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October 2014 (7 posts)

Trends in Ebola Relief Funding
October 30, 2014

(Andrew Grabois is the manager of corporate philanthropy at the Foundation Center. This piece was originally featured on the GrantCraft blog.)

An analysis of figures compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA) Financial Tracking Service shows that the global response to OCHA’s billion dollar appeal for the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been an outlier. For example, looking at just  funding (not including uncommitted pledges) from  private individuals and organizations, we see that the current appeal for assistance in West Africa has yielded a fraction of what was raised for the Haitian and Japanese earthquakes and the typhoon that devastated the Philippines:

Doctors without BordersPartners in HealthInternational Medical Corps, and Direct Relief International all told the New York Times that fundraising has yielded nowhere near what they've received from previous appeals or what is needed to adequately respond to the current crisis.

While it is true that the totals for other humanitarian appeals reflect campaigns that have lasted for years, with some still ongoing, it is hard to imagine that the Ebola appeal will make up the difference or meet its funding requirements – at least not from private individuals and organizations. Doctors without BordersPartners in HealthInternational Medical Corps, and Direct Relief International all told the New York Times that fundraising has yielded nowhere near what they've received from previous appeals or what is needed to adequately respond to the current crisis. The American Red Cross, who raised almost $500 million for Haiti and more than $85 million for the Philippines, has so far received less than $3 million for Ebola - $2.8 million of which came from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

In addition to the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Commission (the executive body of the European Union) who continue to be major contributors to UN appeals for humanitarian assistance, the Ebola crisis has inspired normally staid financial institutions like the African Development Bank and the World Bank to become activist donors.  Mandated with providing low interest loans to developing countries for capital programs that promote foreign investment and international trade, the World Bank in particular has charged headlong into the Ebola crisis. Led by World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a trained medical doctor and anthropologist and former president of Dartmouth College, the Bank has pledged $218 million in grants (not loans) to combat the disease, with its first installment of $105 million reaching the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea in just nine days. The World Bank's contribution is more than 12% of total contributions, second only to that of the U.S., who together account for 49% of all confirmed contributions and commitments:

Foundation Center tracks the response of charitable organizations and companies to humanitarian crises and it has compiled its own detailed figures for that universe of donors. Because Foundation Center does not distinguish between a pledge and a confirmed contribution, and works with a donor universe that does not include national governments, nongovernmental organizations, and private individuals, their figures will be different than those compiled by the United Nations. That being said, Foundation Center has identified 117 grants and gifts from foundations, charities, and companies worth more than $173 million. This is more than the total contribution from these donors to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, but significantly less than donations for the Haitian and Japanese earthquake relief efforts. What is interesting and unusual about the response to Ebola as captured by Foundation Center is the disposition of the donors, with corporate contributions making up 79% of the grants but only 21% of the total dollar value of contributions. In this appeal, family foundations (i.e. Bill Gates and Paul Allen) accounted for the lion’s share of contributions:

Not only have the donors changed, but so have the recipients. Foundation Center has found that the Ebola relief landscape is populated with an entirely new array of channels for funneling institutional contributions. At the forefront and on the front lines now are organizations unfamiliar to many if not most Americans, like Doctors Without Borders, Partners In Health, and Direct Relief International – the very same ones that were profiled in the New York Times because they were having so much trouble soliciting contributions from individuals. According to Foundation Center these relief organizations – and a few others like Samaritans Purse and International Medical Corps- account for 78% of all grants with a specified recipient:

Why has the Ebola appeal had so much trouble gaining traction with individuals in the U.S. and elsewhere?

Why has the Ebola appeal had so much trouble gaining traction with individuals in the U.S. and elsewhere? Pundits point to the hopelessness of a frighteningly high mortality rate, the absence of emotionally potent and encapsulating images, and a general unfamiliarity with West Africa. Perhaps, but just as likely, this reticence reflects an assessment  by ordinary citizens that the scope and possible consequences of the Ebola epidemic are just too overwhelming  for non-state solutions – especially when those solutions involve building a health care infrastructure on the fly in three countries, populated by 20,000 doctors and other medical professionals that have to be recruited, trained, transported and, if necessary,  evacuated, something only national governments and  international organizations acting in concert have the resources to do.

