Transparency Talk

Get Open: Leaders Reflect on Glasspockets' Impact
July 27, 2016

Let Glasspockets help your foundation achieve greater heights. Sharing strategy, knowledge, processes, and best practices in philanthropy is better for everyone – from the grantmakers to grantees and the communities they serve.

But don't take our word for it...

In our new video, Glasspockets: Making the Case for Transparency, philanthropy leaders - including representatives from the Barr Foundation, Ford Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, among others - reflect on the positive impact that Glasspockets and working more openly has made on their work.

Get Open - join the "Glass Pockets" movement today!

Start with taking and sharing our "Who Has Glass Pockets?" transparency self-assessment.

-- Melissa Moy

What's Your Story?: Q&A with Kenneth Rainin Foundation's Amanda Flores-Witte
July 21, 2016

(The Kenneth Rainin Foundation, which recently joined the Glasspockets transparency movement, shares how innovation, technology and creativity played a role in telling its story in its annual report. Janet Camerena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center. Amanda Flores-Witte is senior communications officer at Kenneth Rainin Foundation.)

Janet Camarena: Increasingly, foundations are wondering whether there is still a need for the time and expense of issuing an Annual Report. The thinking goes that with the advent of informative foundation websites, that perhaps the annual report is an antiquated ritual. The Kenneth Rainin Foundation recently updated this ritual by issuing its Turning Points 2015 Year in Review as an entirely online resource, creatively using video and the Medium platform to tell the story of the road you traveled last year. Can you begin by telling us why your foundation determined the annual report exercise, whatever the format, was still a worthwhile one?

Amanda Flores-WitteAmanda Flores-Witte: When we set out to work on any project, our aim is never to do something solely because it is expected or because we did it that way last time. We get curious and ask questions, while revisiting our goals and keeping transparency in mind. This is exactly the approach we took when thinking about our year in review. We challenged ourselves to think creatively about how we could best share our story while highlighting the work of our grantees and partners.

Fortunately, technology has breathed new life into annual reports by offering a variety of tools, platforms, and formats, and more innovative ways to share information and engage readers. We felt that a summary that highlighted the year's activities-or captured the turning points in each program area-would be a valuable tool for people to get to know the Kenneth Rainin Foundation and learn about our progress. We thought an online report would allow us the flexibility to present our story in an interactive format using text, photos, audio and video, and make the report more interactive. We know that people engage with content in different ways and use a variety of devices to access it, so it was important for us to also have the ability to leverage our assets and promote the report on social media, our website and our newsletter.

JC: The Kenneth Rainin Foundation emphasizes innovation, and the word "cutting edge" comes up a lot throughout the organization, including in the mission. I imagine this must set the bar pretty high - that your own communications be cutting edge? Beyond the Annual Report, are there other ways that you try to live up to that "cutting edge" aspiration when it comes to telling the story of the foundation?

AFW: We strive to be authentic and shine a bright light on the terrific work our grantees are doing, as well as build our presence online, which is where people tend to spend a great deal of time. Being innovative means that we are continually revisiting how we communicate our work-is there a better, more effective or more inspiring way to accomplish our goals? We are always curious about what other organizations are doing and enjoy exploring. In addition, our board of directors and staff are not shy about sharing their ideas and challenging us to think bigger or look at projects through a different lens. There is nothing more exciting to us than brainstorming an idea and then diving in to research how to best execute it. Kenneth Rainin FoundationWe value flexibility and being open minded as our projects evolve. We also realize there are risks involved when we embrace new or unconventional ideas. In our organization, staff members have the freedom to experiment. This way of thinking is at the heart of all our programs. We realize that some things might be less successful than we wanted, and there will be successes we didn't anticipate. Either way, we always learn valuable lessons that we can apply to the next big idea.

JC: Next, let's talk about the formats, beginning with the Medium platform. What is Medium, and why did you decide this was the right platform for the Rainin Foundation to tell its story? And what kinds of criteria should foundations use to determine whether Medium might be right for them?

AFW: We worked with a consultant who understood our requirements and helped us explore different avenues and tools that could help us accomplish our goals. Ultimately, we decided that Medium would be the ideal platform for creating a media-rich presentation while also giving us the opportunity to amplify our voice and access an expanded audience.

Medium is an online publishing platform that was founded in 2012 and has evolved into a community of 30 million monthly users, according to a January 2016 CNN story. It has become such a popular publishing platform that even the White House, Bono and the Gates Foundation use it.

Criteria for whether to use Medium will vary depending on what an organization wants to accomplish. For us, it was important to have a platform that was easy to use and incorporated performance metrics. We didn't want to get bogged down trying to master a new technology. Medium is user-friendly and intuitive, and the visual design closely aligns with the Foundation's desired aesthetics-a clean presentation with plenty of white space. Medium also exposes us to a broader audience, which is hard to get elsewhere, and the platform makes the post shareable. The trade-off is that Medium's standard features, which make it very simple to use, can feel limiting. If you are looking for more customization or want flexibility with typefaces, color and layout, Medium may not be the best choice.

JC: The videos that you produced as part of the Turning Points 2015 progress report were particularly effective in humanizing the foundation. More often we see grantee videos on a foundation site, but you deliberately chose to put your own team on camera. However, being in front of a camera can be intimidating. Can you share with us how you prepared your team for it, and whether you have any advice for foundations around who tells the story, and how to prepare them? And please share any other general advice you have for foundations about how to prepare and use video to share the progress of their work.

AFW: We think it's important to share experiences and stories authentically, and video can be an effective tool to accomplish this objective.

