News and analysis
January 20, 2016

GuideStar Redesigns Charity Profiles to Emphasize Results

For the first time since 2009, GuideStar has redesigned its 2.4 million charity profiles to place stronger emphasis on programming and results.

GuideStar has given its 2.4 million nonprofit profiles a refresh.

Starting today, gone are the static pie charts and other design elements that often served as preliminary snapshots for grant makers and others seeking information.

They have been replaced with interactive data visualizations that illustrate charities’ revenue and expenses over many years and others that show the demographic makeups of charities’ board members and staff. The number of tabs across the tops of the profiles has been reduced from more than a half dozen to four — summary, programs and results, financial data, and operations.

The new design is intended to allow users to more easily identify an organization’s geographic reach, results, sources of funding, financial stability, and leadership. The redesign also includes a shift in emphasis from charity overhead costs to programs and results, a reflection of a broader debate in the nonprofit world about measuring and communicating impact.

The new profiles prominently feature, for example, what GuideStar dubbed its "charting impact" questions, or "five powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters — results." Charities submit responses to questions about goals and accomplishments, which are added on the website.

The GuideStar charity profiles are used to populate 185 other websites and web applications, according to Evan Paul, vice president for products, meaning that the redesign will have long tentacles.

GuideStar last updated its profiles in March 2009.

Mr. Paul said that one of the biggest criticisms of the earlier design was that too much focus was on overhead costs, which played into what he and others describe as the "overhead myth." Another was that the profiles emphasized the most recent year’s financial results without giving users much context or "sense of story" about the long-term performance of groups, he said.

In addition, the previous profiles were just too dense with text, Mr. Paul said.

The overhaul got started early last year, and more than half of GuideStar’s 75 employees worked on the effort in some capacity.

The project pulled back the curtain on a "gold mine of data" collected by GuideStar during more than two decades, he said, describing the "aha moment" as when he and his colleagues started to understand "the immense power of the historical data that was completely unrealized."

It also produced hard, and in some cases still unaddressed, challenges, such as how to efficiently and accurately correct erroneous information filed with the IRS.

"Doing this work has really given us insights into data quality standards," Mr. Paul said.

GuideStar began testing the new profiles in the fall, soliciting feedback from groups. He and his colleagues will continue to do so, Mr. Paul said, "because we are not going to come up with all the best ideas ourselves."

The revamping of the GuideStar website is rooted in what the organization has dubbed GuideStar 2020, a multiyear strategic plan first made public in 2014. Chief executive Jacob Harold said he aimed to raised $10 million to execute the plan. In late 2014, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $3 million over three years to expand and improve GuideStar’s nonprofit database.

Now more than half the requisite $10 million has been raised, officials there said this week.

Send an email to Megan O’Neil.