Monday, December 11, 2006

American Express, Guidestar and You

Have you thought about setting up online giving on your website but haven't gotten around to it? Not sure if it is worth the investment? Don't want to share the donor contibution with the merchant fee? Well guess what - the good news is you may get some of those "I want to give but only with the convenience of my credit card and online" donors anyway. But make sure they can find you and like what they see and that part is free.

By now almost all of you have heard about Guidestar and whether or not you like it is a different topic. For those of you who haven't heard of them make sure you check out their website - and I mean very thoroughly.

Guidestar has every nonprofit that files a 990 in its database. In fact it has your 990 and all of the information on it in their database. Anyone can search Guidestar and find this info - they don't have to show up at your fron door and ask for it. Donor advised funds like those at Fidelity use the Guidestar database as its source of legitimate charitable organizations that funds can be distributed too.

But there is something new. At least I just found out about it. American Express sent me an email letting me know that I could make charitable donations and charge them to my American Express card. I clicked through and found that the database they use is Guidestar. I typed in several organizations that came up and then one that didn't. I tried narrowing to the name and zipcode - no deal. Finally I tried a search on "human services" and the zipcode of the organization. There it was with a hyphen. I checked the envelope and newsletter of the organization - no hyphen.

My advice to all of you is to go to Guidestar and check yourself out. Search in different ways. Make sure you are under the right category. If you are really human services, you shouldn't be under hospitals just because you serve a client base with a particular illness.

Next bit of advice - scrutinze your 990 this year. It is not just a tax form anymore, it is potentially a marketing document. When you make a short list of your programs on the 990 - spell them out, list the most important first, eliminate old programs and make sure you state the specific constituency you serve. For example instead of "Day care" is it really "Early childhood development and day care for inner city children"

If someone gets one of these emails from American Express and thinks of your organization as one it might give to in this spontaneous way you want to make sure they can find you on the list and your services sound like something they would want to give too.

Online giving is still small but it is growing and even small nonprofits should not brush it aside and not give it any attention.


Marion Conway Consulting

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