Before we embark on a new project, we develop a creative brief to think about our audience and what we want them to feel or take away from an experience. This brief ensures that stakeholders are all on the same page, which gives the project a strong start and basis for ongoing evaluation.

For our CEO and staff videos, we hired a talented video team who helped everyone feel at ease and made the process fun-this was really important to us. A few days before the shoot, we provided our staff with a couple of questions to answer about a stand-out moment they had in 2015, and then checked in with them before filming to ensure they had an idea of what they wanted to get across. We didn't rehearse with them, nor did we do a lot of takes during filming.

We loved capturing the personalities of our program staff in a more informal way and allowing viewers to hear the story directly from the staff person who experienced it. By being willing to improvise a bit, we were able to capture memorable moments. Of course, our approach to video production changes according to our project goals. Some projects are impromptu, while others may require much more planning.

JC: Are there other foundations or nonprofit organizations that inspire you when it comes to opening up their work in interesting or new ways? Share some examples.

AFW: We're fortunate to work in a field where so many people do fantastic work, take risks and share it with the world. There are numerous resources, and we count the Communications Network as one of the best places to access tools and expertise. We are continually inspired by the work of other foundations and organizations. Some of our favorite sources for inspiration include the James Irvine Foundation; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund; The San Francisco Foundation; the Robin Hood Foundation; and many, many others. We often reach out to foundations for referrals and learn about their approach to a project, the challenges they encountered, and their overall experience. We want to especially thank Daniel Silverman at the James Irvine Foundation. He's been so gracious with his time and advice, no matter how many times we contact him.

JC: You spoke about performance metrics earlier. What has your audience response been like for both the video and Medium? And how are you measuring their impact?

AFW: The response has been positive. We have surpassed 5,000 video views, which is a strong showing relative to our target audience. Last year for the Medium post, our goal was to engage 12% of our email list. We surpassed this number, quadrupling our goal. This year, we're hitting our targets for views and interaction, and anticipate that the numbers will continue to increase throughout the year, as they did in 2015. It's interesting to note, however, that the videos are garnering more attention than the Medium post, which is something we'll take into account in our planning for the next end-of-year report.

We're always looking to strengthen how we measure impact. For this project, we analyze how people engage with the information on our website, third party websites (Vimeo and Medium) and social media. We look at responses and comments, viewing and reading times, and shares. One big takeaway for us has been the need to continually promote the report and videos in the foundation's communications, staff email signatures, and by leveraging and repurposing the content in creative ways.

JC: Will this be the framework you use for your 2016 Year in Review, or do you have something new and "cutting edge" you're considering?

AFW: We're not locked into a specific framework. Like all of our projects, we will reflect and ask ourselves, "Is this still working? What can we do better? What did we learn?"...so stay tuned.

Glasspockets Find: Exponent Philanthropy Video Series Encourages Transparency
July 14, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)

Embracing failure has the potential to maximize effective and impact in philanthropy.  This trend of self-reflection and sharing lessons learned among foundation and funder leaders is upping the ante on the need for transparency and opening up the work of grantmakers.

Exponent Philanthropy – a philanthropic membership organization representing approximately 2,300 foundations and funders – won a Fund for Shared Insight grant last year to produce a video series that shares wisdom and best practices in philanthropy. The videos will delve into how foundations can be more open about how they work, why and how they make their decisions, and the lessons they have learned – both good and bad.

This year, Explonent Philanthropy released a total of nine Philanthropy Lessons videos that highlight tips and best practices for funders, grantees and philanthropy work. 

Among the videos, the importance of transparency and the tricky topic of evaluation are explored.  How can funders and grantees communicate honestly with one another, and with the communities they serve?  How can impact and effectiveness be measured?  What criteria should be used? 

Several funders acknowledged the challenge in evaluating the effectiveness of grantees and the measures used.  One funder likened the overzealousness of foundation reports to “overjudginess,” where foundation expectations of grantees may be unfair.  Another funder said it’s OK for a grantee to fall short of their program objectives; instead, he expected grantees to be honest and explain the encountered challenges and barriers.

Miguel Milanes, vice president of Allegany Franciscan Ministries (also profiled on Glasspockets), described the importance of flexibility and listening, truly listening to grantees.

Milanes’ organization had given a $2,000 grant to help preserve Mexican American culture through traditional dance and requested a written report on the project outcomes.  Unable to speak or write in English, two grantee representatives gave a face-to-face report to Milanes and shared two binders full of photos and receipts documenting the project.

“It was more important than any report I’ve ever received,” Milanes said of the unorthodox grant report.  “That was a seminal moment.  It changed the way we did our grantmaking and our reporting.  We accept other types of reports and documents on the grants we make.”

Other foundation leaders raised questions about the how and why of evaluation.  Would pre-and post-test survey results really show the impact of helping a human trafficking survivor?  Is the requirement of sending an international fax report of every attendance list for an African HIV women’s program excessive and costly?

Exponent Philanthropy’s innovative project also invites website visitors and funders to share their lessons and personal stories on the website and also via social media using #MyPhilLesson. 

One website visitor, Lisa Tessarowicz of The CALM Foundation, shared how being “uncomfortable” and not having the answers actually helps foundations to think creatively, take more risks to “experiment more and think critically” about how money is given away.

We look forward to seeing more stories from funders, grantees and community at large.  It will interesting to see what grantmaking leaders glean from their experiences with grantees, and how they will apply these important lessons to improve philanthropy and elevate transparency.

