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GuideStar USA, Inc. is an information service specializing in reporting on U.S. nonprofit companies. In 2016, its database provided information on 2.5 million organizations. GuideStar was one of the first central sources of information on U.S. nonprofits and is the world's largest source of information about nonprofit organizations. GuideStar was founded in Williamsburg, Virginia in September 1994 and received tax-exempt status in 1996, the same year the company began posting nonprofit organizations' financial reports to the World Wide Web. GuideStar also serves to verify that a recipient organization is established and that donated funds go where the donor intended for individuals looking to give in the wake of disasters. In 2013, GuideStar announced major changes to its GuideStar Exchange program, which allows nonprofits to supplement the public information that is available from the IRS. GuideStar Nonprofit Profiles implemented three seals based on the information a nonprofit provides in its profile: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. In 2016, a new seal that allowed nonprofits to share progress and results for their mission, GuideStar Platinum, was introduced.

financial reports platinum guidestar

1. History

  • 1994: Arthur "Buzz" Schmidt founded Philanthropic Research, Inc. in Williamsburg, Virginia as a company dedicated to helping donors make better giving decisions by providing easily accessibly nonprofit information.[1]
  • 1996: Philanthropic Research, Inc. officially received tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) public charity, and in July, published the GuideStar Directory of American Charities, a CD and printed index that presented full reports on 35,000 charities and partial reports on 7,000 other charities.[2] That fall, Philanthropic Research, Inc. officially launched its GuideStar website, allowing it to update the data more frequently and provide more extensive information.[3] The organizations began doing business under the name, "GuideStar," although its official name remained Philanthropic Research, Inc. until September 2008.[4]
  • 1997: GuideStar began posting information on all 501(c)(3) nonprofits in the IRS Business Master File. By December, the database held information on more than 600,000 nonprofits.[5][6]
  • 1998: GuideStar provided digitized 990 data on its website's individual public charities pages.[7]
  • 1999: In October, GuideStar began posting 501(c)(3) public charities' annual information returns, known as IRS Forms 990 and 990-EZ.[8]
  • 2001: GuideStar began publishing an annual Nonprofit Compensation Report.[9] The first edition was derived from compensation data reported to the IRS by nearly 75,000 charities.[10] In response to 9/11, GuideStar expanded the database to include non-charitable organizations eligible to accept tax-deductible contributions, along with special 9/11 funds and programs.[11] GuideStar also collaborated with the New York State Attorney General’s Office, providing data for the WTC Relief Info site.[12]
  • 2002: In February, former PBS Chief Operating Officer Robert G. Ottenhoff[13] took on Schmidt's role as president, and Schmidt became Chairman of GuideStar's board.[14] At the end of the year, GuideStar released the results of its first annual nonprofit economic survey.[15]
  • 2003: As part of the May launch of "Operation Phoney Philanthropy", the U.S. Federal Trade Commission encouraged donors to research charities’ legitimacy on GuideStar before giving.[16] That October, GuideStar received a U.S. Department of Commerce Technology Opportunities Program grant to create a system through which state charity regulators could share information.[17]
  • 2004: California Attorney General's Office modified its Charities Search to one based on a customized version of the GuideStar database and search engine.[18]
  • 2005: In March 2005, the Interim Report of the Panel of the Nonprofit Sector delivered to the Senate Finance Committee cited GuideStar’s contributions to nonprofit transparency.[19] In June, GuideStar launched a new Web site that included all tax-exempt organizations registered with the IRS, expanding the database by more than 340,000 nonprofits.[20]
  • 2006: GuideStar modified its search engine to make it easier for users to find data.[21]
  • 2007: GuideStar added online donation capabilities to its site; long-time partner Network for Good processed the donations.[22] To further connect nonprofits with current and potential supporters, GuideStar launched a beta version of the GuideStar Exchange.[23]
  • 2008: GuideStar released a new report on characteristics that drive foundation spending patterns.[24]
  • 2009: GuideStar partnered with GreatNonprofits to add stakeholder reviews to organizations' profiles for individuals to communicate their experiences with nonprofits.[25] GuideStar also launched CEO Compensation Checkpoint to analyze nonprofit CEO compensation..[26]
  • 2010: GuideStar launched "Take Action@GuideStar" to give donors an easier way to get more information about the causes they were interested in and to provide expert analysis of individual nonprofits working in specific cause areas.[27]
