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November 2014 (4 posts)

Glasspockets Find: Fund for Shared Insight Aims to Improve Philanthropy Through Feedback Loops and Foundation Openness
November 25, 2014

(Lisa M. Brooks is the director of knowledge management systems at the Foundation Center.)

LBrooksThe Fund for Shared Insight is a new collaborative effort among seven funders that pools financial and other resources to make grants to improve philanthropy. Launched in September, it has recently announced its first round of awards that are designed to foster social-sector sharing and learning to enhance impact. These 14 grants will further the fund’s goals to encourage and incorporate feedback from the people the social sector seeks to help, understand the connection between feedback and better results, foster more openness between and among foundations and grantees, and share lessons learned. Among the grantees who received awards to increase foundation openness in service of greater effectiveness are the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Creative Commons, Exponent Philanthropy, Foundation Center, and GiveWell.

These 14 grants will further the fund’s goals to encourage and incorporate feedback from the people the social sector seeks to help, understand the connection between feedback and better results, foster more openness between and among foundations and grantees, and share lessons learned.

IssueLab, a service of Foundation Center, will put these grant dollars to work on a variety of initiatives meant to help foundations adopt common practices that can lead to greater openness in the field. Why is this work so important? Currently those foundations that embrace broader sharing of their knowledge are mostly left to forge their own path. Even when successful their efforts represent only an isolated and individualized solution to what is fundamentally a collective problem. While foundations have helped to create one of the largest bodies of combined insight and intelligence in existence (thousands upon thousands of evaluations, case studies, and research reports), much of it either remains behind closed doors or spread across innumerable organizational websites. IssueLab is already a model of how a knowledge repository can address this problem. It will now develop and pursue wide adoption of an infrastructure that addresses it in a larger way.

Sector-wide knowledge sharing will only be possible when foundations treat the knowledge they produce and fund as a public good with its greatest value coming through its exchange. Equally important to improved knowledge sharing is the adoption and implementation of shared practices and principles by foundations around the world. IssueLab is working to realize this vision and to fulfill the promise that is the motivation behind every foundation grant ever made towards research or evaluation, to learn from what has already been done so that we can do it better in the future.

-- Lisa Brooks

Glasspockets Find: The Gates Foundation Opens Up to Accelerate the Pace of Change
November 21, 2014

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

6a00e54efc2f80883301a3fd038242970b-800wiThe Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has just announced that it is adopting an Open Access Policy, which will enable the unrestricted access and reuse of all peer-reviewed published research funded by the foundation, including any underlying data sets. This is notable because though foundations fund and directly generate knowledge creation in their respective fields of practice, they often lack clear policies or practices governing their use. And, in many cases, it becomes copyrighted and filed away, rather than added to a growing body of shared evidence that would advance creating solutions and the field as a whole.

This announcement is also notable because it demonstrates that even the largest foundation in the world can’t tackle the problems it wants to solve alone. By sharing its knowledge openly, the Gates Foundation invites others to build on lessons learned and avoid duplication of effort.

6a00e54efc2f80883301b8d0998501970c-120wiAfter all, any funder who purports to be outcomes-oriented, and particularly those working in the data-driven fields of science and medicine, understand that philanthropy handicaps itself when it keeps what it learns to itself. As the blog announcing its launch explains, "...virtually every major breakthrough in science and medicine has stemmed from the principles of experimentation, observation, measurement, and analysis." It is exciting to consider the potential of how taking this kind of "shared learning lab" approach to philanthropy could serve to accelerate change faster than funding alone can do.

The Gates Foundation is not the first foundation to create an Open Access Policy, but it is something only a very few currently have. Perhaps the scale, influence, and visibility of Gates announcing this direction will truly lead to a shared body of collective intelligence from which we can all build; because if knowledge is power, then only through knowledge sharing can we fully harness that power in service of the public good.

-- Janet Camarena

Foundations and the Transparency Mindset: What’s in it for Philanthropy?
November 18, 2014

(Jason Ricci is the founder and CEO of Fluxx Labs.)

Jason ricciFoundations have always operated with a fair amount of independence. In many ways this philanthropic freedom is one of the field’s biggest strengths – the ability to stay above the fray, apart from both market and political pressure. The idea was to allow for the delivery of flexible resources to advance the common good.