--Melissa Moy

Eye On: Marc and Lynne Benioff
July 7, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Marc and Lynne Benioff, and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Benioff_photoTech billionaire Marc Benioff has a long track record as a philanthropist and as a thought leader who advocates for his corporate philanthropy peers to step up their giving.  Despite playing this kind of leadership role in philanthropy circles, it was unexpected to learn that Benioff and his wife Lynne Benioff had recently signed the Giving Pledge, a philanthropy movement started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet.

From Critic to Converted

Prior to signing the Giving Pledge, Benioff publicly expressed skepticism about the Giving Pledge and also whether fellow Pledger Mark Zuckerberg’s $1 billion gift to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) amounted to little more than a tax write-off.

Benioff, founder, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, pointed out that grants made from donor-advised funds, such as Zuckerberg’s SVCF donation, are hidden from view. He expressed concerns that the Facebook founder’s gift, however generous, might lack philanthropic impact due to a lack of transparency and accountability in how the money is used.

Regarding his initial skepticism of the Giving Pledge, Benioff had previously said, “But with no outline for immediate philanthropic work or any references to specific actionable projects, we all will have to wait to see what’s achieved—and the donors themselves may never see it.”

So why did the tech leader change his tune and support the Giving Pledge?  Perhaps it was the collaborative philanthropy effort and the time the Benioffs spent personally with Bill and Melinda Gates that swayed him. 

In the couple’s Giving Pledge letter, the Benioffs said they worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch University of California San Francisco’s California Preterm Birth Initiative. The Benioffs said they were “thrilled to see the impact of the Giving Pledge through the leadership of Bill & Melinda Gates” over the last six years.

Joining the Giving Pledge was also the Benioffs’ opportunity to “reaffirm our commitment to the health and education of our children, pledging to dedicate the majority of our wealth to philanthropy.”  Perhaps Benioff, who in recent years had been actively building philanthropy movements of his own, grew to recognize the potential for scale such movements bring.

Marc Benioff:

  • Founder of Salesforce
  • Forbes’ Most Innovative Companies: #2 in 2015 (#1, 2011-2014)
  • Fortune’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders: #37 in 2016
  • 13% owner of Fitbit
  • Personal net worth: $4.2 bilion

Architect of 1/1/1: “Pay as You Go” Model

Salesforce is a leading enterprise cloud computing company, which allows clients to access their software and data over the Internet instead of installing it on computers.  Since Salesforce’s establishment in 1999, Benioff has pioneered an innovative way to build the Salesforce empire while also supporting local communities.

Benioff is a fan of strategic giving and a “pay as you go” model.  He urges his wealthy peers to give away money as they make it and not “pay at the end,” which had been one of his reservations about the Giving Pledge.  In his Salesforce blog, he noted how Buffet will give 99% of his wealth in the last 10 years of his life.

“There’s no reason why your business, your personal philanthropy and your corporate philanthropy can’t be integrated,” Benioff said in his blog.

The Salesforce approach to philanthropy, which Benioff pioneered, is referred to as the 1/1/1 model that facilitates the “pay as you go” approach, in which a company gives to the communities it serves 1% of its equity, 1% of its employee hours and 1% donated product.  The 1/1/1 model has influenced how Google and hundreds of corporations give to the community.

Building His Fortune

At 15, Benioff founded Liberty Software, and created games for Atari.  Epyx published several of his computer games.  By the age of 16, he began earning royalties of $1,500 a month.

Benioff went on to get his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Southern California in 1986.  While at USC, Benioff interned at apple. Benioff later described how Apple and its co-founder Steve Jobs inspired him, writing in “Beyond the Cloud,” his bestselling memoir: "That summer, I discovered it was possible for an entrepreneur to encourage revolutionary ideas.”

Before creating Salesforce, Benioff worked under Larry Ellison at Oracle Corporation, another Bay Area-based tech giant.

During his 13 years at Oracle, Benioff held numerous executive positions in sales, marketing and product development.  At age 23, Oracle named him Rookie of the Year, and three years later, he became the company’s youngest vice-president.

Benioff would eventually launch his multi-billion company from small, start-up roots in a San Francisco apartment in 1999.

In 2016, Benioff made Fortune Magazine’s 50 World’s Greatest Leaders list.  Salesforce has regularly topped many of Forbes Magazine’s lists, including Best Place to Work, World’s Most Innovative Company and World’s Most Admired Company.

Power Couple Philanthropy

The Benioffs have been longtime donors to the UCSF Medical Center.

Marc Benioff has also used his influence to catalyze local giving by rallying Bay Area corporations to fight local poverty with SF Gives. The group urges pioneering and influential Bay Area companies to give locally because one in five Bay Area residents lives in poverty.

At the time SF Gives launched, Benioff made personal calls to ask local CEOs to join SF Gives.  Participating companies include Google, Levi’s, LinkedIn, Zynga, Box, Jawbone, PopSugar and Dropbox.

Lynne Benioff, a marketing professional, is also a passionate philanthropist.  In 2011, the San Francisco Business Times honored her as a fundraising Health Care Hero. 

She serves on numerous boards as a trustee for the Presidio Trust; University of California San Francisco Foundation, where she chairs the marketing committee; UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland; Children’s Hospital & Research Center Foundation; and Common Sense Media.

Lynne Benioff’s motivation partially stems from her own hospitalization when she experienced late-stage complications in her pregnancy in 2009.  During her month-long stay at UCSF Medical Center, Benioff witnessed the challenges of other patients and families.  Since then, Lynne Benioff has been an advocate for higher health care standards, especially for children.

Following this experience, the Benioffs changed their philanthropic focus to health care for children.  Most of their personal philanthropy is for UCSF with a $250 million gift to build UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland. 