  • 2011: In April, GuideStar acquired Philanthropedia and Social Actions.[28] In May, GuideStar, in partnership with BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Independent Sector, launched "Charting Impact"[29] to provide a common platform for nonprofits to discuss their impact and results, and share that information publicly.In June, GuideStar launched a new way to buy nonprofit data: GuideStar Premium Pay As You Go, allowing users to purchase a single report for a specific nonprofit featuring GuideStar Premium's data.[30]
  • 2012: GuideStar and Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) launched Financial SCAN (Situation and Comparables Analysis), an online tool to assess a nonprofit's financial health. Financial SCAN can be used as a regular part of nonprofit due diligence and to help understand organizational financial change over time.[31] In July, GuideStar announced that Jacob Harold of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation had been selected to replace Bob Ottenhoff as GuideStar's President and CEO, marking the end of Ottenhoff's 10-year tenure at GuideStar. Harold officially assumed his role in October.[32] In October, GuideStar released More Money for More Good, a nonprofit fundraising guidebook, in partnership with Hope Consulting.[33]
  • 2013: In June, GuideStar announced major changes to the GuideStar Exchange, the only program of its kind that encouraged nonprofit transparency on a national scale and allowed nonprofits to supplement the public information that is available from the IRS.[34] The new GuideStar Exchange featured bronze, silver, and gold participation levels based on the amount of information they share with the public via GuideStar.[35] The changes were made to align more closely with research conducted by Hope Consulting that revealed donors, institutional funders, and financial advisors most want to know basic, financial and impact and effectiveness information about nonprofits.[36] Additionally, GuideStar partnered with to offer new benefits to nonprofits that participated in the GuideStar Exchange.[37] Also in June, GuideStar partnered with Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance to launch the Overhead Myth Campaign.[38] In September 2013, GuideStar and the Foundation Center announced a strategic partnership to deliver much-needed data and resources to the social sector.[39] In November 2013, GuideStar and the Technology Affinity Group (TAG) announced Simplify, a new approach to information sharing between funders and grantees, to ensure more efficiency in the grantmaking process.[40] Also in November, GuideStar and Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) launched version 2.0 of Financial SCAN. Updates to Financial SCAN include: Expanded peer comparison capabilities, Excel download feature, new pricing, and a longer nonprofit express pass.[41]
  • 2014: On Monday, February 24, 2014, GuideStar hosted its first Impact Call, to expand the definition of nonprofit transparency and provide results in a timely and inclusive manner.[42] In June, GuideStar released its new strategic plan, GuideStar 2020: Building the Scaffolding of Social Change.[43] In October, in partnership with the D5 Coalition and Green 2.0, GuideStar released a tool for nonprofits to compile demographic data on their board members, employees and volunteers, including optional information input on gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability to share for public distribution.[44] In November, GuideStar announced its goal to raise $10 million in transformational capital between 2014 and 2016 to help expand three essential functions: data innovation, collection, and distribution.[45] The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed to a $3 million grant structured as general operating support over three years to align with the strategic plan.[46]
  • 2016: In January, GuideStar upgraded GuideStar Nonprofit Profiles to allow users to more easily identify an organization’s geographic reach, results, sources of funding, financial stability, and leadership.[47] The redesign shifted emphasis from charity overhead costs to programs and results, a reflection of a broader debate in the nonprofit world about measuring and communicating impact. [48] In November, GuideStar’s position as a leading source of nonprofit information was reinforced when the Washington Post reported that the Trump Foundation had admitted to self-dealing after a 2015 IRS tax filing was uploaded to GuideStar’s website by the Trump Foundation’s law firm.[49]
  • 2017: In June, GuideStar entered into a partnership with the Southern Poverty Law Center to flag SPLC-identified "hate groups" on their web site. Critics of the SPLC objected to this measure as a highly political move. William Boykin, chair of the Family Research Council, one such group which was flagged, said that "at this point, they are becoming an arm of the ultra-left." [50] GuideStar then announced it was removing the labels for the time being.[51] On June 28, a defamation lawsuit was filed against Guidestar in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.[52][53]

2. Criticism

A charity watch investigator compared Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, Better Business Bureau, Combined Federal Campaign and Great Nonprofits. The investigator praised GuideStar for offering "information rather than making judgments."[54] After GuideStar placed a notice on the pages of some charities that were listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) "hate list," one of the groups sued GuideStar for defamation.[55][56] Other charities echoed criticism of GuideStar's use of SPLC's list.[57]

