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October 2015 (5 posts)

Philanthropic Dollars Also Shape Electoral Outcomes: Here’s How…
October 28, 2015

(David Callahan is founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy. Previously, he was a senior fellow at DemosThis is the fifth in a series of 10 posts about U.S. democracy and civil society that will be featured on PhilanTopic in the run-up to Election Day, and beyond. This post first ran in PhilanTopic.) 

Callahan Headshot%2c 1With another presidential campaign season under way, we’re again hearing a lot about the mega donors and Super PACs that fuel modern politics. But this isn’t the only stream of money that influences how elections unfold in the U.S.; philanthropic dollars also play a key role, with foundations supporting a range of activities that affect how our democracy functions and what happens at the polls.

Understanding the flow of these grants isn’t just helpful for nonprofits hoping to get a piece of the pie. It’s also super useful for journalists or others keen to see how foundations — which, by law must be nonpartisan — are deploying funds in ways that can sway electoral outcomes.

Let’s take the area of voter education, registration, and turnout as an example. It’s no secret that who turns out to vote, and where, can make a big difference in determining which candidates win on Election Day. If more African Americans turn out in swing states like Florida or North Carolina, for instance, that’s good news for Democrats. If the electorate tilts toward older and white voters, Republicans stand to gain.

Campaigns and Super PACs spend mightily to shape who votes. But what have foundations been doing? Well, Foundation Center’s newly launched Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool offers some answers to that question.

Consider the state of Florida, a fiercely contested battleground in both presidential and off-year elections. Drilling into the data, where grantmaking can be easily segmented by the populations served, we find that five funders have given over a half million dollars in grants in recent years to seven groups that work with “ethnic and racial groups” on voter education, registration, and turnout. For example, the Florida New Majority Education Fund pulled in $200,000 in grant money from the Marguerite Casey Foundation and the Proteus Fund in 2012 and 2013. Casey has described this group as working to “increase the voting and political power of marginalized and excluded constituencies toward an inclusive, equitable, and just Florida.” Historically, these constituencies have supported Democrats at election time.

Other Florida groups that have received money for voting work, according to the database, include the Farmworker Association of Florida and Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast.

Screenshot_Callahan_1

Moving to another swing state, North Carolina, we find a similar pattern: Nearly a half million dollars in grants have been made in recent years for voting work with racial and ethnic groups. The biggest recipient here was Democracy North Carolina, which has lately been at the forefront of efforts to defend voting rights amid a legislative push in that state to restrict the franchise in ways that research has found tends to reduce turnout among African Americans, Latinos, and young people.

Speaking of efforts to restrict the franchise, it’s important to note that not all grantmakers in the democracy space have sought to make voting more accessible by historically marginalized groups. Some have supported work to require voter identification at the polls and to roll back  measures such as early voting and same-day registration, which advocates have pressed for in many states as a way to expand and diversify the electorate.

In North Carolina, the John William Pope Foundation has long been known for its support of tougher voting rules that it says are needed to protect against voter fraud. What exactly has this entailed? The data shows 61 grants totaling more than $2.4 million by the foundation in North Carolina since 2011 that relate to democracy issues.

The Pope Foundation — controlled by Republican activist Art Pope — has been one of the top funders in the democracy space in recent years in North Carolina. But two other funders have given more: the Triad Foundation and the Open Society Foundations. Other big funders of democracy work in the state include the Z. Smith Reynolds and Ford foundations.

There are a lot more examples we could dig into to illustrate how funders are shaping voting work at the state level in ways that can and do affect electoral outcomes. All this grantmaking is officially nonpartisan and perfectly legal, but little of it is actually impartial.

And herein lies an important truth about how money influences America’s democracy. Yes, there is a vast and swollen river of cash flowing into political campaigns. But another, separate tributary of philanthropic money related to elections has also been growing. In fact, Foundation Center reports that funders have made grants totaling nearly $300 million since 2011 specifically for work in support of campaigns, elections, and voting.

That amount is nothing compared to the more than $6 billion that political contributors gave in the 2012 election cycle alone. But it’s still serious money that deserves close scrutiny.

 --David Callahan 

Who Has Open Access Policies?
October 22, 2015

(Janet Camarena is the director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.)

Did you know Open Access Week 2015 is happening now? Open Access Week aims to raise awareness about a potentially game changing idea:

“‘Open Access’ to information — the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need — has the power to transform the way research and scientific inquiry are conducted. It has direct and widespread implications for academia, medicine, science, industry, and for society as a whole.”  -Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)

And it turns out this is a particularly timely alignment of a calendar spotlight and our future plans to enhance the “Who Has Glass Pockets?” template, which foundations may use to assess their institution’s transparency practices. When we established Glasspockets five years ago, we always thought the 23 indicators would change over time, and that time is coming.

