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June 2015 (6 posts)

Visualizing California Philanthropy Discussion now Available on Livestream
June 29, 2015

Recently we convened a variety of foundation leaders in our San Francisco office to discuss strategies to improve data for and about California philanthropy. During the program, Visualizing the Past, Present, and Future of California Philanthropy, president of Foundation Center, Brad Smith, moderated a discussion among representatives from a diverse array of California-based foundations: Pamela H. David, executive director of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund; Sara Davis, director of grants management at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; and Peter V. Long, Ph.D., president and CEO of Blue Shield of CA Foundation. The discussion focused on transparency, and how these foundations have adopted sharing, accountability, and openness into their giving practices. The funders also related how technology has impacted and enhanced their transparency practices-including the adoption of Foundation Center’s Reporting Commitment and Get on the Map campaign.

If you missed the session, or attended and would like to view it again, you can find it here. If you would like to Get on the Map, but are unsure how to do so, check out our how-to webinar.

Knowledge Sharing in the Social Sector: Leaders Open Up About Opening Up
June 22, 2015

(Maggie Lee is IssueLab Specialist at Foundation Center.)

Maggie lee closeSomething great happened in Boston two weeks ago. A group of dedicated folks from foundations and nonprofits gathered in a workshop session to discuss how we, as a sector, publish and share our knowledge. IssueLab, a service of Foundation Center, convened the meeting as part of our work to increase foundation effectiveness through open knowledge sharing. Rather than diving immediately into a conversation about how we should do this, we wanted to take a step back and look at the reasons why we publish in the first place. Two hours flew by as we discussed our work — and the obstacles that get in our way — in order to articulate a set of principles that can guide us moving forward.

Sharing knowledge amplifies impact - we can’t fund or consult with everyone, but by sharing research and lessons learned we can make our dollars go further.

To break the ice, the session leaders asked for quick, one-word responses to a few questions:  How would you describe your organization’s knowledge-sharing practices?  “Dusty.” What is the biggest obstacle that prevents organizations from engaging in open knowledge sharing? “Fear.” “Confusion.” “Lack of resources.”  (Okay, that’s three words, but the concept is so important!)

From there, we talked about why our own organizations publish formal materials, such as white papers, case studies, and evaluations. The ideas and questions that were raised in this short time point to just how integral knowledge production and sharing are to the goals of our organizations. People had a lot to say, which included:

  • Agreeing that sharing knowledge amplifies impact - we can’t fund or consult with everyone, but by sharing research and lessons learned we can make our dollars go further;
  • Reinforcing the need for spaces and places where everyone can contribute their evidence and insights; and,
  • Questioning whether we are biased towards formal knowledge and whether we can agree that decisions benefit from a broader and more informed context.

This workshop is not without precedent. In 2001, Open Society Foundations (then the Open Society Institute) convened a meeting in Budapest, which became known as the Budapest Open Access Initiative, in order to “accelerate progress in the international effort to make research articles in all academic fields freely available on the internet.” In doing so, they articulated a vision to guide their work: "Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge."

Now that’s a vision! With our Boston workshop, we sought to bring this spirit and this conversation to the social sector to ensure that more research and more voices are included in this common intellectual conversation.

By the end of this very productive session, we had drafted a starter list of principles. Here are just a few:

  • Social sector knowledge resources are produced with funds in the public trust, which gives us a unique responsibility to share them as a public good.
  • The social sector’s credibility relies on honesty and transparency.
  • We believe that new knowledge is built on existing knowledge and should be placed in context and attributed.
  • Do no harm. Do not waste scarce resources. Do not replicate mistakes.

This workshop was only the beginning of a conversation about open publishing. We’ll soon be creating a set of draft principles building on what was proposed at the workshop, as well as a vision statement based on these principles to be shared more widely with the sector. (We’ll keep you posted!) We hope everyone in the social sector who produces knowledge, shares knowledge, and uses knowledge will tune in, add their voices, and help shape the principles and vision to guide this important work.

--Maggie Lee

What Story Can Your Foundation Tell with Data?
June 15, 2015

(Stephanie Evergreen, PhD, is a data visualization and reporting specialist who loves to empower clients to tell their own stories. She writesblogsspeaks, and dreams about presenting data effectively.)

StephevergreenI’m a self-proclaimed data nerd. Maybe you are too. I love how numbers can help us track progress on foundation initiatives. But the hard truth is that most of us data nerds aren’t the strongest at figuring out how to tell a larger story with our data, especially in ways that others can understand. Transparency begins with a greater, internal understanding of our data. Before foundations share their data with their beneficiaries and the public, they need to be able to fully understand and clearly communicate their numbers among themselves and with their stakeholders. Here I’ll give you two examples of how strengthening the story using data visualization strategies helped foundations accomplish their philanthropic goals.

