Transparency Talk

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May 2015 (5 posts)

Funder's Forum: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
May 26, 2015

(Funder's Forum interviews of foundation leaders by Foundation Center staff are featured in our monthly E-Updates for Grantmakers newsletter. These interviews enable funders to exchange ideas and connect with their peers to increase their effectiveness. If you are interested in learning more about Funder's Forum, please contact R. Nancy Albilal at (212) 807-3624, or rna@foundationcenter.org.)

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation honors the commitment to philanthropy and ethos established by its founders through its work in education, global development and population, conservation and energy, performing arts, philanthropy, and more. Foundation Center's Vice President for Development, Nancy Albilal, asked Larry Kramer, the foundation's president:

QuestionWhat contributed to your decision to make transparency a priority at Hewlett, and what results has your increased openness produced?

To other funders who ask why they should be transparent, my response is: Why shouldn't you be?

“Having come from outside philanthropy, my first task was to learn. That proved difficult when I discovered how hard it was to find information, even about my own organization. I couldn't find what I was looking for on the Hewlett site, or on most other foundations' websites for that matter. It was while following up to understand why this was so difficult that I first realized how transparency was an issue. I had come to Hewlett from academia, a world in which transparency is taken for granted, so I was surprised to discover it was even a question, much less something that needed a lot of emphasis.

Wfhflogo“I approached it by issuing a challenge to the staff. "Start by assuming that we are going to make 100 percent of everything we do publicly available," I said. "Now go back through and tell me if there are good reasons not to disclose something. If so, we'll consider holding it back. But otherwise, we should share."

I approached transparency by issuing a challenge to the staff. "Start by assuming that we are going to make 100 percent of everything we do publicly available," I said. "Tell me if there are good reasons not to disclose something. If so, we'll consider holding it back. But otherwise, we should share."

“It's important to note that Hewlett never had a practice of withholding information; we always provided anything we were asked for. We simply had not been proactive about it and so didn't have procedures in place to ensure that everything possible would be made available publicly. A lot of work produced for internal use — things like the grant descriptions we prepare for the board, or memoranda and summaries explaining our programs, or evaluations of strategies — were not as a rule being made public. Occasionally, either because someone asked or because we really wanted to raise awareness regarding a particular issue, we would share something. For the most part, however, we just weren't reaching out. Now we are.

“The reasons to do so are obvious. Both potential grantees and other funders need to know what we're doing so they can build on our successes and learn from our failures. To the extent one deems it important to collaborate — and I deem it very important — people need to know what we are doing (and vice versa) so we can find each other. Finally, and this is more unique to the foundation world, the fact that we are formally unaccountable makes it imperative to share what we are doing and invite people who may be affected by it to tell us what they think.

“It sounds simple, but making an organization transparent is actually pretty complicated, and our effort is still a work in progress. Identifying what to make public turned out to be the easy part. The next step is to create processes to make that happen, which is harder than you think. And after that, we still need to build a website that enables people easily to find what we're sharing. There is already a lot more on our website than in the past, but we have a lot of work still to do to make sure everything is fully accessible.

“We have also extended the general notion of openness to our grantees. When we support a project that results in the creation of some kind of work or data, we're requiring that, as a condition of the grant, the material be open-licensed and made easily available on a public website whenever possible.

Occasionally, either because someone asked or because we really wanted to raise awareness regarding a particular issue, we would share something. For the most part, however, we just weren't reaching out. Now we are.

“Already, some of the information we've shared has produced reactions. We recently wrote about our reasons for ending a strategy called the Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative (NMI), which in turn generated a quite productive public debate. NMI was intended to help donors give more effectively by providing information about which nonprofits were performing well and which were not, thus creating a competitive marketplace for funding. Unfortunately, it didn't work as we had hoped. Our grantees — all high performing organizations themselves — did exactly what we asked, but donors did not respond as we had hoped and assumed. The ensuing public debate drew a lot of attention to the general question of how to encourage donors to base their giving on the effectiveness of the organizations they're supporting. At some point, members of the staff commented wryly about how this increased transparency stuff was time-consuming. I replied that we need to view this as part of our regular work: it's time well spent to better convey our message and what we're learning.

“To other funders who ask why they should be transparent, my response is: Why shouldn't you be? It can't be that you're afraid of criticism because, first, you're unaccountable, and, second, criticism is often useful. Not always, of course, but you'll never know unless and until you invite it. Take care not to unfairly hurt others while being transparent, of course, but once you've done that, there's no reason not to share.”

--Nancy Albilal

Transparency Tips: Foundation By-Laws, In-Laws, and Outlaws
May 20, 2015

(Mary Gregory is vice president and director of program at Pacific Foundation Services, a San Francisco Bay Area-based company that provides customized and strategic management services to private foundations.)

