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June 2013 (6 posts)

Part 2: Top 10 Lessons Learned on the Path to Community Change
June 25, 2013

(Robert K. Ross, M.D. is President and CEO of The California Endowment. Yesterday he shared three aha moments from the Endowment’s first two years of work in its Building Healthy Communities plan.)

Ross-100Okay, at times I step back and look at the BHC initiative and wonder—could we have made it more complicated? 14 sites. Multiple grantees in each site. A core set of multiple health issues. Multiple state-level grantees. And the expectation that the parts will add up to something greater and catalyze a convergence that builds more power and leads to greater impact.

But then again, supporting an agenda for social and community change does require multiple strategies, operating in alignment: the use of data, message framing and story-telling; innovative models; a variety of influential messengers; convening and facilitating champions; “grassroots and treetops” and coordination; meaningful community engagement. Power-building requires multiple, aligned investments.

Our Top Ten Lessons for Philanthropy

Finally, I want to share some lessons with partners in philanthropy regarding planning and implementing a community-change initiative. As we engaged in the planning process of BHC, we tried in earnest to stick by a key aphorism, one I learned from colleague and mentor Ralph Smith at the Annie E. Casey Foundation: make new mistakes.

The track record of community change work by philanthropy is not a work of art. Tapping into the wisdom of institutions such as the Aspen Institute, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Skillman Foundation, the Marguerite Casey Foundation, and the Northwest Area Foundation, we incorporated the lessons of success and struggle from our colleagues in the field. Learning from these and other colleagues, we were able to avoid hitting major rocks as our BHC ship sailed out of harbor. So, we learned the following:

Community engagement in planning processes will be simultaneously exhilarating and messy.

1. Take time to plan, and plan to take the time. We embarked on a 9 month community engagement process in the 14 BHC sites, and we ended up taking 12-15 months. Nobody died, and nobody got fired. Community engagement in planning processes will be simultaneously exhilarating and messy. If it is going too smoothly and too well, then something may be terribly wrong – like the possibility that a foundation is not receiving candid, meaningful input from local leaders. If it is bumpy and messy and getting to consensus, and clarity is taking much longer than originally planned, it may very well mean that you are gaining the trust of leaders to raise thorny, difficult issues. As a general rule, we just took the time that was needed for local leaders to develop their local BHC plans, and we did not pit BHC sites against one another to race by the foundation’s clock. Community leaders want a compass more than they want a clock.

2. Don’t lead with the money. The issue of whether to announce “how much” the dollar commitment is in a foundation initiative is a tricky path. On the one hand, a major dollar-commitment announcement by a foundation can provide excitement, anticipation, and mobilize civic and community support. On the other hand, “leading with the money” can instigate all manner of posturing, control issues, manipulation, and political grantsmanship among potential grantees. We decided to quietly announce the breadth and scope of our commitment -- $1 Billion over a ten-year period in local and statewide policy funding – but veered away from formally announcing precise budget commitments in each site. In other words, we wanted to send a message that our commitment was serious without leading the conversations with grant dollar puppetry.

3. Date logic models, but get married to learning. There is no doubt that engaging in the disciplined exercise of how you think – and how community leaders believe – positive change and results will happen is a sound practice. But it is also important to recognize that community change and positive results in the context of complex social and political systems often defy tidy, linear models. If you want to get married, it is wiser to commit to the process of active, dynamic, real-time learning. We provided logic model training for leaders in the 14 BHC sites, with varying levels of effectiveness across the sites; we have been clear, however that learning is not optional, either for grantees or our own program staff.  

4. Be transparent about desired results. There are written and unwritten axioms about the need for philanthropy to be completely community driven in community-change work. Our experience is that this thinking is a truism without being entirely true. For starters, our foundation is legally chartered as a health foundation, and although we employ a broad definition of the word “health”, there are limitations and constraints about what we can and cannot fund. This issue led to some considerable tensions within the foundation (at the board and staff level), as well as with grantees and stakeholders, about prioritized community needs that were outside the scope of our health mission. The most obvious and recurrent tension-generating themes, in the context of a pervasive economic recession, were issues of economic development, job creation, and mortgage foreclosure across the sites. The battles over if and how we should enter “the space” of economic development as a health foundation were intense and emotional. We ultimately landed on a framework (utilizing mission-investing in our investment portfolio) for how to move forward without “mission drift”, and have been communicating our approach to our own program staff and stakeholders, but it has not been easy. But the worst of all worlds would have been to promise community leaders a course of action that we would either abandon or renege upon later on. We decided to stick to our mission and results (the right move, however discomforting for foundation-community relations).  

