Transparency Talk

Transparency Chat: Why transparency matters, and what it takes
December 18, 2014

PhilbPhil Buchanan is the president of The Center for Effective Philanthropy, which recently received a grant from the Fund for Shared Insight (FSI). FSI is a multi-year collaborative effort among funders that pools financial and other resources to make grants to improve philanthropy. This is the first in a series of interviews Transparency Talk is conducting with grantees of the FSI openness portfolio. Janet Camarena, director of Foundation Center’s San Francisco office and project lead of the Glasspockets initiative, asked Phil Buchanan about the work this grant will fund.

Janet Camarena: Congratulations on your recent grant from the Fund for Shared Insight!  Your grant falls within the part of the portfolio dedicated to supporting "efforts to increase foundation openness in service of effectiveness." What do you think the relationship is between increased openness and greater foundation effectiveness, and what have you learned about this from your prior work?

Phil Buchanan: We see in our surveys of grantees that one of the most important dimensions in their views of foundations is the perception that foundations are clear about their goals and strategies. They are looking for specificity about what foundations are trying to do, how they are trying to do it, and how they fit in. They’re not especially concerned about 990-PFs, annual reports, or charter documents – but they care about the specifics of the work, and what foundations are learning about what is and isn’t working. All of that affects grantees’ abilities to be effective in pursuit of shared goals. So I think openness and effectiveness often go hand in hand.

CEP LogoJC: Your specific funded project is a research project and publication entitled, “Foundation Transparency: Why It Matters and What It Takes”.  Tell us more about the details about what this work will produce and what you hope its impact will be. Also, when do you expect the report to be available?

PB: We’ll be analyzing our data set of grantee perceptions of foundations on several questions about transparency that we added to our grantee survey in recent years. This will allow us to profile the exemplars. What do they do? Why do they do it? We’ll also look at foundations’ attitudes and practices with respect to transparency and we’ll connect those to the grantee experience. We can also examine the relationship between grantees’ perceptions of transparency and their perceptions of foundations’ impact – what is the connection? Our report on results will be available in early 2016.

JC: One of the assumptions about any data related to philanthropy and perceptions is that there is a positivity-bias among those grantees who have received funds and a negativity-bias among those how have been declined support.  How does CEP overcome that challenge in its work?

I think almost all powerful institutions can be resistant to change. But what we have seen is that foundations can – and often do – change in response to relevant data about how they are doing. Colleagues influencing colleagues – that is a powerful part of the change equation.

PB: As critical as nonprofits can be of funders in general – and they can be – they of course tend to rate the specific foundations that fund them toward the high end of an absolute scale on most dimensions. That’s not surprising – they’re getting crucial funding from these institutions. But there is meaningful variation within the range of average ratings that foundations receive. That’s why comparative data is so crucial. We are able to compare results across hundreds of foundations whose tens of thousands of grantees we have surveyed. That way a foundation can understand what are really strengths and what are weaknesses – or, in the euphemistic jargon of today, “opportunities for improvement.”

JC: Some of the risks mentioned in the Fund for Shared Insight's Theory of Change include the fact that institutional philanthropy is resistant to change.  How do you plan to get past that to achieve what you need to as part of this project, and what do you think needs to happen for the field to be more change-oriented?​

PB: I think almost all powerful institutions can be resistant to change. But what we have seen is that foundations can – and often do – change in response to relevant data about how they are doing. That’s been the inspiring part of our work at CEP for the past 13 years. We have seen, and evaluations have confirmed, that foundations change practice in response to our research reports and assessment tools – and that those changes are experienced as positive by grantees. Not all the time, and not every foundation. But a meaningful number. There are some ways to make it easier for foundations, including sharing exemplars of various types from which they can learn. Colleagues influencing colleagues – that is a powerful part of the change equation.

-- Phil Buchanan

Declining a Grant: How Funders Can Help Turn a Negative into a Positive
December 11, 2014

(Steven Green is the director of grants management and administration at the Jim Joseph Foundation.This post was originally featured on the GrantCraft blog.)
 