But as technology advances, and faster ways of sending and receiving information become commonplace, foundations – and most everyone else – are beginning to understand that collaboration, rather than independence, fosters excellence, efficiency, and greater effectiveness.

And collaboration works best when a transparency mindset is embraced.

As technology advances, and faster ways of sending and receiving information become commonplace, foundations – and most everyone else – are beginning to understand that collaboration, rather than independence, fosters excellence, efficiency, and greater effectiveness.

Foundations can now tap into a torrential flow of data, harness it, analyze it, and ultimately use it to make real progress on the issues they care about most. When foundations open up and share this data with each other, and the rest of the world, the progress is outsized.

We are starting to see movement toward achieving this vision by groups like Glasspockets, as well as a growing list of foundations that are taking steps to adopt a transparency mindset, like the Ford Foundation, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, and the F.B. Heron Foundation, among others. These folks understand that greater transparency means better philanthropy. It means making smarter decisions and creating greater impact.

Opening an incoming and outgoing stream of programmatic data, evaluation data, and publicly available data allows foundations to collaborate better (with both their grantees and other foundations), create communities of shared learning, and strengthen credibility and public trust.

These days, we expect information to be available any time and anywhere – our workplaces, the marketplace, and our social spaces have become increasingly open and collaborative – transparent even. So, why should philanthropy be different?

At Fluxx, we don’t think it should.

These days, we expect information to be available any time and anywhere – our workplaces, the marketplace, and our social spaces have become increasingly open and collaborative – transparent even. So, why should philanthropy be different?

Transparency is built into our DNA. Our goal is to simplify the grantmaking process by allowing organizations to access  critical data from one easy-to-use platform – giving grantmakers everything they need to make smarter grantmaking decisions.

Fluxx was born from the desire of grantmakers to collaborate more meaningfully ­– with their grantees, other grantmakers, and the grantmaking ecosystem at large. Listening to these grantmakers, we learned that opening up the grantmaking process, allowing clear visibility and access to anyone in the organization, would create a far more efficient and effective way to make grants. But we don’t think transparency should stop at the walls of the foundation.

By opening access to the free flow of information from sources like the Foundation Center, GuideStar, and other public data, we could empower foundations to use and share data in completely new and important ways.  For example, Foundation Center’s hGrant code, an initiative I spearheaded in 2010, lets foundations publish grants information in real time in a format that can be automatically collected and aggregated. Once collected, the data can be searched, categorized, and viewed in new ways.

As we look ahead to the future, our Fluxx team is particularly excited about the potential for grantmakers and grantees to have the ability to track incoming evaluation data, to understand in real time their organization’s short-term and long-term impact, and to be able to respond to that data and take action to ensure continued progress.

In the past, there was no common language used to talk about impact evaluation.  Now, for the first time, technology can help us to create that common language. It is possible for foundations to not only track their own progress toward a goal, but also compare results with other organizations working toward the same end. The intelligence learned creates a greater potential for real needle-moving impact.

But again, this can only be possible when more and more of the sector begin to embrace the transparency mindset.

No doubt transparency can be scary. Who wants their mistakes published for all to see? Who wants to be a target for second-guessing and criticism? Who needs the enhanced scrutiny? 

Transparency shouldn’t be a goal just for transparency’s sake – transparency is a means to an end.

But here perhaps is the more important question: What if we don’t do it?  Philanthropy is a space that has so much to gain from collaboration – so many strong and important organizations work tirelessly to make change on some of the same stubbornly persistent social problems. To knock down the silos and begin maximizing impact, it’s imperative to begin thinking and acting in a more transparent way.

Transparency shouldn’t be a goal just for transparency’s sake – transparency is a means to an end. When organizations see that sharing information increases the likelihood of accomplishing what they set out to do – whether it’s to increase access to clean water, improve educational opportunities in inner cities, or lower greenhouse gas emissions – it makes the concept of transparency a lot less scary. And it makes the choice whether or not to embrace a transparent mindset that much easier.