5. Be dogmatic about the results, but flexible about the strategies. The work of community change is noble, but funders cannot afford to fall in love with the process of the work at the expense of meaningful results and impact. Once community leaders and funders agree on a set of outcomes, objectives, or results, these must represent the “true north” on the compass. In the BHC planning and early implementation, we gave community leaders and organizations in the BHC planning process a blank slate on strategies, but insisted on being results driven and logic-model supported. The good news is that across our 14 BHC sites, there is community and resident ownership about the priorities and the strategies to achieve healthier community environments for young people. While these strategies vary, we are seeing growing convergence as the sites engage and learn from one another.

6. Listening is a form of leadership. Irish poet David Whyte underscores the importance of “leadership through conversation.” We have been quite intentional about active listening at all stages of the planning and implementation, and being mindful of closing the feedback loop with community leaders and grantees. We utilized a fairly simple “what we said, what they said, what we heard, what we’ll do” format. At the conclusion of the one-year planning process, our past Board Chair (Tessie Guillermo) and I co-authored and co-videotaped messages to the 14 sites summarizing the key themes and priorities we heard from community leaders in the sites, and what to expect in support from our foundation in the months ahead. We have now begun to bring site leaders together twice annually with foundation staff, so that leaders and staff can share stories of progress, struggles, and inspiration. All of this in service of the all-too critical “t-word”: trust. Trust is the mother’s milk of community change efforts by philanthropy, and active, engaged listening is the foundation.

7. Make “patient” grants, and “urgent” grants. Investors engaged in place-based, community change efforts encounter several tensions to manage. Among them is the tension of patience versus urgency. As efforts such as the Harlem Children’s Zone, Market Creek Plaza in Southeast San Diego, the Skillman Foundation’s work in Detroit, and the Dudley Street Initiative in Boston have demonstrated, positive community change takes time. A two- or three-year grant just won’t do it, and most successful efforts require 7, 10, or 12 years of “patient money.” The most thoughtful investments on this front involve leadership development, organizational capacity building, and collaborative efficacy; but “impact” yield from these investments will typically take years to bear fruit. “Urgent” money involves investing in short-term campaigns or capital projects where tangible results are realized within 12-18 months. Community change, place-based philanthropy will require both types of investments, and too heavy a bias or tilt towards “patient” investments will leave the investor and the partnership vulnerable to allegations that some money has been spent, some meetings have occurred, but nothing “tangible” has been produced. As a result, confidence in the effort will dissipate. Our BHC effort in the early going has been appreciative of the need to simultaneously make “patient” and “urgent” (which we also call “early wins”) grants.

8. Story-telling is part of the doing. The two-most under-appreciated and under-invested themes in social-change philanthropy are power-building and story-telling. Having been at the helm of a large-asset foundation for more than a decade, I am guilty-as-charged on this front; in retrospect, I would gladly trade in half of the (often expensive) academic and research-oriented reports we have commissioned in my twelve years as CEO for more compelling, interesting, and impactful “stories” of community-level change that illuminate the path towards a healthy, more vibrant community. Story-telling by community leaders, youth, or community-based organizations can be powerful tools on multiple fronts: local residents and youth experience the power and passion of their own voice; local media are inspired to re-tell the story in a way that scales up the audience; policymakers pay greater heed and attention to the issue being raised; civic engagement and participation is served; cynicism, disengagement, and disempowerment are reduced. Utilizing multiple forms of story-telling, from social media to flip-cam videos to traditional approaches, we have been assertive in support of community leaders and youth on this front, and it has been inspiring to witness.

Why build, preserve, and protect our respective brands and reputations if we are not going to spend it? Spend that damn brand.