Salesforce Foundation

In addition to the Benioffs’ personal giving, the Salesforce Foundation has a large philanthropic footprint. 

With Benioff’s 1/1/1 model, the foundation focuses giving on 1) technology – offering donated and discounted technologies to nonprofits and higher education; 2) people – encouraging employee engagement, whereby employees have up to seven days off per year to volunteer and can participate in company volunteer efforts; and 3) resources – provide grants in education and Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) programs.

The foundation has given $14 million to the San Francisco Unified School District to advance STEM education.

In 2014, the San Francisco-based Salesforce Foundation gave $19.5 million in grants and scholarships to organizations and individuals in the United States and overseas, according to federal tax returns

Significant grant awards that year included: $5 million to the San Francisco Foundation for public and societal benefit; $1.6 million to the UCSF Foundation for higher education; $1 million to Tipping Point, which supports SF Gives; $988,000 to Code.Org, a Seattle-based group that promotes education; $750,000 to Catholic Charities in San Francisco for human services.  

The foundation also gave numerous awards, from $100,000 to $300,000, to organizations that supported health, higher education and K-12 education.

Social Justice Supporter

Given Marc Benioff’s passion for philanthropy and his comfort level in using his influence to change the status quo, it’s no surprise that he has taken stands for social justice on a national front.  For example, Benioff urged South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from its state capitol.  He supported President Obama’s Equal Pay Measure, which would require large companies to disclose employee compensation broken down by gender, ethnicity, and race.  At Salesforce he conducted a compensation analysis and then budgeted $3 million in 2015 to increase wages for 1,000 female Salesforce employees to close the wage gap between men and women.  

Benioff has also leveraged the economic power of his company to impact social justice issues. For example, Benioff threatened to pull Salesforce.com business from Indiana and Georgia related to legislation that could potentially discriminate against LGBT people.

In 2015, Benioff led a business-world boycott against Indiana’s religious freedom law, which would have allowed businesses to potentially refuse service to LGBT customers for religious reasons.  He also protested Georgia legislation that would give faith-based organizations the option to deny people services based on a “sincerely held religious belief” relating to marriage.  

In a relatively short time, the Benioffs have established quite a robust public track record as both philanthropists and philanthropy influencers.  And unlike many of their tech peers, much of their giving and activism is done in the public eye, which makes it easier for us all to understand their philanthropic point of view and see what’s next for one of the newest Giving Pledgers. 

--Melissa Moy

Building the Social Sector's Collective Brain Trust: Redesigned IssueLab Launched
June 23, 2016

(Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.)

Janet Camarena

Recently when I was helping my son cultivate his ant farm, I learned that a lone ant is a dead ant.  Ants are the ultimate collective, working in teams, and by doing so, they accomplish amazing feats that no lone ant alone could do. 

Do Ants Know Something Foundations Don’t?

As you may know from unwelcome encounters in your home, ants tend to move very effectively by moving in swarms.  They operate with what scientists call a “collective brain” or “swarm intelligence” that helps them share knowledge, move quickly over great distances, build bridges and highways, organize, and make collective decisions that accomplish tasks that they couldn’t do alone. 

"IssueLab’s relaunched website has almost 20,000 knowledge resources, covering 38 different issue areas, from 7,000+ organizations around the world."

Philanthropy by contrast is increasingly fragmented, with individual foundations developing and often holding lessons learned, strategic direction, and operating plans close to their vests. Yet, like ants, they are often trying to move proverbial mountains and accomplish goals that a single institution can’t do alone. So, is there something we can learn from the insect world, much like how observing bird flight informed and inspired the development of aircraft?  Can we observe insects to inform the development of collective intelligence?

There is hope here in that increasingly, philanthropy articles and conferences are turning to the theme of collective impact, and knowledge sharing, which are in many ways a departure from the current practice in philanthropy in which fragmentation - or the “lone ant” phenomenon - tends to be the prevailing norm. And there is also hope in the form of new tools that are available to you to help us all work smarter, provided we commit to take advantage of them.

Moving Toward a Collective Brain Trust

New tools recently launched by IssueLab may give us all a roadmap to how to go from struggling, lone ants to mighty ants. IssueLab’s relaunched website has almost 20,000 knowledge resources, covering 38 different issue areas, from 7,000+ organizations around the world. Each resource includes links to the full report, and helpful data, such as article abstracts, related articles, and author information. 

Many of these resources include lessons learned and were funded directly by foundations. Together, IssueLab resources represent one of the greatest assets of the social sector, provided they remain easily findable and usable by others.

The Path to Open Knowledge

Toward that end, IssueLab's relaunched website also includes helpful resources aimed at helping the social sector commit to creating a culture of open knowledge. The website includes recommended principles and also tactical practices that organizations can adopt to move toward this vision of a collective brain trust, from which we can all mutually benefit.

Given the critical connection between transparency and shared learning, earlier this year Glasspockets added Open Licensing to the "Who Has Glass Pockets?" transparency self-assessment profile. Since this is one of our newest elements, and it is an emerging practice among foundations, we want to draw particular attention to a set of tools now available on IssueLab's redesigned site that aim to demystify the path to open knowledge.

IssueLab breaks it down into the following practices:

  • Articulating an open knowledge policy; 
  • Using open licensing on all knowledge products; 
  • Using open knowledge repositories like IssueLab to catalog and better share your work; and 
  • Using a shared descriptive vocabulary, such as schema.org, on your organization’s website to make it easier to discover and index knowledge products.

To learn more about each practice, visit IssueLab's Open Knowledge area.