StevenGreenJJFdnWhen I am asked what I do for a living, I often explain my role as a program professional at the Jim Joseph Foundation, working to support compelling and effective Jewish learning opportunities. Or, sometimes, I discuss my particular role in the Foundation’s grants management process. What I often gloss over entirely is the seemingly less glamorous responsibility of managing the Foundation’s declination process—basically carrying out the Foundation’s collective decision to sometimes say “No” to a potential grantee. Even with a policy of accepting grant inquiries by invitation only, this is an important and necessary part of the grantmaking process.

Examining this declination responsibility raises questions and offers important lessons both for funders and for organizations. On a fundamental level, are we abrogating our responsibility of;Tzedakah(charitable giving) whenever we say no to a meaningful cause? When an organization’s grant request is declined—admittedly, not the answer it was seeking—are there any positives it can take away from the process?

JJFdnTo properly address both questions, we should first acknowledge a simple truth - saying “No” can be challenging. The Jim Joseph Foundation is privileged to work with passionate and determined grantees—and always searches for the next successful initiative. Still, while the Foundation has affected tens of thousands of Jewish youth and young adults (Jim Joseph Foundation Portfolio Analysis), all pools of funds are finite; all grants have their limitations in terms of scope and reach. This fact only makes saying “No” more difficult. It goes against our desire to help support more Jewish learning opportunities.

We want to be positive but not patronizing, direct without being disrespectful, and still find a way to be helpful.

So how does the Foundation both approach and implement its declination process? One of the foremost, authoritative documents in Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch, states: “One able to motivate others to contribute receives greater reward than the giver (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 249:5).” We believe this holds true in our philanthropic world. Many of the potential grantees who reach out to the Jim Joseph Foundation represent organizations or institutions with which we would hope to maintain ongoing relationships, regardless of whether the Foundation awards a grant. These include summer camps, day schools, social service organizations, study abroad programs, universities, Federations, and many other worthwhile institutions with pressing capital needs. We want to be positive but not patronizing, direct without being disrespectful, and still find a way to be helpful.

A foundation can, in fact, turn the moment of declination into positive outcomes for the grantseeker by being transparent about funding priorities, delivering the message with clarity and with sensitivity, and by assisting, as appropriate, in other ways. This includes:

  1. Helping the organization better understand the strategic priorities of the funder, leaving open the possibility for future funder-organization alignment
  2. Identifying other potential funders that are a better fit for the organization or specific initiative

For the applicant itself, the organization can act intentionally after the grant process and improve efficiency and effectiveness by:

  1. Expending less of the organization’s fiscal resources on pursuing grants that do not align with its mission
  2. Reassessing the proposed grant to learn what about it could be more compelling or perhaps adapted to align with a specific potential funder
  3. Further targeting the list of potential funders based on funding priorities and subsequently reducing staff-time invested to solicit funds
  4. Asking for outside advice on how to improve the organizational model or find avenues for future funding
But when a potential grantee and potential funder are not a match, saying “No” reflects the Foundation’s best judgment that the proposed grant initiative does not align with the Foundation’s strategic grant making priorities. It is not a comment on the quality or premise of the grant idea.

At the Jim Joseph Foundation, funding can be awarded to an organization for a grant proposal and its renewal. Typically, funding that is awarded to an organization for several grant cycles eventually comes to an end. It is not prudent for either the funder or the grantee to assume that a grant will continue to be renewed in perpetuity. Even if a grant had previously been made to an organization, it is imperative for the Foundation to clarify, with as much advanced notice as possible, whether there will be an opportunity for renewal. This will allow the organization to leverage the remainder of the grant as a runway to find new funding. It is similarly necessary for a grantee organization to make it clear if its mission has changed, which would affect its eligibility for foundation grants.

A majority of the organizations funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation have experienced at least one declination for an initiative that was not a fit. But when a potential grantee and potential funder are not a match, saying “No” reflects the Foundation’s best judgment that the proposed grant initiative does not align with the Foundation’s strategic grant making priorities. It is not a comment on the quality or premise of the grant idea. Beyond this, Saying “Yes” to everything or even saying “Maybe” to everything is both unrealistic and counterproductive for a funder trying to efficiently work towards—and achieve—its goal. And even when a grant is declined, a grantseeking organization can turn a “No” into a positive by charting its next steps to secure necessary funding and further working towards its mission.

-- Steven Green

Is Big Data Like Teenage Sex?
December 3, 2014

(Sara Davis, is the director of grants management at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She can be followed on Twitter @SaraLeeeDeee or reached via email at sdavis@hewlett.org.)

