Transparency Talk

#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

Funding the Marriage Equality Movement: Lessons in Collaboration and Risk Taking
July 6, 2015

(As a communications associate at Foundation Center, Noli Vega helps to develop, implement, and monitor strategies to increase the organization’s visibility and communicate about its products and services effectively. She manages projects that strengthen both internal and external communications — in print, online, and in person. Noli has worked with a variety of nonprofits including the Inner Resilience Program at the Tides Center, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). She earned a B.A. in political science and women’s studies from Lehman College. This post was originally featured as a GrantCraft case study.)

NAV_web_180_180_s_c1The marriage equality movement in the United States has been fueled by the strategic and coordinated efforts of legal groups, advocacy organizations, and a small but active community of grantmakers. The historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2015, to extend marriage equality nationwide was preceded by a gradual legislative sea change and dramatic shift in public opinion. In 2001, a majority of Americans opposed the idea of allowing same-sex couples to marry. In 2015, polls showed a reversal of the numbers with 57 percent of Americans favoring marriage equality.

One of the key funders behind this shift was the Civil Marriage Collaborative (CMC), an initiative of the Proteus Fund that has partnered with individual donors and foundations to give roughly $2 million in grants each year since 2004 for a broad range of publicly visible education activities to advance marriage equality. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decision to uphold same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, it’s worth looking closer at how the CMC, as a funder collaborative, contributed to the success of the marriage equality movement. The CMC’s story also offers lessons about the role philanthropy can play in advocacy, and how funders can collaborate and take risks for greater impact in a movement.

The CMC sought to change the debate about marriage equality by funding a broad array of public education activities including research, message development, and state-level polling.

Prior to the Supreme Court decision, federal law defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. By 2004, marriage equality had gained traction with key legislative wins, including the approval of civil unions in Vermont, which granted same-sex couples some, but not all, of the legal benefits of marriage, and a landmark victory in Massachusetts that made it the first state in the U.S. to uphold the right of LGBT couples to marry. But it was also a year of setbacks for the movement, as a series of same-sex marriage bans were passed in 13 states. According to the CMC’s director, Paul A. Di Donato, it was around this time that some grantmakers began to realize that achieving a critical mass of support for marriage equality would require greater engagement by philanthropy, not just a few relationships between individual foundations and big national players. With that in mind, a group of funders, including the Gill Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Overbrook Foundation, and the Proteus Fund as a convener, came together around the idea that pooling financial resources and sharing collective knowledge could lead to broader change. They agreed to test the waters as a funder collaborative for a few years to observe whether same-sex marriage would continue to gain traction. In 2007, when Paul joined the CMC, same-sex marriage was still at the top of the LGBT agenda, and the collaborative’s members were still deeply committed to supporting public education activities advancing this agenda.

Rainbow_flag_wide

From the outset, the collaborative focused on a state-based funding strategy that aligned with the overarching vision of the national campaign. CMC reasoned that “success at the state level is essential to build a national movement for a definitive victory at the federal level.” Paul and the CMC also recognized that there was a need to fund organizations operating at the state level because other grantmakers had made an assumption that funding national organizations would result in larger impact. To keep a pulse on emerging priorities in different states, the CMC formed connections with a range of influential partners, including organizations such as Freedom to Marry, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Lambda Legal. Paul explains that relationship building was an intentional part of the CMC’s strategy. “We always maintained very close working relationships and true partnerships with key national leaders, other movement organizations, and our grantees in the states to make sure we were operating as an integrated team.”

Drawing on the knowledge of its network, the CMC sought to change the debate about marriage equality and shift opinions by funding a broad array of public education activities including research, message development, and state-level polling (both baseline and post-public education polling in order to demonstrate cause and effect). Once the most effective messages had been identified, they could be deployed by grantees through field tactics like coalition building, community outreach, and other forms of advocacy. The collaborative understood that all of these activities had to happen concurrently — “firing on all cylinders,” as Paul puts it — in order to build the momentum needed to change polling numbers, which was one measure of success.