9. Spend the damn brand. Institutional philanthropy is risk-averse. We tend to worry and fret about how our institutional brand, reputation, and civic standing might be sullied by associating with potentially controversial efforts or organizations, and as a general rule, we keep our heads and our profile low. But we have discovered, in the early years of the BHC effort, that thoughtful, surgical application of our civic standing and reputation matters to community leaders – and that they want us to spend “it” on their behalf. Sometimes it comes in the form of convening a meeting, writing and placing an op-ed, placing a phone call to a civic leader, or taking out a full-page ad on an issue in the local newspaper. We have done this with regards to healthy food options for youth and families, health insurance coverage for the uninsured, gang prevention and intervention strategies, and school health efforts. There is a school of thought among philanthropy that our job as funders is “to make the grant and get out of the way.” We would argue that our job is to achieve our respective missions, and by any means necessary. On occasion, this requires stepping out of character on behalf of grantees, and utilizing our voice as well. Why build, preserve, and protect our respective brands and reputations if we are not going to spend it? Spend that damn brand.

10. A Highly Engaged Board. In the earliest planning stages of BHC with our Board of Directors, the Board made it clear that they understood the value and importance of a ten-year commitment, but they also made three points clear. The first was the importance of honesty, candor, and trust about the progress of the effort. The second was a complete commitment to an evaluation approach framed by “learning through impact.” And thirdly, they wanted to be engaged for the purposes of learning, and governance, but not micromanagement. We accomplished the latter by organizing our quarterly Board meetings in or near a BHC community site at least three times a year, and each Board member accepted an assignment of one community site for more in-depth and richer learning. Board members share their observations over dinner at our Board meetings.

In closing, we have found the work of community change to be an exhilarating journey in pursuit of our health mission. We have gained an appreciation of the importance of the “right brain-left brain balance” in this work: having a Theory of Change, and Logic Models, and metrics are important, but trust-building, power-building, and the spiritual dimension of the work constitutes the real glue to hold partners and relationships together over the long haul. And finally, a special note of thanks and appreciation to those foundations who have traversed this path before us, sharing tidbits of lessons and wisdom so that we can “make new mistakes” in the battle for community improvement and health justice.

--Robert K. Ross, M.D.

Part 1: Aha Moments on the Road to Building Healthy Communities
June 24, 2013

(Robert K. Ross, M.D. is President and CEO of The California Endowment.)

Ross-100We are now two-plus years into the implementation of The California Endowment’s 10-Year Building Healthy Communities plan, and I can safely say that it has been the two most exciting years of my career in community and public health. It has already been quite a ride.

This is the first of periodic reports we will produce to share our progress, observations, mistakes, and lessons along the way as we support the efforts of community leaders to create healthier environments for young people in distressed and underserved communities.

Building Healthy Communities – we call it BHC for short – is a commitment of our Board of Directors to a two-pronged strategy. We have “dropped anchor” in fourteen distressed California communities for a 10-year period to work in partnership with community leaders to improve the health and life chances of young people. In addition, we are supporting change at the regional and state levels through funding advocacy, organizational capacity building, and communications on our key health issues.

Watch the video »

It is our intent to have these place-based and "bigger than place" strategies complement one another, and for the moving parts to develop a powerful synergy. At the local level, the BHC communities are engaging multiple sectors to develop innovative efforts to advance health. As these innovative strategies emerge, we’re looking for ways to scale the ideas up through policy change and communications at the state and regional levels. Through acting on multiple levels with complementary strategies, we expect to make a greater contribution than if we were to work only at the place level or only through supporting statewide advocacy. This is central to our theory of change. In a sense, it is fair to consider BHC as a “place-based plus” community change campaign.

In the spirit of the knowledge sharing that is one of the central aspects of Glasspockets and Transparency Talk, I will lift up three “aha” moments we’ve had so far, followed tomorrow by a second post listing key lessons for philanthropy.

