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by Han Group

Han Group experts share tips on how to elevate your GuideStar profile — and achieve well earned recognition.

Reaching Platinum status on GuideStar is a worthwhile goal that any nonprofit would be proud to achieve. But more importantly, the journey to reach this top tier on GuideStar — the go-to clearinghouse that rates nonprofits based on transparency — signals to donors that you operate an ethical and accountable organization.

As experts who guide nonprofits through financial and governance best practices, the team at Han Group understands what it takes to reach, and maintain, Platinum status. We asked our staff who specialize in everything from audits to taxes to share one strategy to help an organization strengthen its integrity, transparency, and reputation.

“Wherever your organization is currently, consider making a goal towards reaching the next level; it may be as easy as adding two years of audited financial statements to your GuideStar profile.” — Janet McDaid, Partner

The advice below stresses practical steps to increase accountability  and transparency through reporting, metrics, and policies. While this wisdom can lead to elevated GuideStar profiles, its real value is in bolstering nonprofits’ reputations for the long haul.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a nonprofit hoping to improve its GuideStar rating?

Claim Your Profile

First off, create a GuideStar profile. It sounds simple, but many don’t. And if your nonprofit doesn’t upload its own information, GuideStar will automatically add your organization’s data. When you manage your nonprofit’s profile, it shows completeness and a commitment to transparency. Skipping this step could imply to the skeptical that your organization is hiding something.

— Gwen Crane, Senior Manager

Set Your Transparency Goal

GuideStar seals indicate successive levels of transparency around organizational information available to interested parties and may provide donors with a higher level of comfort as an organization gains each new level.

There are four levels of seals. Basic organizational and programmatic information is required for the Bronze seal. To move up to Silver there are two options: either provide two years of audited financial statements or provide certain financial totals. Gold seal organizations provide further transparency by supplying information about the organization’s goals, strategies to achieve those goals, indicators of success, and its accomplishments. To reach the Platinum seal, you must provide at least one performance metric (up to 20) that shows the results of the organization’s efforts.

Wherever your organization is currently, consider making a goal towards reaching the next level; it may be as easy as adding two years of audited financial statements to your GuideStar profile.

— Janet McDaid, Partner

Take Advantage of Your 990

One effective strategy is to increase transparency regarding governance items and policies addressed on your organization’s 990. For example, adopting policies such as a conflict of interest policy, whistleblower policy, and written document retention and destruction policy. These policies are considered to be best practices to implement them. Having these policies shows that an organization has implemented best practices for good governance.

Additionally, the core 990 has a question regarding whether the board members receive a copy of the 990 before it is filed with the IRS. This is not required by the IRS, but it is a best practice that organizations should adopt. It shows that an organization’s management is providing transparency to the organization’s board members. Having board members review and approve the 990 displays the Board’s financial oversight and fiduciary responsibilities.

— Deep Master, Tax Manager

Showcase Your Annual Reports

Utilize your annual reports as a tool to build and maintain donor trust, and also to announce your accomplishments and impact your organization has made. While annual reports are not mandatory, use it as an opportunity to be candid about your organization’s financial health which will benefit the overall long-term goal.

Some of the essential elements to consider in the reports: 

  • Emphasize your organization’s mission
  • Show gratitude to your donors
  • Showcase your accomplishments and impact reports
  • Share your future goals and strategy
  • And of course, share the financial reports with your audience and publish this information on GuideStar!

— Jamie Choi, Partner

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Metrics

Gaining a Platinum seal from GuideStar can be achieved by sharing your organization’s goals and strategies and providing at least one metric to show the impact your organization has on the community. Potential donors often rely on your self-reported information to ensure your organization is a good fit for their funding priorities.  GuideStar provides nonprofits with an opportunity to show the donors what your organization’s goals and strategies are and how you are aiming to accomplish your impact.

Providing information through metrics will show funders how you are impacting your community. Frequently shared examples are: number of volunteers, the dollar amount or number of scholarships awarded, and awards presented. Oftentimes, this information is readily available in your annual report or on your website.

Once you achieve Platinum Seal status, proudly show it off on your website and in every newsletter, email, and other communications.

— Nancy Johnson, Partner


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