Sara_DavisThere’s a great quote about “big data” from Dan Ariely of Duke University that’s been circulating for the last couple years and is still spot on: Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.

This seems particularly true of the philanthropic sector—we’ve all been talking about it, but we’ve yet to find the right way to apply the rhetoric of big data to our work. In part, this is because we don’t actually have many examples that follow the original definition of BIG data. The oft-cited example of Target using big data to determine when a customer is pregnant in order to focus their marketing is an interesting story, but it’s challenging to figure out what the corollary would be in philanthropy. In reality, most of our data is pretty small or—at most—medium in nature. And even with that, we’re still learning to effectively define, collect, use, and share data within our organizations and across the sector.

Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.

With all this in mind, it was incredibly refreshing to attend a session at the recent TAG (Technology Affinity Group) conference in Miami that was an honest dialogue about big data and philanthropy. C. Davis Parchment, Manager of the Electronic Reporting Program at the Foundation Center and moderator of the session Managing Big Data Across Foundation Roles: Identifying New Tools for New Teams, set the stage with a much needed redefinition of big data. Rather than think of big data in its most literal definition as very high volume data sets, Davis described big data as a movement, one that focuses on analysis, rigor, metrics, and critical thinking. Big data as a movement calls on us to employ technology more effectively; to better collect, use, and share data to inform our work, make decisions, and ultimately, to create real and lasting impact through our grantmaking. If we do this well, it will change the way we work—transforming roles and processes within our organizations and redefining how we collaborate and share across the sector.

The first speaker, Kevin Rafter, gave us an example of this concept in action, focusing on creating new data about grantmaking. As Manager of Impact Assessment and Learning at the James Irvine Foundation, Rafter has designed a framework for collecting qualitative and quantitative data about grant results across Irvine’s diverse set of program areas. Irvine is implementing a new grant closing process through which staff will answer five straightforward questions about results before closing a grant. To make it easy, the user interface is elegantly built within their Foundation Connect grants management system. Collecting this information will create a new data set for analyzing their grantmaking impact and learning from grants. By collaborating together, an internal project team was also able to simplify and clarify the grant closure process overall. This is a great example of a foundation giving thoughtful attention to how they define and collect useful data. I’ll be eager to hear more from Rafter once staff has used the tool through several grant closure cycles and they’ve further developed their data set.

If we do this well, it will change the way we work—transforming roles and processes within our organizations and redefining how we collaborate and share across the sector.

We know that an important function for grantmaking data is creating transparency when it is made publicly available by foundations. Suki O’Kane, Director of Administration at the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, brought this concern to the fore by sharing her organization’s experience as the 19th member to join the Reporting Commitment Initiative, which is managed by the Foundation Center as part of Glasspockets. Foundations who join the Reporting Commitment agree to make machine-readable grant information available to the public at least four times a year and to use a common geographic coding scheme for their grants thus making timely and accurate reporting on the flow of philanthropic dollars more broadly available. Upon joining the Reporting Commitment, the Haas Fund developed an open source tool that makes it easier for other foundations to participate in the initiative. The tool, called Open hGrant, is a WordPress plug-in and is a great example of how innovative technology design can ease the sharing and use of data. As O’Kane artfully described, the contribution also embodies the spirit of collaboration: it improves data sharing practices at the Haas Fund, then takes that learning even further by advancing data sharing within the whole sector. The Open hGrant tool brings us one step closer to eliminating the barriers to better use data in our grantmaking.

We know that an important function for grantmaking data is creating transparency when it is made publicly available by foundations.

According to Patrick Collins, Chief Information Officer at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, another way to ensure better data use is through automation—which makes data activities more efficient and will ultimately transform how we do our work. Specifically, Collins talked about the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to connect and share data across systems. By connecting with external systems via APIs, Hewlett has been able to automate many repetitive tasks and free-up staff time to focus on more substantive challenges. One example Collins shared is how Hewlett now automates simple tax status checking via an API with Guidestar’s Charity Check system, eliminating the need for data entry and administrative staff time. As the use of system interfaces is adopted more widely, it will allow real-time data sharing and will deliver data to users in the right way—and at the right time—for decision-making. This, in turn, will change how people do their jobs, share information, and collaborate.

