Peter Miragliotta, Jr., MBA recently joined us for a webinar in which he provided an overview of how the major watchdog organizations (like, Charity Navigator, GuideStar and the BBB Better Giving Alliance) operate, and the steps that nonprofit organizations can take to improve their own online profile to retain current donors and attract new ones.

In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Pete. My clock just says struck 1:00. Do you want to go ahead and get started?

Peter: I think we’re ready.

Steven: All right, well good afternoon if you’re on the East Coast and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar: Managing Your Charity Watchdog Profile to Increase Giving.

My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion. Before we begin, just want to let everyone know that as always we are recording this presentation and we’ll be sharing the recording with you a little later on today. If you have to leave early, or if you want to review the content a little later on, you’ll be able to do that. Just look for an email from me a little later on today. That email will also include our guest’s slide. If you registered before noon today, you should already have those slides. But just in case we missed you, you’ll get those again as well.

I just want to encourage folks if you’re listening along to please feel free to use that chat box, right there on your screen. We’re going to save some time at the end for a Q&A session with our guest. Don’t be shy if you’re listening in. If you hear something that maybe you want explained or if a question pops into your mind, don’t be shy at all. We’ll both see those questions and we’ll try to get to just as many as we can before the 2:00 Eastern hour.

Just in case this is your first webinar with us, welcome. We do these webinars just about every Thursday. They’re totally free. They’re totally educational. But in case you were curious about what Bloomerang is. Bloomerang is also a provider of non-profit donor management software. If that’s something that interests you, if you’re in the market for that, we’d love for you to check out our website more and more. You can even download a free video demo. You don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to. Feel free to do that if that interests you. I want to go ahead now and introduce today’s guest. He is Peter Miragliotta. Hey Peter. How’s it going?

Peter: Doing very well, Steven. How are you?

Steven: Good, thanks for being here. Pete, you’re my go-to guy for all things GuideStar, all things Charity Navigator. You are the founder and President of MASST and Associates LLC, where you help people do exactly what you’re going to do today, and that is take advantage of all those great websites to increase visibility and credibility of all those non-profits. Thanks for being here. I’m really excited for the presentation and I’m not going to take any more time away from you. Why don’t you go ahead and get it started, my friend.

Peter: Thank you very much, Steven. I really appreciate your inviting me to do this, and I certainly appreciate the fact that so many people have logged on and they’re showing an interest in this subject. Just a couple of introductory remarks before we get into the presentation and one of them is that every non-profit organization in the country has, what I have coined as a charity watchdog profile. Many organizations are potentially not really aware of that or what they can do to improve their charity watchdog profile, but I’m going to give you some information about that today.

Also by way of a little disclaimer, right at the beginning of the presentation, I know in my discussions with many non-profit leaders that there are different opinions and feelings about these so-called “charity watchdog organizations”. People understandably in some cases, may believe that they don’t do the sector that much of a service, or they may disagree with some of the parameters that they utilized. What we’re here to do today is neither to praise these organizations nor to criticize them. We’re here to really talk about the fact that there are number of organizations that exist that provide some type of rating about non-profit organizations, and from a practical perspective, it really behooves non-profit leaders to understand who these organizations are and how they work, so that they can best take advantage of them.

With that out of the way, let me give you an idea of what our objectives are today and what we were going to be covering, and certainly we’re going to talk a little bit more about why you should care about these so-called charity watchdog organizations. By the way, they don’t generally call themselves that, but that seems to be the terminology that’s worked its way into the non-profit vernacular. Then you also use terms like “rater” or “evaluator” during the presentation and those are really all meant to mean just anything.

It’s important to understand how they work and the opportunities that they present for non-profit organizations, and recognize that they may already be impacting your ability to attract and retain supporters for better or for worse. Understanding your own charity watchdog profile, which in general is how you look on these websites and how easy it is for people to find information that the charity watchdog say is important on your website, that’s what makes up what I call your profile, and how you can enhance it to grow your database, your banks of donors. The good news is that most, if not all, the steps that we’re going to talk about are not really that a big deal in terms of implementing them and really shouldn’t cost you much, if any, money.

