Transparency Talk

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December 2015 (7 posts)

A Case for Better (Self-Imposed) Transparency Standards for Foundations
December 29, 2015

(Rick Cohen is the National Correspondent for Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) and the editor of NPQ's Cohen Report. Prior to joining NPQ, Rick was executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, vice president of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and vice president of the Enterprise Foundation. A version of this blog appeared in NPQ.)

Editor's Note: As the year draws to a close, it is natural to remember and reflect on those whom we have lost.  Last month, philanthropy lost one of its strongest voices for change with the passing of Rick Cohen. A prolific writer, Cohen was known for encouraging philanthropy to extend its reach to marginalized and underserved communities. Seeing the weaknesses of a closed door culture, Cohen also frequently wrote and spoke about the need for greater foundation transparency and the potential for improving philanthropic practice by increasing stakeholder participation and influence. In honor of Cohen, Transparency Talk is closing out 2015 by revisiting a two-part post Cohen authored for Transparency Talk in 2012 on the case for enhanced foundation transparency, and his recommendations for improved transparency standards.

Photo_74078_landscape_650x433Rather than simply arguing for more or less transparency, a better strategy is to consider the public purposes that might be served by better, proactive standards of disclosure. I suggest the following: 

  1. A better story: Spruill’s charge to the sector is still the ultimate reason, to explain what organized philanthropy is and does, but it is so much more credible when it emerges from the analysis of independent analysts and the public. The glossy annual reports whose cost of writing, design, and printing exceeds many nonprofits’ budgets are not persuasive. They look more and more like corporate advertisements. If philanthropy has a strong story to tell, it should be one that can be told by independent observers examining the data.
  2. Civic engagement: Foundations themselves are relatively unified, regardless of their political leanings, in favor of increased civic engagement, not just in the public arena of government, but in the engagement with communities, in the overall pursuit of community and societal betterment. If foundations are part of a sectoral commitment for advancing the public good, one means is to make more foundation information available, to make citizens and policy makers better “consumers” of foundation products, just as foundations want to help citizens be better consumers and participants in the processes of government and business. 
  3. Foundations in public policy: Increasingly, foundations have been moving into the public policy arena, not simply through their grantmaking, but their direct participation. Foundations partner with government at various levels, notably a recent spate of foundation engagements with the federal government in programs such as the Social Innovation Fund at the Corporation for National and Community Service and the “Race to the Top” in the Department of Education. In some cities, notably Detroit, where local government has taken a turn toward the dysfunctional, foundations are developing and running programs that in some ways are taking the place of the public sector. As foundations become direct players in the public arena, not simply supporting nonprofits to do so, foundations should be increasing the transparency the public needs about their operations.
  4. Increased accountability: At this time, there is a parallel debate going on about increasing the transparency of government data. Virginia Senator Mark Warner has introduced the DATA Act which would create standardized formats for reporting and publication of government spending data. The Act, as the Sunlight Foundation commented, “could help eliminate much government waste, fraud, and abuse, and make spending oversight much easier.” Better, expanded, standardized data makes oversight easier, it’s that logical.  But so much of the data reported in 990s is not particularly standardized and, when it comes to data on foundation investments, virtually uninterpretable.  That isn’t a reason to drop the data requirement.  It is to improve the reporting and formatting of data so that the public—and oversight agencies—can figure out what it contains. 
  5. Abuse of 501(c) confidentiality:  The nation faces an explosion of organizations—and money—seeking the 501(c) confidentiality for the only purpose of keeping the identities of the players pulling the levers of the political system secret.  Television commentator Dylan Ratigan suggests that “our political system has become an auction in which the highest bidder wins,” but the identities of the bidders are increasingly under wraps.  In other arenas, public agencies such as municipal governments and state universities are creating affiliated nonprofits and foundations with a purpose of reducing or removing a slice of their operations from public scrutiny and oversight.  If this nation is going to pursue greater freedom of information, we will, as Senator Warner suggests, need to have better mechanisms with which to “follow the money.” ( We have to better follow foundation moneys, too. 

Let’s face it that there is no discernible Congressional appetite for playing with the laws and regulations facing foundations right now.  Since foundations are overseen by the Internal Revenue Service—and in some measure by a number of states that have provided at least a semblance of staffing and support for charity oversight functions usually in their AG offices, though state attention only sporadically ever nears private foundations—not much is going to happen. 

If there is more money for the Internal Revenue Service, it is logically going to go to expanding its capacity for dealing with its new responsibilities under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, not for oversight and enforcement activities regarding charities.  In general, there’s no money to be made by the IRS for chasing nonprofits and foundations, and like a sports agent looking for a contract, the IRS wants to be shown the money that it can generate through stepped up enforcement. 