We certainly don’t have big data completely figured out in the philanthropic sector, but this session at TAG was a nice step in the right direction. I was deeply heartened by the spirit of collaboration, pragmatism, and creativity throughout the presentations and discussion afterwards. There’s big potential on the horizon for data to be used more effectively and—through that—to improve our grantmaking practice and how we all achieve impact. I’m excited by this ongoing conversation and the transformative power possible if we all collect, use and share data well.

-- Sara Davis

Webinar TOMORROW: The PDF is the Enemy
December 1, 2014

Pdf-enemy-icon1Join us tomorrow—Tuesday, December 2, 1:00pm EST—for the Communication Network’s webinar, The PDF Is the Enemy. Speakers include Amy Ngai, partnership and training director at the Sunlight Foundation, and Foundation Center presenters,  Janet Camarena, director of  the Center's San Francisco regional office and leader of the Glasspockets initiative, and Gabi Fitz, director of the Center’s knowledge management initiatives and co-founder of IssueLab.

Presenters will weigh in on the shortcomings of this file format, which because it “locks” content, is not conducive to data sharing or usability. The program will also demonstrate how to make PDFs more usable and reasons why we should share, make open, and reuse data in the social sector.

This webinar is the second in the Communication Network’s Open Data for the Social Sector series. Please register here. The webinar will last an hour and is free. 

Glasspockets Find: Fund for Shared Insight Aims to Improve Philanthropy Through Feedback Loops and Foundation Openness
November 25, 2014

(Lisa M. Brooks is the director of knowledge management systems at the Foundation Center.)

LBrooksThe Fund for Shared Insight is a new collaborative effort among seven funders that pools financial and other resources to make grants to improve philanthropy. Launched in September, it has recently announced its first round of awards that are designed to foster social-sector sharing and learning to enhance impact. These 14 grants will further the fund’s goals to encourage and incorporate feedback from the people the social sector seeks to help, understand the connection between feedback and better results, foster more openness between and among foundations and grantees, and share lessons learned. Among the grantees who received awards to increase foundation openness in service of greater effectiveness are the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Creative Commons, Exponent Philanthropy, Foundation Center, and GiveWell.

These 14 grants will further the fund’s goals to encourage and incorporate feedback from the people the social sector seeks to help, understand the connection between feedback and better results, foster more openness between and among foundations and grantees, and share lessons learned.

IssueLab, a service of Foundation Center, will put these grant dollars to work on a variety of initiatives meant to help foundations adopt common practices that can lead to greater openness in the field. Why is this work so important? Currently those foundations that embrace broader sharing of their knowledge are mostly left to forge their own path. Even when successful their efforts represent only an isolated and individualized solution to what is fundamentally a collective problem. While foundations have helped to create one of the largest bodies of combined insight and intelligence in existence (thousands upon thousands of evaluations, case studies, and research reports), much of it either remains behind closed doors or spread across innumerable organizational websites. IssueLab is already a model of how a knowledge repository can address this problem. It will now develop and pursue wide adoption of an infrastructure that addresses it in a larger way.

Sector-wide knowledge sharing will only be possible when foundations treat the knowledge they produce and fund as a public good with its greatest value coming through its exchange. Equally important to improved knowledge sharing is the adoption and implementation of shared practices and principles by foundations around the world. IssueLab is working to realize this vision and to fulfill the promise that is the motivation behind every foundation grant ever made towards research or evaluation, to learn from what has already been done so that we can do it better in the future.

-- Lisa Brooks

Glasspockets Find: The Gates Foundation Opens Up to Accelerate the Pace of Change
November 21, 2014

(Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the Center's Glasspockets effort.)

6a00e54efc2f80883301a3fd038242970b-800wiThe Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has just announced that it is adopting an Open Access Policy, which will enable the unrestricted access and reuse of all peer-reviewed published research funded by the foundation, including any underlying data sets. This is notable because though foundations fund and directly generate knowledge creation in their respective fields of practice, they often lack clear policies or practices governing their use. And, in many cases, it becomes copyrighted and filed away, rather than added to a growing body of shared evidence that would advance creating solutions and the field as a whole.

This announcement is also notable because it demonstrates that even the largest foundation in the world can’t tackle the problems it wants to solve alone. By sharing its knowledge openly, the Gates Foundation invites others to build on lessons learned and avoid duplication of effort.

