Transparency Talk

Eye On: David Sainsbury
August 27, 2015

(Caroline Broadhurst is deputy chief executive officer at The Rank Foundation. Through the Clore Social Leadership Programmeshe was a visiting fellow at the Foundation Center. This is part of her series about the motivations of U.K. donors who have signed the Giving Pledge. For more information about David Sainsbury and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.) 

David Sainsbury describes his approach to philanthropy as “very simple” in his Giving Pledge letter, which also details his family’s giving philosophy.

David-Sainsbury-1“The approach of my wife, Susie, and I to philanthropy is very simple,” Sainsbury said. “We do not believe that spending any more money on ourselves or our family would add anything to our happiness. However, using it to support social progress we have found deeply fulfilling. We focus on a few areas which require investment and which we care about deeply, and seeing these projects develop and bring major benefits to people has been a life-enhancing experience.”  Sainsbury desires to strategically and proactively give away his wealth to the social causes he cares about.

 

David Sainsbury:

  • Former Chairman of J. Sainsbury plc
  • Labour Peer
  • British born U.K. resident
  • Former Minister of Science and Innovation
  • Became Lord Sainsbury of Turville in 1997
  • Became Chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 2011
  • Accepted the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Philanthropy on behalf of the Sainsbury Family in 2003
  • Net worth $ 1.1 billion    

For the second consecutive year, the Sainsbury family topped the 2015 Sunday Times Giving List which tracks the giving amounts of U.K. philanthropists.  The Sainsbury Family donated $314.2 million – or 40 percent of their wealth – to the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, 18 grant-making trusts.  Each trust has its own board of trustees, led by an active family member. 

Philanthropy is a family priority that has spanned four generations.  In 1869, Sainsbury’s great-grandparents opened a grocery store, Sainsbury’s, that would eventually become one of the U.K.’s largest supermarket chains.  Educated at Eton and Cambridge, Sainsbury joined the family business, J. Sainsbury plc.  He served in many capacities, including finance director, chairman and deputy chairman before stepping down from the board in 1998. 

Like much of his extended family, Sainsbury’s interests in philanthropy started at an early age when he set up the Gatsby Charitable Foundation in 1967, just four years after graduating from King’s College at the University of Cambridge. Over the years, Sainsbury has given the Gatsby Charitable Foundation more than $1.55 billion.  The foundation provides grants in the key priority areas of plant science, neuroscience, education, public policy, the arts and Africa.  

In his Giving Pledge letter, Sainsbury explained that investments in plant science and neuroscience have the best long-term potential for making a difference in the fields of food security and mental health.  Through the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, he gave more than $193 million to his alma mater, the University of Cambridge, one of the largest donations to a U.K university.  An M.B.A. graduate of the University of Columbia, Sainsbury prioritizes education.  The Gatsby makes education grants to various universities, including Stanford University, the University of Columbia and Harvard University.

Unlike his wealthy contemporaries who tend not to mix political and philanthropic interests, the 74-year-old father-of-three has been an active participant in British politics.  Sainsbury has been a major donor to The Labour Party for many years.  In 1997, he was elevated to the House of Lords as a Labour Peer, and he sits on the Labour benches as Lord Sainsbury of Turville.  Under Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sainsbury accepted the unremunerated post of Minister for Science and Technology.  His interests in politics and philanthropy share common ground with an emphasis on innovation, partnership and long-term strategy. 

Sainsbury advocates that charitable foundations should take risks that governments, in their role as guardians of the public money, may not.  He believes that taking risks, whether in education, international development, science or research, helps expedite the broader social and fiscal needs agenda.  In 2009, he set up the Institute for Government, a venture that seeks to “act as a catalyst for inspiring the best in government.”  Similarly, he created the Centre for Cities, a research organization that evaluates British cities’ economic growth and change and helps them to improve their performance. 

In many ways, Lord Sainsbury’s public life reflects his philanthropic interests, from government to education and the arts, including his post as Chancellor of University of Cambridge since 2011. He continues to engage in public policy as evidenced in his 2013 book, Progressive Capitalism, an effort to stimulate conversations on politics and the economy.  