How Can We Know What Others Know?

And to continue building a bigger and bigger brain trust that truly represents the shared knowledge of our labors, the redesigned IssueLab also makes it easier for anyone to upload, find, and freely share research by providing metadata and links to original documents on publishers' websites.

New features include:

  • An improved interface that makes it easier and faster to upload research to IssueLab and share items via a website, blog, or on social media.
  • Filtered search, the ability to curate user libraries, and "what to read next" suggestions for related research.
  • The ability to use Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) to increase a document's long-term accessibility across the Internet and on archival sites like WorldCat, the world's largest library catalog.
  • Metadata such as keyword search, date published, geography, and language to facilitate powerful searching and browsing capabilities.

Visit IssueLab to start collecting, connecting, and sharing knowledge, and just maybe collectively moving mountains.

--Janet Camarena

IRS Releases 990 Forms as Machine-Readable Data
June 16, 2016

Editor's Note: Last month, Transparency Talk featured a blog post by Foundation Center president, Brad Smith on the coming of open 990 data and its implications for philanthropy. Read here for additional perspective on the news story below that the IRS has now formally started its release of 990 Forms, including 990-PFs, as machine-readable, open data.

Irs-logo-250 Amazon Web Services has announced that the Internal Revenue Service has made more than a million electronic 990 tax forms available as machine-readable data through its Amazon Simple Storage Service.

Released Wednesday, the public data set includes certain Forms 990 filed by nonprofit organizations with the IRS since 2011, Forms 990-EZ filed by smaller nonprofits, and Forms 990-PF filed by private foundations. The data from each 990 is provided in an XML file that includes the main 990 form, other filed forms and schedules, and any information detailing how the document was filed; some non-disclosable information is excluded.

The release of 990 filings as machine-readable data by the IRS, which plans to add new 990 data on a monthly basis, will make it easier for anyone to search the forms digitally for information about an organization's finances, trustees, lobbying activities, and salaries. Even when nonprofits or foundations filed them electronically, the IRS previously had stripped the forms of confidential information, converted them to TIFF (image) files, and released them as PDF documents. But in response to a lawsuit filed by open-records activist Carl Malamud in 2015, a federal judge ordered the IRS to release machine-readable Forms 990 from nine nonprofits. The IRS's Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities subsequently called for the agency to require nonprofits to file their financial data electronically, and the agency announced that it would begin releasing electronic versions of the forms this year.

This post originally appeared on Philanthropy News Digest.

Giving Pledge Announces the Class of 2016
June 1, 2016

Eye on the Giving Pledge

The Giving Pledge, in a press release made public today, announced that 17 new participants have joined the effort launched by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in 2010 to encourage the world's wealthiest to commit the majority of their assets to philanthropic causes. This number includes the six previously unannounced pledges by Sir Tom and Lady Marion Hunter, Margaret and Sylvan Adams, Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, and Robert and Arlene Kogod, and Gary K. Michelson -- bringing the total number of pledgers to 154. The class of 2016 includes a Saudi prince and a Chinese dairy magnate, as well as computer developers and technologists, including the co-founders of Airbnb -- a path followed by many partner-entrepreneurs already committed to the Giving Pledge.

Profiles for all signatories are now available as part of our Glasspockets feature Eye on the Giving Pledge.

 

Since its inception in 2010, the Giving Pledge, Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates' effort to encourage the world's wealthiest to commit the majority of their assets to philanthropic causes, has garnered 154 signatories in 18 countries with a combined net worth of more than $750 billion.

Learn more about all the pledgers in our Glasspockets feature Eye on the Giving Pledge.

-- Daniel Matz

Foundation Transparency: Game Over?
May 23, 2016

(Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center).

BradfordKSmithThe tranquil world of America's foundations is about to be shaken, but if you read the Center for Effective Philanthropy's (CEP) new study -- Sharing What Matters, Foundation Transparency -- you would never know it.

Don't get me wrong. That study, like everything CEP produces, is carefully researched, insightful and thoroughly professional. But it misses the single biggest change in foundation transparency in decades: the imminent release by the Internal Revenue Service of foundation 990-PF (and 990) tax returns as machine-readable open data.

Clara Miller, President of the Heron Foundation, writes eloquently in her manifesto, Building a Foundation for the 21St Century: "…the private foundation model was designed to be protective and separate, much like a terrarium."

Terrarium photo 2Terrariums, of course, are highly "curated" environments over which their creators have complete control. The CEP study, proves that point, to the extent that much of the study consists of interviews with foundation leaders and reviews of their websites as if transparency were a kind of optional endeavor in which foundations may choose to participate, if at all, and to what degree.

To be fair, CEP also interviewed the grantees of various foundations (sometimes referred to as "partners"), which helps convey the reality that foundations have stakeholders beyond their four walls. However, the terrarium metaphor is about to become far more relevant as the release of 990 tax returns as open data will literally make it possible for anyone to look right through those glass walls to the curated foundation world within.

What Is Open Data?

It is safe to say that most foundation leaders and a fair majority of their staff do not understand what open data really is. Open data is free, yes, but more importantly it is digital and machine-readable. This means it can be consumed in enormous volumes at lightning speed, directly by computers.

"The release of 990 tax returns as open data will literally make it possible for anyone to look right through those glass walls to the curated foundation world within."

Once consumed, open data can be tagged, sorted, indexed and searched using statistical methods to make obvious comparisons while discovering previously undetected correlations. Anyone with a computer, some coding skills and a hard drive or cloud storage can access open data. In today's world, a lot of people meet those requirements, and they are free to do whatever they please with your information once it is, as open data enthusiasts like to say, "in the wild."