To jump in to with a little bit of the why you should be interested, I assume since you logged on today that there’s at least some level of interest. I was really happy to see that last month’s cover article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy was about the whole topic of online giving, and certainly the charity watchdog organizations are part of that. I would point out here that they don’t just influence online giving. They also influence traditional giving, which we’re going to talk about.

I love this headline that says, “Online giving’s time has come, like it or not.” That’s a lot of the message that I have for organizations about these charity rater or charity watchdog organizations. They’re here. They’re a reality. They’re not going away. Like it or not, they’re potentially influencing people about whether they support your organization and your mission or not. You might as well figure them and you might as well figure out how you can take advantage of who they are.

If you happen to need a little bit more convincing, here’s some information that was provided by the Blackbaud Index. They do regular surveys of traditional giving and online giving. They reported that while online giving is still a relatively small percentage of overall giving, that it grew more than four times faster in 2014 than overall giving did. Now, in 2013, they reported that it grew more three times faster. You can see that that is definitely trending up and that some involvement with online giving, and I would argue the charity watchdogs, is certainly where you need to be.

Finally and not to happily, we’ve all seen a lot of the publicity in our local newspapers, I’m sure in our national news broadcasts about some of the bad actors that have seeped into our sector. We all know that the people who would use the moniker of being a non-profit charitable organization to defraud people are few and far between. But I think we can also understand that people who are looking for worthwhile organizations to support may become somewhat cautious or leery about organizations that they’re thinking about supporting, and they may be looking some reassurance that non-profits that they’ve heard about and that they’re thinking about providing money to, are in fact legitimate and well-managed.

In that regard, I would argue that we can view these charity watchdog organizations as offering a type of a bridge between non-profit organizations and some of their donors or potential donors who may be somewhat skeptical or cautious. I think this quote that I came across in the More Money for Good guide that was published by GuideStar back in 2012, is just boils it all down to a nutshell. This indicates that a lot of donors are concerned about whether or not the money that they provide to non-profit organizations is doing the most good or not.

We all know that they are many high performing non-profit organizations that are just starving for money. In this regard, I believe that non-profit organizations who position themselves well can use some of the charity watchdogs to form sort of a bridge between themselves and some current or potential donors that may be somewhat skeptical or cautious.

Along those lines, we’re all familiar with Charity Navigator and I think we all know that Charity Navigator was created to help people find worthwhile non-profit organizations to support. But interestingly enough in an interview, Ken Berger who was until recently the CEO of Charity Navigator, pointed out that many of the people who visit their site, and I’m sure this is true with GuideStar and GreatNonprofits and the other sites as well, have come there not so much looking for a worthwhile organization to support as to get confirmation or reassurance that an organization that they think they would like to support is worthwhile and is doing a good job.

With all of that as a backdrop as to why I think you should care about that, let me show you what we’re going to talk about for the balance of our presentation. What I’m going to do is walk you through the type of information that we go through with one of our clients when we do one of our charity watchdog reviews for them. In essence, I’m going to review several of the charity watchdog organizations to give you better idea of how they work and how you might be able to take advantage of what they do.

If we were doing a full charity watchdog review, we would also include in our review with your profile what your particular website looks like, and we also have some discussion about the so-called “Donate Now” buttons that many of you have on your own websites and that you finding on all of these charity watchdog sites.

When we look at the watchdogs, they generally fall into two categories. There are those who perform independent evaluations of the non-profit organizations and provide some type of a score or a grade or a rating based on those evaluations. At the other end to the spectrum are organizations that rely on the non-profit organizations themselves to provide the information that visitors to their sites will find about them. In those cases, the non-profit organizations get a quasi type of rating. There’s also some reliance on information from the general public and we’ll take a look at that as we go along as well. But just so that you’re aware where we’re going, we’re going to really spend the majority of our time talking about Charity Navigator and GuideStar, and then we’ll move out here quickly through the last three organizations that are listed there.

