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.
GuideStar was the first central source of information on U.S. nonprofits. According to the company, 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'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 or during the holiday season. Those interested in reviewing a nonprofit's recent Forms 990 can register at GuideStar.org and download them for free.
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. 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. That fall, GuideStar officially launched its website, allowing it to update the data more frequently and provide more extensive information. 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. From there, in 1998, GuideStar provided digitized 990 data on its Web site’s individual public charities pages. In October 1999, GuideStar began posting 501(c)(3) public charities’ annual information returns, known as IRS Forms 990 and 990-EZ. In 2001, GuideStar was known as the nation's premier nonprofit database, at the time offering financial information on more than 850,000 organizations.
In February 2002, former PBS Chief Operating Officer Robert G. Ottenhoff took on Schmidt's role as president, and Schmidt became Chairman of GuideStar's board.
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. The first edition was derived from compensation data reported to the IRS by nearly 75,000 charities. 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. GuideStar also collaborated with the New York State Attorney General’s Office, providing data for the WTC Relief Info site. In November, TIME named GuideStar founder Buzz Schmidt one of seven innovators in philanthropy for the new millennium. 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.
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. At the end of the year, GuideStar released the results of its first annual nonprofit economic survey.
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. 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.
2004: California Attorney General's Office modified its Charities Search to one based on a customized version of the GuideStar database and search engine.
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. 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.
2006: GuideStar modified its search engine to make it easier for users to find data.
2007: Online donation capabilities were added to the GuideStar Web site; long-time partner Network for Good processed the donations. To further connect nonprofits with current and potential supporters, GuideStar launched a beta version of the GuideStar Exchange.
2008: GuideStar released a new report on characteristics that drive foundation spending patterns.
2009: Charity reviews also became available on the database for individuals to communicate their experiences with nonprofits. A CEO Compensation Checkpoint service for analyzing nonprofit CEO compensation was also launched.
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.
2011: In March, GuideStar acquired Philanthropedia and Social Actions. In May, "Charting Impact" was launched. 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.
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. 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. In October, GuideStar released More Money for More Good, a nonprofit fundraising guidebook, in partnership with Hope Consulting. GuideStar also released its 2012 Compensation Report in October, which covered CEO compensation based on 77,000 nonprofit tax returns filed in 2010.
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.
GuideStar won the InfoCommerce Model of Excellence Award in 2004 by the Infocommerce Group consulting firm, for distinction in database information publishing.
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.