Foundation Center has made all information on Ebola-related grants from charitable organizations and companies available in an RSS feed, including details on grants, grantmakers, and recipients. Working together with its partners – the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center, the Council on Foundations, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) – Foundation Center will continue to track the global response to the Ebola crisis and report its findings. 

-- Andrew Grabois

Increase Transparency by Broadening Your Perspective
October 29, 2014

(Kris Putnam-Walkerly is chair of the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers and president of Putnam Consulting Group.)

Kris-NNCGWhen funders want to know about a particular issue or have questions about process, they often look first to peers and industry associations for answers. That makes perfect sense—the people who do the same job you do are likely to understand where you’re coming from and have experienced something similar.

But if funders stop there, they could be selling themselves short. There are also many people who have expertise on the very issue, process, challenge or innovation that a grantmaker is pondering, but are not employed by a foundation or an industry association.

“Knowledgeable outsiders” can have a great deal of valuable thought to add to the field of philanthropy... They can help funders be more transparent about the work they do in ways that resonate more deeply with the “outside” world.

These “knowledgeable outsiders” can have a great deal of valuable thought to add to the field of philanthropy. They offer perspectives that can help uncover new ideas and cautions that grantmakers may never see from inside their own walls. They can bring new levels of creativity, connectivity and effectiveness to a funder’s work. And perhaps most importantly, they can help funders be more transparent about the work they do in ways that resonate more deeply with the “outside” world.

So, how can you step outside your foundation box and into a different box altogether? How can you tap into the collective knowledge of those knowledgeable outsiders? The National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers (NNCG) has made it relatively easy, with the launch of its new online Knowledge Center

NNCG_logoNNCG is dedicated to elevating, expanding and improving the field of philanthropy. It is the only organization that brings together high-quality consultants to support the work of grantmakers, and to advance quality and ethical standards among consultants to philanthropy. NNCG members represent experienced and carefully vetted practitioners and thought leaders in the philanthropic field.

The Knowledge Center, created in partnership with the Foundation Center’s IssueLab, is an online collection of hundreds of materials created by NNCG members. Its resources represent a wide variety of best practices and innovation that can be or has been applied to grantmaking. It contains a wealth of reports, books, case studies, infographics, issue briefs, videos and more that offer ideas, research and helpful information about almost every aspect of philanthropy. You can search hundreds of topics in seconds using keywords, author, title, publishing organization or date ranges.

Consultants who’ve shared their resources and learnings in the Knowledge Center are modeling a best practice in transparency by making their knowledge and experiences available to others, at no charge, to further the field.

At its heart, transparency is all about sharing information openly and honestly. Shared databases like the NNCG Knowledge Center makes it easier to do just that, and both posters and searchers benefit. Consultants who’ve shared their resources and learnings in the Knowledge Center are modeling a best practice in transparency by making their knowledge and experiences available to others, at no charge, to further the field. They are also helping foundations learn more about transparency from both internal and external perspectives. (A quick search of the term “transparency” on the Knowledge Base as I wrote this post turned up 57 results.)

Those who search and use the Knowledge Center are not only potentially finding ways to enhance their own transparency, but help elevate the knowledge of the field as they spread what they learn.

So, in the spirit of transparency and continual improvement, I invite you to visit and explore the NNCG Knowledge Center. What do you think of the resources there?  What other items would you suggest for potential inclusion? Email me at kris@putnam-consulting.com and share your thoughts. 

-- Kris Putnam-Walkerly

Group of 9: Setting the Stage for Grantees to Be Transparent with One Another
October 22, 2014

(Kristin R. Goerg is the grants manager at the Colburn Foundation.)

Goerg_ColburnIn the years since our most recent economic decline began in 2008, foundations have been looking for new ways to provide support to grantees “beyond the grant.” For some foundations, providing inspiring and creative technical assistance and professional development opportunities can be an option, but for a smaller foundation like the Colburn Foundation, we have to be creative with the limited resources we have beyond the grant dollar.

Businessman, philanthropist, and amateur violinist Richard D. Colburn established the Colburn Foundation in 1999 to support and promote a healthy and vibrant classical music community, primarily in Southern California, and to make grants to artistically excellent organizations for the performance and presentation of classical music, as well as for music education and the training of musicians. 