Starting with Charity Navigator, and this is where we typically start with a client, we look at them first because of the organizations that do a pure evaluation, they are really the biggest and the most well-known and they have a very in-depth set of elements that they review in order to determine the type of score and rating that they’re going to provide to a non-profit organization. One of the things that’s important to understand about Charity Navigator is that they’re expanding a little bit. They have started to provide, I think within the last two years or so, information about some non-profit organizations that they don’t rate and that information is expected to continue to expand.

If you’re an organization that is not currently rated by Charity Navigator, I still argue that it’s a good idea to understand what they do and how they work and how the information that you provide under IRS 990 form and on your website are important to people who may be coming there looking for a particular information. If you’re not familiar with Charity Navigator or you haven’t been on their website in awhile, I provided this snapshot that which shows you the first thing that you see when you look up a rated organization on their website.

I happened to select here a non-profit organization that’s earned four stars overall from Charity Navigator. You’ll also notice that they’ve earned four stars for the financial dimension and for the accountability and transparency dimension. You can see along the left side of the slide there the Charity Navigator’s higher rating is highest rating is four stars that go all the way down to zero. Even below that, there are some organizations that have what’s called a “donor advisory”, which you definitely don’t want because that means that the organization is under some type of scrutiny or some type of a cloud.

You’ll also see here that there is a Charity Navigator seal that a four star charity can earn and that’s provided free of charge to organizations that earn four stars to display on their own website or on their marketing literature. The same is true for most of the other rating type organizations.

What I’m showing you here is a snapshot of a propriety scorecard that we developed at MASST Associates wherein we go in and we actually mimic what a Charity Navigator rating would look like. This is particularly important for organizations that have not yet been rated by Charity Navigator if they want to see how their IRS 990 and their own website information align. As you can see, the financial information that Charity Navigator utilizes for that portion of the rating all comes from the 990 form, and the AT information comes from a combination of the IRS 990, as well as the website.

In addition to reviewing your website, it’s also important to look at the 990, compare that to the particular elements that Charity Navigator utilizes and make sure that through some oversight some small of piece of information wasn’t omitted that might actually cost you in terms of a rating if you are rated by them, or in the eyes of a donor who maybe savvy and looking for particular information. You can see here that in order to earn four stars from Charity Navigator, you have to have a composite score that’s in excess of 90 points. So 90.1 points would get you a four star rating.

I’ll just point out that it is possible to have a four star rating for one element and a three star rating in another element and they could still balance out to just get you over that 90 point mark to earn four stars. You don’t have to have a perfect score in order to earn four stars. If there are any questions about the particular elements and how they work, we can certainly talk about that when we get into the Q&A portion.

The third dimension that Charity Navigator is looking at is called results reporting, and they’ve been working on this for at least a couple of years. Currently they are reporting information about results reporting on their website. However they’re not yet attaching a score to that. The way they’ve been working on this area and providing the information on their website is to first go to the organization’s IRS 990 form and see how the dollars accumulate for the programs that the non-profit offers and so it’s accounted for at least 60% of the total program expenses. Then from there, they go ahead and they evaluate those programs based on the information that the non-profits offer on their own websites.

What they found early on is that not very many non-profit organizations really provide information or significant amount of information about what they measure and what their results are on their own website. In a bit of a departure from doing just a pure arms-length evaluation, Charity Navigator does send out a survey or a questionnaire that includes the 14 elements to non-profit organizations that are in the process of being rated by them and they invite them to go ahead and complete that information and send it to them. If you will, the non-profits are self-reporting on their results reporting.

This will change sometime down the road, but it’s definitely a step toward extending a hand, if you will, to the non-profit organizations and giving them an opportunity to take credit for work that they’re doing, but that they may not yet be displaying on their website. Nonetheless, we always recommend that you get that information out on your website so that people who are coming there and looking for information about the impact that you’re having can find it.

I want to mention briefly some information about what they call unrated charities, as I mentioned a moment or two ago. There is some bare bones information on their website about unrated charities, including an explanation of why a particular organization is not yet rated.

In this case, this happens to be a client of ours, who looks like they may potentially be eligible to be rated by Charity Navigator based on their revenue and resources of their revenue. You’ll see that there is a “Vote Now” button provided there. What I’ve seen with some non-profits is as soon as that “Vote Now” button appears, they get very enthusiastic about having their supporters go on and vote for rating.