Our approach with the indicators was never to view them as a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather as a road map to how individual foundations might chart their own journey to transparency using an inventory of current practice. The good news is that this inventory has expanded over the years, and many more foundations are now talking and thinking about transparency, and many are adding new kinds of openness that we want our assessment to encourage and reflect.

One of these budding areas of foundation transparency that seems to be gaining some traction recently is the movement toward open licensing policies in which foundations specify what can and cannot be done with intellectual property that the foundation produces and/or funds. Generally, an open license is one which grants permission to access, re-use, and redistribute a work with few or no restrictions.

For a field that focuses on investing in new solutions to complex issues, this seems a natural and necessary next step to spreading the knowledge produced from those investments, and ultimately creating a learning culture in philanthropy.  In our latest review of foundations which have used the Glasspockets assessment, 13% of them now have such policy statements on their websites, and most have just very recently added this to their websites, so there is reason to believe that this will continue to grow.

Of the 77 foundations that have taken and publicly shared our “Who Has Glass Pockets?” assessment, we were able to identify at least 10 of them that have policies around open access, open licensing, or open content.  They include the following foundations: Ford; Bill and Melinda Gates; J. Paul Getty Trust; William and Flora Hewlett; JRS Biodiversity; John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur; Gordon and Betty Moore; Charles Stewart Mott; David and Lucile Packard; and Alfred P. Sloan.

So, what does open access actually mean, why does it matter, and what exactly are open licensing policies? And how does this relate to the movement around open repositories? A series of blog posts from IssueLab this week has these answers covered in the links below.

Isn’t Our Research Already Free? Why Open Access Matters for the Social Sector

Steps to Open Access: Open Licensing

Steps to Open Access: Open Repositories

And for those of you who have used the "Who Has Glass Pockets?" assessment, be on the lookout for the addition of the Open Licensing Policy element in early 2016. You now have advance notice so you can start exploring this aspect of increasing philanthropic openness. We will also be adding a couple of other new elements to the profile, so watch this space for other coming changes.

--Janet Camarena

#77: Transparency Talk Welcomes the VNA Foundation to Glasspockets
October 14, 2015

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.  For more information, visit Foundation Center’s Who Has Glasspockets, and learn about VNA Foundation and the other foundations.)

Vna-foundationIn late September, the VNA Foundation joined our growing collection of “Who Has Glass Pockets?” (WHGP) profiles, which serve as both an assessment tool and a demonstration of a foundation’s commitment to transparency.  VNA became the 77th foundation to join WHGP. 

We thought it would be helpful to use our Transparency Talk blog as a way to introduce our audience to the newest foundation participant, and point out some of the interesting ways in which this Chicago-based foundation that supports healthcare for the underserved is employing innovative methods in how they communicate grantmaking and open up the work of philanthropy.

VNA Foundation, established in 1890 as the Visiting Nurse Association of Chicago, supports nonprofit organizations offering home- and community-based health care to the medically underserved.

About its Glasspockets participation, VNA states on its website: “We believe that foundations need to understand the value of transparency, be more open and clear in our communications, and highlight how the philanthropic sector partners with its grantees to serve the public good.”

"We believe that foundations need to understand the value of transparency, (and) be more open and clear in our communications."

The grantmaking process, from what a successful proposal looks like to what to expect when a funder says they want to meet with you, is often shrouded in mystery—but not at VNA.  The website features an informative prospective grantee area that not only shares the grantmaking process but reaches a high bar in transparency by sharing complete grant applications of successful proposals in addition to providing helpful insights into the foundation’s grantmaking process and its expectations from a site visit.  VNA also has an open invitation for grantees to highlight their work via the VNA Foundation’s YouTube channel.

VNA also shares contextual and historical information about its current and past special initiatives, and includes links to 14 years of its annual reports, an unusually comprehensive report collection.    

Additionally, VNA provides a unique and interactive infographic that discloses a great variety of grantmaking information in a very user-friendly format.  In the infographic, VNA openly shares geographic and financial information, as well as diversity data about its grantmaking in Chicago, from the city to the suburbs. 

