How to Update Your GuideStar Profile For Maximum Impact

About This Information

GuideStar is a place where you can post a lot of information all in one place and show your commitment to transparency. This makes it easy for funders to do their due diligence before they write you a check.

The first thing I do when I start to work with a nonprofit is to bring them up to the Bronze level of transparency. It unlocks their Amazon Smile funds, if they have any, and earns a Bronze level of transparency badge that they can use.

Then I bring them to the Gold level. I learn a lot about the nonprofit by going through this process. It gives me the opportunity to gather everything I need while producing an outcome for the organization.

A note about the URLs:

In order to make this document as accessible as possible, and because I like to see real web addresses before I click on them, I use the real URLs, no matter how long they are. I don’t shorten them with any of the URL shortening services such as TinyURL or Bitly.

Disclaimer: This e-book shows how I use GuideStar; it is not endorsed by GuideStar. None of the images are meant to represent the GuideStar seals in any way.

To download a free PDF of this, please use this link:

Why Tell Your Story on GuideStar?

Why foundations research your agency on GuideStar:

  • Researching your agency on GuideStar is private and almost effortless. They can go deep on GuideStar if you’ve completed everything.
  • Saves paper. Instead of requiring you to submit a lot of paperwork for a letter of inquiry or grant proposal, they can see it all on GuideStar.
  • The tax forms come directly from the IRS so they can trust the information. They can also download your tax returns if they need to. Foundation staff often make copies of your grant materials for Board approval if your proposal advances that far.
  • No other website offers the amount of information that GuideStar does, all in one place. They’ll probably check your website, search your executive staff online, and ask other local funders about you, but that will probably occur after they’ve checked GuideStar.

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Benefits For You:

  • Make it easy for people to give you money!
  • Your agency is already listed on GuideStar, so when potential funders visit your GuideStar page, they’ll see you haven’t made an effort to make their due diligence work easier or to be transparent.
  • More and more foundations are not accepting unsolicited proposals. They fund agencies they like or hear about. If they hear about your work and are interested in learning more, they’ll probably look at your GuideStar profile before they check anything else.
  • Other people who will check out your GuideStar profile are corporations, major donors, potential Board members, or philanthropy management services.
  • You can unlock Amazon Smile and a few other online giving and volunteer sites by attaining the Bronze level and filling out two additional fields.
  • You can download a seal for the highest level you have earned, (Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum), and use it on your marketing materials to show your commitment to transparency.
  • You can add a “Donate Now” button to your GuideStar profile and your nonprofit’s Facebook page.
  • You can list your accomplishments and answer GuideStar’s “Charting Impact” questions.
  • You can upload materials that you may not be able to include in your proposals and letters if inquiry: annual reports, newsletters, awards received, qualifications of senior staff.
  • You can link to your social media accounts, including LinkedIn.
  • You can add photos and links to videos for a greater impact.
  • The Platinum level information can be used to make a stronger case for support in your grant proposals because it asks about strategies, metrics, and results.
 
 

Before You Begin

If your organization is registered with the IRS as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, GuideStar will have a basic profile page set up. People can visit it but most of the fields will be blank.

First you will have to “claim your GuideStar profile.” GuideStar has to verify that you are authorized to access the profile.

 

Claiming your GuideStar profile is easy:

  • Create a login email address and password
  • Search for your agency
  • Click “Claim your GuideStar profile” and answer a few short questions so they can verify that you are authorized to access the profile. It will take a few days for them to verify your information and give you access to your account. You will get an email notification giving you access.
 

GuideStar has four levels of transparency: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Each level has required and optional information fields to fill out or upload. You can choose to publish your changes or save your work for later.

Once you qualify for any of the four levels, you can download their “seal,” a package of logos in different formats for your website and marketing materials.

Here’s a link to GuideStar’s 2021 “Profile Standard” list of requirements for all four levels:  

https://learn.guidestar.org/hubfs/2021-guidestar-profile-standard.pdf

AmazonSmile and other social media accounts require (or pull information) from your GuideStar profile. For example, Facebook pulls information about your nonprofit from GuideStar for Facebook Fundraisers. You have to “unlock” your AmazonSmile by obtaining the Bronze level and filling out some additional information, which is listed below.

Here is a link to AmazonSmile’s page for organizations:  https://org.amazon.com/

Here is a link to AmazonSmile’s page for individuals:  https://smile.amazon.com/gp/chpf/homepage?orig=%2F

Here is a link to Facebook’s Nonprofit Help Page:  https://www.facebook.com/help/1640008462980459/

Earn the GuideStar Bronze Seal

Bronze Award Ribbon

Overview:

Getting to the Bronze level is easy! There is only one field that requires writing: a short bio of your agency’s leader. A good start on writing a bio is to tell your leader’s “why” and detail a few milestones.

You can choose up to five subject areas your organization addresses and up to five characteristics of your target population. You can also add other keywords that fit your organization.