I’d like to just express a little bit of caution there if this is your particular situation. Before I’d be encouraging people to go ahead and vote for my organization to get a Charity Navigator rating. I’d want to review my own charity watchdog profile against the Charity Navigator criteria and have a very good idea of the type of rating that we might gain and just see if there are areas that we can beef up in terms of our own reporting and on our own website, so that we can actually garner a higher rating and get full credit for the work that we do.

With Charity Navigator behind us, I’d like to take a look at the other big player in the marketplace which is GuideStar. In contrast to Charity Navigator which does an independent arms-length review, the results reporting aspect notwithstanding, GuideStar makes a point of indicating that they do not do actual ratings and they work with the non-profits to have them participate on their own website and provide information. As well, people who visit their website can provide information about those non-profits. Let’s take a look at that.

GuideStar has what they call the “GuideStar Exchange”. The way that works today is that the non-profit organizations can register with GuideStar and they can provide information basically in the three different areas. Based on the type of information and the amount of information that they provide, the non-profit can earn a bronze, a silver, or a gold seal that it can display on its own website, as well as on its marketing literature. Generally speaking, more information is better.

In addition to that, a non-profit can get a rating of zero to five stars based on independent reviews of people’s experience with that non-profit organization, and that can be anyone in the general public who logs on to this website. I’m going to give you an example of this in just a minute. But first, I want to show you, well, I guess I’m going to show it to you now.

This is a non-profit organization that we worked with here and as you can see, when we met them, when we saw they’re working with them, they had just a little bit of information on their GuideStar page and that’s information that GuideStar was able to glean from public sources. I circled the areas there where the information is missing. I mentioned to you that it’s not all that difficult to improve your profile on GuideStar and some of the other websites by providing some information that you probably have readily available.

Here’s what happened with this particular organization within a period of a couple or maybe three weeks after we worked with them. They went ahead and they claimed their identity on GuideStar. They completed the GuideStar change information, including program information, and an impact summary. Once they had completed that, they went ahead and they asked supporters of the organization to go ahead and log on to GuideStar or GreatNonprofits, which I’m going to talk about shortly and actually do reviews. As you can see, within a very short period of time, they earned the highest seal available from GuideStar which is gold and they earned five stars.

I should point out that GuideStar also provides some incentives for organizations. In addition to being able to display the seal, if you have earned a gold seal, you get what they call a GuideStar seat, which entitles the organization to more access to the GuideStar database to get some additional reporting, and that’s valued at $1,500. For an organization that’s interested in doing some data mining and some baselining, that’s a pretty good thing to have.

Here’s where I thought I was going a minute ago. I was jumping ahead of myself a little bit. All of these organizations that we’re talking about today are non-profits. So just like you, they’re out there in the marketplace competing for donor support. In addition to that, they’re competing with each other for as many users, as many eyeballs as they can get on their website, so they want to remain as relevant as they can.

In that regard, GuideStar in the process of developing its GuideStar platinum seal, which is going to be based on quantitative program results reporting, and they’re expecting to roll that out this year. This is going to be based on, again, self-reporting from the non-profits, but they are providing what they’re calling a library of metrics in 20 different cause areas and they will be asking the non-profit organizations to select from various metrics within that library and to report on at least some of those for their cause area on their website.

The reason that they’re doing that is they’d like to develop some baseline information so that it makes it easier for people to compare a like type of organizations to each other. I do my best to stay in contact with these organizations so that I understand what’s being done by them or what developments they have, and in discussions with GuideStar, I did ask them if they had any intentions of independently validating this information and they said that that was not in their immediate plans, but it was something that they were considering for the future. But I have been invited by GuideStar to participate in an ad hoc committee that’s going to be doing a final review on this platinum seal before its released later this year, so I’m looking forward to doing that work.

I’ve been giving you a lot of information while we looked at Charity Navigator and GuideStar. It’s really not necessarily to go into a lot of detail now on the remaining watchdog organizations that we’re going to talk about. But here’s another one that I always encourage non-profit organizations to engage with. This is GreatNonprofits, and like the other two, you certainly have the ability to earn what they call a badge and to display that badge on your website and in your marketing literature.