Our philanthropic niche allows us to focus our funding objectives within a single nonprofit community for maximum impact – which also allows for the development of longstanding, strong relationships with our grantees and a deep knowledge of their programming.

Picking up on the need for a neutral zone in which grantees could come together to openly discuss challenges, we decided to host a group of grantees.

In late 2009 the noticeable deleterious effects of the economic downturn were beginning to wear on some of our grantees both professionally and personally. At the same time, in meetings, some executive directors began mentioning how nice it would be to have a safe space to commiserate with others in their field. Were they also having a difficult time fundraising and bringing in revenue? What new approaches were organizations taking in programming to broaden their audiences? But simply approaching an associate and asking these very confidential questions in the absence of an invested relationship wasn’t a realistic option.

Picking up on the need for a neutral zone in which grantees could come together to openly discuss challenges, we decided to host a group of grantees in early 2010 with only three conventions in mind:

  1. All participating members must be the executive directors (or equivalent) of their organizations.
  2. Participants must agree to be involved in conversations, and in return we offer them a safe space for sharing (or a “circle of trust”). The spirit of being in this group is to be real, and to create relationships through honesty and integrity (through all the grit and the glamor).
  3. Participants must represent organizations with an annual budget of between $100,000 and $4.5 million per year. This criterion was set to reflect the majority of the organizations we serve (eliminating only a few outliers) allowing for more relateability in conversation between peers.

Colburn_logoThese three requirements served only to set the stage for dynamic and often therapeutic discussions in which all was laid bare, as well as the development of personal and professional relationships that would eventually forge partnerships and collaborations. Addressing more particularly the participants in our group circle, a range of experience, background, budget size, and leadership styles is represented. We believe having a breadth of diversity in a group like this is preferable. What it seems to inspire is quick group brainstorming over concrete obstacles, and (when needed) a more concentrated topical discussion touched by a variety of perspectives.

In the years since that first meeting, there have been inevitable leadership transitions; if a director has had to discontinue their participation, we have offered suggestions of other individuals to invite into the group, but leave in tact its overall autonomy.  

There is something beautiful in empowering a group of your grantees over time to face and tackle – on their own terms – relevant issues with a collective of trusted peers.

There is something beautiful in empowering a group of your grantees over time to face and tackle – on their own terms – relevant issues with a collective of trusted peers. We do very little planning – if any planning at all – for the majority of our group discussions. What we provide is space, time, and a free lunch. What this group provides in return is invaluable: a raw, real look into our grantees lives, and the information we need to serve them better.

While we as funders can offer excellent suggestions to grantees based on what we see in the field, what we read in research and reports, and what we observe of each individual organization through the relationships we develop, our perspective can’t compare to the cohesive and energizing nature of providing a group of cohorts a sacred space to share, vent, and collaborate.

-- Kristin R. Goerg

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation’s Kelly Fitzsimmons Discusses a New Blueprint for Evaluation Plans
October 15, 2014

The Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a White House initiative and program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, has recently created a new document that’s designed to help organizations build a comprehensive evaluation design. The Social Innovation Fund Evaluation Plan Guidance aims to share best practices to benefit and strengthen the sector as a whole.

Recently, Transparency Talk conducted an online interview with Kelly Fitzsimmons of The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) and with Michael Smith, Director of the Social Innovation Fund, to learn how the new framework provided by SIF can be adapted for use in assessing foundation program impact.

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Kelly Fitzsimmons

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Michael Smith

1.    Please tell us a little bit about the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, and why you became involved in the Social Innovation Fund?  

EMCF: The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation seeks to transform the life trajectories of vulnerable and economically disadvantaged youth by making multi-million, multi-year investments in nonprofits with a potential for growth and compelling evidence that they can help more young people become successful, productive adults.

We agreed to become a SIF intermediary based on our belief that the Social Innovation Fund could become a catalyst for scaling "what works” by encouraging the public and private sectors to direct more resources to the most effective solutions to some of our nation’s seemingly intractable social problems.  