Today, much government data is completely open. Go to data.gov or its equivalent in many countries around the world and see for yourself.

The theory behind open data, increasingly born out in practice, is that making information available leads to significant innovation for the public good while the demand for and use of such data also improves its accuracy and quality over time. And some open data is just fun: one of my personal favorites is the White House visitors list!

What is the Internal Revenue Service Releasing?

Irs-logo-250Thanks to the Aspen Institute's leadership of a joint effort - funded by foundations and including Foundation Center, GuideStar, the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, and others - the IRS has started to make some 1,000,000 Form 990s and 40,000 Form 990PF available as machine-readable open data.

Previously, all Form 990s had been released as image (TIFF) files, essentially a picture, making it both time-consuming and expensive to extract useful data from them. Credit where credit is due; a kick in the butt in the form of a lawsuit from open data crusader Carl Malamud helped speed the process along.

The current test phase includes only those tax returns that were digitally filed by nonprofits and community foundations (990s) and private foundations (990PFs). Over time, the IRS will phase in a mandatory digital filing requirement for all Form 990s, and the intent is to release them all as open data. In other words, that which is born digital will be opened up to the public in digital form. Because of variations in the 990 forms, getting the information from them into a database will still require some technical expertise, but will be far more feasible and faster than ever before.

"Over time, the IRS will phase in a mandatory digital filing requirement for all Form 990s, and the intent is to release them all as open data."

The Good

The work of organizations like Foundation Center-- who have built expensive infrastructure in order to turn years of 990 tax returns into information that can be used by nonprofits looking for funding, researchers trying to understand the role of foundations and foundations, themselves, seeking to benchmark themselves against peers—will be transformed.

Work will shift away from the mechanics of capturing and processing the data to higher level analysis and visualization to stimulate the generation and sharing of new insights and knowledge. This will fuel greater collaboration between peer organizations, innovation, the merging of previous disparate bodies of data, better philanthropy, and a stronger social sector.

The (Potentially) Bad

The world of foundations and nonprofits is highly segmented, idiosyncratic and difficult to understand and interpret. GuideStar and Foundation Center know this.

But many of the new entrants who are attracted by the advent of open 990 data will not. They will most likely come in two forms: start-ups claiming their new tools will revolutionize the business of giving, and established, private sector companies, seeking new market opportunities. Neither of these is intrinsically bad and could lead to some degree of positive disruption and true innovation.

The negative potential could be two-fold. Funders will inevitably be intrigued by the start-ups, their genius and their newness and divert funding towards them. Foundations are free to take risks and that is one of their virtues. But while needs grow, funding for the data and information infrastructure of philanthropy is limited, technology literacy among foundations relatively low, and many of these start-ups will prove to be shooting stars (anybody remember Jumo?).

"Once the 990 data is 'in the wild,' conclusions may be drawn that foundations find uncomfortable if not unfair."

The second category of new entrants is far more complex and will come in the form of for-profit data analytics companies. Some of these have business models and immensely sophisticated black box technologies that rely heavily on government contracts for defense and national security. They will be lured by the promise of lucrative contracts from big foundations and mega-nonprofits and the opportunity to demonstrate social responsibility by doing good in the world.

But these for-profit analytics companies will quickly discover that there is only one Gates Foundation among the 87,000 private foundations and only a handful of richly-resourced nonprofits among the 1.3 million on the IRS registers. And those who choose to contract the services of "Big Analytics" will need to consider the potential reputational consequences of aligning their "brands" with the companies behind them.

Sound defensive? Not at all: Foundation Center welcomes the competition, has been building for it since 2010, and knows the challenge can only make us and the social sector better.

The Ugly

Once the 990 data is "in the wild," it is possible if not probable, conclusions will be drawn that foundations find uncomfortable if not unfair. Those who are new to the field and relatively uninformed (or uninterested) in its complexity, may make claims about executive compensation based on comparisons of foundations of wildly disparate size and scope.

The same could be done with overhead rates, payout, or any other figure or calculation that can be made based on information found in the 990-PF. Some foundations already chafe when responsible sector advocates like the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) use Foundation Center data to rank foundations according to their Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best. Imagine claims coming over the transom from individuals and organizations whose core values do not include a belief in the practice of philanthropy and a normative vision for how it could be better.

"Another potential consequence lies at the intersection of the open 990 data and the growth of impact investing."

Another potential consequence lies at the intersection of the open 990 data and the growth of impact investing. This was the spirit in which Clara Miller introduced her terrarium analogy to highlight what she sees as the artificial disconnect between the controlled, strategic, and curated world constructed by the grants side of foundations and the sometimes contradictory forces at work in the larger economy in which their assets are invested.

Foundations like Heron are striving to put 100% of their assets toward mission, while others like Rockefeller Brothers Fund are divesting their investment portfolios from fossil fuels and re-investing those assets in ways that further the goals of their climate change grantmaking, rather than exacerbate the problem.

A recent (and as of yet unpublished) Foundation Center survey found that 60% of foundations were not engaged in impact investing and had no plans to do so. That is their choice, but open 990 data may well put them in a position of having to publicly explain it.

For example, using Foundation Center databases, I searched across several hundred thousand foundation 990-PF tax returns and found 37 foundations that held Corrections Corporation of America stock in their investment portfolios. These foundations may well believe, as the majority of foundations insist, that the purpose of the investment arm of the foundation is to generate the highest sustainable return possible in order to fund the mission through grants. But if a foundation holding that stock is striving to work on juvenile justice or improve the lives of black men and boys, an investigative reporter or activist might well ask why they are investing in a corporation that runs private, for-profit prisons

It's 10:00pm, Do You Know Where Your 990 Is?