You can also see here that they partner with other websites, including GuideStar. If you happen to have supporters who complete reviews about your organization on GuideStar, they’ll also automatically populate on GreatNonprofits and vice-versa. As they put the information into GreatNonprofits, it will also populate on GuideStar.

Here’s that same example of that non-profit organization that we looked at on GuideStar earlier. You can see they have five stars here based on the ratings. They’ve earned the GreatNonprofits badge as what they would call one of the best non-profits. You can also see that there’s some additional information here. Where you see that picture, there’s actually a video that the organization was able to put there, and they’re also able to provide information about what a small donation might do to contribute to one of those programs.

I also want to point out that when you go to GreatNonprofits and you do a lookup on an organization, that’s not the only that pops up. Based on some type of an algorithm that they use, other non-profit organizations that they consider to have some similarities will also pop up on the same page.

You can see here that the organization we’re using as an example looks very favorable, compare to the other organizations who are named there, who have virtually no information. You don’t want to be in a position where somebody is looking for your organization on GreatNonprofits, they come here, they don’t really see anything, but there are two, or three, or four other non-profit organizations where the information is very robust. You really don’t want them to be tempted to click off of your site and maybe look one of the other ones to make a donation to.

Moving right along, I think everyone is familiar with the Better Business Bureau. Not as many people may be familiar with the non-profit arm which is the Wise Giving Alliance. This is an organization that we express some caution to our clients in terms of getting involved. Whereas Charity Navigator does completely independent review, GuideStar asks the non-profits and others to provide information, as do GreatNonprofits, the BBB is a little bit of a hybrid. Non-profits who apply to them and ask for a rating are asked to provide a certain amount of information. As well, the BBB does some independent evaluation.

Why do I express some caution? For a couple reasons. One is that they have 20 standards, which are fine standards, but they use the pass/fail system, which you’ll see in a second. They also do provide their own what they call a “charity seal” which you can earn if you’ve passed on all 20 of the elements that they rate. However to display that, unlike the other organizations that we talked about, you would be required to pay a licensing fee.

Here’s an example that I like to show people. This is Teach For America. They’re perennially a four-star charity, with Charity Navigator. Yet, in an earlier review by the BBB, they came up as “Standards Not Met”, even though they satisfied 17 out of the 20 elements that were being reviewed and two of those are actually still posted as being under review. I’m very cautious here about encouraging people to get too involved there.

The last one, to sort of round out the gamut of these watchdog organizations is another organization that does an independent evaluation of the non-profit organizations. I like to point out their logo, and I’m not sure if that’s a Rottweiler or some type of a big dog, and it makes me a little bit cautious. They don’t take that much influence in the market. As far as I know, they’ve only rated about 600 organizations and I don’t imagine that they have very much of a following if for no other reason than unlike all the other organizations that we talked about that are free, in order to actually look at a scorecard that CharityWatch completes on any of the non-profits that they rate, you have to pay an annual membership fee.

Just to wrap it all up, what we’re suggesting that you do is to educate yourself about these organizations and how they operate and the opportunities that they provide to you. Certainly familiarize yourself with their rating elements and criteria, where you can register with them and provide information. User test your organization against the criteria that these organizations have developed.

When you earn a badge or a seal from them, go ahead and promote that. Put that on your website. Put that on your marketing literature. Of course, I would remiss it if I didn’t put in a little plug at the end and say it’s a good idea also to seek some expert advice and assistance in this regard. With that, I thank you for your attention and I’ll be happy to try to respond to any comments or questions that you may have.

Steven: Yeah. That was great, Pete. Thanks for that overview. Yeah, great. Yeah, please do take a drink of water. I’ll field some questions for you. You probably saw out of the corner of your eye that there were some questions coming in as you were speaking. I appreciate what you said at the beginning that this wasn’t really going to be a discussion about are these good or bad, which is better. We just wanted to really give people an overview of their existence and how to take advantage of them, so thanks for doing that.

