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GuideStar USA logo.jpg
Founded 1994
Founder Arthur "Buzz" Schmidt
Type Non-profit Organization
Focus Nonprofit Information
Origins Williamsburg, VA
Area served
United States
Product Nonprofit Analysis Solutions
Key people
Jacob Harold, Evan Paul, James Dobrzeniecki, Debra Snider, Mizmun Kusairi, Adrian Bordone
Slogan Better data for better decisions for a better world.
Mission To revolutionize philanthropy by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving.[1]
Formerly called
Philanthropic Research. Inc/

GuideStar USA, Inc. is an information service specializing in reporting on U.S. nonprofit companies. In 2010, their database contained over 5 million IRS Forms 990 on 1.9 million organizations.[2]

GuideStar was one of the first central sources of information on U.S. nonprofits.[3] According to the company, GuideStar was founded in Williamsburg, Virginia, in September 1994 and received tax-exempt status in 1996,[4] the same year the company began posting nonprofit organizations' financial reports to the World Wide Web.[5]

GuideStar's operations include data digitization, database management and development, nonprofit services, web site operations and research. 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[6] or during the holiday season.[7] Those interested in reviewing a nonprofit's recent Forms 990 can register at and download them for free, however most other information is available for a fee.[8]


GuideStar, formerly known as Philanthropic Research, Inc., was founded in Williamsburg, Virginia, in September 1994 by Arthur "Buzz" Schmidt as a company dedicated to making charitable giving more efficient by providing easily accessible nonprofit information.[9] GuideStar officially received tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) public charity in 1996. In July 1996, GuideStar 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.[10] That fall, GuideStar officially launched its website, allowing it to update the data more frequently and provide more extensive information.[11] GuideStar proceeded to post information on all 501(c)(3) nonprofits listed in the IRS Business Master File, and by December 1997, the database held information on more than 600,000 nonprofits.[12][13] From there, in 1998, GuideStar provided digitized 990 data on its Web site’s individual public charities pages.[14][15] In October 1999, GuideStar began posting 501(c)(3) public charities’ annual information returns, known as IRS Forms 990 and 990-EZ.[16] In 2001, GuideStar was known as the nation's premier nonprofit database, at the time offering financial information on more than 850,000 organizations.[17]

In February 2002, former PBS Chief Operating Officer Robert G. Ottenhoff[18] took on Schmidt's role as president, and Schmidt became Chairman of GuideStar's board.[19]

Since the turn of the millennium, GuideStar has expanded its database and its tools and services for understanding and managing nonprofit data:

  • 2001: GuideStar began publishing an annual Nonprofit Compensation Report.[20] The first edition was derived from compensation data reported to the IRS by nearly 75,000 charities.[21] 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.[22] GuideStar also collaborated with the New York State Attorney General’s Office, providing data for the WTC Relief Info site.[23] In November, TIME named GuideStar founder Buzz Schmidt one of seven innovators in philanthropy for the new millennium.[24] 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.[25]
  • 2002: In August, The NonProfit Times named GuideStar founder and board chair Buzz Schmidt to the NPT Power and Influence Top 50 for the third consecutive year.[26] At the end of the year, GuideStar released the results of its first annual nonprofit economic survey.[27]
  • 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.[28] 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.[29]
  • 2004: California Attorney General's Office modified its Charities Search to one based on a customized version of the GuideStar database and search engine.[30]
  • 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.[31] 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.[32]
  • 2006: GuideStar modified its search engine to make it easier for users to find data.[33]
  • 2007: Online donation capabilities were added to the GuideStar Web site; long-time partner Network for Good processed the donations.[34] To further connect nonprofits with current and potential supporters, GuideStar launched a beta version of the GuideStar Exchange.[35]
  • 2008: GuideStar released a new report on characteristics that drive foundation spending patterns.[36]
  • 2009: Charity reviews also became available on the database for individuals to communicate their experiences with nonprofits.[37] A CEO Compensation Checkpoint service for analyzing nonprofit CEO compensation was also launched.[38]
  • 2010: GuideStar partnered with charity evaluators Philanthropedia, Great Nonprofits, and GiveWell to combine databases to create a tool called "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.[39]
  • 2011: In April, GuideStar acquired Philanthropedia and Social Actions.[40] Philanthropedia is a nonprofit whose mission is to improve nonprofit effectiveness by directing money to and facilitating discussions about expert recommended high-impact nonprofits.[41] In May, "Charting Impact" was launched.[42] The project—led by BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Independent Sector, and GuideStar—aims to have nonprofit organizations answer five basic questions about their plans for impact and results, and then publicly share that information on a website hosted by GuideStar. 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.[43]
  • 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.[44] In July, GuideStar announced that Jacob Harold, previously of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, was selected to replace Bob Ottenhoff as GuideStar's President and CEO, marking the end of Bob's 10-year tenure at GuideStar. Jacob officially assumed his role in October.[45] In October, GuideStar released More Money for More Good, a nonprofit fundraising guidebook, in partnership with Hope Consulting.[46] GuideStar also released its 2012 Compensation Report in October, which covered CEO compensation based on 77,000 nonprofit tax returns filed in 2010.[47]
  • 2013: In June, GuideStar announced major changes to the GuideStar Exchange, the only program of its kind that encourages nonprofit transparency on a national scale and allows nonprofits to supplement the public information that is available from the IRS.[48] Instead of an all-or-nothing Seal program, the new GuideStar Exchange was changed to consist of bronze, silver, and gold participation levels that reward nonprofits based on the amount of information they share with the public via GuideStar.[49] 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.[50] Additionally, GuideStar partnered with to offer new benefits to nonprofits that have taken the time to become more transparent and provided GuideStar with additional information about their missions, programs, and finances through the GuideStar Exchange program.[51] Also in June, GuideStar partnered with Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance to pen an open letter to the donors of American denouncing the “overhead ratio” as the sole measure of nonprofit performance. This launched the Overhead Myth Campaign.[52] In September 2013, GuideStar and the Foundation Center announced a strategic partnership to deliver much-needed data and resources to the social sector.[53] 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.[54] 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.[55]
  • 2014: On Monday, February 24, 2014, GuideStar hosted its first Impact Call, to expand the definition of nonprofit transparency and provide their results in a timely and inclusive manner.[56] In June, GuideStar released its new strategic plan, GuideStar 2020: Building the Scaffolding of Social Change, which lays out its new vision to help the nonprofit sector confront the great challenges of our time.[57] In September 2014, GuideStar released its annual Nonprofit Compensation Report, the largest-scale report of its kind that uses only IRS data; findings reported the median salary of female CEOs is 23% lower than the median compensation of male CEOs.[58] Using standards developed by the D5 coalition and partnering with Green 2.0, in October, 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.[59] In November 2014, GuideStar and Technology Affinity Group (TAG) partnered in announcing Simplify, a grant application tool for nonprofits which eliminates extraneous steps involved in the application process, using data stored in the GuideStar Exchange.[60] Also in November, GuideStar 2020 announced GuideStar’s goal to raise $10 million in transformational capital between 2014 and 2016, which will help GuideStar expand upon three essential functions: data innovation, collection, and distribution.[61] Notably, 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.[62]

Awards & Recognition[edit]

  • 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.[63]
  • GuideStar won the InfoCommerce Model of Excellence Award in 2004 by the Infocommerce Group consulting firm, for distinction in database information publishing.[64]
  • In 2012, founder and board chair Buzz Schmidt and board member Virginia Hodgkinson were recognized by The NonProfit Times as two of the Top 25 individuals who have shaped the charitable sector in the last 25 years.[65]
  • GuideStar’s Chief Financial Officer James Lum was awarded the 2014 Nonprofit CFO Transformational Leader Award at the 2014 Nonprofit CFO of the Year Awards Luncheon on January 31, 2014.[66]
  • In August 2014, GuideStar's President and CEO Jacob Harold was named on the 2014 Power and Influence Top 50 list by the NonProfit Times (NPT).[67]


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External links[edit]