Aha #1: The message matters
As we all know, when one talks about the “social determinants” -- the roles that poverty, education, and housing play in health status -- outside the public health world, eyes glaze over. We experienced this communication gap early as local communities strived to decipher our jargon-laden list of 10 targeted outcomes and 4 Big Results. Our communications team, inspired by the engagement of community leaders and residents in the planning process, took this obstacle head-on, and have created what I believe is one of the first successful decodings of the social determinants research: Health Happens Here.

Health-happens-here-250Health doesn’t just happen in a doctor’s office; health happens where we live, work, learn and play.

If you put the phrase Health Happens Here on a photo of a healthy school lunch, or a bike path, or a father and daughter hugging each other, we immediately communicate the norms change we are promoting. We took this message a step further by incorporating it into our internal structures. In looking at our grant-making, we found that 80% of our grants were focused around three areas: neighborhoods, schools and prevention. This led us to create three themes – Health Happens in Neighborhoods, Health Happens in Schools and Health Happens with Prevention – that have become the essential building blocks for our work. In fact, we call them campaigns, another use of language that communicates our intent as a foundation to use our brand to push for policy and systems change. And we are investing in aggressive media strategies to promote this message—through television, radio, print and social networking and through partnerships with influential messengers including First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Oz, and Jamie Oliver. A simple, compelling message carried by influential messengers, can shape a new narrative of change.

Aha #2: Trust young people to lead
Early in our BHC process, we chose to bring young people into leadership roles in BHC. Little did I know that this decision would not only impact community efforts but would impact how we view our work. Young people and adults view health issues differently, and it makes perfect sense to engage young people directly in developing strategies to improve their health. It makes sense but in the past, we didn’t. We operated like most adult organizations and didn’t engage young people in our thinking.

We’ve seen first hand that young people can be powerful leaders for social change. When they tell their stories through the arts, spoken word, social networking and journalism, they compel action. They are not only about our future; they are leaders of today.

Now that we have taken this step, we’re learning a lot. Young people brought to our attention the scandalous epidemic of suspensions and expulsions in our schools, and helped us understand how this issue connects to their health. Young men of color led us to a greater understanding of the role of trauma in the lives of youth growing up in homes and neighborhoods plagued with violence and gangs, and lifted up the need for social/emotional health and healing. And we’ve seen first hand that young people can be powerful leaders for social change. When they tell their stories through the arts, spoken word, social networking and journalism, they compel action. They are not only about our future; they are leaders of today. We’re evolving into an organization informed by adult and youth perspectives.

In addition to the numerous youth organizing and development efforts in the sites, I’ve created a “President’s Youth Council,” consisting of 14 youth leaders across the state, who meet with me at least twice annually in my role as President & CEO. In this way, I have the privilege of  hearing directly from youth leaders themselves about the progress and struggles of BHC, and how our foundation can be more responsive to and supportive of young people’s distressed neighborhoods. I believe this represents a fundamental culture change that will influence our work in the years to come.

As of this writing, BHC youth leaders, working in coalitions with the organizations that support them, have begun to rack up a series of policy victories that will put a check on the epidemic numbers of school suspensions, calling for alternative, common-sense discipline practices (like restorative justice approaches) that keep kids in school. This was an issue, by the way, that was nowhere on our radar screen in the early planning of BHC. It emerged from the youth voices in the BHC sites.

Aha #3: Build power, not just knowledge and innovation  
Frederick Douglass said that power concedes nothing without demand. The world doesn’t change because of the release of new data. It responds or concedes when people demand change.

Institutional philanthropy tends to worship at one of two altars: new knowledge, and innovation. Both are overrated, over-hyped, and over-subscribed to in our field.

Institutional philanthropy tends to worship at one of two altars: new knowledge, and innovation. Both are overrated, over-hyped, and over-subscribed to in our field. It can be argued that the primary value of philanthropy to civic society is the issue of problem-solving at scale. In a wonderfully linear, logical, and intellectually-driven world, good data, research, and new knowledge would be king. But that is not the world we live in. Recently, I noted that the state legislature in North Carolina effectively banned the use of scientific projections on global warming-induced tidal changes because they stand to impede the path of business development. More recently, the NRA-led prohibition against gun violence research by the CDC was recently challenged by President Obama after Newtown. I wish these represented isolated events, but history has shown that good science is frequently set aside by political and economic forces to the detriment of civic society.