I have some questions here. I’m just going to go down the list. Pete, I know that one of your slides touched on this, but Martha here is wondering. It looks like an organization here checks their organization on Charity Navigator. It doesn’t look like they’re eligible because they are under $1 million in revenue. For those people who are under $1 million, can they do anything at all with Charity Navigator or is it just for orgs that are over $1 million?

Peter: That’s a great question, and this is one of the reasons that I stay in contact with these organizations. I find them all, by the way, to be very cooperative. Yeah, Charity Navigator has actually conducted reviews on all of the organizations that meet their current criteria. I may not have mentioned that they’re looking to expand from about 8,000 up to about 10,000 organizations that they’ll do ratings on. The reason for the 10,000 number is that, I think that that accounts for about 75% of all the philanthropic dollars that are contributed on an annual basis. Those criteria of $1 million dollars and half a million dollars in donor support are actually expected to change.

In addition to that, I know that they’ve had some internal discussion about doing something similar to what GuideStar and GreatNonprofits do in terms of providing a platform on their website. One just final comment on that, I still think it’s a good idea. The organization that I showed earlier only has about $350,000 in annual revenue. Yet we went ahead and we did a Charity Navigator scorecard for them, told them what their rating would be and then gave them information about this is the type of information you should make sure you get out on your website so that people who are familiar with these organizations and are looking at you can easily find the information that they’re looking for.

Steven: Yeah, that makes sense. Go ahead and get all that together and then you’re ready for when you can. That makes sense. Cool. Here’s one from Ron. Ron is asking if you don’t cooperate with the watchdogs when they request information, can they legally publish your bad rating?

Peter: Yes, they can. Charity Navigator doesn’t ask you if you want to be rated. When you meet their criteria, they’re going to go ahead and rate you, and until they start sending out that survey on the results reporting part, the way an organization will typically find out that they have been rated is because they will be notified by Charity Navigators that they have been rated and this was their score. With regards to the other organizations we looked at, other than the Better Business Bureau and CharityWatch at the end, they’re only going to show bare bones information about your organization unless you register and actually provide some information.

So the example I showed, the organization’s name was there and not much else. If I’m somebody who’s looking for some type of Good Housekeeping seal of approval, I’m going to log on there at GuideStar, I’m going to see that they don’t have any kind of a seal, and I’m going to think twice about donating to them versus somebody else. Once you know what’s required, it’s really not all that difficult. As I mentioned, the one organization, within two or three weeks of us providing our report and recommendations, was able to actually earn the gold seal. I recommend doing that.

Steven: Okay, absolutely. Paul here is wondering, he heard that GuideStar is rolling out a platinum level or recognition. Are you aware of that, Pete? Do you know anything about that?

Peter: Yeah, as a matter of fact, I actually mentioned that. Maybe I went over them too fast. I usually can see what I’m doing. I’m flipping back. Yeah. Actually they are in the process. They are a little bit behind target in terms of their roll out dates. I’m not exactly sure when it’s going to come out, but I have actually been dialoguing with the person at GuideStar who’s in charge of that roll out and I’m expecting to actually be invited by her to participate in the final stages of the shake out. But this will be based on the non-profits providing quantitative data, which is new for GuideStar, about their program results. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m very anxious to see the library of metrics and I’m very anxious to see how it compares to what Charity Navigator is doing and how much crossover opportunity there might be.

I will point out that one of the things that Charity Navigator looks at on their results reporting is if you have any type of accreditation from any type of accrediting organization. As far as I know, if you’ve got a gold seal or ultimately a platinum seal from GuideStar, that’s something that you can actually tout on your own website, so there’s definitely benefit to understanding them and participating with them wherever you can.

Steven: Yeah, we’ll keep an eye on that for sure. Catherine here is wondering if you think your rating may go down to next year, should you advertise your current four star rating in the current year? Any ethical concerns about that or strategic pros and cons to doing that?

Peter: That’s a really interesting question. I worked with a client locally in the past had earned four stars and who has recently consistently earned a very high three-star rating. I’m talking about within a point or two of being four stars. I actually encourage them to promote their three star rating. Charity Navigator considers a three star rating to be very good, but they didn’t want to do it. I think it’s a case by case type of situation.