As a funder collaborative, the CMC has modeled how strategic partnerships and collaboration in philanthropy for advocacy can achieve significant results.

The CMC made it a priority to learn from both the successes and failures of the initiatives it funded. By striving to understand why particular activities worked or why setbacks occurred, the collaborative could invest the appropriate resources in helping grantees fine-tune the next iteration of their work. Of course, it can be challenging to fund in an environment that is constantly changing, in which it may not be possible to achieve consistently successful results. But Paul is confident that some of the CMC’s biggest successes resulted directly from its openness to taking risks after major setbacks such as the passage of Proposition 8 in California in 2008 or the loss of marriage equality in Maine during a 2009 ballot initiative. “I can honestly say that we were risk takers. When there was a big loss in the field where we had been funding the public education component, we doubled down. We were willing to make bets on people and tactics and strategies that were evolving as they went along.” After the loss in Maine, the CMC continued — and even ramped up — its funding in order to help local grantees like EqualityMaine analyze the problem, understand how to address it, and implement a new plan. When the question of same-sex marriage reappeared on the ballot in 2012 in Maine and three other states, it passed.

The CMC’s willingness to take risks enabled it to be responsive to emerging opportunities and challenges. These strengths stem in part from the nature of a funder collaborative structure, which, in CMC’s case, yielded strategic benefits, including:

  • Convening power: The collaborative was a catalyst for bringing key stakeholders together in order to achieve an integrated overarching strategy. At annual meetings, funder members met for shared learning and agenda-setting discussions with movement leaders; national nonprofit partners; experts in field organizing, polling, and communications; and grantees. The CMC used its convening power to effectively build trust with its grantees and partners, and to gather the knowledge it needed to engage in sophisticated and strategic grantmaking. By the end of these meetings, Paul observes, “the ball had been moved forward in terms of a deeper understanding of issues and getting people on the same page.”
  • Amplified impact: Coordinating with a breadth of organizations had a positive ripple effect that extended the reach of the CMC’s funding and influence. Other grantmakers in the field trusted what the collaborative was doing and followed its lead. According to Paul, it wasn’t uncommon for nonprofits on the ground to seek grants from the CMC before pursuing other funders because “it became a good housekeeping seal of approval to have a CMC grant.” While the collaborative was responsible for investing $20 million in public education activities over 11 years, Paul estimates that it had a direct impact on securing and directing another $10 to $15 million.
  • Knowledge for philanthropy: The CMC commissioned several internal evaluations to examine how public education activities have fit into and impacted the broader movement. These included case studies of the 2011 marriage equality victory in New York State and an evaluation of 2012 ballot box wins in Maine, Minnesota, Washington, and Maryland. Learnings were shared with the CMC’s network of grantmakers as tools for understanding marriage equality funding and shaping public education grants in other issue areas.

As a funder collaborative, the CMC has modeled how strategic partnerships and collaboration in philanthropy for advocacy can achieve significant results. Following the marriage equality ruling, Paul sees a vital, ongoing role for funders in breaking through other barriers that marriage equality alone will not overcome including discriminatory practices in housing, education, the criminal justice system, and employment. “There’s a robust agenda out there that needs work, and that work can’t happen unless it has money. Until all levels of government are doing everything they can to fight discrimination in all those other areas, the policy job isn’t done.”

For more information about the Civil Marriage Collaborative, visit www.proteusfund.org/cmc.

To learn more about funder collaboratives, read our GrantCraft guide.

--Noli Vega

From Strength to Greater Strength: How Capacity-Building Grants Elevate Organization
July 1, 2015

(Chip Edelsberg, Ph.D., is executive director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which seeks to foster compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews in the United States. This post was originally featured on the GrantCraft blog.)

Chip-Edelsberg_headshotIn the Foundation's ongoing efforts to identify and analyze best grantmaking strategies, we have seen grantees achieve outcomes that both strengthen organizational capacity and position organizations for future growth. By virtue of grantees' strong performance, the Foundation is gaining experience as a capacity-building funder.