3. Awards & Recognition

  • In January 1998, GuideStar received an award for Nonprofit Web Site Excellence from Philanthropy Journal, with an honorable mention for "Service to the Sector" for its searchable database of (at that time) more than 620,000 U.S. nonprofit organizations.[58]
  • In December 1999, NonProfit Times named GuideStar founder Buzz Schmidt nonprofit executive of the year.[59]
  • In November 2001, TIME named Schmidt one of seven innovators in philanthropy for the new millennium.[60] At the end of the year, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office launched an on-line Charities Research Service based on a customized version of the GuideStar database and search engine.[61]
  • In August 2000, 2001, and 2002, NonProfit Times named GuideStar founder and board chair Buzz Schmidt to the NPT Power and Influence Top 50.[62]
  • In 2004, GuideStar won the InfoCommerce Model of Excellence Award for distinction in database information publishing.[63]
  • In 2012, founder and board chair Buzz Schmidt and board member Virginia Hodgkinson were recognized by NonProfit Times as two of the Top 25 individuals who have shaped the charitable sector in the last 25 years.[64]
  • On January 31, 2014, GuideStar chief financial officer James Lum received the 2014 Nonprofit CFO Transformational Leader Award at the 2014 Nonprofit CFO of the Year Awards Luncheon.[65]
  • In August 2014, 2015, and 2016, GuideStar President and CEO Jacob Harold was named to the NPT Power and Influence Top 50.[66]