The Power of the Dashboard

What’s 530 minus 600? Ok, that one was probably easy, but keep it in your head while you subtract 810 from 1,975 and 45% from 93% while engaging in a rich discussion with other foundation board members and staff. That’s a lot to track!

And that’s why I worked with Walton Family Foundation to add simple visualizations to their education dashboard. They already displayed current performance on several metrics with the 5-year goals listed as well. But the way they were displaying the data, well… it wasn’t very clear. So I worked with them to clean it up and make it clearer so anyone could understand it, not just foundation staff. I suggested we swap out all tables for graphs, but Karen at Walton said “Uh, no the board really wants to see all the raw numbers.” Inside my head I said “Suuuuuuure they do” and out of my mouth I said, “No problem, let’s keep them all in there and dashboard this thing.” Here is the redesign:

  WaltonGraphic

Karen and her team showed this dashboard to their board, who saw it as a real improvement. In late 2014 we have been dashboarding even more. So, good for me and my business but let’s talk about what happened inside the Walton Family Foundation.

"Data visualization helps us tell a story about the foundation’s impact and leads to improved decision-making across the organization.”

The culture changed. Karen recently told me that the drive toward better design “really impacted everyone at Walton Family Foundation.” She went on to say, “Dipping our toe in the waters of better data visualization with the dashboards has set off a chain reaction. Our entire organization is really poised to improve how we present information to our Board and publicly. Data visualization helps us tell a story about the foundation’s impact and leads to improved decision-making across the organization.”

And *that’s* the kind of difference that can be made by presenting data effectively.

Check out the full dashboard (all fake, example data) to see the other visuals we added and to hear more about the impacts this redesign had on their foundation work.

Adjust the Image

Welborn Baptist Foundation was eager to tell the data stories from their Community Health Survey… in a way that was easily interpretable. Rather than a traditional stacked bar chart—which only tells a small fraction of the data story—we used a new graph type: a diverging stacked bar. These are perfect for showing data that split around some mid point. Here it is yes/no. This works even better on Strongly Disagree-Strongly Agree and other response sets that diverge.

  WelbornGraphic

The trouble with this same data in traditional stacked bar graphs is that the reader can’t easily compare all the positive responses, for example, because they don’t share a common axis. With a diverging bar chart, the shared axis is in the middle, making it easier for the reader to comprehend. And yes, you can make it in Excel. Be sure to check out the full report from Welborn for more diverging stacked bar examples and other powerful data stories.

Increasing the intentional display of your data can seriously maximize your story and provide a bigger picture for your stakeholders to interpret.

 --Stephanie Evergreen

Participate in the 2015 Glasspockets User Survey
June 11, 2015

Do you have a moment to help us make Glasspockets better? We are conducting a short survey to assess ways to improve Foundation Center’s Glasspockets web site, services, and social media presence. As a Glasspockets community member, we invite you to contribute to our thinking around new directions for our work, and how we can improve our web site and social media engagement to better engage and inform our audiences toward the goal of encouraging greater foundation transparency.

You can access the survey here. We look forward to your feedback. 

Awareness of self, partners, and field essential to building organization and sector capacity
June 8, 2015

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

ElizaIn an open session held at Foundation Center in San Francisco on April 29, we explored two exciting tools to help those in the social sector get smarter about building organizational and sector capacity—through awareness. As we explored Foundation Center’s data visualization tool, Foundation Maps Professional 2.0, and the GrantCraft guide, Supporting Grantee Capacity: Strengthening Effectiveness Together, a theme emerged: leaders are at their most strategic and are empowered to build capacity when they have a strong awareness of themselves, their partners, and the field.

Awareness is pretty much the name of our game here at Foundation Center. We collect, analyze, and distribute data about philanthropy, providing various audiences—from foundations to budding nonprofits to established grants managers—a firm understanding of what’s going on in the social sector. Foundation Maps Professional 2.0 is kind of like Foundation Center’s version of Google Maps, with social sector-relevant overlays and filters. If you’ve ever wondered who is funding what and where, Foundation Maps has answers for you.

In the grantee-grantmaker relationship, the foundation is king… at least, that’s how it has been. But the folks at Packard are working hard to rectify this power imbalance and create a level playing field for foundations and their beneficiaries. How? It’s all about awareness.

Recently, my sister-in-law asked me if I knew about environmental funders in the Bay Area. Her friend is moving to Oakland and wants to work with an organization that combats climate change. I’ve lived and fundraised in the Bay Area for almost a decade, but I was drawing a blank. So I used Foundation Maps  and quickly came back to my sister-in-law with a long list of environmentally engaged local grantees and funders. Maybe her friend will gravitate towards a foundation on the list, or maybe, after discovering which organizations those funders support, she’ll want to apply to a nonprofit. By the time she gets here, she’ll have a greater awareness of this subsection of Bay Area philanthropy and can wow her interviewers with her knowledge of the field. More importantly, though, once she lands a job at a Bay Area environmental organization, she can use this knowledge to fuel her projects, creating further connections in the field.

