September 12, 2012

Charity Rating and Review Sites – Part 2: Impacting The Story Being Told About YOUR Organization?

In Part 1 of this series, we talked about the types of rating and review sources that donors use when seeking information about charities. These sources can strongly influence donor decisions on whether or not to fund YOUR organization. In this follow up, we provide additional information that can help you prepare profiles and review presentations that demonstrate your organization’s impact in your community and your innovations in your field of endeavor in their best light.



The information a rating site can automatically pull from an organization’s IRS records is minimal. Your organization can improve its presentation to funders by reviewing the information each service currently has posted about your group AND adding profile information to their databases. I have yet to find a service that charges an organization for adding detail to the service’s database. Your input strengthens the quality of the information in their database, so it is generally welcomed. More importantly to you, your input helps to present your organization in its best light, emphasizing its strengths and highlighting its accomplishments.


Profiles generally contain information that lists your organization’s:

  • verification of registration with the IRS;
  • mission statement, strategies, and capabilities;
  • main initiatives/programs;
  • demonstrated program impact;
  • commitment to transparency, including annual financial data such as 990’s;
  • optional information, such as photos, documentation, and board/CEO statements, which strengthen the profile’s impact; and
  • National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) codes, which provide an apples-to-apples classification system for nonprofit organizations by activity type, such as health, education, human services, arts and culture, and advocacy.


The information you cannot change is generally limited to:

  • report on the organization’s IRS status; and
  • negative reviews that have been posted about your organization (though the provider may remove offensive reviews at its discretion).


In most cases, rating agencies allow you to search for your organization by name and simply ‘claim’ your profile by requesting an email be sent to a specific authorized administrative staff member. Once your identity has been verified, you can update your organization’s information and choose the type of profile (basic or expanded) that is most appropriate for your organization. In some cases, monetary listing/ratings sits offer giveaways as incentives for organizations that complete expanded profiles. For instance, Guidestar/KIMBIA collaborate in an annual $5,000 nonprofit award.


Profile Preparation

Take the time to analyze the information you are providing to ensure that what you post or make available for download gives a full picture of your organization’s use of funds.


You can include statements about your organization’s:

  • Initiative and program area goals and the strategies you will employ to ensure success, including your strategies for dissemination of learnings and dealing with unanticipated results. Provide as many details and specific examples about program strengths and successes as allotted space allows. If you do not have information already compiled on the impact your organization is making, try for free detailed information on the topic.
  • Business and service provision philosophies. Be personal, be concise, be candid, and be clear.
  • Demonstrated Social Return on Investment (SROI), which should reflect your use of every dollar received and should also include information about how those dollars are leveraged. If your organization receives matches, is able to leverage additional funding due to specific donations made, and/or receives a high ratio of in-kind donations, be sure to highlight this information.
  • In-kind sources (such as volunteer time, materials and supplies, waived or donated site fees, contributions of partner agency staff time, and other resources) boost the value of your funder’s sponsorship and grant dollars, sometimes in very significant ways. Such collaboration with your community stakeholders vastly increases your organization’s SROI and should therefore be emphasized in ways funders can see. This information is NOT included on your 990 calculations of administrative expenses, which may drive that percentage higher than seems desirable or allowable by a number of funders, especially government agencies.
  • Provide financial statements that are reviewed and/or audited in addition to 990’s. It takes up to two years for services to get your 990’s from the IRS and post them. Be sure that your statements contain all the notes and explanations required for a clear reading of your organization’s fiscal health.
  • Long- and short-term campaigns and other funding goals. Some sites have wish lists that funders, volunteer organizations, and other groups can address directly to meet the needs of organizations whose activities interest them. You can update those lists at intervals appropriate for your group. Donors will seek you out once you post your needs, which can be a refreshing change of pace.
  • Testimonials, photos, videos, and other means of conveying your successes on a personal level, which brings us to Reviews.



The Reviews Project is a collaboration between Guidestar and It is an example of how reviews work on the ratings sites. Anyone with firsthand knowledge of a charity can login to these sites and post reviews about that charity. The reviews are shared automatically between GreatNonprofits and Guidestar without having to go to both sites to input a review. Board members, volunteers, donors, recipients of services, and other stakeholders can all provide review text. These providers request that the organization’s founder and anyone currently working in a paid position refrain from writing reviews.


Access to the rating services reviews is generally identical to accessing your organization’s profile (described above). Access to the database system sites may differ, however, as these sites are still working through their input procedures.


Review Preparation and Use

In preparing a review, be sure to share your personal experiences with the organization and provide constructive feedback only if you think you can suggest how to increase organizational capacity or improve its success rate. Include as many details as you can of how the organization improved your community. Guidelines, Tips, and Policy Statements regarding rules for posting reviews are posted on each provider’s site.


You can receive email notifications when new reviews are posted about your organization and can respond to reviewers in most cases. Onsite tools allow you to showcase reviews. For instance, you can:

  • link your organization’s website to rating site profiles;
  • tweet your best reviews to your funders or other contacts;
  • include reviews in your outreach materials; and
  • share reviews (good and bad) with your staff.


This may seem like a lot of work to bolster a listing site’s resources. However, the bulk of it should already be readily available to you if your organization has been in service for any length of time, as this same body of information is the foundation of all good letters of inquiry and proposals. If your organization is just starting up, compiling this information will assist you in having on hand the information needed for outreach and other communications, including your fund raising efforts. Adding your own detailed organization background and service provision information helps you bring positive donor attention and increased access for your organization. Your time spent refining and keeping your organization’s profiles up to date will be paid back to you in many ways. Make your presentations colorful, insightful, targeted, and reliable. This lets donors see your group more clearly as one that is proactive, responsible, and impactful in your field.

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