Before I share examples of successes, it is helpful to understand what a capacity-building grant actually is designed to do. The term itself is somewhat general and may refer to different types of grants, depending on the context and situation of the potential grantee.

Regardless of an organization's size, age, target audience, and goals within the arena of Jewish education, capacity-building grants can be a catalyst for improved performance and major growth.

Capacity building, broadly defined in a report by TCC Group, refers to "activities that strengthen nonprofits so that they can better achieve their mission." Organizations in various stages potentially can benefit from differentiated, targeted capacity-building support.

For our purposes, the Foundation sees that regardless of an organization's size, age, target audience, and goals within the arena of Jewish education, capacity-building grants can be a catalyst for improved performance and major growth.

Hillel, for example, is 101 years old. The Foundation awarded Hillel a capacity-building grant in 2014 that built on the success of its Senior Jewish Educators/Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative. The 2014 grant award included funding for the development of a comprehensive business plan as well as funding for efforts that are part of Hillel's three pillars for future growth of the organization-Excellence on Campus: Supporting and Measuring Quality; Excellence in Recruiting and Developing Talent; and Excellence in Resource Development.

JJFdnlogoUnder the leadership of CEO Eric Fingerhut and with support of Hillel's Board of Directors, Hillel is taking decisive steps to grow from a $90 million per year organization to a sustainable $200 million per year organization. The Jim Joseph Foundation's recent grant is assisting Hillel to determine if this aspirational future is achievable and to enable the organization to chart a path toward desirable growth.

Moishe House, an organization much younger than Hillel, has been in existence for just nine years. Yet it already has exhibited rapid growth, and it has positively influenced the lives of tens of thousands of young Jewish adults across the United States and internationally. Moishe House is poised, potentially, to accelerate its growth and to reach ambitious milestones in part because a group of foundations joined together to help Moishe House design and implement a Strategic Growth Plan. The development of that plan was funded significantly by the Jim Joseph Foundation after a 2011 external evaluation of Moishe House demonstrated that the organization had developed an effective, affordable, and scalable approach to executing on its mission.

Smart funding, tailored to an individual organization's life stage, capacity-building readiness, and demonstrated commitment to maximizing organizational effectiveness and field impact, creates exciting philanthropic opportunity.

In both these cases, Hillel and Moishe House conducted careful strategic planning that was core to their capacity building. The Jim Joseph Foundation believes dedicating resources for this type of planning is an effective way for the Foundation to support nonprofit capacity building.

The Jim Joseph Foundation also has seen that capacity-building grants can help to advance an entire field. The clearest example is the emerging field of Israel education, which has been rapidly developed by the iCenter during the last five years. Through a series of grants, the iCenter's capacity has grown-evidenced, for example, in its remarkable network of expert educators and skilled staff who work with major organizations and educational institutions across the country to advance Israel education.

Recently, I attended a Taglit Fellows training seminar for the second cohort accepted into this exciting project generously funded by the Maimonides Fund. The iCenter, in partnership with Taglit-Birthright Israel, designed the seminar, bringing together experts in Jewish education to train and support nearly 100 Taglit Fellows (for just one cohort) who will staff Taglit-Birthright Israel trips serving in a pre-trip, trip, and post-trip role to augment participants' Birthright Israel experience. A Fellow and leaders of the program shared their thoughts here, indicative of the deep impact and broad reach the iCenter now enjoys.

Obviously, we have much to learn still about capacity-building grants. Professionally, I agree with the sentiments in the article "Beyond the Veneer of Strategic Philanthropy," that "in order to reach and sustain social impact, philanthropists need to assign greater value to grantees' capacity to implement programs; encourage ongoing learning and adaptation as work unfolds; and support a foundation of organizational and operational structures, processes, and capabilities that ultimately turn vision into change on the ground."

At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we are seeing that smart funding, tailored to an individual organization's life stage, capacity-building readiness, and demonstrated commitment to maximizing organizational effectiveness and field impact, creates exciting philanthropic opportunity.