With the game over for foundation transparency, the big takeaway is to know your 990-PF (or 990 for community foundations). Suddenly, it will be transformed from a bureaucratic compliance document into one of your foundation's key communications vehicles.

"Regardless of how each of us may feel about the greater transparency required of foundations, it is increasingly inevitable."

Right about now, you may be thinking: "What about the website re-design we spent all that money on, with our new logo, carefully crafted initiative names, and compelling photos??" It's still important, and you can follow the lead of those foundations guided by the online transparency criteria found on Foundation Center's Glasspockets website.

But for the sector as a whole, while fewer than 10% of all foundations have websites, they all file 990 tax returns. As the IRS open data release unfolds and mandatory digital filing kicks in, the 990-PF will become one of the primary sources of information by which your individual foundation will be known and compared to others.

I recently asked a group of foundation CEOs whether they ever had an in-depth discussion about their 990-PFs among their board members and was met with blank stares. In a world of digital transparency, this will have to change. As 990s become a data source and communications vehicle, the information on them will need to be clear, accurate and above all, a faithful representation of how each individual foundation makes use of the precious tax exemption it has been granted to serve the public good.

A few simple tips for starters:

  • Take advantage of Section 15 (block 2) to talk about your priorities, grant process, limitations, and restrictions.
  • In Section 15 (block 3) write the correct, legal name for each grantee organization and add its EIN or BRIDGE ID
  • In the same section, write clear and compelling descriptions for the purpose of each grant (more than you might think, people look at foundations by what they fund).
  • Make sure all numbers on the form add up correctly (you'd be surprised!).

Regardless of how each of us may feel about the greater transparency required of foundations, it is increasingly inevitable. Philanthropy is essential to American society and a positive source for good in a challenging world.

As the terrarium walls insulating individual foundations fall, we will surely face a few moments of anxiety and discomfort. But greater transparency, fueled by open IRS data, can only make us more conscientious stewards of our resources, more effective decision-makers, and better collaborators on our way to achieving greater and greater impact in the world.

Game over? It's just beginning!

-- Brad Smith

Prince: The Artist Now Known as a Philanthropist
May 12, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)

Prince was known for his over-the-top showmanship, his musical genius, and for notoriously changing his stage name to a symbol after a copyright battle.

Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the prolific artist released 39 albums over a 40-year career; his last two, HITnRUN Phase One and HITnRUN Phase Two, were released in September and December 2015. A mentor and producer for an entire generation of musicians, Prince also penned Top 40 hits for more than a dozen artists - in all,  winning seven Grammys along the way.

Prince Photo
Despite his iconic fame and success, few knew of Prince’s generosity to the causes and organizations he cared about.

Since his unexpected death in April, Prince’s philanthropic endeavors are now coming to light as friends, family and charity organizations are speaking up about his quiet, anonymous giving.  

Van Jones, a friend, philanthropic advisor and attorney for Prince, shared his memories on YouTube, describing how Prince was quick to act whenever a friend or stranger needed aid, from installing solar roofing panels for poor families to making sure a friend’s children were cared for during a crisis. Jones recalled Prince saying: “Don’t give me the credit, don’t give me the glory.”

Anonymous Giving

Interest in Prince’s philanthropy will likely raise the visibility of causes he cared about, with news of his good deeds now circulating widely in the media.

"It seems anonymity has a shelf life...We now know that Prince was a long-time supporter of a range of causes in his native Minnesota and across the country.”

Even with all of the press attention, much remains unknown about Prince’s philanthropy. As a Jehovah’s Witness, Prince may have felt compelled to keep his giving private. Jehovah’s Witnesses are politically neutral and are discouraged from engaging in voting, advocacy or activism. These factors may have spurred the singer-songwriter’s desire to remain anonymous about his philanthropy.

However, it seems anonymity has a shelf life. Although he may have desired to remain below the philanthropic radar, with his death, we now know that Prince was a long-time supporter of a range of causes in his native Minnesota and across the country.

Prince often focused his support in helping youth and disadvantaged communities, contributing to #YesWeCode, an organization that equips urban minority youth with technology education and Green for All, which creates green jobs in struggling communities. Prince also gave $12,000 to help prevent the closure of the Western Branch Library of the Louisville Free Public Library in Kentucky, the nation’s first full-service library for African Americans.

Prince First Avenue & 7th St - Tenaja
Purple Rain Philanthropy

The Purple Rain philanthropist supported local causes and used his platform to draw attention to his community.  Many point to the fact that Prince made his home in Minnesota rather than pick up and move to Hollywood or New York as further evidence of his commitment to his community.

His 1984 movie, Purple Rain, was about the music scene and life in Minneapolis; several scenes were filmed at local music venues, First Avenue and 7th St Entry. And well beyond the making of the film, his philanthropy continued to rain support on local issues.

“The Purple Rain philanthropist supported local causes and used his platform to draw attention to his community.”

In Minnesota, he secretly gave $80,000 to Urban Ventures Leadership Foundation and $50,000 to a fund for the victims and families of the 2007 I-35 West bridge collapse.

Prince’s former wife, Manuela Testolini, described him as a “fierce philanthropist.” In fact, the couple met doing philanthropic work together. Testolini credited Prince for inspiring her to start her own charity 10 years ago.  Just before Prince’s death, her foundation, In a Perfect World, had announced plans to build and name a school in his honor.