Mary-Gregory-150As a philanthropic advisor who has a portfolio of six family foundations, I have become a great fan of foundation by-laws, and in particular, of well written by-laws.  So I was particularly pleased to discover that by-laws are included on Glasspockets, since they tend to be either misunderstood or only considered at the founding stage and then forgotten. 

So, what are by-laws and why do they matter?  They are the basic operating instructions for any nonprofit organization including all foundations.  By-laws define an organization and how it does its business: who may serve on the board (for instance, are in-laws eligible or only descendants?), how many people sit on the board and their terms of service, what officers need to be elected and how often and what their roles are.  By-laws can tell you when and how members of the board can be removed (“outlaws”?). They specify how decisions are made, and they even inform trustees about how they can change the by-laws in the future.

Recently the president of one of our client foundations said to me, “We want to change our by-laws to adapt to new leadership by the next generation. What should we include?”

But, true to the old saying, “You’ve seen one foundation, you’ve seen ONE foundation,” there can be many varieties of by-laws.  I work for a small company that manages 23 family foundations, and recently the president of one of our client foundations said to me, “We want to change our by-laws to adapt to new leadership by the next generation. What should we include?” I was able to send them straight to Glasspockets to view the sample by-laws that are available through the “Who Has Glass Pockets?” feature.  I suggested that foundations that have smaller asset sizes might be the best place to look, since those would likely be family foundations and not independent foundations, and thus more relevant to the vision these trustees have for their own small family foundation.  And I knew that the information that the trustees would find on Glasspockets had been freely placed there by foundations willing to share their experience and their ideas (including three of the six foundations with which I work directly).

Whether you are creating a first set of by-laws for a new foundation, or you are re-visiting by-laws to reflect current circumstances, looking at examples may help you think about aspects of stewarding a foundation that you haven’t considered before:

  • Should trustees be compensated?
  • What standing committees should there be?
  • Can decisions be made without a meeting, and if so, how?
  • What are the duties of each officer?
  • What happens in the future if a successive generation wants to partition the foundation?
  • When and where should the annual meeting be held?
True to the old saying, “You’ve seen one foundation, you’ve seen ONE foundation,” there can be many varieties of by-laws.

Some by-laws are more detailed than others, so although you can learn a great deal from examples that relate to other foundations, it is always a good idea to have a lawyer look at your by-laws in order to make sure that they are complete.  Once you have your by-laws (and it is a good idea to read them every year to make sure that they still seem relevant to the current trustees), consider adding them to the growing knowledge base on Glasspockets.  Although by-laws may communicate some of the priorities of a family, they are not personal documents, and your example may help other foundations in the future. 

Foundations often think that they need to be highly original, but I would urge you to use your imagination for developing new ways to collaborate to solve social problems, not for creating new phrasing of by-laws. Use Glasspockets as the great resource it is, and contribute your information to Glasspockets to make it even more useful.

--Mary Gregory

Capacity Building Session Livestream Available for Viewing
May 19, 2015

On April 29, we held a session at our San Francisco office on Capacity Building and Foundation Maps Professional 2.0. Our presenters included Foundation Center’s own Lisa Philp, vice president for strategic philanthropy, and Jen Bokoff, director of GrantCraft. Lisa gave a demo of Foundation Maps, taking us on a cross-country road trip in philanthropy. Jen presented on GrantCraft’s most recent publication, Supporting Grantee Capacity: Strengthening Effectiveness Together. She also spoke with Jamaica Maxwell, a program officer at the Packard Foundation about best practices in capacity building grantmaking.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the session in person or as part of our virtual audience--even if you did join us and you want to rewatch it--we’ve got you covered. We recorded and edited the session, which you can view here

Are foundations using feedback loops? The Fund for Shared Insight has answers
May 14, 2015

(Eliza Smith is the special projects associate at Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511bd210d970c-150wiThe Fund for Shared Insight (FSI) is all about opening up philanthropy. You might remember, we published blog posts earlier this year from its 2015 openness grantees--organizations that are working hard at making our sector more transparent. But FSI isn’t just encouraging their beneficiaries to promote openness: they aim to walk the talk themselves. Recently, they published a report, Feedback Loops and Openness: A Snapshot of the Field that looks at how (and if) foundations are using beneficiary feedback to improve their grantmaking.

FSI teamed up with ORS Impact, an evaluation firm, to do a landscape analysis across the philanthropy sector.  ORS’ current analysis focused on openness and beneficiary feedback loops and here is a summary of the key findings:

  • Foundations understand conceptually what beneficiary feedback loops mean, but few have strong internal practices for intentionally collecting and putting to use feedback that comes from "the people they seek to help";
  • The three most common barriers to implementing feedback loops into foundation practice are organizational capacity, organizational culture and technical challenges;
  • Prior to the launch of Fund for Shared Insight, ORS Impact found some instances of feedback-focused content in a broad based review of sector-related blogs, reports and publications but there is definite room for more voices discussing this work;
  • The two most common barriers to foundation openness are organizational culture, including a fear of sharing failures, followed by time and resources.