As a SIF intermediary, we have helped mobilize a total of $120 million in 12 promising, evidence-based organizations: $30 million in federal funds from the SIF with $30 million from our own resources and, through the True North Fund, helped our grantees secure the $60 million required for match. Our SIF grants are designed to build the evidence base and organizational capacity of this portfolio of nonprofits so they can, within three years:

  • Significantly increase the numbers of youth served by effective programs, and
  • Substantially advance the evidence of their effectiveness with rigorous, independent program evaluations.

2. What do you see as the value of program evaluations in your field?

For us at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, one of the biggest positives is that evaluation can expand what you know about what “works” as well as about what doesn’t work. It’s our belief that program evaluations are a key driver of innovation.

EMCF: I think there are some misconceptions about what you “do” with program evaluation. For us at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, one of the biggest positives is that evaluation can expand what you know about what “works” as well as about what doesn’t work. It’s our belief that program evaluations are a key driver of innovation.

Whether a study shows positive, mixed or disappointing results, if carefully designed it almost always unearths information that can be used to innovate and improve how a program is delivered to boost quality and impact.  To get the most out of an evaluation, we believe it is critical during the planning stage for organizations and their evaluators to ask themselves not only what impacts they are looking to test, but also what they’d like to learn about the program’s implementation.  For example, answering questions such as: “How closely is the program run compared to the intended model?” or “To what extent does this or that program component contribute to impact?” can yield important insights into how well a program is implemented across different sites (or cities or regions) or reveal differences in impacts depending on the population served or environmental factors.

3.     How does having evaluation plans, like the Social Innovation Fund’s Evaluation Plan Guidance, help nonprofits become more effective?

EMCF_logoEMCF: The Social Innovation Fund’s tool is a useful resource for organizations interested in building their evidence base and thinking about how to plan thoughtfully for evaluation. It offers practical takeaways that organizations should consider when thinking about evaluation, from structuring an evaluation plan to what elements should be considered in an evaluation, and even ways to assess the feasibility of undertaking one. A thoughtful evaluation plan can also inform an organization’s larger plans. For example, if an evaluation requires that *X* number of kids must participate in order for a program to be assessed, does your organization need to grow or adapt in order to meet that threshold? If so, how will the organization get there while maintaining program quality? 

In essence, a strong, multi-year evaluation plan is much like a strong business plan—it helps you think about the resources you need, identify your interim and ultimate goals, and even decide what to do and how to communicate if your plan goes off-track. 

4.     How do EMCF and your grantees use the data you’ve collected from evaluations?

EMCF: We like to approach evidence building from the premise that we’re seeking to understand *how* a program works, not just *if* a program works. From this perspective, whether the findings are positive, mixed or null, evaluating programs over time can yield insights that inform practice, drive innovation and ultimately ensure the best possible outcomes for youth and families. 

In essence, a strong, multi-year evaluation plan is much like a strong business plan—it helps you think about the resources you need, identify your interim and ultimate goals, and even decide what to do and how to communicate if your plan goes off-track.

For example, take Reading Partners, which connects students who are half a grade to 2 ½ grades behind in reading with trained volunteers who use a specialized curriculum. A recently released MDRC evaluation found these kids made greater gains in literacy—1.5 to two months—than their peers after an average of 28 hours of Reading Partners’ instruction. During the evaluation, MDRC was able to corroborate that local sites were implementing the program with a high degree of fidelity, including providing appropriate support and training to volunteer tutors. The data collected also indicated the program was effective across different subsets of students, increasing reading ability across 2nd to 5th different grade, varying baseline reading achievement levels, for girls and boys, and even non-native English speakers. This knowledge is now helping Reading Partners think more strategically about how and where it expands to impact more kids. 

We worked with Reading Partners as we do with other EMCF grantees, bringing in experts to help them develop high-quality evaluation plans, often connecting them to other experts, and also funding their evaluations. We help them identify key evaluation questions at the outset, work together to monitor progress toward evaluation goals, to make revisions to their plans when circumstances change or new information arises, and to communicate results when they become available. Evidence building is a continuous, dynamic process that informs how EMCF as well as our grantees set and reach our growth, learning and impact goals.

SIF_logoWe also use quality and impact data to help measure and track quarterly and annually the performance of each grantee and our entire portfolio, including whether our investment strategy is having its intended effect of aiding our grantees in meeting the yearly and end-of-investment milestones and evidence-building goals on which we have mutually agreed.