6a00e54efc2f80883301b8d0998501970c-120wiAfter all, any funder who purports to be outcomes-oriented, and particularly those working in the data-driven fields of science and medicine, understand that philanthropy handicaps itself when it keeps what it learns to itself. As the blog announcing its launch explains, "...virtually every major breakthrough in science and medicine has stemmed from the principles of experimentation, observation, measurement, and analysis." It is exciting to consider the potential of how taking this kind of "shared learning lab" approach to philanthropy could serve to accelerate change faster than funding alone can do.

The Gates Foundation is not the first foundation to create an Open Access Policy, but it is something only a very few currently have. Perhaps the scale, influence, and visibility of Gates announcing this direction will truly lead to a shared body of collective intelligence from which we can all build; because if knowledge is power, then only through knowledge sharing can we fully harness that power in service of the public good.

-- Janet Camarena

Foundations and the Transparency Mindset: What’s in it for Philanthropy?
November 18, 2014

(Jason Ricci is the founder and CEO of Fluxx Labs.)

Jason ricciFoundations have always operated with a fair amount of independence. In many ways this philanthropic freedom is one of the field’s biggest strengths – the ability to stay above the fray, apart from both market and political pressure. The idea was to allow for the delivery of flexible resources to advance the common good.

But as technology advances, and faster ways of sending and receiving information become commonplace, foundations – and most everyone else – are beginning to understand that collaboration, rather than independence, fosters excellence, efficiency, and greater effectiveness.

And collaboration works best when a transparency mindset is embraced.

As technology advances, and faster ways of sending and receiving information become commonplace, foundations – and most everyone else – are beginning to understand that collaboration, rather than independence, fosters excellence, efficiency, and greater effectiveness.

Foundations can now tap into a torrential flow of data, harness it, analyze it, and ultimately use it to make real progress on the issues they care about most. When foundations open up and share this data with each other, and the rest of the world, the progress is outsized.

We are starting to see movement toward achieving this vision by groups like Glasspockets, as well as a growing list of foundations that are taking steps to adopt a transparency mindset, like the Ford Foundation, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, and the F.B. Heron Foundation, among others. These folks understand that greater transparency means better philanthropy. It means making smarter decisions and creating greater impact.

Opening an incoming and outgoing stream of programmatic data, evaluation data, and publicly available data allows foundations to collaborate better (with both their grantees and other foundations), create communities of shared learning, and strengthen credibility and public trust.

These days, we expect information to be available any time and anywhere – our workplaces, the marketplace, and our social spaces have become increasingly open and collaborative – transparent even. So, why should philanthropy be different?

At Fluxx, we don’t think it should.

These days, we expect information to be available any time and anywhere – our workplaces, the marketplace, and our social spaces have become increasingly open and collaborative – transparent even. So, why should philanthropy be different?

Transparency is built into our DNA. Our goal is to simplify the grantmaking process by allowing organizations to access  critical data from one easy-to-use platform – giving grantmakers everything they need to make smarter grantmaking decisions.

Fluxx was born from the desire of grantmakers to collaborate more meaningfully ­– with their grantees, other grantmakers, and the grantmaking ecosystem at large. Listening to these grantmakers, we learned that opening up the grantmaking process, allowing clear visibility and access to anyone in the organization, would create a far more efficient and effective way to make grants. But we don’t think transparency should stop at the walls of the foundation.

By opening access to the free flow of information from sources like the Foundation Center, GuideStar, and other public data, we could empower foundations to use and share data in completely new and important ways.  For example, Foundation Center’s hGrant code, an initiative I spearheaded in 2010, lets foundations publish grants information in real time in a format that can be automatically collected and aggregated. Once collected, the data can be searched, categorized, and viewed in new ways.

As we look ahead to the future, our Fluxx team is particularly excited about the potential for grantmakers and grantees to have the ability to track incoming evaluation data, to understand in real time their organization’s short-term and long-term impact, and to be able to respond to that data and take action to ensure continued progress.

In the past, there was no common language used to talk about impact evaluation.  Now, for the first time, technology can help us to create that common language. It is possible for foundations to not only track their own progress toward a goal, but also compare results with other organizations working toward the same end. The intelligence learned creates a greater potential for real needle-moving impact.

But again, this can only be possible when more and more of the sector begin to embrace the transparency mindset.