Required:

  • Organization name
  • EIN # (Employer Identification Number, also called the Federal Tax ID#, if it’s not already posted)
  • Mailing address
  • Website URL
  • Primary contact name, email
  • Legal name of organization (for donations)
  • Payment address
  • Mission statement
  • Subject area
  • Target population
  • Organization leader
  • Organization Co-leader if applicable

 

Optional:

  • Phone, fax numbers
  • DBA name (Doing Business As…), former names if applicable
  • Physical address
  • International address if applicable
  • Primary contact title, phone
  • Fundraising contact name and contact information
  • Organization leader, contact information, short bio, and LinkedIn URL

 

Unlock AmazonSmile and Other Social Media Sites

Overview:

Most of the fields that AmazonSmile requires are auto-filled from the Bronze section.

Required:

  • Total revenue for the previous year
  • Choose the “2030 United Nations Sustainable Goals” that your agency addresses from their list. They have a link to the U.N.’s Sustainable Goals website for easy reference or you can view the list at this link: https://sdgs.un.org/goals.

Earn the GuideStar Silver Seal

Silver award ribbon

Overview for the Programs Section:

The Silver level is about programs and branding. You only need one program to qualify for the Silver but you can list up to five. This is particularly useful if you offer multiple programs but are only submitting a grant request for one. This way a funder can get a more complete understanding of what your organization offers.

Please don’t leave large blocks of text for your donors to slog through – they probably won’t make the effort. Break your paragraphs up and leave a lot of white space to make it easier for people to read. Include section headers for readability.

Program descriptions:

Write your program descriptions like you would write them for a grant. Add the components you would add to a standard proposal: Needs Statement, Methods/Objectives/Goals, Timeline, Accomplishments, Outcomes, Evaluations, etc.

Ensure that the information you present is similar to the letters and proposals that you are sending out. Your GuideStar profile should augment and complement the information in your grant proposals and letters of inquiry.

If you’re sending a letter or short proposal for one of your programs, a funder should be able to learn all they need to know in the program description section. They should also be able to learn about your other programs on your GuideStar profile.

Be sure to include a “COVID-19 Response” section to each program. If you feel that adding a “COVID-19 Response” section as a program in and of itself, by all means do so.

 

Outcomes/Evaluations:

Briefly summarize your outcomes and accomplishments in your program descriptions. You can go into detail in the Platinum section but list your major ones under your program descriptions in case funders don’t read about them in the Platinum section.

Choose your target population(s) from the drop-down menu. Note that while you are limited to the drop-down menu, your narrative can be more specific.

Required:

  • Program name
  • Program description
  • Geographic area served

 

Optional:
 
  • Target population (choose from a drop-down menu)

 

Branding Overview:

In the branding section, be sure to upload a high quality version of your logo. GuideStar states that Google, AmazonSmile, and PayPal prefer to work with SVG files. SVG stands for  “Scalable Vector Graphics.” These files can be enlarged without a loss of quality.

Most people work with JPEGs, which compresses files. They become pixelated when enlarged. See if you have a photo with a .SVG extension.

Required, or state that you don’t have one:

  • Logo
  • Tagline
  • Social media accounts

 

Optional:
  • Photos
  • Videos (link to content)

You can list your social media handles, add pictures, and add links to videos from YouTube, Vimeo, to your website. There are no perfect options here: YouTube may show advertisements, Vimeo and your website can be slow to load. Linking to YouTube will help your SEO with Google, as Google owns YouTube. Their web crawlers love to see links to other Google services.

Earn the GuideStar Gold Seal

Gold award ribbon

Overview:

The Gold level focuses on financials and demographics. You can either a) upload your most recent audited financial statement (from 2019 or 2020 in this year, 2021) or b) fill out the information listed below. To qualify for the Gold, it will need to be from your last fiscal year or the year prior. For example, in 2021 your information would have to be from 2019 or 2020.

If you don’t have an audited financial statement they’ll allow you to fill in the financial information from your most recent IRS F990.

Required fields for financial information from your F990:

Please note that there are two types of tax returns: the F990-EZ for small agencies that generate a small amount of income and expenses, and the IRS F990 for mid-large agencies. Here are the required fields and where to find them:

  • Fiscal year start and end dates  (Page 1, Section A on both F990EZ and F990).
    • Calendar year is 1/1/2021 – 12/31/2021. Fiscal years usually run from 7 /1/2021 – 6/30/2022.
  • Contributions, gifts and grants  (Page 1, Part I, Line 1 on the F990-EZ, Page 1, Part I, Line 8 on the F990)
  • Total revenue  (Page 1, Part I, Line 9 on the F990-EZ, Page 1, Part I, Line 12 on the F990)
  • Program expenses  (Page 2, Part III, Line 32 on the F990-EZ, Page 2, Part III, Line 4e on the F990)
  • Administrative expenses  (There is no line on the F990-EZ for this. Subtract your Program expenses from your total expenses and use that. Page 10, Part IX, Line 25, Column B on the F990) 
  • Total expenses  (Page 1, Part I, Line 17 on the F990-EZ, Page 1, Part I, Line 19 on the F990)
  • Total assets  (Page 2, Part II, Line 25, Column B on the F990-EZ, Page 1, Part I, Line 20 on the F990)
  • Total liabilities  (Page 2, Part II, Line 26, Column B on the F990-EZ, Page 1, Part I, Line 21 on the F990)
  • Net assets or fund balance at the end of the year  (Page 2, Part II, Line 27, Column B on the F990-EZ, Page 1, Part I, Line 22 on the F990)
 
Optional fields for financial information:
  • Population served
  • Program service revenue
  • Membership dues
  • Net income from special events
  • Other revenue sources (do not name people, businesses, or foundations, just the general source)
  • Other revenue amount
  • Fundraising
  • Payments to affiliates
  • Other expenses and amounts

 

GuideStar asks for demographic information about your Board chair, co-chair, leader, and senior staff. You can add the LinkedIn URLs for most of the individuals listed in this section.