--Caroline Broadhurst

#FailEpic Continued
August 19, 2015

(Chris Cardona is program officer for philanthropy at the Ford Foundation. This post first ran in The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy.”

I appreciate the lively response to my last post asking why it’s so difficult to talk about failure in philanthropy. Commenters brought up important points, including that it can be difficult to decide when failure has actually happened – when do you know to throw in the towel? – and that it’s not just admitting failure but learning from it that generates insight and improvement.

Chris CardonaI would also note an incisive piece in Nonprofit Quarterly assessing the failure of the social impact bond designed to reduce juvenile recidivism on Rikers Island. Cohen and Zelnick rightly point out that what is being hailed as a partial success – that because the program did not hit its targets, taxpayers did not have to pay for it – masks a more complex reality. Recidivism was not reduced (no upside there), and taxpayer dollars were tapped in the form of in-kind time by city officials. This example reinforces one of the points made by a commenter on my original post: what counts as failure depends on who’s doing the telling, and when.

I see two strands of conversation worth pursuing, given the interest my original post has generated as part of an overall mini-trend toward more reckoning with failure in philanthropy.

One is to explore what it looks like to have candid conversations between funders and nonprofits about real issues of execution and responsibility (on all sides!) in a context beyond the one-on-one grant relationship. I come to this with an instinct that a more public version of such conversations would be salutary, but also deep wariness about doing it in a way that’s constructive instead of harmful.

  • Are there stages by which such conversations evolve? Do you need to start with self-reflection, then within your own organization, then within a trusted network of peers, then more publicly? That’s an awful lot of steps.
  • Perhaps the best starting place is not talking about failure within a particular grant relationship, but in the context of a topic of shared interest in which the participants don’t have a direct stake. One can imagine a study group dedicated to reviewing examples of initiatives that have failed, and seeking to generate and apply insight from them – with an audience of funders and nonprofits who aren’t part of that field. Might that be a less threatening way to get started?
  • Because trying to have a conversation within a field about what worked and what didn’t is incredibly difficult. I think about the “four pillars” strategy in the immigration reform movement, which national funders and nonprofits developed together after a failed attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2006-07. They analyzed why they lost and how they could overcome those disadvantages, and then moved resources and effort toward filling those gaps. What makes cases like that possible? Where else does this happen?

The other strand of conversation worth pursuing is to ask what it looks like within an organization, and specifically a foundation, to be open to acknowledging, learning from, and acting on failure. What values and motivations need to be in place? Who are the change agents and culture bearers? How do incentives need to change? Are there particular structures or systems that make it easier to learn from and act on failure? What do a higher risk tolerance and a culture of inquiry look like in practice? I feel like we know a lot about this in the field, but the threads of conversation aren’t necessarily organized.

  • Part of the challenge is, who owns failure within the institution? In other words, who’s responsible for identifying it, naming it, lifting it up, creating a safe space in which to discuss it, making sure meaning is derived, and then following through on application of that insight? Those responsibilities fall across a number of function – evaluation, HR, programs, senior leadership, board. What role should be the steward or the shepherd ensuring that those functions are integrated in pursuit of mining improvement from failure, and what resources or tools does that person or team need?

Thanks again to all have engaged on this topic, and to the organizations that have begun hosting conversations among funders about being more open about failure. Do the strands of conversation I suggest above seem relevant, and worth pursuing? What kinds of spaces could we create for more authentic funder-nonprofit dialogue? And how can we get clearer about the organizational culture needed to support openness about failure?

--Chris Cardona

Glasspockets Find: Open Philanthropy Project Forms New Partnership with Instagram Co-Founder
August 13, 2015

On a quest to “do as much good as possible with giving,” an innovative philanthropy project has attracted a new co-funding partnership with Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and Lovestagram founder Kaitlyn Trigger. 

Mike Krieger and Kaitlyn Trigger 140x140
Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and Lovestagram founder Kaitlyn Trigger

Krieger and his fiancee Trigger, who are committed to giving away “a lot of our wealth during the course of our lifetime,” are partnering with the Open Philanthropy Project (OPP) to maximize funders’ giving impact by developing innovative ways to identify and evaluate giving opportunities, and develop effective grantmaking strategies and approaches.  The OPP is a joint collaboration between nonprofit GiveWell and Good Ventures, a philanthropic foundation founded by Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook and Asana, and his wife, Cari Tuna.