5.  Many funders express that they are using such evaluations as learning tools.  But there is a fear factor that comes in when grantees have specific benchmarks to meet and then fail to meet them that it will mean they will not receive renewed support.  And that speaks to the tension between risk, innovation, and accountability.  How do you navigate those tensions so that the assessment process doesn't actually stand in the way of risk and innovation?

SIF: Our grantees have expressed this concern too and the way we have answered it is this: evaluation should be about proving and improving. Evaluation results should represent the beginning of a process where all stakeholders use what is learned to enhance and even overhaul programs.

The Social Innovation Fund is, at its core, a grand experiment. As part of this experiment, we are here to learn and together. The investment we are making in our grantees’ and subgrantees’ innovation is a risk, but it’s a measured, calculated risk.

The Social Innovation Fund is, at its core, a grand experiment. As part of this experiment, we are here to learn and together. The investment we are making in our grantees’ and subgrantees’ innovation is a risk, but it’s a measured, calculated risk. Their evaluations will help us understand what works.

If their program comes back with, say, null results but some really valuable information about how the program was implemented or a specific population that needs a different approach to achieve impact – we will not write that off as a failure. But we will demand that our grantees use that information to get the positive results next time. And we expect that they will share this information with their peers so that other programs can learn and build on these lessons.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done in the field to make sure evaluation information released isn’t treated as binary – it works or it doesn’t. All of the evaluation reports we’ve seen to date are more in the gray area, even those with truly positive impact. There is always some element of a program that doesn’t work as anticipated. We know that most folks don’t dig in to find those details, and we have committed to working with our grantees to start the conversations that will help others utilize the evaluation information coming out of the SIF so that the results aren’t seen as an up or down vote – they are seen as rich sources of information that can be truly useful.

-- Kelly Fitzsimmons and Michael Smith

Cutting-Edge Philanthropy
October 13, 2014

(Our Glasspockets team is thrilled to be included on NPC’s list of 10 innovations in global philanthropy and touted as philanthropic pioneers with ideas worth spreading. Plum Lomax is the deputy head of the funders team at UK-based NPC. NPC consults with foundations, strategizing their giving to maximize social impact. This post originally appeared on the NPC blog.)

Plum-new-150x150Well-known economist, Thomas Piketty, says wealth inequality is at its highest point for 100 years. Needs are rising, the problems we are trying to solve are getting more complex—and yet giving levels have remained relatively static.

Cutting-edge thinking is being applied to all areas of our lives, and giving is no exception. It’s astonishing to think that at the start of my working life (and I’m not that old!), there was no internet, no email, no networked computers. We are continuously changing the way we shop, catch up on the news, book a holiday, listen to music, find a new partner—all of these new methods supposedly improving our lives in some ways.

But is the evolution in giving keeping pace with other areas? And more to the point, are resources being better used as a result: to help more people, to solve complex problems, to improve the world in which we live?

NPC is excited to launch 10 innovations in global philanthropy, a new report on the most pioneering approaches to philanthropy worldwide.

Maximising social impact is at the heart of NPC’s mission—deriving the greatest value from limited resources. But this requires constant innovation on the part of both charities (in the way they approach issues they want to tackle), and donors and funders (in the way they spend their money).

That’s why today we’re excited to launch 10 innovations in global philanthropy, a new report on the most pioneering approaches to philanthropy worldwide. The aim was to discover what could be brought back to or scaled up in the UK, and now, after months of desk research and interviews with experts from every continent, we hope it kick-starts more innovative action in this field.

We found some fascinating developments—new uses of data, greater sharing of information, different types of collaboration between funders, better ways of investing for impact and more. From an initial list of 42 initiatives, we narrowed down our selection to ten concepts we believe have significant potential for transforming philanthropy in the UK, as shown in the table below.

10-innovations-table

We at NPC hope to take some of these concepts forward ourselves; in particular, research-based giving circles, based on Dasra’s model in India, and knowledge sharing within sectors, looking at whether the water and sanitation sector’s online portal—WASHfunders.org—can be adapted to other sectors. But we hope the report also inspires others to try these and other approaches, so that ten years from now we can look back and confidently say that giving has been transformed as much as other areas to great effect.