No doubt transparency can be scary. Who wants their mistakes published for all to see? Who wants to be a target for second-guessing and criticism? Who needs the enhanced scrutiny? 

Transparency shouldn’t be a goal just for transparency’s sake – transparency is a means to an end.

But here perhaps is the more important question: What if we don’t do it?  Philanthropy is a space that has so much to gain from collaboration – so many strong and important organizations work tirelessly to make change on some of the same stubbornly persistent social problems. To knock down the silos and begin maximizing impact, it’s imperative to begin thinking and acting in a more transparent way.

Transparency shouldn’t be a goal just for transparency’s sake – transparency is a means to an end. When organizations see that sharing information increases the likelihood of accomplishing what they set out to do – whether it’s to increase access to clean water, improve educational opportunities in inner cities, or lower greenhouse gas emissions – it makes the concept of transparency a lot less scary. And it makes the choice whether or not to embrace a transparent mindset that much easier.

It’s a new way of working for foundations, and it’s not always comfortable. But if you’re too comfortable, perhaps you’re not pushing hard enough. And if you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not doing it right.  After all, what’s the point of philanthropic freedom, if you are not taking risks?

-- Jason Ricci

Rolling Out a Platform to Provide Diversity Data
November 12, 2014

(Danielle Deane is director at Green 2.0 and principal at The Raben Group.)

DanielleDeanTransparency and accountability are great goals but without data, it is like a stool with two legs. Good luck with that.  Consistent, visible data and goals keep us on a stable platform, and allows organizations and leaders to learn, build and improve. Data about who is leading and working in organizations is just as important as financials and environmental or social change indicators to understanding how an NGO or foundation works and its responsiveness to community needs.

Enter Green 2.0. Launched earlier this year, Green 2.0 advocates for improved diversity in the mainstream environmental movement. Partnering with GuideStar, a highly regarded information service  that organizes and provides data on over one and half million nonprofit organizations, and the D5 Coalition, an unprecedented coalition of leading philanthropy associations and foundations committed to taking on the critical issue of diversity, we rolled out a groundbreaking diversity data tracking effort. The effort brings a set of uniform and simple data standards to help nonprofits and foundations voluntarily report and collect information about their organization’s demographics for board members, staff and volunteers. The voluntary program within the GuideStar Exchange is the only program of its kind that encourages nonprofit transparency, allows nonprofits to supplement public information available from the IRS, and allows tracking on a scale we haven’t seen before — with the potential to reach 1.8 million nonprofits.  The need for this especially in the environmental field is clear.

The Green 2.0 effort brings a set of uniform and simple data standards to help nonprofits and foundations voluntarily report and collect information about their organization’s demographics for board members, staff and volunteers.

Green 2.0 recently released the comprehensive report "Diversity in Environmental Institutions: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations and Government Agencies" commissioned from Professor Dorceta Taylor. The report documents the problematic "green ceiling"— the failure of mainstream environmental organizations to keep up with the changing face of America. Although people of color comprise about 38% of the U.S. population, they occupy, on average less than 12% of staff at these organizations. The numbers at the board level are even lower – for example on average 95% of mainstream NGO boards are white; 85 % of foundation boards are white.  These numbers have not budged much over the last decade, though a promising trend is that white women have seen significant gains below the board level.

To quote one foundation leader, Steven Heintz, the president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund:

“As a funder we believe it is important to understand both the diversity of the organizations we fund and how they engage diverse perspectives in their work….We are excited to participate in the GuideStar Exchange effort and encourage others to do so. This builds on the work of many organizations over the past few years, and we are particularly appreciative of the efforts of GuideStar, D5, and Green 2.0 to make this happen.” (Statements from other leaders are here.)

Green 2.0’s website features the ten foundations that have made a commitment to transparency on Glasspockets, and have indicated that they disclose diversity data or have statements regarding their commitment to transparency.

In addition to bringing attention to diversity across these organizations, we also want to provide the best practices that many groups need to improve their environments. With that in mind, we are building on the work that Glasspockets has done in encouraging greater foundation transparency. The resources webpage of Green 2.0’s website features the ten foundations (among those that are ranked within the top 50 environmental funders by the Foundation Center) that have made a commitment to transparency on Glasspockets, and have indicated that they disclose diversity data or have statements regarding their commitment to transparency.