The best public health example of this issue is the 80-year-plus war against big tobacco. The medical and public health communities have had the science about the detrimental effects of tobacco use since the 1920’s; but big tobacco had the power. We lost the battle decade after decade, and it was not until we discovered the merits of political and grassroots advocacy which, in combination with the science, led to a strategy where we began to rack up some victories.

On a related front, philanthropy seems hopelessly in love with “innovation” as well.  In the corporate, for-profit world, innovation quickly scales through profit – the I-phone being a classic example. In the social sectors, innovation rarely paves the way towards scale on its own merits. Too many politically powerful forces are in play. Power, voice, and advocacy matter, and matter greatly. Data and innovation, without the recognition of political power and advocacy, is in vain. The school suspensions battle was a perfect illustration of this point, as youth leaders and youth advocacy organizations utilized suspension data that demonstrated a disproportionate impact on African-American and Latino young men as a result of the practices.

In Building Healthy Communities we’ve decided to be clear; we want to help community leaders and residents build the power they need to promote healthier places for young people. We want to support people and organizations that think power, act with power and demand change. Power concedes nothing without demand, and as Douglass added, it never has and it never will.

Tomorrow, in part 2 of this series, Dr. Robert Ross discusses 10 lessons learned on the path to community engagement.

--Robert K. Ross, M.D.

Ants in the Kitchen: The Role of Data in Human Rights Funding
June 19, 2013

(Caitlin Stanton is the Director of Learning & Partnerships at Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights. Previously, she was the Senior Program Officer for Learning & Evaluation at the Global Fund for Women.)

Stanton-100A professor at Vanderbilt University, Brooke Ackerly, once told me, “Numbers matter. If someone tells you there are ants in your kitchen, you will want to know whether there are two ants in your kitchen or whether there are TWO MILLION ANTS IN YOUR KITCHEN.” And if there are anywhere near two million ants in your kitchen, then your neighbors will also want to know about it. Transparently sharing quantitative data helps us understand the scope of a problem, decide how to gauge the scale of our response, and allows others to learn from our efforts.

Transparently sharing quantitative data helps us understand the scope of a problem, decide how to gauge the scale of our response, and allows others to learn from our efforts.

In Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking, the Foundation Center and the International Human Rights Funder’s Group collect, analyze, and publicly share quantitative data that tell us about the scale of our response to human rights violations. The report finds that foundation grantmaking to address these issues occurs on a global scale and is a widespread practice, with 703 foundations giving a total of $1.2 billion in grants for human rights causes in 2010.

For many of us in the field of human rights grantmaking, and particularly within foundations that work to advance the rights of women and girls, the startlingly low amount of funding going to address the issue of freedom from violence stands out as an important finding from the report.

Funding to secure freedom from violence accounts for just 4 percent of the total grantmaking by human rights funders included in the study. Even within that issue, the largest chunk of grant money goes to addressing freedom from torture, a significant issue to be sure, but one that impacts a relatively small number of individuals compared to the one billion women and girls who face violence based on their gender. In fact, the report finds that in 2010, just $5.3 million was directed to the issue of domestic violence and another $8.6 million to the issue of gender or identity-based violence. Combined, these would account for only about 1 percent of all of the $1.2 billion in grants included in the study.

This data helps us identify issues, like that of gender-based violence, where the scope of the problem may not align with the scale of the response. In terms of the scope of the problem, we know that approximately one out of every three women and girls around the world have their right to freedom from violence violated because of their gender – they experience assault, rape, abuse, and even murder. We know that beyond being a human rights violation, this violence costs societies billions ($5.8 billion annually in the US alone, according to the CDC) in lost worker productivity, public health implications, and costs associated with legal and social services.

Any way you look at it, violence against women is a major roadblock to economic and social progress and a human rights violation. When we compare the scope of the problem to the scale of the response, this data is telling us that we are responding to a two million ant problem with a two ant solution.