“We believe it’s a highly efficient way to learn, plus it allows us to help fund important causes sooner than we could on our own,” Trigger said in a GiveWell statement. The couple have committed $750,000 to OPP over the next two years; 90% of the donation is earmarked for OPP-recommended grants, and 10% will support GiveWell’s OPP-related operations.

As part of its work as a Fund for Shared Insight grantee, OPP has published best practices and lessons learned for philanthropists in a series of blog posts.  The collaborators’ commitment to knowledge sharing, rigorous analytical thinking and transparency have spurred the exploration of thoughtful questions and issues for philanthropists, such as the role of a funder; how a funder selects focus areas and hires program staff; and how to make and evaluate grants.  

 Highlights of OPP’s blog posts include:

  • The role of the funder – active versus passive – and determining the amount of influence funders should have with grantees and partner organizations;
  • Should funding be restricted?  If yes, how and when?
  • How to identify important or underfunded issues;
  • How to choose and determine the number of focus areas to support;
  • Selecting and providing oversight for program staff;
  • Cultivating the relationship between funders and grantees; and
  • Developing criteria for evaluation and impact of grants.

 

Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna
Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna

The OPP also actively researches smart giving approaches by identifying how philanthropy can help in the areas of global health and development; policy advocacy; scientific research; and reducing global catastrophic risks.  The project’s research targets issues and approaches that are “important, tractable and relatively uncrowded.”  For example, within scientific philanthropy, the OPP is exploring the identification of important and neglected goals, systemic issues in fields other than life sciences, and building scientific advisory capacity.

OPP and Good Ventures’ commitment to transparency inspired Krieger and Trigger to enter the partnership.  This collaboration clearly demonstrates how working openly has the power to influence greater giving among peers.  

For a philanthropic foundation established only five years ago, it is quite remarkable how Good Ventures has opened up its processes and thinking through its blog and web features, which include open notes on all of its meetings with charitable organizations.  Although foundations are often criticized for pretending they have all the answers, it is refreshing to see how this young foundation is using transparency and web savvy to invite open discussion around questions with no easy answers, and ultimately inspire their peers to greater philanthropic participation and openness.

--Melissa Moy

“Glass Skulls”: The Next Era of Transparent Philanthropy
August 11, 2015

(Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen is a Lecturer in Business Strategy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Founder and President of the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation, Founder and Board Chairman of Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund. She is also author of the New York Times Bestseller, Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World.” Find her on Twitter @LAAF.)

200px-Laura_Arrillaga-AndreessenIn recent decades, philanthropic funding has been driving remarkable social impact whether by seeding new organizations, scaling proven ideas, or providing essential capital for the development of innovative models such as microfinance, social impact bonds, and impact investing. Despite these notable successes, however, the philanthropic sector is failing to perform in a critical area, one that’s needed to take overall philanthropic impact to the next level: providing transparency around decision-making processes.

Under the leadership of Brad Smith, Foundation Center has developed a powerful concept that could help move the sector towards a new era of transparency. By asking philanthropic institutions the question: “Does Your Foundation Have Glass Pockets?” the Foundation Center is helping organizations to peel back the layers that obscure everything from the value of their total assets and their list of board directors, to their grantmaking strategies. In short, the Glasspockets initiative is championing philanthropic transparency and empowering organizations to communicate openly.

From Glasspockets to Glass Skulls

With a keen sense of the need for greater philanthropic accountability, I plan to build on the important work of Brad Smith and Janet Camarena by taking the Glasspockets concept even further. In philanthropy, the notion of accountability must extend beyond transparency around decisions on what we choose to fund. True transparency goes much further by revealing the processes we use to think through our grantmaking decisions. Essentially, it’s providing a window into the very brain of the foundation. I call this having a “glass skull.”