Infographic data highlights include:

  • Grant overview & total grantmaking
  • Grant demographics by population, gender and ethnicity
  • Types of medical services and service settings among grantees
  • Types of grant support

Additionally, VNA’s infographic details what its grantees have learned, which may be helpful for other service organizations wanting to build on the work, while also providing other healthcare funders and grantees with helpful knowledge about their shared field.  For example, one grantee shared new and unforeseen challenges in light of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion.  Although the expansion has provided more people with insurance, the number of clinics and providers has not grown to meet the demand.

Does your foundation have glass pockets?  Please take our "Who Has Glass Pockets" assessment.  Your foundation could be #78!

--Melissa Moy

5 Questions for Judy M. Miller, Vice President and Director, Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize
October 8, 2015

(At $2 million, the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize is the world’s largest humanitarian award and is presented to organizations judged to have made extraordinary contributions to alleviating human suffering. Judy M. Miller oversees all aspects of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, from the nomination and evaluation process to the final selection of recipients by an independent international panel of jurors.)

Judy Miller profile
Transparency Talk: Anniversaries are often a moment when foundations reflect on the past and open up around lessons learned from their work, and then share that knowledge and that body of work in new ways publicly. It seems like Hilton is undergoing one of those kinds of moments now, both with the 20th anniversary of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, and also with your leadership transition.  Can you talk about how those milestones have contributed to taking stock of the Humanitarian Prize and informing new directions, such as the new Coalition?

Judy Miller: Just like in any other field, practice and experience make us better at our jobs, and input from our partners helps us to be more effective. As we embarked upon the 20th year of awarding the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, we looked to our Laureates to see how the Prize had shaped their paths – what doors it opened and how it enabled them to grow. The 19 past prize recipients are some of the most effective and prestigious humanitarian organizations in the world, and what we found when talking with them was that this group had become quite a formidable, yet informal network. On their own, they started partnering with each other as they learned about each other through our annual Hilton Prize events.  Soon it became clear that beyond just one or two of their organizations, they saw that even very disparate organizations could join forces to leverage their work and maximize the use of their resources. 

So it became clear that there was tremendous value in further developing the network that our laureates had formed, as strengthening those bonds could only magnify our collective efforts to alleviate human suffering.  At the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, we are always reflecting on how we can amplify the impact of our work. The 20th anniversary of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize was certainly an impetus for more of that reflection.

TT: The Hilton Humanitarian Prize awards an organization rather than an individual.  Can you explain the strategy behind that choice? Prizes are typically designed to recognize specific leaders, so this seems somewhat unique.

JM: This was purposeful.  Since most individual prizes are recognizing the past accomplishments of the recipient, by selecting organizations, we wanted to identify those that were already doing great work, but utilize the Prize to increase their exposure so that they could attract support to innovate and expand even more.  By focusing on organizations rather than individuals, we can actually contribute to building their capacity, and with the unrestricted Prize money they can test new ideas to improve the quality of their services. We’ve seen tangible results from this approach. For example, BRAC, our 2008 Hilton Humanitarian Prize Laureate, used their grant money to expand their anti-poverty program into South Sudan, where they have built a microfinance operation and continue to work on small enterprise development.  In just the past seven years, BRAC has reached an estimated 50,000 people in South Sudan who were in desperate need of help. This is the kind of impact we want the Hilton Humanitarian Prize to have, and we have watched our Prize Laureates accomplish this and more as they’ve grown through the years. While there are certainly individuals working in this field of humanitarian work who deserve recognition, the Hilton Prize is meant to facilitate and improve, as well as recognize excellent humanitarian work.

Hilton Humanitarian Prize 20 Vertical (1)TT: Prize philanthropy is often, by design, shrouded in secrecy—from the selection process to the jury.  Your website actually lists its current and past jury members.  Can you talk about why you made the choice to be transparent about these behind the scenes elements of the Prize?

JM: We are very proud of the panel of independent, international jurors who are at the top of their respective fields and meet in person each year to deliberate on selecting the prize recipient.  They take their role very seriously.  While the selection process itself remains discrete, we do not feel the need to hide the people who are making the final decisions. In fact, we take pride in their distinguished credentials and know that the individual Laureates selected feel honored that this prestigious group had selected them.   Our current panel includes a Nobel Prize-winning economist, a former Prime Minister of Norway who also led the World Health Organization, one of the most prominent philanthropists in Africa who focuses on education, and a former leader of UNICEF. Previous jurors held equally distinguished credentials.                                                                                                                                       

TT: Your recent announcement to create a network or Coalition of your Humanitarian Prize winners seems a great way to extend the value of the Prize beyond the monetary and profile-raising value, since it’s a way for organizations to build peer networks that contribute to shared learning.  Can you speak to some of these aspects and your hopes for how this group of organizations will learn from one another, and how you are supporting them to best enable them to live up to that potential? 