The reason actually, while you review helped them, they didn’t really know why they had dropped from four stars to three, and the reason turned out to be that they lagged behind what Charity Navigator was looking for in terms of program revenue growth and therefore program expense growth. It’s a little bit of a double whammy. Obviously, if your revenue is going down, your program expenses are not likely to be going up either. But I think that in that situation, I think you can, on your own website and in your own literature you can explain to your supporters exactly what’s going on and potentially garner even more support by doing that. But I think it’s a case-by-case type of situation and each organization would have to evaluate that.

Steven: Okay. Here’s one from Darlene. It’s a similar question along the last lines. Darlene is currently . . . they are Better Business Bureau seal holder. She’s wondering if they stop using that seal maybe on their website or on their collateral, do you think it would raise some red flags with their donors if it was there, then suddenly they decided to remove that from their literature and their content?

Peter: Yeah. I think that’s a great question. I’m not actually sure how much you’re paying for that. I guess I could find out by going back on their website. I’m sure there’s a cost benefit analysis to be done there. I’m always a little leery because you’ve earned a seal and then the next year, for whatever reason, one element doesn’t get that magic green check mark, then you’re not going to have it again. My suggestion would be to look at GuideStar and GreatNonprofits and see what you can do there. Earn their seal and their badge and go ahead and start displaying that. I don’t see where that would be any sort of a negative.

Steven: Okay. Here’s one from Kim and this is something that I was wondering myself and I’m glad that Kim asked it. If you have limited staff time, what organization would you recommend spending the time getting the rating from? Would you concentrate on one or the other that was in your presentation or maybe a state-wide rating agency? What would you suggest to someone who has limited amount of time, but creates the value in one or more?

Peter: Yeah. That’s a great question. The organization that I showed earlier that got the gold star seal is in that exactly that situation. The executive director is doing this work herself and was getting her daughter to actually help her do some of work. I would suggest, first of all, if you’re big enough to be rated by Charity Navigator, I would definitely be concentrating on that and making sure that we have all our ducks in a row.

If you already have a four-star rating at Charity Navigator or you’re not eligible for a rating, then I would go immediately to GuideStar. Most of the information that they’re looking for is probably at your fingertips and I would complete that information there. I would then log on with GreatNonprofits. It’ll take it even less time on GreatNonprofits to get registered and get your information complete there. Then I would go ahead and start contacting everybody that really loves my organization and asking them to log on to one of those organizations or websites and start doing reviews about us.

Steven: I’m glad you mentioned that because someone asked that similar question. How would you recommend boots on the ground asking those folks to go to those websites and rate you? Would you recommend reaching out to your followers, maybe your donors and volunteers? Would you recommend just a handful of people? How would you go about actually doing that and getting some?

Peter: I would ask people . . . a lot of times you don’t want to ask the question if you don’t know the answer. You say that all the time, right? Don’t ask the question if you’re ready to know the answer. What I would suggest doing is talking to board members who, we’re going to give you a favorable rating. If you have clients that you know are very happy, maybe you’ve been doing surveys of your clients and they have some information about that. Depending whether those surveys are anonymous or not, you may be able to ask people and say, “Hey, you said some nice things about us in our survey. Would you mind logging on to GreatNonprofits or GuideStar and giving us a review there?” As well as people in the community, donors that support you.

I don’t think I would just put out a blanket request because you never know, there could be a disgruntled old employee or someone who received service and wasn’t completely satisfied. I would try to manage that as well as I can, and since we’re only talking about high-performing, well-run non-profit organizations, I don’t really have ethical concerns about going about doing it that way. These are good organizations trying to get the word out about how good they are and trying to make it easy for donors who are a little bit worried about whether the money that they’re contributing is doing the most there or not, helping them to feel a little bit more confident and sure about that.

Steven: Why don’t we do one more question if that’s okay, Pete, and we’re about 10 until the hour. I know we’re not going to be able to get to nearly all of the questions that have been asked. Is it fair to say that you’d be willing to take some questions via email if folks want to reach out to you?

Peter: Absolutely. Yeah, I’d be very happy to do that. Sure. My contact and email is right there.