For foundations, creating this window is no easy undertaking. It involves discussing openly and honestly how they arrived at the decision to say “yes.” And, more importantly, it means grappling publicly with the reasons behind the decision to say “no,” however much foundations would like to celebrate any organization that is acting with good intent to create social value.

The reality, however, is that the magnitude of the social problems we face today demands investments far exceeding the financial resources of the sector as a whole. If we act alone and fail to share our intellectual and human resources, we will never be able to deliver the solutions needed.

This means the onus is on us, as individuals and institutions, not only to direct our funds to the most efficient and effective organizations, but also to share with other philanthropists what we are learning along the way and how this shapes the choices we make. It means operating with both glass pockets and glass skulls. And it’s a strategy I aspire to put at the heart of my work when I launch the Marc and Laura Andreessen Foundation in the coming years.

Opening the Doors to Knowledge

In pushing for greater knowledge sharing and transparency, I believe we can prevent the constant and inefficient reinvention of the philanthropic wheel and avoid forcing other stewards of charitable funding to waste their valuable time and intellects on research, analysis and assessment that has already been carried out by others. Additionally, we can help inform where other funders—both institutional and individual alike—do and do not invest their social change dollars.

Cari Tuna, the visionary co-founder and head of Good Ventures, uses radical transparency in all aspects of the foundation’s operations by publicly sharing what the team has learned from its grantmaking and research processes. While in the past philanthropists often spent countless hours studying social issues and crafting foundation processes and ideas, Good Ventures—through an innovative partnership with charity evaluator GiveWell—has created the Open Philanthropy Project.

The Open Philanthropy Project works to select promising focus areas for large-scale philanthropy. It then makes grants and discusses publicly the process, the results and the challenges it has faced in managing these grants. The idea is not only to give more effectively, but also to increase the quality of information available to others about how to give effectively. 

At LAAF (the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation), our mission is to add to this knowledge pool.

Through ProjectU, an online hub of philanthropy education resources, and Giving 2.0: The MOOC, a free online course, the idea is to empower all givers to be effective philanthropists. We do this by providing them with the background knowledge and skills they need not only to have an impact through their own giving activities, but also to help others increase their impact.

The good news is that extraordinary opportunities exist for all of us to advance transparency in philanthropy. Moreover, a number of pioneering organizations are leading the charge. First, Foundation Center and its Glasspockets initiative have done much to draw attention to the importance of transparency in the philanthropic sector. And in recent months, others have been working to make knowledge sharing a philanthropic norm. These include the Hewlett Foundation, which has been discussing its transparency journey via its blog Work in Progress, and the Knight Foundation, which is establishing best practices for funding transparent academic research.

So What Next?

This progress is exciting, but it is merely the tip of the transparency iceberg. We are at the beginning of a new stage in philanthropy where, through online and digital technology, the tools required to share institutional knowledge are at our fingertips.

However, harnessing technology is only part of what’s needed. Now we must break down the organizational and cultural barriers that prevent transparency from spreading rapidly. For some, this means overcoming fear. Moving towards full transparency can be an intimidating prospect. Many of us are happy to share our successes but are uncomfortable exposing our mistakes, vulnerabilities and outright failures.

Yet the potential benefits of doing so are tremendous. By increasing transparency and knowledge sharing, we can ensure that every philanthropist, even those relatively new to the process of giving, can increase their effectiveness immediately. We can also make it easier for any philanthropist—whether institutional or individual; whether giving time, money, expertise or networks—to experience the joy and satisfaction that meaningful giving brings (meaningful giving means when you understand specifically how your investment translates into social good).

So how do you get started on this journey? I encourage you to explore my Stanford GSB case studies (including a new case profiling Cari Tuna and Good Ventures) along with other philanthropic resources, all of which are available online and free of charge at ProjectU (made possible through both LAAF and the incredible generosity of Stanford Graduate School of Business for making my philanthropy case studies available for free). This growing body of research (currently at 28 cases with another eight currently underway) presents analysis of foundations of all sizes, geographies and focus areas whose strategies, operating principles and grantmaking practice are examples of philanthropic best practice.