However, where grantmaking on freedom from violence is happening, there are innovative efforts to integrate grantmaking, field-building and advocacy strategies for greater impact. Recently, three examples stood out to me:

In the city of Chicago, one-third of all crimes reported are domestic violence related. The Chicago Foundation for Women’s Freedom from Violence initiative includes grantmaking, policy advocacy and capacity building strategies. An Advocacy Academy and Executive Directors Roundtable also support local nonprofits working for the right to live free from violence.

Global Fund for Women has funded organizations that helped to achieve stronger legislation on violence against women and girls in 25 countries, including the Philippines, Bulgaria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mongolia, and Georgia among others. Last fall it looked for ways to raise its own voice on this issue, and worked with a coalition of 17 other women’s funds to bring a petition to the Council of Europe in support of the ratification of the Istanbul Convention - a framework to prevent, stop, and sanction the crime of violence against women.

The Open Society Foundations have directed grantmaking toward freedom from violence but also used their website as a platform to share grantee’s stories and to raise awareness of campaigns on this issue. Most recently, the OSF Moving Walls exhibit has included the stories of domestic violence survivors from South Africa

Data can tell us a lot; revealing challenges and the action we’ve taken -- or failed to take -- to solve those problems. Stories from funders that work to secure freedom from violence adds another layer. A sense of what might be possible. Hopefully, these examples are just a beginning. A beginning of a wave of grantmakers, ready not only to fund but to raise our own voices on this issue.

--Caitlin Stanton

Sean Parker and the Perils of Stealth Philanthropy
June 17, 2013

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

Camarena_100I love weddings and I love philanthropy, so I have been following the fallout from Sean Parker’s wedding with growing interest over the last couple of weeks of unrelenting news coverage surrounding the big event. Mr. Parker is the co-founder of Napster and was also Facebook’s first president. To believe the tabloids, the nuptials involved an elaborate staging akin to those of sets for Lord of the Rings crossed with Game of Thrones all under the canopy of old growth redwoods in Northern California.

Unfortunately many new donors fear that philanthropic transparency will lead to being inundated with requests, and instead opt for treating philanthropy like a “stealth mode” operation.

Couple those images with the fact that he apparently did not secure the proper permits, and in the end made a “voluntary payment” to make the whole brouhaha go away (the California Coastal Commission can technically not levy fines), and you have the makings of story that any news cycle will love about billionaires being able to make up the rules as they go along. And that is where philanthropy enters the picture, as when Mr. Parker has tried to catch up to the story and correct the record, he refers to his foundation and its work supporting conservation efforts as a means to demonstrate his commitment to the environment. And given this history of philanthropic support for conservation, he also explains that his goal for the wedding was actually one in which the event would leave the forest in better shape than when he found it, with ample funds included for restoration. 

As a philanthropy observer, that was the sound bite that really grabbed my attention! Sean Parker has a foundation?  Who knew? I was aware of Mr. Parker’s excellent work on the crowdfunding platform Causes, and in fact, we have featured its good work on several occasions here at the Foundation Center, since it is a platform that has helped many nonprofits mobilize their networks to raise millions of dollars for charity. Given his efforts to build Causes soon after making it big with Facebook, it is clear he has made philanthropy, and the technology that can serve as its catalyst, a professional priority. 

What surprised me was the foundation part, as I had not previously heard of its work. So, I looked up the Sean Parker Foundation in our Foundation Directory Online database, which contains profiles of more than 100,000 grantmaking foundations, and I could not initially find any foundation there listing Mr. Parker as its donor, officer, or trustee. So, next I reached out to our data department to see if they had record of it and learned that it is indeed, a new foundation in the process of being added to our database. This means that the only source of public information on the foundation would be its 990-PF tax form, so I reviewed that to get a better idea of Mr. Parker’s philanthropic activities.

Unfortunately, given the nature of the turnaround with tax forms, the most current publicly available form only provides insights into the Sean Parker Foundation’s giving in 2011. At that time, this new foundation had approximately $1.8 million in total assets and had disbursed three grants totaling $225,000 and the funding was given to the Beckley Foundation to support a global initiative for drug policy reform, to Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for cancer research, and to the Bridge School to support education for developmentally disabled children. All worthy causes, but nothing to indicate his interest in conservation. 

