What? My Nonprofit is Profiled on How Many Websites?

During the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s online discussion on trends affecting philanthropy in 2010 I briefly noted an issue that I had identified in my work with several nonprofit clients, namely how to manage and interact with the multiple websites profiling their organizations. The growth of online donation portals has provided nonprofit organizations with additional means to augment their fundraising efforts. However, nonprofits remain challenged in tracking and controlling their information on these websites.

Many of the online donation portals collect information on nonprofits organizations through GuideStar and then provide profiles of these nonprofits in order to channel online donations. In some cases, though, nonprofits organizations may not even know that their profiles exist on those websites. And as such, those organizations are unable to both claim their accounts as well as control the data provided by the websites.

I researched several organizational profiles on Justgive.org, Change.org, FirstGiving, and Razoo. JustGive, Change.org, FirstGiving, and Razoo use information pulled from GuideStar. The specific organization I looked up was the Post Carbon Institute in Santa Rose, California (incorporated as Metafoundation).*

A quick search on JustGive for Post Carbon Institute brought up a short profile pulled from GuideStar. Clicking on an organization’s profile on JustGive opens up a new browser window with a very extensive GuideStar report on the organization. Interestingly, I was able to pull up this GuideStar report without having to register or login into the GuideStar website. In fact, the URL is for GuideStar, but is simply branded with the JustGive name. Buried in this organization profile window is a link for nonprofit staff to use to add to and update the profile information. Instead of controlling the profile on JustGive, however, it takes the user to the profile page on GuideStar. There does not seem to be a specific way for a Post Carbon Institute staff to manage and control the data on the JustGive website.

My second issue concerns JustGive’s privacy statement, which implies that the nonprofit organizations listed on the website endorse the statement (“JustGive and the nonprofit organizations listed on our site understand your concerns about privacy on the Internet and take them very seriously.”); I wonder how many organizations were actually approached about the policy.

Like the other websites, FirstGiving pulls information from GuideStar. However, I could not locate a statement that the website has a licensing agreement with GuideStar (which may be a violation of GuideStar’s prohibition again the resale of the information or use for commercial gain but is an issue for another day) nor any easy way for a nonprofit to modify the profile information. After digging around the site, I finally found a way (http://www.firstgiving.com/statements/npo/tour1.asp) to claim a nonprofit profile.  The security provisions, however, appear very lackluster.

Unlike the other services I researched, both Change.org and Razoo clearly state that they have partnership agreements with GuideStar to provide nonprofit profile information. Change.org also clearly indicates that in order to update the profile information, a nonprofit will need to register for a free administrator account. Through the Admin account, the nonprofit can “set up and edit their organization's profile information, track donations, post fundraising projects and events, and directly communicate with [its] network of supporters on Change.org.” However, Change.org does not clearly indicate how it ensures that a person will not fraudulently sign up for a nonprofit’s Admin account. Razoo also clearly indicates how a nonprofit may go about to claim its online profile. In contrast with Change.org, its security provisions appear to be a bit more robust. The process to claim the account requires a nonprofit to first submit an Admin Access Request Form. Once approved, Razoo emails the nonprofit an invitation email with an activation link.

Both Change.org and Razzo also have online communities of donors built around specific nonprofit profiles. What’s not clear though is how many nonprofits actually know that these communities exist. The lack of community activities, for instance, could actually a nonprofit visibility online (e.g., finding a nonprofit profile with no followers or donors is a bit of a deterrent for submitting a donation).

Researching these four services reaffirmed my general concerns and questions:

  • How does a nonprofit (especially midsized and smaller organizations) identify and monitor all the online donation websites that have a profile of the organization?
  • How does a nonprofit monitor and engage with the associated communities on online donation websites?
  • How does the organization rightfully claim its profile on the online donation websites and manage the data?
  • How will the online donation websites ensure that someone does not maliciously take control of the account by fraudulently gaining access to the nonprofit organization’s profile?

One last point: in my research I came across a tremendous variation in the fee structure for processing online donations. Razoo actually covers the transaction costs assess by Network for Good for processing donations. In other instances, the donor may see as much as 7.5% of the donation disappear through service fees.

* Disclaimer: My brother serves as the Executive Director of Post Carbon Institute. I do not have any formal business relationship with the organization.

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