The case portfolio includes detailed content on foundation transparency, measurement and evaluation, corporate philanthropy, effective use of technology, investment and grantmaking strategy, and more. These cases provide the frameworks, tools, and examples to help institutions to strengthen their knowledge and to support anyone who is embarking on the journey towards becoming a transparent philanthropist— both glass pocket and glass skull.

Eye On: Chris Hohn
August 6, 2015

(Caroline Broadhurst is deputy chief executive officer at The Rank Foundation and through the Clore Social Leadership Programme was a visiting fellow at Foundation Center. This is part of her series about the motivations of U.K. donors who have signed the Giving Pledge. For more about Chris Hohn and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Hohn-150Among the many different models of fundraising and grantmaking, The Children's Investment Fund and its counterpart Children's Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), stand out in terms of scale and reach. In 2003, Chris Hohn created an innovative model for The Children's Investment Fund in which investors pay a fee to the Foundation, incrementally, depending on the Fund's performance. Fast-forward a dozen years, and CIFF has endowed assets over $4 billion. While Mr. Hohn uses his skills from the investing world, CEO Michael Anderson manages the Foundation on a day-to-day basis. The foundation's mission is to transform the lives of poor and vulnerable children in developing countries in the areas of children and mothers' health and nutrition; children's education, deworming and welfare; and climate change.

Chris Hohn:

  • Successful hedge-fund manager
  • British-born U.K. resident
  • Father of four children, including triplets
  • Co-founder of Children's Investment Fund Foundation
  • Personal net worth is over $1 billion

Mr. Hohn and his former wife, Jamie Cooper, are co-founders of CIFF, and both serve on its Board of Trustees. Both are generous philanthropists. Ms. Cooper was ranked #3 and Mr. Hohn was ranked #7 among British givers, according to the 2015 Sunday Times Giving List, which identified top givers and the percentage of wealth they give away. The same list, co-sponsored by the Charities Aid Foundation, also ranked CIFF as #5 in assets among British charities. In 2014, Mr. Hohn was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) for his service to philanthropy and international development.

Mr. Hohn attended Southampton University in England and moved to Boston to complete his MBA at Harvard University as a Baker Scholar. According to Active Philanthropy, Ms. Cooper recalled that her former husband was first inspired to explore philanthropy when he visited the Philippines early in his career and was shocked at the plight of children who lived in extreme poverty. This experience may have spurred Mr. Hohn to direct CIFF's ambitious aim "to demonstrably improve the lives of children living in poverty in developing countries by achieving large scale and sustainable impact." Much of the London-based organization's work takes place in Africa and South Asia, with strategic priorities focused on nutrition, child survival, educational achievement and more recently, climate change. CIFF works in partnership with governments, policy-makers and NGOs to address global issues. In 2014, CIFF awarded $122.2 million in grant awards.

-- Caroline Broadhurst

Eye on: Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim
July 30, 2015

(Caroline Broadhurst is deputy chief executive officer at The Rank Foundation and through the Clore Social Leadership Programme was a visiting fellow at the Foundation Center. This is part of her series about the motivations of U.K. donors who have signed the Giving Pledge. For more about Dr. Ibrahim and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Mohammed Ibrahim“Lucky” is how Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim describes himself when recounting his journey from his Nubian upbringing in Sudan to his work as an international philanthropist and entrepreneur.  Dr. Ibrahim grew up in an African community, but has lived most of his adult life in Britain with his wife Hania, a retired radiologist for the National Health Service.  Always one to work hard, Dr. Ibrahim attributes his good fortune to being in the right place at the right time, and the encouragement he received from his parents to excel academically.  Dr. Ibrahim received a Ph.D. in Mobile Communications from Birmingham University in the north of England and worked within the telecommunications sector for several years before leading the telecommunications company, Cellnet (now O2).  The business had gone where others had feared to tread, and by bringing the mobile phone industry to the African continent, made its 100 shareholders millionaires overnight.

