able to answer key questions about their effectiveness, financial stability and planned growth, comparability to others working in the field, and more, their reach among donors grows exponentially," added Ottenhoff. "We urge you to take the time to provide the information that will help make your fundraising successful this giving season."
GuideStar, www.guidestar.org, connects people and organizations with information on the programs and finances of more than 1.8 million IRS-recognized nonprofits. GuideStar serves a wide audience inside and outside the nonprofit sector, including individual donors, nonprofit leaders, grantmakers, government officials, academic researchers, and the media.
Lindsay J.K. Nichols