Online ventures – Sites sharpen focus

By Todd Cohen

In the face of continuing talk that the AOL Time Warner Foundation may team up with a handful of other Internet players to develop broad e-philanthropy initiatives, the foundation has launched a redesign of its helping.org philanthropic portal.

The changes include new search categories designed to make it easier for donors and volunteers to find charities to support.

AOL would not comment on speculation about other possible new ventures.

Guidestar in Williamsburg, Va., says it was in talks about merging with helping.org to create a new entity aimed at pulling together online resources for donors, volunteers, nonprofits and the philanthropic and commercial organizations that serve them.

But Guidestar has opted instead to focus on maintaining itself as a nonprofit entity providing online data about nonprofits for institutional users, such as financial services companies and state charity regulators.

CEO Arthur “Buzz” Schmidt says that while it hopes to collaborate with any new entity involving the AOL Time Warner Foundation’s helping.org, Guidestar’s priorities are to strengthen its data and technology while recruiting clients to license its services.

“We think our organization really needs to keep its institutional focus to do its job very well,” he says.

By licensing its services and piggy-backing on the marketing muscle of its customers, he says, Guidestar can roughly halve its annual budget of $12 million.

Guidestar already has inked deals to license its services to America’s Promise, Helping.org, Horizonguide.com, JustGive, Media Rights, Schwab Charitable, and T. Rowe Price.

Guidestar also plans to create the position of development director.       

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