It’s a new way of working for foundations, and it’s not always comfortable. But if you’re too comfortable, perhaps you’re not pushing hard enough. And if you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not doing it right.  After all, what’s the point of philanthropic freedom, if you are not taking risks?

-- Jason Ricci

Rolling Out a Platform to Provide Diversity Data
November 12, 2014

(Danielle Deane is director at Green 2.0 and principal at The Raben Group.)

DanielleDeanTransparency and accountability are great goals but without data, it is like a stool with two legs. Good luck with that.  Consistent, visible data and goals keep us on a stable platform, and allows organizations and leaders to learn, build and improve. Data about who is leading and working in organizations is just as important as financials and environmental or social change indicators to understanding how an NGO or foundation works and its responsiveness to community needs.

Enter Green 2.0. Launched earlier this year, Green 2.0 advocates for improved diversity in the mainstream environmental movement. Partnering with GuideStar, a highly regarded information service  that organizes and provides data on over one and half million nonprofit organizations, and the D5 Coalition, an unprecedented coalition of leading philanthropy associations and foundations committed to taking on the critical issue of diversity, we rolled out a groundbreaking diversity data tracking effort. The effort brings a set of uniform and simple data standards to help nonprofits and foundations voluntarily report and collect information about their organization’s demographics for board members, staff and volunteers. The voluntary program within the GuideStar Exchange is the only program of its kind that encourages nonprofit transparency, allows nonprofits to supplement public information available from the IRS, and allows tracking on a scale we haven’t seen before — with the potential to reach 1.8 million nonprofits.  The need for this especially in the environmental field is clear.

The Green 2.0 effort brings a set of uniform and simple data standards to help nonprofits and foundations voluntarily report and collect information about their organization’s demographics for board members, staff and volunteers.

Green 2.0 recently released the comprehensive report "Diversity in Environmental Institutions: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations and Government Agencies" commissioned from Professor Dorceta Taylor. The report documents the problematic "green ceiling"— the failure of mainstream environmental organizations to keep up with the changing face of America. Although people of color comprise about 38% of the U.S. population, they occupy, on average less than 12% of staff at these organizations. The numbers at the board level are even lower – for example on average 95% of mainstream NGO boards are white; 85 % of foundation boards are white.  These numbers have not budged much over the last decade, though a promising trend is that white women have seen significant gains below the board level.

To quote one foundation leader, Steven Heintz, the president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund:

“As a funder we believe it is important to understand both the diversity of the organizations we fund and how they engage diverse perspectives in their work….We are excited to participate in the GuideStar Exchange effort and encourage others to do so. This builds on the work of many organizations over the past few years, and we are particularly appreciative of the efforts of GuideStar, D5, and Green 2.0 to make this happen.” (Statements from other leaders are here.)

Green 2.0’s website features the ten foundations that have made a commitment to transparency on Glasspockets, and have indicated that they disclose diversity data or have statements regarding their commitment to transparency.

In addition to bringing attention to diversity across these organizations, we also want to provide the best practices that many groups need to improve their environments. With that in mind, we are building on the work that Glasspockets has done in encouraging greater foundation transparency. The resources webpage of Green 2.0’s website features the ten foundations (among those that are ranked within the top 50 environmental funders by the Foundation Center) that have made a commitment to transparency on Glasspockets, and have indicated that they disclose diversity data or have statements regarding their commitment to transparency.

Our success will come through our growing list of strategic partners that similarly view diversity as an integral part of today’s corporate and nonprofit business models. Our success will also come through our work with you.

Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in philanthropy will help organizations better achieve their missions. So, what can you do? Three things:

  • Nonprofits and funders, pledge to submit your data on GuideStar
  • Funders, share your transparency profile on Glasspockets
  • Let your grantees know you encourage them to submit their data. For environmental NGOs and foundations, we hope to have organizations pledge to submit data by the end of this year (2014), and submit data in early 2015.
  • Everyone, share your success stories and strategies with us at www.diversegreen.org

Foundations have a key role to play in ensuring that we see dramatically better diversity numbers in five years than what we’ve seen over the last decade. Shining a light on the challenges and solutions will lead to that improvement. We look forward to your support.

-- Danielle Deane

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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
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