Moreover, the IRS is not generally among the more popular of federal agencies.  The outcry against Maine Governor Paul LePage’s denunciation of the IRS as new Gestapo caused him to apologize to Jews, but not to IRS agents who might have been offended, and few in Congress stepped to the plate to defend the IRS.  Ways and Means Committee hearings into IRS operations have been held,  prompted in part by the complaints of Tea Party groups believing that their applications for 501(c)(4) social welfare status were being subjected to politically motivated IRS reviews. 

--Rick Cohen

The Need - and Appetite for - Enhanced Foundation Transparency
December 28, 2015

(The late Rick Cohen was the National Correspondent for Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) and the editor of NPQ's Cohen Report. Prior to joining NPQ, Rick was executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, vice president of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and vice president of the Enterprise Foundation. A version of this 2012 blog appeared in NPQ.)

Editor's Note: As the year draws to a close, it is natural to remember and reflect on those whom we have lost.  Last month, philanthropy lost one of its strongest voices for change with the passing of Rick Cohen. A prolific writer, Cohen was known for encouraging philanthropy to extend its reach to marginalized and underserved communities. Seeing the weaknesses of a closed door culture, Cohen also frequently wrote and spoke about the need for greater foundation transparency and the potential for improving philanthropic practice by increasing stakeholder participation and influence. In honor of Cohen, Transparency Talk is closing out 2015 by revisiting a two-part post Cohen authored for Transparency Talk in 2012 on the case for enhanced foundation transparency, and his recommendations for improved transparency standards.

Photo_74078_landscape_650x433It is nearly impossible to think about transparency in the world of philanthropy without putting philanthropy into a societal context. Philanthropy is not a world unto itself, but one that is engaged in extensive interactions with other sectors of the economy and society, particularly important in an era of increasingly crippled institutions and practices of democracy in the U.S.

The political context concerns the flows of secret moneys into the electoral process, obviously an activity prohibited to private and public foundations, but one that increasingly shapes the perspectives of the American public toward nonprofits—and, if they knew what foundations were beyond the television portrayals of philanthropoids as white glove socialites—foundations too. Secret money is the lifeblood of American political campaigns, perhaps brought to a level of self-parody when comedian Stephen Colbert points out that Karl Rove is giving anonymous political money to help keep political giving anonymous. The calls for breaking through the wall of secrecy in political spending are increasing, notably in the District and Appeals Court decisions in Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission

And so it is with foundations and the calls philanthropic leaders face for increased transparency. As Vikki Spruill, the new leader of the Council on Foundations, noted in what appears to be one of her first official communications to the Council’s membership, institutional philanthropy faces “its most critical moment…right now. At a time when our world faces a storm of converging challenges with dwindling resources, philanthropy’s positive impact remains a mystery to far too many…[W]e must seize the imperative to help society better understand philanthropy’s impact and contributions.”   

It is a frequent refrain from foundation leaders, the admonition that foundations have to do a better job at telling their story. But that isn’t transparency. At best, it is managed transparency, telling the story that foundations want public policy decision-makers, the general public, and their specific stakeholders to hear and understand. Transparency, however, is not managed through public relations firms. Can you imagine if the Federal Elections Commission were only to make available the information it thought would tell the story of its “positive impact?” For as miserable and partisanly hamstrung as the FEC is today, the story telling wouldn’t be worth the physical effort of a computer click on “download.”

Transparency empowers the users, the recipients of information, to hold powerful agencies of government, well-heeled donors to political campaigns, and institutions without direct levers of official accountability to the public somewhat more accountable. When you stage manage transparency, it simply isn’t. Of course that doesn’t mean simply opening the doors of foundations and inviting the public to rifle through file cabinets, but it does mean trying to find ways of making essential information more accessible and reviewable by outsiders. 

How Public Should Private Philanthropy Be?

In the foundation world, the debate du jour is how public private philanthropy is, that is, to what extent the tax exempt dollars of private foundations should be considered in some ways open to public scrutiny. It is an argument that ultimately boxes everyone into a corner. The philanthropic impulse occurs with a donor willing to put some of his or her excess capital to work for what is hoped to contribute to the public good. But in this nation, that occurs with the benefit of the charitable deduction, applicable to the small scale donations of this nation’s generous working people and to the much larger donations of affluent people who create foundations. 

OK, so the funds aren’t quite public dollars—aggrieved constituents cannot ask foundations for administrative redress, they cannot vote foundation trustees out of office, and in all but an incredibility limited number of cases do they even find themselves with standing to litigate a foundation’s grant decisions. And they aren’t quite fully private dollars, else they would be taxed and their managers wouldn’t be filing 990PFs, following IRC rules for executive compensation and self-dealing, or fretting whether President Obama’s annual call for capping itemized deductions including the charitable deduction will depress charitable giving and philanthropic grantmaking.

