The Internet allows users to compare and review many different things, like hotels and restaurants, on websites such as Yelp and Trip Advisor. Likewise, users also have a variety of options to compare and review charitable organizations. Options include CharityWatch, Charity Navigator and GuideStar. All of these options are unique in what information and evaluation is offered. While CharityWatch and Charity Navigator focus on providing independent assessments of charities through Forms 990, audit reports and annual reports, GuideStar does not provide any evaluations of charitable organizations.
GuideStar compiles Form 990 data filed by all registered 501(c)(3) organizations and allows charities to publish additional information through the GuideStar Exchange portal. This functionality allows charitable organizations to control the published content. GuideStar does not charge a fee for this service. Participation in this program is awarded with a bronze, silver or gold “GuideStar Exchange Seal” based on the type of information provided to GuideStar (excluding Form 990):
- Bronze Participant – The Participant has published additional basic information about the organization, including address, contact’s name and email, mission statement, geographic area served, leaders of the organization and board. This level does not require any financial information.
- Silver Participant – In addition to the bronze-level requirements, the organization must publish its audited financial report or “GuideStar Basic Financial Statement” and certify that the information is up to date and accurate.
- Gold Participant – In addition to the bronze and silver-level requirements, the organization must include a “Charting Impact Report,” which lists the organization’s goals, strategies, capabilities, indicators and progress. This report, created by the organization, must be certified that the information is up to date and accurate.
In addition, GuideStar provides application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow users for a fee, to compare and evaluate data on GuideStar and GuideStar Exchange with data within GuideStar and from outside sources.
The GuideStar Exchange program allows participating organizations to publicize their seal level. The main flaw involved with this participant level or “Seal” structure is the inherent nature of associating Olympics medals ranking systems with competence. Point in fact, the only difference between a bronze and silver seal is the completion of a GuideStar Basic Financial Statement. Organizations may choose to, but are not required to, submit audited financial statements. The information provided is determined and controlled by the organization and should not be confused with a review by an independent party.
Users should recognize that this information is a tool to be used in connection with additional due diligence activities. Non-participation or limited participation can be perceived negatively. The quality, as opposed to quantity, of the information provided should dictate the overall usefulness of this program.
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