When Dr. Ibrahim sold the business in 2005 he shifted his focus to philanthropy.  Proudly African, he wanted to influence transparency in governance.  He set up the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2006 “to focus on the critical importance of leadership and governance in Africa.” The foundation has two key projects: the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which ranks the performance of individual governments in terms of safety, rule of law, economic opportunity and human development (Mauritius  currently holds the top spot with 81.7%); the second is the Ibrahim Prize, which celebrates and awards strong leadership among former African presidents and heads of state. The Prize is expected to exceed the value of the Nobel Prize, with an initial award of $5 million, plus $200,000 annually for life to the former president or head of state who demonstrates outstanding leadership qualities. In 2014, Namibia’s president, Hifikepunye Pohamba, won the prize.

In addition to the Index and the Prize, the Mo Ibraham Foundation hosts the Ibrahim Forum, a space to share the thought leadership agenda on African issues; the Forum also offers fellowships to the younger generation. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation is not a grantmaking body. Dr. Ibrahim’s daughter, Hadeel Ibrahim, is the founding Executive Director, and works alongside an impressive advisory board, which includes former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson

Known to the media as “Africa’s Bill Gates,” Dr. Ibrahim is now focusing on the transformation of Africa’s fortunes, based on good governance and leadership, rather than good luck.

--Caroline Broadhurst

#FailEpic
July 28, 2015

(Chris Cardona is program officer for philanthropy at the Ford Foundation. This post first ran in The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy.”)

CCardonaAt three recent philanthropy gatherings*, I’ve heard open discussions of failure in grantmaking strategy and execution. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” but I’m heartened by this mini-trend.

Why is it still so hard to talk about failure in philanthropy?

  • There’s no incentive. Under what circumstances is one encouraged to fail? Working out, playing sports, rehearsing for a performance – these are all activities where you’re meant to try something new, see how it goes, fix what didn’t work, and try again. You get immediate signals that tell you what’s not working, and often someone is there to tell you what to do instead, or how to do better. What’s crucial in those cases is that you’re not alone, and that there is someone in the role of spotter – observing your performance with a frame of reference of how to do it better, giving you timely feedback on how to improve. And you can see the results of your improved performance. Signals about performance in philanthropy travel much more slowly, if at all, and the roles are not nearly as clear. As discussed in a prior post, most foundations are minimally staffed, so there’s not a lot of space for an HR function. And most program staff are recruited for their content expertise, not because they’re good managers. So you can’t count on there being a spotter for you within your foundation. Don’t get me wrong, people within the foundation do pay attention to what you’re doing, and you are called to account if you don’t follow the rules. But those rules aren’t necessarily set up to support performance or performance improvement. Which brings up another point…
  • There are disincentives, real and imagined. Boards are often risk-averse. (But what exactly are they worried about?) Senior leadership may be launching a new initiative that they’ve had to persuade the board or outside stakeholders is worth taking on, and they don’t want to give ammunition to their critics. (But is anyone actually paying attention?) There are internal cultures of perfectionism. (But what are the actual consequences of imperfection?) The audience with whom you’re sharing may not understand what it takes to make a good grant, and will take your failure out of context. (But what’s so bad about having to explain yourself?)
  • There’s not enough context. Foundations are not good about telling the story of their work. On the one hand, you don’t want to brag, when it’s really the nonprofits to whom you provide support that are doing the hard work. On the other hand, if no one ever has any understanding of where you’re coming from, and why you operate the way you do, then it becomes especially hard to talk about when things don’t go right. If the first time people are hearing about you is when something goes wrong, you’re going to get an unsympathetic reading, and you’ll be on the defensive from the get-go.
  • It’s not easy for anyone. Let’s not underestimate the fragility of the human ego: it stings when something doesn’t work out, especially when, like a lot of foundation folks I’ve met (and am), you’re a high achiever with a passion for this work who feels lucky and privileged to play this kind of role.
  • The stakes are comparatively high. I owe this insight to Phil Buchanan from CEP: failure in philanthropy is not the same as failure in a commercial enterprise, the kind where “fail fast” is a popular mantra. If the newest tech product launch fails, the consequences are not the same as if a social-impact bond working on recidivism among juvenile offenders fails. There’s actually an interesting discussion to be had about the loss of jobs if a business effort fails vs. the failure to receive services if a nonprofit effort fails (how well do we know the service works, etc.), but some other time.

What other reasons are there for why it’s hard to talk about failure in philanthropy? How can we overcome them?

