Transparency Talk

« November 2012 | Main | January 2013 »

December 2012 (5 posts)

Glasspockets Find: Woods Charitable Fund’s Transparency on Facebook Gives Us Something to "Like"
December 28, 2012

Woods Charitable FundAll December, Lincoln, Nebraska's Woods Charitable Fund has featured their 2012 grantees on Facebook, using social media to raise awareness of their $1.5 million in grants and 65 grantees, and in the process, highlighting the work being done by Lincoln's nonprofit community.

They've also added their Facebook feed to the Fund's new web site (designed and hosted by the Foundation Center), leveraging status updates to provide site visitors with the latest news and additional opportunities to interact with the foundation.

Even with only a staff of four, foundations can be open about the work they do and accountable to the public and the communities they serve.

This isn't the only way Woods Charitable has been flexing their transparency muscles this year. In October, the Fund became one of the first 50 foundations to publish a "Who Has Glasspockets?" profile, showing that even with only a staff of four, foundations can be open about the work they do and accountable to the public and the communities they serve.

Have you seen other examples of foundations leveraging social media to communicate more effectively? Let us know!

-- Daniel Matz

Preparing for the Future of Philanthropy by Learning from its Past: Foundation Archives as a Vehicle for Transparency, Accountability, and Knowledge Transfer
December 20, 2012

(Emily Keller is an editorial associate in the Corporate Philanthropy department at the Foundation Center.)

Emily KellerIn recent years there has been much written about the future of philanthropy. But what about its past and what we, as a field, can collectively learn from it? On December 11, Philanthropy New York sponsored a program exploring these themes. The program, "How Will Your Foundation's Story Be Told in 100 Years: Why Archives Matter," featured insights from archivists and foundation leaders about the significance and logistical issues of creating and maintaining archive records that are timely and accessible to internal staff and the public at large.

"Foundation archives tell us how organizations are working to provide public benefits, why they succeed or fail. [They] are where we can begin to have long-term and independent assessments of the work of the philanthropic sector."
-- James Allen Smith

Established archives promote transparency by allowing the public to see inside foundations over the long term and contribute to the historical record of social and political movements, yet only a small portion of foundations have them. The discussion topics included access policies and the importance of functional data systems - both of which are needed to ensure the transparency of foundation information.

Benefits of Foundation Archives
John Craig, executive vice president and chief operating officer of The Commonwealth Fund, identified the benefits of archives as "an aid to understanding the past to wisely shape the future," as well as public accountability, providing institutional memory to new chief executives, program officers, and other foundation staff, enabling internal and external evaluations of a foundation's work, promoting institutional development and pride, exhibiting good management that extends to other responsibilities, and refuting accusations. "The sector does come under attack periodically and if you don't have archives to let people see what you did, you're often not positioned to defend yourself," Craig said.

Foundation Archive Survey Findings
Despite those benefits, a survey conducted during the fall of 2012 for the Commonwealth Fund revealed that only about 20 percent of large foundations (those with endowments of $240 million or more) maintain archives. The findings are detailed in a study that Craig initiated as a follow-up to a 1988 survey by his late colleague Kenneth Rose at Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC). Of large foundations with archives, 11 percent provide unrestricted access to all documents, 20 percent provide open access to most records with restrictions on sensitive materials, 47 percent provide access on a case-by-case basis, and 22 percent keep their archives closed. Craig describes the survey results in the report, The Archives of U.S. Foundations: An Endangered Species, which was published Dec. 20th as part of the Fund's 2012 annual report.

Access Policies
"At The Commonwealth Fund, we believe in as open access as possible," said Craig. All program files, grants, publications, and website contents are available as soon as they are processed, and governance and administrative documents and investment committee meeting minutes are available after ten years at RAC, which is located in Sleepy Hollow, New York, and also houses the archives of the Rockefeller Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Ford Foundation, and others. Appointments to conduct archival research are required at RAC. The Fund, like most foundations, does not include rejected proposals, human resources documents, or detailed financial statements such as monthly reports in their archives, although annual financial reports are available as soon as they are published, Craig said.