JM: Given today’s global challenges, often many issues are simply too large or complex for any single organization to handle, particularly in such areas as disaster response where collaboration in the field is essential for impact and efficiency.  We recognized the unique opportunity for our Laureates to join forces in the field because they already know and respect each others’ accomplishments, and each organization’s work is very diverse so they can address multiple areas of need.  Key to supporting their efforts was funding a Secretariat to be the backbone behind what the Laureates wanted to accomplish together.  Individual Laureate organizations do not have personnel to devote to the organizational or fiduciary role, which is needed.  As a unique collective force with common goals, we are confident their experiences will produce learning that will contribute to the entire humanitarian field.   

As for financial support of their combined work, the Foundation has dedicated $2 million to kick-start the implementation of two new, signature programs already identified by the Laureate Coalition to be priority issues.

First, the Hilton Prize Laureates Fellowship Program is a joint effort to train the next generation of humanitarian activists, selecting a group of graduate and undergraduate students to learn from the best nonprofit organizations around the world. Not only will this program draw the Laureates closer together by requiring cooperation in educating these young humanitarians, but it will also lay the foundation for a future in which these organizations and others are led by the program’s alumni, who will have a common base of knowledge and close personal relationships to these important causes. The Hilton Prize Coalition is as much about acting together as it is about learning together.  Tostan and Amref Health Africa piloted the first such initiative in Senegal and that collaboration is still ongoing.   

The second signature program that the Coalition is implementing this year is the Disaster Resiliency and Response project.  As a group, the Laureates Coalition is present in more than 150 countries.  At any time, perhaps 4-5 or even 8-10 Laureates could be active in a single country, making disaster response a key initiative for collaboration.  After the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake, some of our Laureates -- Operation Smile and Partners In Health -- collaborated to treat 380 trauma cases across the country.  Following the earthquake, Heifer International convened all 8 Laureate country directors working in Haiti and they developed an online detailed mapping of all programs to improve future collaboration.  This is the kind of cooperation that the Hilton Prize Coalition aims to replicate and improve with the new, formalized bonds.  Through the Disaster Resiliency and Response program, the laureates are creating a model for NGOs to cooperate in the aftermath of a disaster. In addition, the project will work with disaster-prone communities to build resilience, preparing them for when future disaster strikes. These are just some ways that the Hilton Foundation is helping to bring the combined resources of our Laureates to bear against the greatest humanitarian challenges we face.

Prize_Infographic_2015_finalTT: Prize philanthropy seems to be more popular today than it was when you started the Humanitarian Prize 20 years ago.  What advice do you have for other philanthropists who are considering starting a Prize about how to do it well? And how do you evaluate the effectiveness of Prize philanthropy?

JM: When we started there were only three prizes over $1 million—the Nobel, the Templeton and the Conrad Hilton.  Now not only has inflation increased the size of prizes, but the numbers of organizations are recognizing the value of prizes.  I have been called by several organizations thinking of starting a prize, and I encourage them.  One problem that we at the Hilton Foundation face in prize philanthropy is that of scope. Especially for an international prize, there are so many excellent organizations that positively impact the lives of countless people every day, but for the Hilton Humanitarian Prize to be as effective as possible, we can only award it to one organization each year. To address this, the Foundation tries to be as inclusive as possible in the process of selecting a recipient. Each year we receive hundreds of nominations, and our requirements for nominees are intentionally broad, just as the definition of “humanitarian” is very broad.  The only rules are that the nominator must have direct knowledge of the nominee’s work, the nominator cannot receive any payment from the nominee, and the nominator can’t be a family member of someone who works for the nominee.

These simple requirements allows for extremely worthwhile organizations that may not have the highest profiles to be considered for the Prize.  We want to make sure that the most worthy organizations receive our Prize, so we cast a wide net.  Since the nominations come from throughout the world, the Foundation also learns of organizations that we otherwise would not know; this is important since about half of our grantmaking is international in scope.  It is also gratifying to see the growth of our Laureate organizations over time.  When we awarded the first ever Humanitarian Prize to Operation Smile in 1996, they were only active in 12 countries and conducted one service mission per year.  Now, Operation Smile is active in 60 countries and will conduct close to 180 missions in 2015.  Each Laureate organization continues to demonstrate similar growth, validating the jury’s selections. 

We evaluate the effectiveness of the Prize through the success of our Laureates, all of whom are constantly expanding and thriving. Many of them credit some of their growth to the Hilton Humanitarian Prize.  As long as we are helping our Laureates to make peoples’ lives better, we are fulfilling our purpose.