-- Chip Edelsberg

Visualizing California Philanthropy Discussion now Available on Livestream
June 29, 2015

Recently we convened a variety of foundation leaders in our San Francisco office to discuss strategies to improve data for and about California philanthropy. During the program, Visualizing the Past, Present, and Future of California Philanthropy, president of Foundation Center, Brad Smith, moderated a discussion among representatives from a diverse array of California-based foundations: Pamela H. David, executive director of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund; Sara Davis, director of grants management at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; and Peter V. Long, Ph.D., president and CEO of Blue Shield of CA Foundation. The discussion focused on transparency, and how these foundations have adopted sharing, accountability, and openness into their giving practices. The funders also related how technology has impacted and enhanced their transparency practices-including the adoption of Foundation Center’s Reporting Commitment and Get on the Map campaign.

If you missed the session, or attended and would like to view it again, you can find it here. If you would like to Get on the Map, but are unsure how to do so, check out our how-to webinar.

Knowledge Sharing in the Social Sector: Leaders Open Up About Opening Up
June 22, 2015

(Maggie Lee is IssueLab Specialist at Foundation Center.)

Maggie lee closeSomething great happened in Boston two weeks ago. A group of dedicated folks from foundations and nonprofits gathered in a workshop session to discuss how we, as a sector, publish and share our knowledge. IssueLab, a service of Foundation Center, convened the meeting as part of our work to increase foundation effectiveness through open knowledge sharing. Rather than diving immediately into a conversation about how we should do this, we wanted to take a step back and look at the reasons why we publish in the first place. Two hours flew by as we discussed our work — and the obstacles that get in our way — in order to articulate a set of principles that can guide us moving forward.

Sharing knowledge amplifies impact - we can’t fund or consult with everyone, but by sharing research and lessons learned we can make our dollars go further.

To break the ice, the session leaders asked for quick, one-word responses to a few questions:  How would you describe your organization’s knowledge-sharing practices?  “Dusty.” What is the biggest obstacle that prevents organizations from engaging in open knowledge sharing? “Fear.” “Confusion.” “Lack of resources.”  (Okay, that’s three words, but the concept is so important!)

From there, we talked about why our own organizations publish formal materials, such as white papers, case studies, and evaluations. The ideas and questions that were raised in this short time point to just how integral knowledge production and sharing are to the goals of our organizations. People had a lot to say, which included:

  • Agreeing that sharing knowledge amplifies impact - we can’t fund or consult with everyone, but by sharing research and lessons learned we can make our dollars go further;
  • Reinforcing the need for spaces and places where everyone can contribute their evidence and insights; and,
  • Questioning whether we are biased towards formal knowledge and whether we can agree that decisions benefit from a broader and more informed context.

This workshop is not without precedent. In 2001, Open Society Foundations (then the Open Society Institute) convened a meeting in Budapest, which became known as the Budapest Open Access Initiative, in order to “accelerate progress in the international effort to make research articles in all academic fields freely available on the internet.” In doing so, they articulated a vision to guide their work: "Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge."

Now that’s a vision! With our Boston workshop, we sought to bring this spirit and this conversation to the social sector to ensure that more research and more voices are included in this common intellectual conversation.

By the end of this very productive session, we had drafted a starter list of principles. Here are just a few:

  • Social sector knowledge resources are produced with funds in the public trust, which gives us a unique responsibility to share them as a public good.
  • The social sector’s credibility relies on honesty and transparency.
  • We believe that new knowledge is built on existing knowledge and should be placed in context and attributed.
  • Do no harm. Do not waste scarce resources. Do not replicate mistakes.

This workshop was only the beginning of a conversation about open publishing. We’ll soon be creating a set of draft principles building on what was proposed at the workshop, as well as a vision statement based on these principles to be shared more widely with the sector. (We’ll keep you posted!) We hope everyone in the social sector who produces knowledge, shares knowledge, and uses knowledge will tune in, add their voices, and help shape the principles and vision to guide this important work.