Required fields for demographic information:

They give you a “Decline to state” option for the following questions about your leadership:

  • Race
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability status

This helps foundations determine how diverse the organization’s leadership is. You will have to decide what information you are
comfortable with sharing to the public. 

Optional:

GuideStar also asks you to give demographic totals on the Board and staff but it’s not required. You can choose to fill out some fields and use the “We do not collect this information” option for others.

Earn the GuideStar Platinum

Overview, Strategy and Goals:

The Platinum level is the place where you can really shine. It is divided into three sections. One is required and two are optional: 1) Strategy/Goals, a new category which is required, 2) Board and staff demographics, which is optional, and 3) Board leadership practices, also optional.

Required:

  • Strategic plan, no older than 5 years, but I strongly recommend no older than three years. Due to COVID-19, a strategic plan created during that time will have a greater positive impact on a potential donor or foundation.
  • OR you can answer two questions (I’d do both – upload a strategic plan and answer the two questions):
    • What is your organization trying to accomplish?
    • What strategies are you using to accomplish this?

Optional:

  • Problem overview
  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • Your organization’s capabilities
  • Your progress toward your goals
 
Overview, Metrics
 
GuideStar is asking nonprofits to share at least one metric that measures  your agency’s progress and results. You can find a list of their metrics on their website called “GuideStar Premium Common Results Catalog.’’

It lists the following sets of metrics for causes:

  • General
  • Animals
  • Arts and culture
  • Economic development
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Health and wellness
  • Human services
  • Philanthropy
 
 
Required:
 
  • Choose at least one quantitative metric from 2020
  • Assign a “type” of metric
  • Assign a “direction of success”
 
Optional:
 
  • Assign a program
  • Assign a target population
  • Add a note about the context if desired
  • Upload an outside evaluation

Optional Sections

Organizational Demographics

Overview:

GuideStar offers an excellent guide to help you gather DEI data (Demographic – Equity – Inclusion). They have a link in their “2021 GuideStar Profile Standard” but here is a direct link to it: 

https://learn.guidestar.org/hubfs/Docs/How%20to%20Collect%20and%20Share%20DEI%20Data.pdf

Required:

  • Leader, Board members, senior staff, key staff
  • Equity strategies

 

Optional:

  • Number of staff in each demographic (race/ethnicity, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation
  • Equity strategies your agency is employing to increase diversity

Board Leadership Practices

Overview:

This is an optional section with five questions about your Board policies. The questions in this section are yes/no questions. Smaller nonprofits will probably not be able to answer all of these questions in the positive, but this section is worth looking at to get an idea of how to create a more effective Board.

  • Does the Board have a formal orientation for new Board members and
    do the Board members sign written agreements regarding their policies?
  • Does your Board have a policy to increase Board diversity?
  • Has the Board conducted a written self-assessment in the last three years?
.
These two questions also appear in the F990 but not the F990-EZ:
 
  • Is your Board and senior staff required to review and sign a Conflict of Interest policy every year? Are they required to file disclosure agreements if there is a conflict of interest? The IRS asks this question about your Board on the F990, Part VI, Section B, Lines 12a – c.
  • Does the Board conducted a formal, written assessment of your agency’s leader within the past year? The IRS asks this question on the F990 n terms of executive compensation only, in Part VI, Section B, Line 15a.

Feedback Practices

Overview:

This section consists of questions that show whether or not your agency requests feedback from the people you serve. Some are yes/no questions, some are multiple choice.

There is one place for text: they ask you to describe one way the organization changed as a result of any feedback you received.

GuideStar gives you the option to learn more about good feedback practices.

 

Additional Documents

You can upload other documents that help you tell your story:

  • Founding information – you can upload your founding letter or just state the date founded
  • Annual Report
  • Tax Returns: You can upload your tax returns long before GuideStar will be able to upload them. This helps you if you’re actively looking for grant funding from foundations and corporations that do not want you to send a lot of paperwork.
    • Do NOT include your Schedule B from the F990 if you upload your tax return – Schedule B lists your donors, their addresses, and the amounts they gave. You are not required to disclose your donors. The IRS does not share your Schedule B with GuideStar. (A side note: be sure that all Board members are listed on the Board list as having your agency’s address, not their home addresses.)
  • Affiliations: You can list agencies you’re affiliated with or that you collaborate with here if desired.
  • Accreditation or outside assessments: You can upload them if you have them.
  • Other documents that you would like to share.
  • There is a note field for any notes you would like to share.

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