*I note that all three discussions happened in grantmaker-only spaces. There’s value in a trusted network of peers, as my colleague Brian Walsh calls it, that provides a space in which to be more open. I look forward to the day when such conversations can happen in broader public networks.

What would it take to promote a more open discussion of failure in philanthropy? What benefits would that provide?

--Chris Cardona

The Parting Glass
July 20, 2015

(Jane D. Schwartz was the Executive Director of the Paul Rapoport Foundation. This is the twenty-third post in the "Making Change by Spending Down" series, produced in partnership by The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and GrantCraft. Please contribute your comments on each post and discuss the series on twitter using #spenddown. This post was originally published on GrantCraft's blog.)

JDS_WEB4_180_180_s_c1In 2009 when the board and staff of the Paul Rapoport Foundation decided to spend out in five years, we focused initially on conveying our decision to our grantees with total transparency. We then looked to develop effective guidelines, assist applicants in creating strong grant applications, and work with grantees to develop viable exit strategies once our final multi-year grants concluded. We were so focused on these activities that we were all taken by surprise when we realized it was 2014 and that our grantmaking was actually completed. After 27 years of supporting all of the major organizations in New York’s lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGTB) communities—providing start-up funding to many, ongoing general operating support to many more, and essential infrastructure development in our final spend-out period—the actual closing date was upon us.

Throughout the preceding decades the Foundation’s board and staff had engaged a number of excellent organizational consultants to help us with strategic planning, including during our final spend-out decision. All of them—either formally or informally—reached out to us to urge us to plan for some sort of closure, not just for board and staff, but for all our grantees as well. So while we had had this idea in the back of our minds during the spend-out process, when we realized that our closing was imminent, the desire to hold some final event for the community suddenly became vitally important to us as a way to deal with the harsh realities of closing. 

When the board and staff of the Paul Rapoport Foundation decided to spend out in five years, we focused on conveying our decision to our grantees with total transparency.

We chose to hold a farewell event to which all of our grantees over the past 27 years would be invited and we specifically reached out not only to current grantee staff, but to those former grantee staff members who had worked so closely with us to develop successful grant proposals in the early years of the LGTB community’s growth. We also invited fellow grantmakers from private and public funding sources, who had traveled with the Foundation on its journey from the early days when we were one of very few foundations funding AIDS programs in New York, to our final years of making grants specifically to organizations serving LGTB communities of color. And, of course, we invited our former board members who had worked so thoughtfully and so hard to create the Foundation and its funding strategies over the years.

We also realized that the history of the Foundation’s funding tracked the development of the LGTB community in New York, and thus we decided to create an illustrated timeline highlighting the important developments of our community over the past three decades. This allowed us to show how closely the Foundation had monitored these community developments and had adjusted our grantmaking strategies to support the community’s changing needs. This publication, which included dozens of grantee photographs, showcased the vast majority of our grantees and served as our souvenir program for the event.

468461763The event we decided upon was a “cocktail party” held in an inviting rooftop garden setting that allowed folks to sit and reconnect with colleagues they may not have seen in decades while also saying “good-bye” to the Foundation; throughout the entire evening the same refrains were repeated over and over: “Oh my goodness, I haven’t seen you since….” “I can’t believe it…is that…?”

The evening clearly underscored the important role our grantee organizations had in the development of the LGTB communities in New York and allowed the Foundation to thank its grantees, as well as our terrific board members, past and present, for the wonderful work they had done for so many years. We also announced the Foundation’s “legacy grant”—to Equal Justice Works—during our formal program that evening and invited one of the first recipients of this Paul Rapoport Fellowship, a young LGTB lawyer of color, to describe the work he would be doing over the next two years in public interest law. This ongoing fellowship will continue to keep Paul Rapoport’s name alive in the LGTB community for several more decades, while also providing much-needed legal advocacy to highly underserved communities of color.

Looking back I would say that the outpouring of good wishes on all sides that night made the otherwise painful Foundation closure into a proud and happy occasion, and allowed us to close our doors on an ebullient note.