The Dichotomous Nature of Foundations

Even in their quasi-public identities, foundations have feet planted in two worlds or two cultures, one the private world of a donor, the other a public world of resources afforded a special status by the American public and its elected representatives. It shows in foundations’ postures toward transparency. 

In recent history, the advent of the 990 is one example. Commissions on the future shape and substance of philanthropy have all included encomiums of one sort or another in favor of increased transparency, but statements and actions can sometimes differ. Prior to enactment of the Taxpayer Bill, many foundation leaders were opposed to the liberalization of public access to 990s, and when the law was passed, foundation leaders attempted to find ways of divorcing 990PFs from the public access the law required to nonprofits’ 990s and then worked to delay the applicability of the law to foundations.    

In practice, a similar dichotomous identity occurs, best exemplified by the foundations’ crisis response to the California legislation that would have required a handful of large foundations to simply report on their grantmaking to nonprofits headed by people of color, not make more grants for communities of color, and report on their own staff and board demographics. Foundations fought the bill, known popularly as AB624, tooth and nail, though many of the same foundations are strong supporters of the racial disclosures required of banks in the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, have supported nonprofits demanding similar disclosures of utility companies in front of the state’s Public Utilities Commission, and fought strenuously against California’s Proposition 54 initiative which would have generally banned the state from collecting race and ethnicity data. 

Another dimension of foundations’ split thinking on transparency is in their relationship with “stakeholders.” This is more than just a fancied up description of grant recipients whose opinions on how well they are treated by foundation program officers are now solicited de rigeur. Stakeholders are different than insiders such as donors, board members, and staff. The Denver Foundation describes “external stakeholders” as “people who are impacted by your work as clients/constituents, community partners, and others.” Lauren Tulp of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation suggested grantees, community residents, and external experts as potential stakeholders. In some foundation examples, stakeholders have been recruited to participate in foundation grantmaking processes, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and some of the health conversion foundations.

This is now common parlance in the foundation world. Stakeholders with a “vested interest” in the foundation’s work merit inclusion in efforts to assess what the foundation is and should be delivering for various communities with what impact. The concept of stakeholders is common in foundation circles—except when it comes to discussions of transparency, when the circle for inclusion becomes distinctly narrower. Foundations have to come to grips with whether the notion of stakeholders is real or simply a rhetorical device meant to convey a transitory sense of inclusivity.

--Rick Cohen

 

Eye On: Giving Pledger George Lucas
December 18, 2015

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about George Lucas and other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

George Lucas PhotoThe Force may not necessarily guide George Lucas’s philanthropic interests but it certainly has helped fund and spur his efforts to elevate education, arts and film, and healthcare and human services.

Lucas has leveraged his wealth from the enormously popular Star Wars franchise – he directed, produced, and wrote the first three movies in the series – into a series of philanthropic investments, many of them focused on education. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh installment in the Star Wars saga, launches today.  Although Lucas only served as a creative consultant for the J.J. Abrams-helmed film, his fingerprints on the long-awaited blockbuster are evident and ticket sales for its opening weekend are likely to set records.

George Lucas:

  • Film director, writer, and producer
  • Best known for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises
  • Founder of Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic, and Pixar
  • Modesto, California native
  • Founded the George Lucas Family Foundation in 2005 ($1.1 billion in assets)
  • Personal net worth estimated at more than $5.3 billion

Building a Legacy

Over the decades, the epic intergalactic tales of clashing Jedi and Sith in “a galaxy far, far away” have achieved cult status and, thanks to a licensing and merchandising empire running the gamut from T-shirts, toys, and books to gaming and other collectibles, earned Lucas a devoted multi-generational  following – and a sizable fortune.

Lucas has used that fortune to support various organization and initiatives in the areas of education, art and culture, and civic and human services. He’s even building and endowing his own museum in Chicago, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, that will be dedicated to storytelling and the evolution of the moving image. 

At one point, Lucas had considered San Francisco’s Crissy Field, historically the “front door” of the Presidio (now Golden Gate National Recreation Area), as a museum site. Negotiations with the Presidio Trust broke down, and Lucas eventually decided to build the museum in Chicago, where his wife, Mellody Hobson, was born. 

 

“Our education system (is) little better than an assembly line, with producing diplomas as its only goal.”

Slated to open in 2018, the museum will be built on vacant lots between Soldier Field and McCormick Place, near the city’s famous lakefront Museum Campus (home to the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and Adler Planetarium), and will house a portion of Lucas’s personal collection, which is valued at $1 billion.