Over the next few weeks, NPC will be writing a series of blogs on innovation within philanthropy, highlighting some key examples from the report. We welcome all your comments.

-- Plum Lomax

Eleanor Roosevelt and data post-2015
October 8, 2014

(Angela Hariche is the director of international data relations at the Foundation Center.)

140421-732Two weeks ago, I was down with the flu AND jetlagged so all I could manage to do in the evenings was get under a blanket and watch all 14 hours of “The Roosevelts” on PBS. I thought it was riveting and the timing of it was perfect. It has been a particularly busy time for us at the Foundation Center and there have been an inordinate amount of meetings and conferences around UN week. Happily, most of the people sharing a table with me at these events had also been watching “The Roosevelts”. We all admitted that it nice to discuss something else other than the grind during the lunches and coffee breaks for once!

So, it was no surprise when Kathy Calvin, President of the UN Foundation said at a recent Ford Foundation event last Thursday, “Channel your inner Eleanor Roosevelt Post-2015”. I think that was my best tweet all week. But what does that mean? Well, Eleanor certainly was a force. She was the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She was able to change things in the face of incredible resistance. Post-2015 is about what comes after the Millennium Development Goals which end in the year 2015.

The event brought together leaders from philanthropy, UN, business and civil society to talk about philanthropy and the role of the sector in the coming years. Brad Smith, President of the Foundation Center, and Helena Monteiro from Wings convened a session on the data revolution. The angle for this session was around the data and knowledge needed to a) get a better grip on what we know and don’t know about funding for global development goals, b) how to get an accurate picture of development progress, c) how to build standards and trust so working together isn’t so hard, d) how to climb the mountain of definitions when so many cultures (both organizational and geographic) name things differently, and e) how to remember that we are talking about people’s lives here and citizen empowerment is paramount to success. It was noted during the session that 10 years ago nobody would have wanted to attend a session on data!

So what came out of it?

It was no surprise when Kathy Calvin, President of the UN Foundation said at a recent Ford Foundation event last Thursday, “Channel your inner Eleanor Roosevelt Post-2015”. I think that was my best tweet all week.

Brad Smith noted that there are more than 86,000 foundations in the US with total assets of close to 800 billion dollars and 55 billion in giving. This is about equal to US Official Development Assistance. Philanthropic dollars matter not only in their volume but also in their flexibility. Brad also noted that this is one of the last sources of money that isn’t earmarked. However, if foundations are not forthcoming with their data, we will not be able to analyze the impact of the sector as a whole or on issues such as gender equality, education or any other. Foundations have to be more transparent if global progress is to be made.

To try to address the fact that we don’t have anywhere near an accurate picture of development progress, a data revolution has been called for. The Secretary General of the UN has assembled a group of people who will advise him on the coordination of the data revolution, on better use and analysis of data and the difficulties faced by under- resourced national statistics offices. Several in the room noted that the strengthening of local knowledge systems is incredibly important. If more research can come from the local context, it will be more useful and fewer people will get left behind in an aggregation process.

RooseveltsHelena Monteiro presented the Global Philanthropy Data Charter as a way to address the issues of trust and standards when working with data. As an example of a project that used the Data charter to guide them is the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG). Working together with Foundation Center, they came up with a standard definition of human rights grants, collected the data from foundations around the world, coded the grants and launched the website. Voila! Eleanor would be proud.

Finally, Danny Sriskandarajah of CIVICUS reminded us that storytelling, citizen voice and accountability will be key for post-2015 success. It was also noted that data is “development capital”. If development data is available to citizens, they will be able to make their own informed decisions better.

At Foundation Center we are working hard on a project with UNDP, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, The Conrad Hilton Foundation, Ford Foundation and Master Card Foundation to collect foundation data and knowledge on Post-2015 goals for a publically available web portal, which will launch in June of 2015. If you are interested in channeling your inner Eleanor Roosevelt and being a part of it, please contact me at int@foundationcenter.org.

--Angela Hariche

Can We Expect Transparency from Grantmaking Foundations?
October 6, 2014

(Kandyce Fernandez is an assistant professor of public administration in the College of Public Policy at The University of Texas at San Antonio, and Mark Hager is associate professor of philanthropic studies in the School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University.)