Nicolette Lodico, director of information management at the Ford Foundation, said the foundation transferred its entire inventory of open archival materials - which document the history of the Foundation's work from 1936 to present - to RAC beginning in April 2012. Ford's longstanding policies for its archival collections call for the "freest possible access to and use of Foundation information, without infringing on the rights of the persons who created that information or hampering the current work of the Foundation." In transferring its collections to RAC, the foundation enjoys the highest quality organization and preservation of its collections, and is assured of open, efficient access of its archival materials to researchers from across the world. At the same time, researchers enjoy access to the foundation's collections within a larger archive that houses the collections of many other key philanthropic organizations. Foundation staff members frequently refer to archival collections to reflect on and tell stories regarding the foundation's work. For example, the archives were consulted frequently in preparing for the foundation's 75th anniversary events in 2011, as well as in preparing to mark its 50 years of grantmaking in Latin America in 2012.

Jane Gorjevsky, digital assets archivist at Columbia University, where the Carnegie Corporation of New York has kept its archives since 1990, said that archives improve the accuracy of a foundation's stories, as told by themselves and others, and increase awareness of their role and social impact. "They also save the foundation's staff significant time and effort, since staff members have easy access to historical data that can be utilized for outreach, reports, and decision-making," Gorjevsky said.

The Corporation provides access to board and executive committee files, publications, and other documents at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University, where visitors can view staff and trustee files after 15 years, legal files after 20 years, and inactive grant files after 10 years. Gorjevsky said the Corporation is considering an extension to the waiting period for digital grant files to offer additional protections to grantees in response to the growing frequency of electronic information sharing, but restrictions may be lifted for a bona fide research purpose. Those files include preliminary correspondence, suggestions and critique, grant applications, interim reports, extension requests, and external evaluations, and may contain confidential information like bank account numbers, Gorjevsky said.

"The Corporation is concerned that the electronic materials' ease of distribution (combined with their ever-growing volume that makes it impossible to inspect each individual document) might pose a problem for the grantees' intellectual property rights and their privacy," Gorjevsky said. "In the pre-Internet paradigm, a researcher could view these documents in the archive (ten years after the grant has been closed) and make photocopies, but did not have an option for making documents instantly publicly accessible for the entire world."

From Archives to Accountability
James Allen Smith, vice president and director of research and education at RAC, emphasized the significance of accessible archives in capturing the historical impact of philanthropy and promoting accountability in the sector. "As more foundation archives are opened, we can begin to tell stories not just of single foundations and their individual projects but of the ways in which foundations have worked together. We can tell the stories of foundation efforts in entire fields such as agriculture, social welfare, and public health," Smith said.

"Providing access to foundation records is an important part of a foundation's public mission. Foundation archives tell us how organizations are working to provide public benefits, why they succeed or fail. Archives, I would argue, are an even more important part of our framework of accountability than 990-PFs and annual reports. Archives are where we can begin to have long-term and independent assessments of the work of the philanthropic sector," Smith said.

Logistics of Creating and Maintaining Archive Systems
Foundation archives with open access policies go a long way toward ensuring the transparency of philanthropic data, but making those systems effective requires a detailed organization and maintenance plan. Experts advise foundations that are opening their archives to the public to focus on records with permanent historical value rather than including everything; examine the benefits of outsourcing the project versus keeping it in-house; avoid backlogs in data processing, which are often several years long; and develop a plan for holding digital data created with various hardware and software programs that may be on the verge of obsolescence.

Craig said the digital revolution poses big challenges to archivists, given uncertainties about the permanence of digital records and rapid changes in technology, but that it should ultimately improve the capacity to archive records in a timely way and facilitate access to them. Thus, he suggests, the digital revolution should spur more foundations to maintain archives.

How do you think an increase in foundation archives would benefit the sector and society at large? What data would you like to see in their collections? How should foundations design their access policies to maximize transparency while protecting grantee and foundation privacy? Please share your thoughts below.

Foundation Archive Resource List

--Emily Keller

Glasspockets Find: The Ford Foundation’s Endowment is Ready for its Close-Up
December 17, 2012

Foundations have been experimenting with digital media for a few years now for everything from video-recorded annual reports to messages from the CEO and examples of grantee partnerships. However, this new video from the Ford Foundation defining and describing its endowment might be a first. Perhaps finance and explaining foundation endowments is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about content that can be effectively shared using a visual format. But why not? Perhaps short videos are the best way to bring those pie charts and bar graphs to life, and help foundations not only be more transparent, but more engaging.