Our success will come through our growing list of strategic partners that similarly view diversity as an integral part of today’s corporate and nonprofit business models. Our success will also come through our work with you.

Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in philanthropy will help organizations better achieve their missions. So, what can you do? Three things:

  • Nonprofits and funders, pledge to submit your data on GuideStar
  • Funders, share your transparency profile on Glasspockets
  • Let your grantees know you encourage them to submit their data. For environmental NGOs and foundations, we hope to have organizations pledge to submit data by the end of this year (2014), and submit data in early 2015.
  • Everyone, share your success stories and strategies with us at www.diversegreen.org

Foundations have a key role to play in ensuring that we see dramatically better diversity numbers in five years than what we’ve seen over the last decade. Shining a light on the challenges and solutions will lead to that improvement. We look forward to your support.

-- Danielle Deane

Trends in Ebola Relief Funding
October 30, 2014

(Andrew Grabois is the manager of corporate philanthropy at the Foundation Center. This piece was originally featured on the GrantCraft blog.)

An analysis of figures compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA) Financial Tracking Service shows that the global response to OCHA’s billion dollar appeal for the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been an outlier. For example, looking at just  funding (not including uncommitted pledges) from  private individuals and organizations, we see that the current appeal for assistance in West Africa has yielded a fraction of what was raised for the Haitian and Japanese earthquakes and the typhoon that devastated the Philippines:

Doctors without BordersPartners in HealthInternational Medical Corps, and Direct Relief International all told the New York Times that fundraising has yielded nowhere near what they've received from previous appeals or what is needed to adequately respond to the current crisis.

While it is true that the totals for other humanitarian appeals reflect campaigns that have lasted for years, with some still ongoing, it is hard to imagine that the Ebola appeal will make up the difference or meet its funding requirements – at least not from private individuals and organizations. Doctors without BordersPartners in HealthInternational Medical Corps, and Direct Relief International all told the New York Times that fundraising has yielded nowhere near what they've received from previous appeals or what is needed to adequately respond to the current crisis. The American Red Cross, who raised almost $500 million for Haiti and more than $85 million for the Philippines, has so far received less than $3 million for Ebola - $2.8 million of which came from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

In addition to the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Commission (the executive body of the European Union) who continue to be major contributors to UN appeals for humanitarian assistance, the Ebola crisis has inspired normally staid financial institutions like the African Development Bank and the World Bank to become activist donors.  Mandated with providing low interest loans to developing countries for capital programs that promote foreign investment and international trade, the World Bank in particular has charged headlong into the Ebola crisis. Led by World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a trained medical doctor and anthropologist and former president of Dartmouth College, the Bank has pledged $218 million in grants (not loans) to combat the disease, with its first installment of $105 million reaching the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea in just nine days. The World Bank's contribution is more than 12% of total contributions, second only to that of the U.S., who together account for 49% of all confirmed contributions and commitments:

Foundation Center tracks the response of charitable organizations and companies to humanitarian crises and it has compiled its own detailed figures for that universe of donors. Because Foundation Center does not distinguish between a pledge and a confirmed contribution, and works with a donor universe that does not include national governments, nongovernmental organizations, and private individuals, their figures will be different than those compiled by the United Nations. That being said, Foundation Center has identified 117 grants and gifts from foundations, charities, and companies worth more than $173 million. This is more than the total contribution from these donors to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, but significantly less than donations for the Haitian and Japanese earthquake relief efforts. What is interesting and unusual about the response to Ebola as captured by Foundation Center is the disposition of the donors, with corporate contributions making up 79% of the grants but only 21% of the total dollar value of contributions. In this appeal, family foundations (i.e. Bill Gates and Paul Allen) accounted for the lion’s share of contributions:

Not only have the donors changed, but so have the recipients. Foundation Center has found that the Ebola relief landscape is populated with an entirely new array of channels for funneling institutional contributions. At the forefront and on the front lines now are organizations unfamiliar to many if not most Americans, like Doctors Without Borders, Partners In Health, and Direct Relief International – the very same ones that were profiled in the New York Times because they were having so much trouble soliciting contributions from individuals. According to Foundation Center these relief organizations – and a few others like Samaritans Purse and International Medical Corps- account for 78% of all grants with a specified recipient:

Why has the Ebola appeal had so much trouble gaining traction with individuals in the U.S. and elsewhere?

