GuideStar, an information service specializing in reporting on U.S. nonprofit organizations, is now using data from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to mark active nonprofits in its massive database as hate groups.
GuideStar’s president and CEO, Jacob Harold, recently told the Associated Press that the new feature reflects a “broader shift in how we imagine our role in the (nonprofit) field.”
“It’s unique in that it’s highly politicized in a highly politicized moment in history,” Harold said.
The move attracted criticism from some of the groups being tagged as well as other observers of the nonprofit sector. Some believe the move damages GuideStar’s reputation as a neutral observer since SPLC is considered a divisive organization in some circles.
Out of GuideStar’s more than 2 million entries only 46 have been tagged as a hate group. A banner atop each nonprofit’s GuideStar profile includes the law center’s logo and a link to its home page.
GuideStar recently pushed back against the criticism of its move saying that, “GuideStar profiles present a mixture of irrefutable facts and people’s opinions.”
Harold wrote in a blog post, “we [also] share stakeholder reviews of nonprofits through our partnership with GreatNonprofits. Most of these reviews are positive, but, as of June 14, 2017, we are sharing 17,086 negative reviews. We also have built tools to let nonprofits tell their own stories—in their own terms—with text, photos, video, and quantitative metrics. None of these data sources is perfect. Even the seemingly objective financial data in the Form 990 is subject to significant accounting discretion.”
Some nonprofit donor observers believe the hate group label will not damage the donor base of those groups.
Update – June 26, 2017
As of June 23, GuideStar has removed their SPLC banners. They issued the following statement concerning their reversal,
“Earlier this year, in order to provide even more information to our users, we noted that 46 of the 1,676,746 active nonprofit groups we track had been flagged by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a long-standing civil rights advocacy organization.
In the weeks and months since, we have heard from both supporters and critics of this decision, many of whom have presented reasonable disagreements with the way in which this information was presented. We are always open and willing to have conversations with our users and nonprofit groups and welcomed this feedback. We acknowledge there is a deep, nuanced conversation to be had with Americans of all political, cultural, and religious backgrounds regarding how we address—and identify—hate groups.
Dismayingly, a significant amount of the feedback we’ve received in recent days has shifted from constructive criticism to harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.
With this development in mind—driven by both our commitment to objectivity and our concerns for our staff’s wellbeing—we have decided to remove the SPLC annotations from these 46 organizations for the time being. This change will be implemented during the week of June 26, 2017. In the meantime, we will make this information available to any user on request.”