--Janet Camarena

Money, Data, and Democracy
October 1, 2015

(Lucy Bernholz is a senior research scholar at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, where she co-leads the Digital Civil Society Lab. You can follow her on twitter @p2173. This is the first in a series of 10 posts about U.S. democracy and civil society that will be featured on PhilanTopic in the run-up to Election Day in November.  This post first ran in PhilanTopic.)

LucyBheadshotThe U.S. presidential election is thirteen months away. At this point, more than fifty candidates are vying for nomination by the two major parties. The field includes the lone member of the United States Senate to stand as a Socialist and a New York City businessman who has four corporate bankruptcy filings to his name. Members of the voting public may be said to fall into two camps at this point — political junkies who simply cannot ever get enough of campaign politics and the majority of Americans who plan to tune in about a year from now. The former group is hell-bent on getting enough attention from the latter to raise the country’s dismal voting percentage to its presidential-election average, which hovers around 60 percent (ten points lower than the average for OECD countries).


Voter turnout is a big deal. Not just to political junkies and clipboard-wielding party volunteers but also to American foundations. According to Foundation Center’s newest mapping tool, Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, 180 foundations have spent more than $150 million on voter education, registration, and turnout since 2011, a period that includes one presidential and one midterm election.

Seems like a lot of money to get Americans to do what people in many other countries die for. But we’re good at spending a lot of money on our democracy. Even this early in the campaign, big donors are talking big numbers, promising (threatening?) to spend $100 million or more each on their favorite candidates or issues. And political junkies are predicting that more than $4.4 billion will be spent on TV ads alone — while election spending in total could run as high as $10 billion. Suddenly, nearly $150 million of foundation funding over four years doesn’t look so big in comparison to $10 billion for a single election cycle.

The huge sums of money have become as much a part of the quadrennial American narrative as the quirky unknown candidates, their inevitable stumbles and blunders, and the occasional important policy discussion. Part of the interest lies in the sheer magnitude of the sums involved. Imagine what we might accomplish in social services, education, or health care if we spent an additional $10 billion.

Screenshot_Lucyblog
 But some of the interest also is driven by persistent efforts to make campaign spending more transparent. Because presidential elections only happen every four years, there’s a better-than-average chance that each one will be “the most expensive ever.” Telling that story, tracking the numbers, and highlighting the huge sums provided by a (tiny) subset of political donors has become part of our republic’s ritual.

Organizations such as the Sunlight Foundation, MapLight, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics find, clean, and load (in useful formats) the fundraising and spending reports that candidates, campaigns, and various aligned political organizations are required to file. The costs of doing this are more than you might at first imagine, as we tend to think that simply posting data sets is all that’s necessary to make that data useful. As proponents of transparency and those trying to obfuscate know, raw data by itself as a first step is not sufficient for sensemaking. Open and accessible is a requisite first step, but cleaning, verifying, analyzing, and using it are still very much required. Even so, various political agendas have stymied efforts to require e-filing of these reports as a first step, a regulatory change that would go a long way to lowering the cost of making sense of political fundraising.

In the looking-glass world in which we find ourselves, the more raw data on political fundraising and spending that becomes available, the more we need nonprofit intermediaries, including investigative reporting organizations, to help make sense of the data. For all its potential to make information available at ever-lower cost, opening up data requires complementary investments in mechanisms to make the data useful and help us make sense of it.

If the issues swirling around campaign finance reform sound familiar to those of you who work in nonprofits, they should. The same set of questions about e-filing and data disclosure also applies to nonprofit tax filings. Earlier this year, the IRS lost a legal challenge aimed at accelerating its heretofore-glacial efforts to put nonprofit tax data online. Any year now we should see mandatory nonprofit e-filing and the release of tax data in a machine-readable format.  

If the nonprofit space follows in the footsteps of our political system, the end result of a law to require nonprofits to e-file won’t be a straight line to cheaper and more convenient access to that information. We’ll also need more investments in the intermediaries and infrastructure that can help us make sense of the increasing quantities of data we generate.

We’re reaching the stage where ready access to data on spending in politics, on politics, and from foundations and nonprofits can be assumed. This bodes well as a catalyst for greater understanding, more insights, and, potentially, more participation. Not because the data will make the responsibility of being an active citizen in a democracy any easier, but because it will gives us more tools with which to work. Democracies depend on participation and accountability, and broadly accessible useful information is a precursor to both.

--Lucy Bernholz

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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:

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    Director, Transparency Initiatives
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