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Transparency Chat: Exponent Philanthropy Shares Foundation Successes and Failures
January 21, 2015

Jeanne Metzger headshot September 2014Jeanne Metzger is the chief development and marketing officer at Exponent Philanthropy, which recently received a grant from the Fund for Shared Insight (FSI).FSI is a multi-year collaborative effort among funders that pools financial and other resources to make grants to improve philanthropy. This is the first in a series of interviews Transparency Talk is conducting with grantees of the FSI openness portfolio. Janet Camarena, director of Foundation Center’s San Francisco office and project lead of the Glasspockets initiative, asked Jeanne Metzger about the work this grant will fund.

Janet Camarena: Congratulations on your recent grant from the Fund for Shared Insight!  Your grant falls within the part of the portfolio dedicated to supporting "efforts to increase foundation openness in service of effectiveness." What do you think the relationship is between increased openness and greater foundation effectiveness, and what have you learned about this from your prior work?

Jeanne Metzger: We are the largest philanthropic support membership organization representing approximately 2,300 foundations and other funders who operate with few or no staff. Our mission is to empower philanthropists to leverage their resources and amplify their impact. We achieve this mission through a strategic framework that defines our activities into three areas/goals: Guide, Connect, and Champion. 

In philanthropy, going public refers to intentionally engaging publicly with the communities, causes, and conversations that matter to you and your mission. Going public for a philanthropist is also about raising and leveraging capital – philanthropic capital – or the connections, expertise, influence, and dollars that allow funders to achieve their charitable missions.

By creating a safe place for grantmakers to share information and learn from one another, they report back to us that they are more effective and fulfilled by their philanthropy. We are hoping that by getting some of our member stories on video through the Fund for Shared Insight grant we will be able to improve the effectiveness of more grantmakers.

Throughout our 18 year history (originally as the Association of Small Foundations and now as Exponent Philanthropy) we have found that our members learn a tremendous amount from one another. By creating a safe place for them to share information and learn from one another, they report back to us that they are more effective and fulfilled by their philanthropy. We are hoping that by getting some of our member stories on video through the Fund for Shared Insight grant we will be able to improve the effectiveness of more grantmakers.

JC: Since your specific funded project is to produce videos tell us more about the details about what this work will produce and what you hope its impact will be, and whether there are opportunities for our Transparency Talk audience to participate?

JM: In 2015, we will be producing a series of videos that capture stories from Exponent Philanthropy members about lessons learned from their grantmaking. We will be encouraging our participants to share lessons learned through successes and failures.  The videos will all be posted to our website and we welcome other organizations to link to them and help spread the word so that the largest community of funders possible can benefit from them. We hope these videos will help to inspire dialogue on platforms such as Transparency Talks. This dialogue will lead to shared learning.

Exponent-logoJC: Greater openness in philanthropy can encompass a lot of elements--why did you choose to tackle lessons learned from both successes and failures? And also why are you choosing video as a way to tell this story over other forms of media (as opposed to podcast, webstory, blog, etc.)?

JM: People can learn a lot from their failures. And, let’s face it, not every grant and/or investment results in the outcomes that it was intended to have. Embracing failure is a unique attribute of the American culture and one that fuels our entrepreneurial spirit. Video is a powerful medium and one that is growing in use and popularity. We already tell our members’ stories through social media, our blog, our website, our publications, and in our programs. A natural progression is to leverage the power of video and it’s something we have wanted to do for several years but have not had the financial resources to do so. The grant from the Fund for Shared Insight is providing us the opportunity and we are really excited about the potential of this project.

JC: Exponent Philanthropy brings a lot of expertise in terms of working with smaller foundations, who often decide that the effectiveness and transparency conversations are better left to the larger foundations that have more staff capacity. What are your thoughts around how to best engage smaller foundations in these kinds of initiatives?

People can learn a lot from their failures. And, let’s face it, not every grant and/or investment results in the outcomes that it was intended to have. Embracing failure is a unique attribute of the American culture and one that fuels our entrepreneurial spirit.

JM: We find that our members are very much interested in effectiveness and how to amplify their impact. That is why they seek out our resources, attend our programs and are part of our community. It is true that many small foundations are private about their philanthropy but a growing number of our members see the benefit of being more open about their activities, collaborating with other funds, and convening key stakeholders around key issues. We hope that these videos will inspire more small foundations to be more open in the future.

JC: Some of the risks mentioned in the Fund for Shared Insight's Theory of Change include the fact that institutional philanthropy is resistant to change.  How do you plan to get past that to achieve what you need to as a part of this project, and what do you think needs to happen for the field to be more change-oriented.

JM: One of the key findings of our recent strategic planning process was that our members unite around a unique style of philanthropy that is agile, responsive, grounded in their communities and in their key issues. Philanthropists who work with few or no staff are different in many ways from larger foundations and I think because of their agility and size tend to be more open to change than larger institutions. There is also a generational change happening in philanthropy and we are finding that the next generation of philanthropists think about their philanthropy differently than the previous generations. All that said, there is still a lot of work to be done to move more small funders to be change oriented.  Highlighting examples of how change and new approaches have resulted in increased impact will help push the needle further.

--Jeanne Metzger

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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.

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