 

--Janet Camarena

What Can Philanthropy Learn from Corporate Responsibility Rankings?
December 13, 2012

(Emily Keller is an editorial associate in the Corporate Philanthropy department at the Foundation Center. A version of this post originally ran on the Foundation Center’s PhilanTopic blog.)

CSR-globeAs philanthropy looks for examples outside of its own field for how to be more transparent and accountable to its stakeholders, it might benefit from seeing how the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement has measured best practices and facilitated disclosure for companies. Corporations have long collected data generated by and/or relevant to their operations – everything from sales figures, to permit applications, to industry trends and customer behavior. Increasingly, however, regulatory and watchdog groups are demanding that companies provide information about the impact of their activities on society and the environment.

Many corporations, here in the U.S. and around the globe, are disclosing a wide range of activities to ratings groups that are tracking a multitude of topics. But from climate change to human rights to corruption, we -- and they -- still have a long ways to go.

As the CSR movement has gained traction, indices and lists that seek to quantify and rank company activities according to sustainability principles have proliferated. Financial analysts, media groups, and independent consultancies today produce annual assessments of everything from the amount of carbon companies put into the atmosphere to the sustainability of their supply chain management and the diversity of their boards. Many consider transparency and disclosure in addition to performance. Their metrics, in turn, are often used by customers, investors, and prospective job candidates to determine their level of engagement with a particular company.

Earlier this year, the Foundation Center added a CSR tab to the company profiles in Foundation Directory Online that highlights nearly two dozen of these corporate sustainability ratings lists and presents basic information from them in a user-friendly format. The consolidation of ratings provides an additional level of visibility to corporate data.

But in an emerging field characterized by a multiplicity of definitions and standards, even simple numbers can be hard to make sense of. Using hundreds of data points and a unique methodology, SustainAbility, an independent think tank and strategy consultancy, has taken it upon itself to "rate the raters" in order "to better understand the universe of external sustainability ratings and to influence and improve the quality and transparency of such ratings." As the firm is quick to note, many of these lists have been introduced within the last five years and there's plenty of room for improvement.

With that in mind, here are a few of the more prominent ratings lists/indices:

Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. The Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, which are offered cooperatively by SAM Indexes and S&P Dow Jones Indices, were launched in 1999 to track the stock performance of the world's leading companies in terms of economic, environmental and social criteria. DJSI World tracks the top 10 percent of the 2,500 largest companies in the Dow Jones Global Total Stock Market Index, while DJSI North America tracks the top 20 percent of the 600 largest U.S. and Canadian companies. The evaluation process includes a survey customized for fifty-eight industry sectors covering disclosure of compensation, governance, workforce diversity, risk and crisis management, greenhouse gas emissions, waste generation, branding strategies and metrics, data privacy, talent attraction and retention, and other areas. According to the DJ Sustainability site, "The indexes serve as benchmarks for investors who integrate sustainability considerations into their portfolios, and provide an effective engagement platform for companies who want to adopt sustainable best practices."

Carbon Disclosure Project. Every year, the London-based Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers, produces a dense, chart-filled report detailing the progress of S&P 500 companies toward their greenhouse gas emission goals. Based on a detailed questionnaire (the data collection process is so complex that CDP runs a series of workshops around the world to help companies answer it), the 2012 report offers a three-tiered breakdown of GHG emissions totals by sector; a performance band from A to E assessing actions to promote climate change mitigation, adaptation, and transparency; and a disclosure score from 0 to 100 for the provision of data. Multiyear leaders in the rankings include Bank of America and Lockheed Martin in the performance category, and Cisco Systems, Gilead Sciences, and Spectra Energy in the disclosure category.

Newsweek Green Rankings. In contrast to DJSI's rankings of only the most sustainable companies, Newsweek ranks the five hundred largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. as well as the five hundred largest in the world, regardless of their sustainability record. And unlike the Carbon Disclosure Project's rankings, only 10 percent of the scores are based on disclosure, with the remainder split between environmental impact and management (a category that takes public controversies into account). The magazine (which recently was purchased by The Daily Beast site and is transitioning to an online-only format) includes more than seven hundred data elements in its survey of companies, including greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste disposal, water use, equity investment (companies are responsible for the impact of the companies they own), hazardous waste reduction, biodiversity protection, company operations, contractors and suppliers, and products and services. Based on a scale of 0 to 100, IBM (82.9) and Santander Brasil (85.7) topped the 2012 rankings.