Why has the Ebola appeal had so much trouble gaining traction with individuals in the U.S. and elsewhere? Pundits point to the hopelessness of a frighteningly high mortality rate, the absence of emotionally potent and encapsulating images, and a general unfamiliarity with West Africa. Perhaps, but just as likely, this reticence reflects an assessment  by ordinary citizens that the scope and possible consequences of the Ebola epidemic are just too overwhelming  for non-state solutions – especially when those solutions involve building a health care infrastructure on the fly in three countries, populated by 20,000 doctors and other medical professionals that have to be recruited, trained, transported and, if necessary,  evacuated, something only national governments and  international organizations acting in concert have the resources to do.

Foundation Center has made all information on Ebola-related grants from charitable organizations and companies available in an RSS feed, including details on grants, grantmakers, and recipients. Working together with its partners – the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center, the Council on Foundations, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) – Foundation Center will continue to track the global response to the Ebola crisis and report its findings. 

-- Andrew Grabois

Increase Transparency by Broadening Your Perspective
October 29, 2014

(Kris Putnam-Walkerly is chair of the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers and president of Putnam Consulting Group.)

Kris-NNCGWhen funders want to know about a particular issue or have questions about process, they often look first to peers and industry associations for answers. That makes perfect sense—the people who do the same job you do are likely to understand where you’re coming from and have experienced something similar.

But if funders stop there, they could be selling themselves short. There are also many people who have expertise on the very issue, process, challenge or innovation that a grantmaker is pondering, but are not employed by a foundation or an industry association.

“Knowledgeable outsiders” can have a great deal of valuable thought to add to the field of philanthropy... They can help funders be more transparent about the work they do in ways that resonate more deeply with the “outside” world.

These “knowledgeable outsiders” can have a great deal of valuable thought to add to the field of philanthropy. They offer perspectives that can help uncover new ideas and cautions that grantmakers may never see from inside their own walls. They can bring new levels of creativity, connectivity and effectiveness to a funder’s work. And perhaps most importantly, they can help funders be more transparent about the work they do in ways that resonate more deeply with the “outside” world.

So, how can you step outside your foundation box and into a different box altogether? How can you tap into the collective knowledge of those knowledgeable outsiders? The National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers (NNCG) has made it relatively easy, with the launch of its new online Knowledge Center

NNCG_logoNNCG is dedicated to elevating, expanding and improving the field of philanthropy. It is the only organization that brings together high-quality consultants to support the work of grantmakers, and to advance quality and ethical standards among consultants to philanthropy. NNCG members represent experienced and carefully vetted practitioners and thought leaders in the philanthropic field.

The Knowledge Center, created in partnership with the Foundation Center’s IssueLab, is an online collection of hundreds of materials created by NNCG members. Its resources represent a wide variety of best practices and innovation that can be or has been applied to grantmaking. It contains a wealth of reports, books, case studies, infographics, issue briefs, videos and more that offer ideas, research and helpful information about almost every aspect of philanthropy. You can search hundreds of topics in seconds using keywords, author, title, publishing organization or date ranges.

Consultants who’ve shared their resources and learnings in the Knowledge Center are modeling a best practice in transparency by making their knowledge and experiences available to others, at no charge, to further the field.

At its heart, transparency is all about sharing information openly and honestly. Shared databases like the NNCG Knowledge Center makes it easier to do just that, and both posters and searchers benefit. Consultants who’ve shared their resources and learnings in the Knowledge Center are modeling a best practice in transparency by making their knowledge and experiences available to others, at no charge, to further the field. They are also helping foundations learn more about transparency from both internal and external perspectives. (A quick search of the term “transparency” on the Knowledge Base as I wrote this post turned up 57 results.)

Those who search and use the Knowledge Center are not only potentially finding ways to enhance their own transparency, but help elevate the knowledge of the field as they spread what they learn.

So, in the spirit of transparency and continual improvement, I invite you to visit and explore the NNCG Knowledge Center. What do you think of the resources there?  What other items would you suggest for potential inclusion? Email me at kris@putnam-consulting.com and share your thoughts. 

-- Kris Putnam-Walkerly

About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, the Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

    Questions and comments may be
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    Janet Camarena
    Director, San Francisco Office
    The Foundation Center

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