--Jane D. Schwartz 

Co-Designing Evaluation with Grantees
July 15, 2015

(Susan Zepeda is the president/CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.)

Susan New 1In philanthropy, we are increasingly lifting up equity as a value, and asking ourselves how to put this value into practice. At the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky one dimension of this is co-designing evaluation expectations in partnership with our grantees. We are not alone in this experiment in collaborative evaluation design.  In fact, last month, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) held a Learning Conference, to explore ways in which learning in partnership with others can lead to better results for philanthropy and for the communities we seek to serve.

Maddy Frey of Healthcare Georgia Foundation, and Maggie Jones of the Center for Community Health and Evaluation  joined me as part of a panel to share our experiences in co-designing evaluation with grantees, and we invited the crowded room of grantmakers to address some of the challenges of this approach through small group discussion. 

Creating shared goals and commitment takes trust, time and flexibility, but can be well worth the effort.

Jones began with a framework that moved from reasons to evaluate (describe, document, understand, guide decision-making, determine effectiveness) to the benefits of a participatory approach, to the tensions funders and grantees may experience in taking this more collaborative approach.  All of us noted that creating shared goals and commitment takes trust, time and flexibility, but can be well worth the effort.   The resulting increase in ownership and shared responsibility not only helps to assure results that are actually useful – and used – to participants, but also builds both grantmaker and grantee capacity for future evaluation design and sustained learning.  Further, the investment in listening to and learning about each other creates a foundation of mutual respect that can help all navigate power imbalances and rocky times.

During my segment of the presentation I dug into the way that this is a way of living the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky’s commitment to equity, asking the questions: how does this approach better confer agency, and strengthen communities?  I also spoke to the importance of having your board “on board.”  This theme was taken up in group discussion, with some expressing concern that their board members might view this interactive design approach as “less rigorous” than other options.  Other breakout discussions dug deeper on power dynamics in grantor-grantee collaboration; funder collaboration; using evaluation for continuous improvement; and building internal and external evaluation capacity.

The investment in listening to each other creates a foundation of mutual respect that can help all navigate power imbalances and rocky times.

Frey spoke of the investment Healthcare Georgia Foundation’s Board has made, creating the Georgia Evaluation Resource Center, offering tools to help nonprofit health organizations achieve better outcomes.  The Center works with grantees before, during and after the application process.  The candid two-way flow of information, with a focus on improving not proving, helps nonprofits grow their own evaluation capabilities while creating evaluation plans that are relevant and meaningful.

For more information contact:  Maddy Frey, MPH, Director of Evaluation, Healthcare Georgia Foundation mfrey@healthcaregeorgia.org; Maggie Jones, Manager of Evaluation Services, Center for Community Health and Evaluation, jones.margaret@ghc.org and Susan Zepeda, PhD, President/CEO, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, szepeda@healthy-ky.org.

--Susan Zepeda

Glasspockets Find: The Getty Foundation Launches Its New Grants Database
July 8, 2015

(Eliza Smith is the special projects associate for Glasspockets at Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

ElizaThe Getty Foundation, one of the largest philanthropies in the country, has created an online grants database covering its 30-history of grantmaking. This means that you can search every single grant the foundation has awarded since the J. Paul Getty Trust established the foundation in 1984: 6,751 grants to 3,259 grantees totaling $367,562,578, and counting. Now we can watch the count go up, and see where the money’s going.

The database has lots of filters for searching. You can explore by tags, such as grantee name, amount awarded, date of award, and location of the project. Each entry is also linked to the foundation initiative and to the grant project title/description. For data and transparency geeks like us over here at Glasspockets, this is a gold mine!

GFdnLogoThe foundation’s database isn’t just a great example of transparency, it’s a great tool. Imagine the benefits for hopeful grantees: they can look at similar organizations and see if Getty has given them funding. As we’ve noticed at Foundation Center since we helped launch the Reporting Commitment (in which Getty is also a participant), when foundations share grants data in real time, the benefits are innumerable. Our sector becomes less siloed, stakeholders have a better understanding of what grantmaker priorities look like in practice, and valuable historical information is at the ready in a collective knowledge base.

--Eliza Smith

About Transparency Talk

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

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