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Kandyce Fernandez

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Mark Hager

The proposition that grantmaking foundations should be more transparent carries with it the underlying assumption that grantmaking foundations are not as transparent as we might like them to be.  In a recent paper published in Public Administration Quarterly, we argue that many of us do not expect transparency from foundations since we think of them as private institutions, like a private company.  We also argue that our transparency expectations and the behavior of foundations themselves might change if this prevailing presumption of private-ness were to change.

The Dominant View of Foundations

So, are grantmaking foundations private or public?  This is a complicated question, and it’s the one we spend most of the paper discussing.  An important point is that there’s a dominant, prevailing, what we call a ‘hegemonic’ view that since grantmaking foundations are not agents of government (and therefore ‘public agencies’), they are private and therefore can act in a way that that is shielded from public scrutiny and participation.  This holds for both independent and corporate foundations, and even community foundations are not expected to act in a fully public way.

As a consequence, the general public has little expectation for any level of engagement with foundations in their community.  Grantees are grudgingly content with a one-way flow of information and strategic decision-making about how philanthropic resources are distributed in communities.  The media asks few questions about what role foundations might play in regional development.  And, perhaps most importantly, foundations themselves use the hegemonic view of privacy to justify closing themselves off from the communities where they reside.

What would change if we all understood foundations to be public rather than private institutions?  Turns out that there’s ample reason to think of them as public.

Competing Perspectives: A Political, Economic, and Social Context

We argue that many of us do not expect transparency from foundations since we think of them as private institutions, like a private company.

For example, consider what we call the political context of grantmaking foundations.  The political context distinguishes between efforts that serve the collective interest rather than the interests of individual or narrower groups in society.  To the extent that grantmaking foundations assert multiple perspectives of the public interest, or provide resources to other nonprofits that do so, they serve in a largely public role as they utilize private resources for various public benefits.  Their public role is further underlined when grantmaking foundations address those things government may not be able to do and where market actors choose not to engage.  In these cases, foundations reflect a public role as they focus on other groups, interests, and issues.

An economic context also gives some credence to the view that foundations are public actors.  The economic context considers whether benefits are distributed to the broader citizenry or to a narrower, specific group with special interests.  While governmental benefits are said to serve the median interests within society, grantmaking foundations serve groups outside the median.  In fact, this is one source of frequent praise: foundations can serve narrower, contested, or controversial groups, whereas government may lack the inclination to do so.  Whereas independent foundations might tend to focus attention on narrower causes identified by a single donor, community foundations are increasingly more public because they are established to purposely seek out diverse donors and diverse causes.   

As foundations work both strategically and intentionally to impact lasting change, they cultivate a more public role in society.

Thirdly, we argue that social context provides a basis for viewing foundations as public actors.  This context focuses on whether or not the work has consequences beyond those involved.  Where decisions and activities will or are intended to impact a specific policy or issues, the work is said to be instrumental.  On the other hand, where decisions and activities are meant to be supportive rather than impacting change, the work is considered expressive.  To the extent that foundation activities strive for greater, longer-lasting instrumental impact on an issue or cause, we argue that they are more public than those that address issues with more immediate, short-term objectives. In other words, With the right marketing, the public, grantees, media, and foundations themselves might be led to recognize a greater degree of public-ness among grantmaking foundations.

Private Institutions with Public Expectations

Political, economic, and social contexts provide independent reasons why we might consider grantmaking foundations to be public institutions rather than private, challenging the dominant view.  The nature of their accountability, the type of work, the extent of their reach, and their interest in impacting change or supporting issues renders them more public than private in some cases, and at minimum quasi-public institutions with a substantive public role.  With the right marketing, the public, grantees, media, and foundations themselves might be led to recognize a greater degree of public-ness among grantmaking foundations.

The consequence, we believe, would be that people both inside and outside foundations would act differently.  The public and grantees would see foundations as partners rather than private edifaces.  The media would both expect and receive the kind of transparency from foundations that they need to make sense of the role that foundations play and the value they bring to communities.  And, most tellingly, foundations would embrace a more open, participatory, and engaged role in social change efforts.

-- Kandyce Fernandez and Mark Hager

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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."

    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

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

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