--Maggie Lee

What Story Can Your Foundation Tell with Data?
June 15, 2015

(Stephanie Evergreen, PhD, is a data visualization and reporting specialist who loves to empower clients to tell their own stories. She writesblogsspeaks, and dreams about presenting data effectively.)

StephevergreenI’m a self-proclaimed data nerd. Maybe you are too. I love how numbers can help us track progress on foundation initiatives. But the hard truth is that most of us data nerds aren’t the strongest at figuring out how to tell a larger story with our data, especially in ways that others can understand. Transparency begins with a greater, internal understanding of our data. Before foundations share their data with their beneficiaries and the public, they need to be able to fully understand and clearly communicate their numbers among themselves and with their stakeholders. Here I’ll give you two examples of how strengthening the story using data visualization strategies helped foundations accomplish their philanthropic goals.

The Power of the Dashboard

What’s 530 minus 600? Ok, that one was probably easy, but keep it in your head while you subtract 810 from 1,975 and 45% from 93% while engaging in a rich discussion with other foundation board members and staff. That’s a lot to track!

And that’s why I worked with Walton Family Foundation to add simple visualizations to their education dashboard. They already displayed current performance on several metrics with the 5-year goals listed as well. But the way they were displaying the data, well… it wasn’t very clear. So I worked with them to clean it up and make it clearer so anyone could understand it, not just foundation staff. I suggested we swap out all tables for graphs, but Karen at Walton said “Uh, no the board really wants to see all the raw numbers.” Inside my head I said “Suuuuuuure they do” and out of my mouth I said, “No problem, let’s keep them all in there and dashboard this thing.” Here is the redesign:

  WaltonGraphic

Karen and her team showed this dashboard to their board, who saw it as a real improvement. In late 2014 we have been dashboarding even more. So, good for me and my business but let’s talk about what happened inside the Walton Family Foundation.

"Data visualization helps us tell a story about the foundation’s impact and leads to improved decision-making across the organization.”

The culture changed. Karen recently told me that the drive toward better design “really impacted everyone at Walton Family Foundation.” She went on to say, “Dipping our toe in the waters of better data visualization with the dashboards has set off a chain reaction. Our entire organization is really poised to improve how we present information to our Board and publicly. Data visualization helps us tell a story about the foundation’s impact and leads to improved decision-making across the organization.”

And *that’s* the kind of difference that can be made by presenting data effectively.

Check out the full dashboard (all fake, example data) to see the other visuals we added and to hear more about the impacts this redesign had on their foundation work.

Adjust the Image

Welborn Baptist Foundation was eager to tell the data stories from their Community Health Survey… in a way that was easily interpretable. Rather than a traditional stacked bar chart—which only tells a small fraction of the data story—we used a new graph type: a diverging stacked bar. These are perfect for showing data that split around some mid point. Here it is yes/no. This works even better on Strongly Disagree-Strongly Agree and other response sets that diverge.

  WelbornGraphic

The trouble with this same data in traditional stacked bar graphs is that the reader can’t easily compare all the positive responses, for example, because they don’t share a common axis. With a diverging bar chart, the shared axis is in the middle, making it easier for the reader to comprehend. And yes, you can make it in Excel. Be sure to check out the full report from Welborn for more diverging stacked bar examples and other powerful data stories.

Increasing the intentional display of your data can seriously maximize your story and provide a bigger picture for your stakeholders to interpret.

 --Stephanie Evergreen

Participate in the 2015 Glasspockets User Survey
June 11, 2015

Do you have a moment to help us make Glasspockets better? We are conducting a short survey to assess ways to improve Foundation Center’s Glasspockets web site, services, and social media presence. As a Glasspockets community member, we invite you to contribute to our thinking around new directions for our work, and how we can improve our web site and social media engagement to better engage and inform our audiences toward the goal of encouraging greater foundation transparency.

You can access the survey here. We look forward to your feedback. 

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
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, San Francisco Office
    The Foundation Center

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