Next I tried his Wikipedia entry, and found some good indication of his philanthropic interests there, and more details about Causes, but nothing more specific about the work of his foundation in the last year. I was able to find one recent gift attributed to Sean Parker through a Google search, which yielded a general donor list for Stand Up to Cancer, indicating either that his foundation’s work on cancer has continued, or that he has multiple giving vehicles through a donor-advised fund or supporting organization, which may serve to administer additional giving on his behalf through a community foundation or banking institution. 

This structure does not reduce the value of his grantmaking, but the lack of transparency for those vehicles make his good work invisible, which puts him at a distinct disadvantage now that he is on the defensive. As a tech pioneer, Mr. Parker could have simply used the online tools at his disposal and voluntarily disclosed his fund or foundation’s grantmaking details and strategies on his own web site, or provided greater detail about it on his Wikipedia profile.

Had he established a web site for his foundation with a list of recently awarded grants, his current giving would now be a matter of public record for all to see, including prying journalists and an unforgiving public. 

Although I cannot speculate as to why Mr. Parker hasn’t chosen to be more open about his foundation, the more private approach is not uncommon in philanthropy. Unfortunately many new donors fear that philanthropic transparency will lead to being inundated with requests, and instead opt for treating philanthropy like a “stealth mode” operation. However, the philanthropic record and reputation private foundations can build ultimately serve the philanthropist, particularly in occasions such as this. For if you don’t tell your own story, others will tell it for you. And more importantly, if no one knows you have a foundation, doesn’t that limit its capacity to do good?

Furthermore, in our work at Glasspockets.org, a web site committed to encouraging greater philanthropic transparency, we have found that online foundation transparency has the power to build public trust and credibility, improve relationships with grantees, facilitate greater collaboration, reduce duplication of effort, and cultivate a community of shared learning. 

The forest Mr. Parker and his bride selected as the setting for their nuptials is called the Ventana Wilderness. In Spanish Ventana means window, which seems fitting since thanks to news and digital media, we now all feel like we got to peek through the reception’s window. Too bad we didn’t have more of a view of his philanthropy leading up to this event, which may have made his efforts at damage control an easier task.

--Janet Camarena

Glasspockets Find: A View of Transparency from the 2013 European Foundation Centre Conference
June 11, 2013

In accepting the Compass Prize at the recent closing plenary session of the European Foundation Centre’s 2013 Annual General Assembly and Conference in Copenhagen, Dr. Rien van Gendt broached the topic of transparency. In his remarks, van Gendt observed that foundations need to stop thinking of transparency as something that is being forced upon them and rather accept it as beneficial. In the meantime, however, he urged foundations not to become so fixated on compliance that their performance suffers: "If we focus on what we do instead of on who we are, we can take the sting out of the one-dimensional public discussion about transparency and compliance."

View the 4-minute video of his transparency remarks.

-- Mark Foley

Glasspockets Find: 2012 Joyce Foundation Annual Report
June 3, 2013

"Replicating success—using the wheels we have instead of inventing new ones—...requires the constant flow of information through multiple channels."

So says Ellen Alberding, president and board member of the Joyce Foundation, in her letter inviting us to read more about the foundation’s work in its new 2012 Annual Report. The statement nicely underscores the importance of knowledge sharing in a field built on experimenting with new approaches and solutions.

In our work on Glasspockets we are always looking for real life examples from the field of how greater transparency and accountability serve to benefit foundations, and by extension, the greater good. Ms. Alberding lists four ways that informed research serves the foundation: it keeps the foundation connected to the big picture; it provides necessary feedback and direction; it raises questions that suggest new approaches to its work; and it challenges its preconceived notions.

Joyce Foundation 2012 Annual Report

The Joyce Foundation’s annual report opens with an easy-to-like "We Hear You" infographic that others might want to adapt. No need to keep reinventing the wheel! The issues of interest to the Joyce Foundation affect us all and are far too big for any one organization to address. This report reminds us of this obvious truth that is sometimes hiding in plain sight.

-- Mark Foley

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About Transparency Talk

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

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