At our event, we didn’t spend the whole afternoon geeking out about data. Jen Bokoff went on to talk about the evaluation and power dynamic angles of capacity building grants with Jamaica Maxwell, an organizational effectiveness program officer at the Packard Foundation. Jamaica is well aware of the power she has, holding the proverbial purse strings. Often, she told us, grantees will hang onto her words, taking her most casual suggestions as orders. Once, she recommended a book to a grantee; the following Friday, he had bought the book and was going to read it and report back to her on the most noteworthy chapters. Jamaica wasn’t asking for a book report—she was just making an off-hand recommendation. But in the grantee-grantmaker relationship, the foundation is king… at least, that’s how it has been.

Listening doesn’t just help grantmakers tweak their budgets or understand evaluation results better, it improves the whole grant process. By establishing trust with grantees, grantmakers can push their beneficiaries to get more out of their grants. And grantees can feel more comfortable providing much-needed feedback to their funders.

But the folks at Packard are working hard to rectify this power imbalance and create a level playing field for foundations and their beneficiaries. How? It’s all about awareness. Packard requires all program officers to cultivate a deeper understanding of the profound power they have when they’re working with grantees. Foundation leadership asks program officers to turn the tables. Why not let the grantees talk?

Jamaica said that, for her, learning to listen to her grantees was integral to her work at Packard, and not just during formal, scheduled meetings and site visits. Jamaica said that some of the best grantee–foundation relationship building happens outside the office. She suggested program officers break down power structures by joining grantees on their lunch breaks and at their staff get-togethers (yes, even happy hours!).

Listening doesn’t just help grantmakers tweak their budgets or understand evaluation results better, it improves the whole grant process. By establishing trust with grantees, grantmakers can push their beneficiaries to get more out of their grants. And grantees can feel more comfortable providing much-needed feedback to their funders. Promoting awareness—of the grantee–grantmaker dynamic and of the grantee’s needs—can increase impact sector-wide.

Which brings up an important question: What role do you think awareness plays in the philanthropy sector? For us, it’s all about smarter grantmaking and increased accountability. 

--Eliza Smith

The Clinton Foundation Reveals Its Donors: Should You?
June 1, 2015

(Steven Lawrence is the director of research at Foundation Center.)

[Steven Lawrence]A fundraising foundation has two world famous founders, a global network of generous donors, and a track record of grantmaking success. One of the founders plans to run for higher office, and the foundation makes the decision to be highly transparent about its donor base to ensure that there can be no suspicion of undue influence on the potential candidate. End of story.

Unless your founders happen to be Bill and Hillary Clinton.

In this marketplace, an organization’s major donors and the amounts they’ve contributed may be considered akin to a “trade secret.”

Over the past several weeks, Foundation Center has been approached by numerous reporters asking—in some cases literally—“There’s smoke, right? What about a fire?” Our response has been an immediate “No” followed by an explanation as to why the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation in fact represents a model of transparency when compared to other grantmaking public charities. (Unlike private foundations endowed by a single donor or donor family—think Ford Foundation—grantmaking public charities like the Clinton Foundation sustain their work by raising funds from a variety of donors.)

So, let’s start with why a fundraising organization might not want to share information on its donors—especially its largest donors. The answer: competition. While public benefit organizations are focused on serving the needs of their constituents, they need to raise money to do so and indirectly compete with one another for support. In this marketplace, an organization’s major donors and the amounts they’ve contributed may be considered akin to a “trade secret.”

Of course, organizations lacking former President Clinton as chief fundraiser may feel less confident about the impact of making this type of information public. But the Clinton Foundation should be commended for its donor transparency, particularly in a field in which anonymous giving is often the norm.

Does it have to be this way? Clearly, the Clinton Foundation believes that its work will not come to a halt because its donors have been voluntarily made public. And the high profile of some of these donors may well encourage their well-heeled peers to also consider supporting the foundation. Of course, organizations lacking former President Clinton as chief fundraiser may feel less confident about the impact of making this type of information public. But the Clinton Foundation should be commended for its donor transparency, particularly in a field in which anonymous giving is often the norm.

And this leads to another question: why do some donors choose anonymity? It’s important to consider in any discussion of disclosing donors that not every donor wants to be recognized for their generosity. Some donors may have personal or religious beliefs that announcing their gifts is a form of unseemly self-aggrandizement. Others may come from cultural contexts where announcing donations is considered distasteful. And some donors live in countries where any show of wealth, including their generosity to others, could increase the threat of kidnapping and harm for themselves and their families.

These valid concerns notwithstanding, the digital age is bringing ever more voluntary and involuntary transparency to all aspects of our lives. Public benefit organizations and their donors would be well served by considering how they can be models of transparency who take the lead in telling their own stories, rather than having them told by others. The Clinton Foundation may be on to something. 

--Steven Lawrence

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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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