The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity. Consulting firm and magazine publisher DiversityInc, which launched its diversity rankings in 2001, bases its ratings on the responses it receives to a 300-question survey. As the organization explains in the methodology section of its site: "Ratios between key factors in diversity management, such as demographics of managers compared with managers who received promotions and demographics of the workforce compared with people promoted into their first management positions, play a significant factor in determining point scores." Companies are rated by industry, and the rankings include thirteen different top-five and top-ten lists. Topping the list in 2012 were PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sodexo, Kaiser Permanente, AT&T, and Procter & Gamble.

Corporate Responsibility Magazine's 100 Best Corporate Citizens. Corporate Responsibility Magazine and the Corporate Responsibility Officer Association (CROA) began publishing their list, which is 100 percent based on verifiable publicly available information, in 2009. The rankings are driven by companies' performance in seven broad CSR categories -- environment, climate change, human rights, employee relations, corporate governance, philanthropy, and finance -- with some three hundred and eighteen data points tracked across those categories. Carbon Disclosure Project and Foundation Center data are incorporated into the assessments.

And that's just a sampling. Indeed, the diversity and number of CSR ratings lists now available can be overwhelming at times -- for consumers and investors, as well as for companies, which receive a plethora of detailed surveys and questionnaires from dozens of groups seeking to track their activities and do not always understand the reasons they are selected or omitted from a given list.

In an effort to standardize the ratings process, Ceres and the Tellus Institute, founders of the Global Reporting Institute (GRI), recently launched the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (GISR), which aims to establish best practices in the sustainability ratings field, with a focus on transparency of methodology, performance-based results, forward-looking indicators, relevance to market forces, integration of sustainability criteria into investment decisions, independence of raters, and an expansion in the scope of participating companies. The initiative hopes to release the initial draft of its standards in 2013.

In the meantime, the number and scope of CSR ratings lists continue to grow. Last year, the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, in partnership with the Reputation Institute, released its fourth annual list of the top fifty companies in the U.S. based on the public's perception of their corporate citizenship, governance, and workplace practices. And earlier this year, Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Vestas released their third annual Global Corporate Renewable Energy Index (CREX) report, which tracks voluntary demand for renewable energy among the world's largest companies.

Other entrants in the field include the UN Global Compact, which asks companies around the globe to embrace universal principles and partner with the United Nations in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption issues, and A Billion + Change, which seeks to mobilize billions of dollars of pro bono work and skill-based volunteerism by the end of 2013.

Is any of this work making a difference? I believe it is and, having compared some of the largest lists against our corporate FDO profiles, can see that many corporations, here in the U.S. and around the globe, are disclosing a wide range of activities to ratings groups that are tracking a multitude of topics. But from climate change to human rights to corruption, we -- and they -- still have a long ways to go.

What do you think? Is CSR a movement whose time has arrived? What can philanthropy learn from the CSR field? Are CSR ratings a useful tool for consumers, investors, and transparency advocates? And if not, how can they be improved? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

--Emily Keller

Glasspockets Find: Irvine Infographic Shares Insights of Arts Innovation Fund
December 12, 2012

Irvine infographic - home_feature_aifThe James Irvine Foundation has just released the findings from its Arts Innovation Fund (AIF) initiative via a very user-friendly, concise, interactive infographic.  Launched in 2006, Irvine invested more than $24 million to support 28 innovative projects led by 19 of California’s foremost arts organizations.  AIF nurtured experimentation to explore the gap between traditional arts programming and the changing expectations of audiences—and to better adapt to this new environment.

And speaking of the changing expectations of audiences, and adapting to a new environment, this new infographic demonstrates that the Irvine Foundation is walking its own talk in this “easy-on-the-eye” approach to knowledge sharing.  The interactive infographic serves as a terrific model for how foundations can think about incorporating more graphics and less text to increase accessibility and usability of important matters like lessons learned, challenges faced by grantees, and summaries of specific grants.  You can examine the interactive overview, read commentary by Irvine Arts Program Director Josephine Ramirez, and access or download the full report.  Each of these media also provides links to video insights and case studies detailing each of the AIF-funded projects.

Is a grantmaker you know using graphics and interactive online tools to creatively and compellingly share its knowledge?  Let us know.

-- Mark Foley

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

    If you are interested in being a
    guest contributor, contact:
    glasspockets@foundationcenter.org

Subscribe to Transparency Talk