FSI_logoFSI reviewed the evaluation findings, and found that “while the baseline report indicates that nonprofits and foundations seem to be talking about feedback loops, there isn’t a widespread understanding of how to do it well, how to integrate it into practice, and how to take action based on the feedback.”

As FSI found, it can be scary for foundations to adopt a culture of openness. Sharing anecdotes about positive impact and success is always much easier since it feels good to share news when things are going well. But broadcasting defeats, failures, and tough lessons learned can be intimidating and gives many foundation leaders pause. But with FSI’s help, we’re excited to see a greater culture of willingness and courage develop around transparency and accountability. 

--Eliza Smith

“Get on the Map”: Technology Fostering Collaboration and Shared Knowledge
May 4, 2015

(Sara Davis is the director of grants management at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California. She can be reach at sdavis@hewlett.org or on Twitter @SaraLeeeDeee.)

Sara will continue the conversation about foundations and collaboration on May 13, in the Visualizing the Past, Present, and Future of California Philanthropy session at our San Francisco office. If you can't attend in person, you can join virtually via live stream.

SaradavisWhy don’t Foundations collaborate more? Why isn’t philanthropy more “we’re all in this together” and less “we’ll do it our own way”? I’ve heard these questions and discussed possible answers many times during my years working in our sector. The literature pointing to the need for, and positive results arising from, effective collaboration is abundant. Yet too often, funder collaboration still remains a hope rather than a reality, and we default to going it alone. Things are beginning to shift, however, and I'm optimistic that a “collaboration-first” mindset can take hold. Over time, we’ve seen collaboration, sharing, and transparency increase in philanthropic practice. One thing fueling this shift, among many other factors, is the way technology makes sharing and interconnection more attainable, and helps swiftly cut through barriers to collaboration.

Over time, we’ve seen collaboration, sharing, and transparency increase in philanthropic practice. One thing fueling this shift is the way technology makes sharing and interconnection more attainable.

Technology’s capacity to enable collaboration makes me excited about the nationwide campaign for philanthropic organizations to “Get on the Map” and participate in collective data sharing and visualization about our grantmaking. Once we've all shared our grant data through the Foundation Center's eReporting Program and it pushes the data to the Foundation Maps tool, not only will we be able to see the flow of philanthropic dollars within the state’s social sector, we’ll also be able to put that information to work. With this new tool, we’ll finally be able to answer within a reasonable time frame some key questions that have thus far eluded us: who else funds a specific organization, what other organizations are doing, where gaps exist, and how our work fits within the full philanthropic context for our regions. This technology will give each of us the ability to see our work in a broader context, explore giving trends over time, reveal connections, see gaps, and discover new partners. It will make collaboration and impact more possible and more visible—things we all want.

As the Director of Grants Management at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, I’ve experienced first-hand the power that high-quality, timely data can bring to improve decision-making, monitoring, and overall grant practice. We frequently use and discuss data internally about our own grant practice—a good example is the project our President, Larry Kramer, described in his Annual Letter last year. Because data can inform and create change, sharing and availability of relevant data is a key strategic goal for many of our programs. The Hewlett Foundation was an inaugural participant in the Reporting Commitment, managed by the Foundation Center, and we participate in the International Aid Transparency Initiative by sharing our data. We do these things because we know that data can fuel insight and support greater impact, not only for Hewlett but for all of us. Sharing our grantmaking data as part of the “Get on the Map” campaign is just the logical next step in acting on this knowledge.

This technology will give each of us the ability to see our work in a broader context. It will make collaboration and impact more possible and more visible—things we all want.

The “Get on the Map” campaign is itself an example of effective collaboration in action. The campaign is a joint effort led by the regional associations across the country in partnership with the Foundation Center and the Forum for Regional Association of Grantmakers.  As a member of the committee working on the California-wide effort through our regional associations - Northern California Grantmakers, Southern California Grantmakers and San Diego Grantmakers and supported by the James Irvine Foundation- I’ve already experienced effective collaboration across the state of California. As a supporter of the campaign it’s been heartening to see, and support, a true spirit of excitement, encouragement, and optimism for this project across the state. It’s a great example of how building in infrastructure together makes better grantmaking and more sharing possible. The campaign tagline, “Doing Good, Done Better,” rings true for me, and I encourage all of us in our various regions to participate and "Get on the Map." We can do better together.

--Sara Davis

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  • 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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