Steven: Yeah. There are a lot of questions here that were pretty sort of detailed and in the weeds and I didn’t want to put you on the spot necessarily if they got a little involved. But there is one here from Veronica. It sounds like Veronica works at a college and she’s saying that our organization can’t be rated by Charity Navigator because they have suspended rating additional colleges and universities. Do you know anything about that specific subset of organization and how they’re viewed on Charity Navigator, but on other websites? Is there anything they can do? Is there any sort of a special consideration for colleges?

Peter: Well, a couple of things. I sound like a little bit of a broken record. The extent that you put, I’d be familiar with the Charity Navigator elements anyway and I’d make sure that we’re providing that information on our websites. I know that colleges and universities, at least generally, and it may be even more than just generally, are not rated by them because they certainly don’t meet the criteria in virtually every case of 50% coming from independent donors and so on. But GuideStar purports to list every non-profit organization in the country. They say that they list something like 2.4 million organizations. I haven’t really per se tried to look on the college and see what you do, but I suspect that it works the same way as what I showed earlier, so I would take a look there.

I’m not really sure if there are any other rating organizations, but I wouldn’t be above saying that. We’ve had someone independently review us against Charity Navigators’, let’s say, accountability and transparency criteria and we’ve been told that we would score four stars on that if we were rated. We’re doing that, I provide them with a scorecard which mimics what Charity Navigator does and which I’ve validated by putting it against some organizations that they’ve already rated and coming up with the same scores.

Steven: You did use their criteria but have someone else to do it. That makes sense.

Peter: Yeah. Doing it independently, so it’s not too self-servicing.

Steven: Well, cool. Well, Pete, this has been really helpful. I hope everyone listening along is able to take something away and may be able to get started on building some of these profiles if they haven’t done so already. Pete, where can people get more information from you? Obviously, I would love for people to reach out to you for help and all the stuff, and you mentioned before when we were talking that you have some PDFs that you can make available to people as well?

Peter: Yeah, I did. I wrote an article on this a couple of months back for a company that does a lot of financial and consulting work in the non-profit sector and if someone reaches out to me via email, I’ll make that available. There is some information available as well on our website. This charity watchdog review is that since I’m doing the watchdog profile review remotely, it doesn’t really matter where anyone is located. I can do it for any organization anywhere in the country, email them the report and then connect virtually to actually discuss the report. We don’t have to actually meet face-to-face in order to complete an engagement.

Steven: Isn’t the Internet, wonderful?

Peter: It is. It’s a wonderful thing.

Steven: Well, reach out to Pete. Please do email him. I know we didn’t get to all of the questions, but we just have too much a good content for an hour here. Before I let you go, I just want to remind everybody that we do have lots of free resources on the Bloomerang website. Obviously, this week the webinar series, we do it every Thursday. There’s a few more webinars that you can register for, schedule that into the future. We got our video podcast, we’ve got our newsletter, daily blog post. I’d love for you to check that out.

I want to highlight our next webinar. Usually I highlight the next two but the next one none of you can miss in my opinion. We’re going to buck the trend of Thursdays. We’re actually going to have a special Monday webinar. Monday, the 15th of June, that’s about 10 days from now, we have Simone Joyaux registered or scheduled. She’s going to talk about board governance. She’s got a really cool interactive sort of self-assessment activity for you all. Please register for that. This is one that if you only register for a few in a year, this is one that I would really want folks to register for and join in. But you can see lots of other webinars on that link there. You may find other topics that you’re interested in.

We’d love to see you again next Thursday, next Monday, whenever our next session is. As you close this webinar, you’re going to get a little survey. We’d love to know your feedback. You won’t hurt my feelings. I don’t think you’ll hurt Pete’s feelings as well.

Peter: I hope not.

Steven: Please answer that survey. No, they think you’re great. If you got 30 seconds, we would appreciate that. But thanks for joining us, Pete. Again, thanks for taking an hour out of your time to share all these knowledge with us. It was a lot of fun.

Peter: Thanks for inviting me. I really appreciate it.

Steven: All right, we’ll say goodbye for now. Look for an email from me with the recording and the slides and hopefully we’ll see you next time. Have a great weekend and we’ll talk again soon.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.