OPINION: GuideStar UK is a sign of better things to come

Geraldine Peacock, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

Coming away from the excellent One Amazing Day conference a week or so ago, I began to feel that things in the sector were looking up.

The conference teemed with people from all parts of the voluntary sector who had come, despite the rail strike, from all over the country to learn how to improve their organisations.

How far we have moved in a year, with people now talking about collaboration, social investment, impact, accountability and more. There is now a real thirst for knowledge and a will to do things better.

In the same week, by sheer chance, something else happened that could help take all these things forward by leaps and bounds - GuideStar UK appeared. Sounds like science fiction, doesn't it? But it's true, made possible by a £2.9 million grant from the Government, some hard work from the Institute of Philanthropy and inspiration from an American called Buzz Schmidt. I know visions of "beam me up, Scotty" spring to mind, but after meeting some of the people involved, I do feel some synergy with the "to boldly go" concept.

GuideStar UK aims to construct a "comprehensive charity-sector information system" including a free public web site service. For the first time, it will be possible for anyone to find out, from one focal point, which charities work within which areas; how they work and who with; what forms of giving are most effective and tax efficient; volunteering opportunities and policies, reserves policies and much more. Check out the US site at www.guidestar.org for an idea of what the UK version is likely to offer.

Most importantly, it will give charities, particularly the smaller, community or niche organisations, the opportunity to explain their work to a wider audience and to influence public perceptions. It will also help the public to make informed decisions about giving to and supporting charities by making the sector more transparent. I know all this sounds a little advertorial, but the GuideStar information resource will prove invaluable right across the sector.

As the One Amazing Day conference showed, openness, accountability, clarity and engagement have been touted as the keys to a successful future for the voluntary sector. GuideStar UK could prove to be an important part of the sector's toolbox in its efforts to achieve this.

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