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File: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. Better decisions. 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. [2] In 2016, its database provided information on 2.5 million organizations.[3]

GuideStar was one of the first central sources of information on U.S. nonprofits[4] and is the world's largest source of information about nonprofit organizations.[5] According to the company, GuideStar was founded in Williamsburg, Virginia, in September 1994 and received tax-exempt status in 1996,[6] the same year the company began posting nonprofit organizations' financial reports to the World Wide Web.[7]

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.[8] Those interested in reviewing a nonprofit's recent Forms 990 can register at and download them for free.[9] Additional information is available for a fee.[10]

In 2013, GuideStar announced major changes to its GuideStar Exchange program, which allows nonprofits to supplement the public information that is available from the IRS.[11] GuideStar Nonprofit Profiles implemented three seals based on the information a nonprofit provides in its profile: Bronze, Silver, and Gold.[12] In 2016, a new seal that allowed nonprofits to share progress and results for their mission, GuideStar Platinum, was introduced.[13]

In June 2017, GuideStar entered into a partnership with the Southern Poverty Law Center to flag SPLC-identified "hate groups" on their web site. Critics of the SPLC objected to this measure as a highly political move. William Boykin, chair of the Family Research Council, one such group which was flagged, said that "at this point, they are becoming an arm of the ultra-left." [14]. GuideStar's president, Jacob Herald, defended the move, admitting that the data were flawed but nevertheless the best available. [15]


  • 1994: Arthur "Buzz" Schmidt founded Philanthropic Research, Inc. in Williamsburg, Virginia as a company dedicated to helping donors make better giving decisions by providing easily accessibly nonprofit information.[16]
  • 1996: Philanthropic Research, Inc. officially received tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) public charity, and in July, 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.[17] That fall, Philanthropic Research, Inc. officially launched its GuideStar website, allowing it to update the data more frequently and provide more extensive information.[18] The organizations began doing business under the name, "GuideStar," although its official name remained Philanthropic Research, Inc. until September 2008.[19]
  • 1997: GuideStar began posting information on all 501(c)(3) nonprofits in the IRS Business Master File. By December, the database held information on more than 600,000 nonprofits.[20][21]
  • 1998: GuideStar provided digitized 990 data on its website's individual public charities pages.[22]
  • 1999: In October, GuideStar began posting 501(c)(3) public charities' annual information returns, known as IRS Forms 990 and 990-EZ.[23]
  • 2001: GuideStar began publishing an annual Nonprofit Compensation Report.[24] The first edition was derived from compensation data reported to the IRS by nearly 75,000 charities.[25] 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.[26] GuideStar also collaborated with the New York State Attorney General’s Office, providing data for the WTC Relief Info site.[27]
  • 2002: In February, former PBS Chief Operating Officer Robert G. Ottenhoff[28] took on Schmidt's role as president, and Schmidt became Chairman of GuideStar's board.[29] At the end of the year, GuideStar released the results of its first annual nonprofit economic survey.[30]
  • 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.[31] 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.[32]
  • 2004: California Attorney General's Office modified its Charities Search to one based on a customized version of the GuideStar database and search engine.[33]
  • 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.[34] 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.[35]
  • 2006: GuideStar modified its search engine to make it easier for users to find data.[36]
  • 2007: GuideStar added online donation capabilities to its site; long-time partner Network for Good processed the donations.[37] To further connect nonprofits with current and potential supporters, GuideStar launched a beta version of the GuideStar Exchange.[38]
  • 2008: GuideStar released a new report on characteristics that drive foundation spending patterns.[39]
  • 2009: GuideStar partnered with GreatNonprofits to add stakeholder reviews to organizations' profiles for individuals to communicate their experiences with nonprofits.[40] GuideStar also launched CEO Compensation Checkpoint to analyze nonprofit CEO compensation..[41]
  • 2010: GuideStar launched "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.[42]
  • 2011: In April, GuideStar acquired Philanthropedia and Social Actions.[43] In May, GuideStar, in partnership with BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Independent Sector, launched "Charting Impact"[44] to provide a common platform for nonprofits to discuss their impact and results, and share that information publicly.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.[45]
  • 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.[46] In July, GuideStar announced that Jacob Harold of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation had been selected to replace Bob Ottenhoff as GuideStar's President and CEO, marking the end of Ottenhoff's 10-year tenure at GuideStar. Harold officially assumed his role in October.[47] In October, GuideStar released More Money for More Good, a nonprofit fundraising guidebook, in partnership with Hope Consulting.[48]
  • 2013: In June, GuideStar announced major changes to the GuideStar Exchange, the only program of its kind that encouraged nonprofit transparency on a national scale and allowed nonprofits to supplement the public information that is available from the IRS.[49] The new GuideStar Exchange featured bronze, silver, and gold participation levels based on the amount of information they share with the public via GuideStar.[50] 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.[51] Additionally, GuideStar partnered with to offer new benefits to nonprofits that participated in the GuideStar Exchange.[52] Also in June, GuideStar partnered with Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance to launch the Overhead Myth Campaign.[53] In September 2013, GuideStar and the Foundation Center announced a strategic partnership to deliver much-needed data and resources to the social sector.[54] 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.[55] 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.[56]
  • 2014: On Monday, February 24, 2014, GuideStar hosted its first Impact Call, to expand the definition of nonprofit transparency and provide results in a timely and inclusive manner.[57] In June, GuideStar released its new strategic plan, GuideStar 2020: Building the Scaffolding of Social Change.[58] In October, in partnership with the D5 Coalition and Green 2.0, 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, GuideStar announced its goal to raise $10 million in transformational capital between 2014 and 2016 to help expand three essential functions: data innovation, collection, and distribution.[60] 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.[61]
  • 2016: In January, GuideStar upgraded GuideStar Nonprofit Profiles to allow users to more easily identify an organization’s geographic reach, results, sources of funding, financial stability, and leadership.[62] The redesign shifted emphasis from charity overhead costs to programs and results, a reflection of a broader debate in the nonprofit world about measuring and communicating impact. [63] In November, GuideStar’s position as a leading source of nonprofit information was reinforced when the Washington Post reported that the Trump Foundation had admitted to self-dealing after a 2015 IRS tax filing was uploaded to GuideStar’s website by the Trump Foundation’s law firm.[64]

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.[65]
  • In December 1999, NonProfit Times named GuideStar founder Buzz Schmidt nonprofit executive of the year.[66]
  • In November 2001, TIME named Schmidt one of seven innovators in philanthropy for the new millennium.[67] 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.[68]
  • In August 2000, 2001, and 2002, NonProfit Times named GuideStar founder and board chair Buzz Schmidt to the NPT Power and Influence Top 50.[69]
  • In 2004, GuideStar won the InfoCommerce Model of Excellence Award for distinction in database information publishing.[70]
  • In 2012, founder and board chair Buzz Schmidt and board member Virginia Hodgkinson were recognized by NonProfit Times as two of the Top 25 individuals who have shaped the charitable sector in the last 25 years.[71]
  • On January 31, 2014, GuideStar chief financial officer James Lum received the 2014 Nonprofit CFO Transformational Leader Award at the 2014 Nonprofit CFO of the Year Awards Luncheon.[72]
  • In August 2014, 2015, and 2016, GuideStar President and CEO Jacob Harold was named to the NPT Power and Influence Top 50.[73]


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  32. Wallace, Nicole. "Federal Program Awards $13.95-Million". Chronicle of Philanthropy. Retrieved 29 September 2011. 
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  60. "Notes on nonprofits: Compelling stories attract people to your cause". Tallahassee Democrat. 16 November 2014. 
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External links