Prince’s foundation, Love 4 One Another Charities, gave away $3.2 million to charities from 2001-2007, according to federal tax returns. In that same time period, Prince gave $10.9 million to his foundation. The foundation was funded, at least in part, by Prince’s 1995-97 Love 4 One Another tour.

It is unknown what happened to his foundation, as tax returns are unavailable beyond 2007, at which point the foundation held $11.9 million in assets.

In 2007, his foundation’s largest gifts included $800,000 for the Peccole Lakes Kingdom Hall Fund, in Las Vegas, to support a Jehovah’s Witness organization; $50,000 to the aforementioned Minnesota Helps Bridge Disaster Fund; $50,000 to Testolini’s In A Perfect World, in Minneapolis, which supports education for at-risk children; and $40,000 for Urban Farming, in Southfield, MI, to support healthy living and food for the hungry.

Prince the Activist

Although Prince quietly conducted his philanthropy, he seemed aware of the power and light he could shine on social issues important to him, and he often used his influence to take very public stands.

In 2004, he publicly criticized the music industry for promoting sex, violence and drugs in rap and R&B.  On his 1999 album notes, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, Prince, a vegan, wrote about the cruelty of wool production.

More recently, the “Purple Rain” philanthropist spoke out against racial injustice

Prince held benefit concerts for organizations and individuals in need. He gave money to the family of Trayvon Martin, the African American youth shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012.

In response to the deaths of young black men at the hands of police, Prince wrote and performed a new protest song, “Baltimore,” at his 2015 Rally4Peace event.  The song included references to Michael Brown and Freddie Gray and the chorus: “If there ain't no justice then there ain't no peace.”

At the 2015 Grammys, Prince alluded to the Black Lives Matter movement while presenting the album of the year, declaring: “Albums still matter. Like books and black lives, albums still matter. Tonight. Always.”

A will for Prince’s estate has not been found, so it is uncertain if he earmarked funds for favorite charities. However, with the legacy of his philanthropy in the spotlight, perhaps the causes and organizations Prince supported will benefit anew from the visibility and influence the knowledge of his support brings.

--Melissa Moy

The Next Generation of Nonprofit Data Standards
May 2, 2016

(Jacob Harold is president and CEO of GuideStar and Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center. Join Harold and Smith for their webinar, How Data Standards Can Help Save the World, on May 12 at 2:00 pm EDT. In the webinar, Harold and Smith will discuss the ways data standards are already improving the grantmaking process for both funders and grantees. They'll also address how foundations can participate in these initiatives and promote a better information system for the sector. See you there! This post first ran in PhilanTopic.)

Our current moment in the human story is often called the age of information. And indeed, we are too-often overwhelmed by the torrent of data coursing through our lives. As a society, we have developed many tools to organize the information we rely on every day. The Dewey Decimal System helps libraries organize books. UPC codes help stores organize their products. Nutrition labels help to present information about food ingredients and nutritional value (or lack thereof) in a way that's consistent and predictable.

Data Standards Image-600wi
The nonprofit sector has also relied on data standards: we use the government's Employer Identification Number (EIN) to identify individual organizations. The National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) is used by many — including GuideStar, Foundation Center, and others — to help reveal the diversity of the nonprofit community, guide funding decisions, and foster collaboration.

But just as other information systems have continued to evolve so must ours. When the Dewey Decimal System was developed in 1876, Melvil Dewey could not have imagined Amazon.com, e-readers, or Goodreads.com. Similarly, the EIN/NTEE framework is simply not enough to explain, organize, and share the complex story of nonprofits.

So we are glad to share the news that a new generation of social sector data standards is emerging. These can help us all do our work better, making smarter decisions while saving time to focus on that work.

There a several standards that are important, but we'd like to direct your attention to four:

Standard

Description

History

BRIDGE

A unique identifier for every nonprofit organization in the world.

A joint project among GlobalGiving, Foundation Center, GuideStar, and TechSoup Global.

Philanthropy Classification System

A taxonomy that describes the work of foundations, recipient organizations, and the philanthropic transactions between them.

Led by Foundation Center, with significant input from hundreds of stakeholders.

GuideStar Profile Standard

A standardized framework for nonprofits to tell their own stories. Used by more than 100,000 nonprofits.

Includes the five Charting Impact questions (developed in partnership with Independent Sector and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance). GSPS feeds the GuideStar for Grants system that was developed as part of the Simplify Initiative in partnership with the Technology Affinity Group.

eGrant/hGrant

An easy way for foundations to share the grants they make in near-real time.

Over 1,200 foundations use eGrant to report their grants data to Foundation Center and 19 foundations publish their data in open format through the Reporting Commitment.

This list is by no means comprehensive — other standards are also important, including but not limited to IATI and PerformWell. Others, such as XBRL or LEI, could become important for the field. But for now, we urge the nonprofit sector to understand these four standards and, where possible, to adopt them for your own use.

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It is worth noting that we in the nonprofit sector use the word "standards" in two distinct ways. First, there are "practice standards" that work to define excellence. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance Standards for Charity Accountability or Independent Sector's Principles for Good Governance and Effective Practice fit this definition. Practice standards are a powerful way to help define and promote good practices.

But here we're pointing to "data standards" that are simply a way of organizing information in a consistent format to make it more useful. Both practice standards and data standards exist to help us do our work better. Neither guarantee excellence, but in different ways they help us drive toward excellence.

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As a field, we need to absolutely minimize the amount of time we spend managing data — and maximize the time we spend solving problems. Think of these standards as enablers to help us do just that, and do it at scale.

--Jacob Harold and Brad 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."

    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, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

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