  1. Taylor, April (October 8, 2004). "COLLECTION OF DATA CALLED A BLESSING FOR CHARITIES". Daily Press. 
  3. Akst, Daniel. "GuideStar: Data About Nonprofits Goes Online". Carnegie Results. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  5. Associated Press. "Warning: Be smart with charitable donations". Sarasota Herald-Tribune.,1379617&dq=guidestar+public+charity&hl=en%7Cwork. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  6. Waldman, Amy (December 9, 1997). "In a World of Good Causes, Beware Waste and a Few Crooks". The New York Times. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  7. Roberts, Fletcher (November 18, 1998). "In the 990's Fine Print, the Innards of Nonprofits". The New York Times. Retrieved June 30, 2011. 
  8. Cay Johnston, David (November 20, 2000). "ACCOUNTABILITY; For Checking Out a Charity, Remember the Number 990". The New York Times. Retrieved June 30, 2011. 
  9. Lipman, Harvy. "Unbalanced Pay Scales". The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  10. Wooster, Martin Morse. "Paying Charity CEOs". American Enterprise. Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  11. Editors (September 20, 2001). "Internet scams are exploiting the generosity of Americans helping the victims of the terrorist attacks". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  12. Editors (February 18, 2002). "IRS CLEARS CREATION OF CHARITIES, LITTLE OVERSIGHT, NO FOLLOW-UP SINCE SEPT. 11 ATTACKS". Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  13. & Karen Everhart Bedford, Steve Behrens. "Rumors rampant as Ottenhoff steps down". Current Online. Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  14. McNamara, Don. "Competition from gov't, funding shut GuideStar U.K.". The NonProfit Times. Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  15. Stark, Betsy (December 23, 2001). "Charities Donations Down". ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. 
  16. Mack, Brenda. "FTC and States Unite to Fight Fundraising Fraud". Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  17. Wallace, Nicole. "Federal Program Awards $13.95-Million". Chronicle of Philanthropy. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  18. Wallack, Todd (June 24, 2011). "Checking on charities to become easier / State attorney general's office signs contract to update Web site". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  19. Sector, Independent. "Panel on the Nonprofit Sector". Independent Sector Interim Report. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  20. Newton, Benita. "Updated site gives users more info on nonprofits". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  21. Editors, GuideStar. "Just in Time for the Giving Season, GuideStar Launches Improved Search". Business Wire. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  22. nonprofitorgs. "What Your Nonprofit Needs to Know About GuideStar, Network for Good and Social Media Fundraising". Nonprofit Tech 2.0. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  23. Staff, Join Together. "Get Listed on the GuideStar Exchange". The Partnership at Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  24. Authors, Multiple. "What Drives Foundation Expenses". Urban Institute Report. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  25. Ogden, Tim. "The Worst (and Best) Way to Pick A Charity This Year". The Jack Miller Center. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  26. Smith, Pete. "Checking out Checkpoint". Nonprofit Musings. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  27. Vitanov, Deyan. "Announcing TakeAction@GuideStar!". Philanthropedia Blog. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  28. "Two new acquisitions extend GuideStar’s reach". Alliance Magazine. Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  29. "Helping Nonprofit Organizations Explore Their Goals and Progress". Hewlett Foundation Newsroom. Hewlett Foundation. Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  30. Joy, Kyla. "How to spot a fake: Nonprofits you don’t want to give to". Kyla Joyful. Retrieved October 20, 2011. 
  31. Bernholz, Lucy. "Philanthropy 2173". Putting Data in Context. Retrieved May 14, 2012. 
  32. "Jacob Harold Selected To Head GuideStar". The NonProfit Times. July 19, 2012. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  33. Reiss, Norman. "Attracting New Donors to Support Your Nonprofit". Nonprofit Bridge. Retrieved November 16, 2012. 
  34. Avery, Sarah. "The Next Level of Transparency: GuideStar Exchange". Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  35. Cunniffe, Eileen. "GuideStar to Collect Nonprofit Governance Information in League with BoardSource". Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  36. Ulrich, Greg. "But… Do Donors Want More Data on Nonprofits?". Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  37. "GuideStar Webinar - Free Technology Tools and Services". Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  38. Brandt, Julie. "Overhead Costs: The Obsession Must Stop". Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  39. Cohen, Rick. "The "Medium Data" Alliance between Guidestar and the Foundation Center: Get Your Information Here!". Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  40. Lopez, Marisa. "Introducing Simplify: Streamlining Grant Applications". Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  41. Kramer, Peter. "Financial SCAN 2.0! Coming Nov 19". Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  42. "GuideStar Hosts the First Impact Call". Retrieved May 14, 2015. 
  43. "Gates Foundation Pledges $3-Million to GuideStar to Enhance Nonprofit Database". The Chronicle of Philanthropy. 
  44. "GuideStar Unveils Online Tool to Gauge Nonprofits’ Diversity". The Chronicle of Philanthropy. 
  45. "Notes on nonprofits: Compelling stories attract people to your cause". Tallahassee Democrat. November 16, 2014. 
  46. "$3 Million From Gates To GuideStar". The NonProfit Times. 
  47. O'Neil, Megan. "GuideStar Redesigns Charity Profiles to Emphasize Results." The Chronicle of Philanthropy. N.p., January 20, 2016. Web. April 5, 2017.
  48. O'Neil, Megan. "GuideStar Redesigns Charity Profiles to Emphasize Results." The Chronicle of Philanthropy. N.p., January 20, 2016. Web. April 5, 2017.
  49. Fahrenthold, David A. "Trump Foundation Admits to Violating Ban on 'self-dealing,' New Filing to IRS Shows." The Washington Post. WP Company, November 22, 2016. Web. April 5, 2017.
  50. "Nonprofit Tracker Smears Dozens of Conservative Organizations as ‘Hate Groups’". Retrieved June 22, 2017. 
  51. Hogan, Susan (June 26, 2017). "After conservative backlash, charity tracker GuideStar removes ‘hate group’ labels". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 20, 2017. 
  53. "Liberty Counsel Sues GuideStar Over False “Hate Group” Label - Liberty" (in en-US). 
  54. "Charity Raters Part I: Charting the Bad and the Bad | Blue Avocado" (in en). 
  55. 2017 (June 29, 2017). "Defender of Religious Freedom Sues Nonprofit Tracker GuideStar Over ‘Hate Group’ Labels". 
  56. "Liberty Counsel Sues GuideStar Over False “Hate Group” Label - Liberty" (in en-US). 
  57.,+The Washington Times. "Alliance Defending Freedom blasts ‘defamatory’ Southern Poverty Law Center ‘hate group’ label" (in en-US). The Washington Times. 
  58. White, Daphne. "Cyberspace Fundraising". Foundation News & Commentary. Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  59. GuideStar. "Arthur "Buzz" Schmidt Named Nonprofit Executive of the Year." GuideStar Blog. N.p., December 1, 1999. Web. April 5, 2017.
  60. Rawe, Julie (October 28, 2001). "Where Does Your Gift Go?". TIME Magazine.,9171,181602,00.html. Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  61. Schwinn, Elizabeth. "New Mexico to Put Charity Data Online". The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  62. Editors. "On The Move". Daily Press. Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  63. Editors, InfoCommerce. "2004 Award Winners". InfoCommerce. Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  64. "The Best & The Brightest, Mostly". The NonProfit Times. Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  65. "Executive Voices: An interview with GuideStar CFO James Lum, a 2014 Transformational Leader". Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  66. Clolery, Paul. "Power and Influence Top 50: Honorees Insist On A Civil Society and Chart A Path Toward It". Retrieved August 7, 2014. 
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