Lucas, 71, amassed the bulk of his $5.3 billion fortune when he sold his film and television production company Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Company in 2012 for a reported $4.05 billion.

The original home of the Star Wars franchise, the legendary company also produced the popular Indiana Jones franchise (on which Lucas partnered with his friend Steven Spielberg) and was where the acclaimed animated film studio Pixar, producer of mega-hits such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Cars got its start as Graphix Group, a Lucasfilm computer division.

Early Life and Career

Lucas graduated in 1967 from the University of Southern California, where he often hung out with a young Stephen Spielberg, then a film student at nearby California State University, Long Beach.

After returning to USC as a graduate film student, Lucas had some early success with a short film and, in 1969, was one of the cameramen on Gimme Shelter, the award-winning Rolling Stones concert film by Albert and David Maysles. He then co-founded his own studio, American Zoetrope, in 1971 with up-and-coming filmmaker Frances Ford Coppola. His first feature film for the studio (an adaptation of his earlier short film) flopped, and eventually Lucas decided to go out on his own. In 1973, he founded Lucasfilm and directed American Graffiti (1973). Inspired by Lucas's teen years growing up in Modesto, California, the film featured a young Richard Dreyfus, Ron Howard, and Harrison Ford. The film received rave reviews and five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. 

Lucas’s subsequent projects would include Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).  In the 1980s, he primarily served as a producer or executive producer on other people’s films, including Body Heat (1981), Labyrinth (1986), and the animated film The Land Before Time (1988). He then teamed up with Spielberg for the Indiana Jones trilogy, reuniting with Harrison Ford (who had starred as Han Solo in Star Wars and played the title role in the Indiana Jones movies). Although he didn't write the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Lucas returned to direct The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005).

Philanthropic Efforts – Prioritizing Education Reform

Although Lucas has been relatively quiet about what inspires his philanthropy, he has articulated why he selected education as his chief giving priority. After Lucas and Hobson were among the first people to sign on to Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates’ Giving Pledge campaign, Lucas, wrote in his Giving Pledge letter: “It’s scary to think of our education system as little better than an assembly line with producing diplomas as its only goal. Once I had the means to effect change in this arena, it became my passion to do so — to promote active, life-long learning.”

“We need to promote critical thinking and emotional intelligence,” he added. “We need to focus on building an education system that promotes different types of learning, different types of development, and different types of assessment. We have an opportunity and an obligation to prepare our children for the real world, for dealing with others in practical, project-based environments.”

Even before he became a Giving Pledger in 2010, the Modesto native had regularly given large gifts to his alma mater, the University of Southern California, including one of his largest gifts, $175 million, to support initiatives at the film school. In October, Variety reported that $10 million of that gift will be used to provide financial support to African American and Hispanic students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Over the years, Lucas also launched half a dozen foundations, most of which are aimed at enhancing education via the development of innovative teaching models and the dissemination of best practices. The largest of these are the George Lucas Family Foundation and the George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF). 

GLEF works in conjunction with Lucas’ online think tank and operating foundation, Edutopia, to share and promote educational innovations, including cooperative and project learning; mentorship; parental involvement; and technological advances.  As an operating foundation, Edutopia runs its own programs and does not engage in grantmaking.

“Our goal has been to showcase bold successes and inspire others to further increase the appetite for education,” Lucas said of GLEF and Edutopia. “Our hope is that administrators, teachers, and parents will see the power of these collective efforts and join the fight for wider reforms.”  

“It became my passion…to promote active, life-long learning.”

According to 2013 tax returns, the George Lucas Foundation distributed nearly $18.6 million to 161 organizations in the United States, including nonprofits in California, New York, and Washington, D.C.  Although several of the recipients are based in Los Angeles, the majority are located in Northern California, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Lucas’s former companies are based.

The largest foundation gifts - $5.9 million, $2.8 million, two gifts of $2.1 million and $1.4 million - were all given to support USC’s Phase III expansion of the School of Cinematic Arts.  The foundation also awarded general support grants of $525,000 and $11,600 to GLEF; $250,000 to the Film Foundation – Los Angeles; $200,000 to the Film Foundation – New York; $100,000 to the Center for the Education of the Infant Deaf in Berkeley, California; and $25,000 to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C.

Also in 2013, dozens of San Francisco-based education, arts and health and human services organizations received smaller grants and donations, ranging from $500 up to $25,000, including the San Francisco AIDS Fund/Breast Cancer Emergency Fund’s Trivia Night Fundraiser ($25,000) and the San Francisco Film Society ($25,000). 

In addition, the IRS returns reveal that the foundation has approved $135.5 million in future payments.  The largest portion of that, $100 million, will bolster the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. 

Other large future gifts include $25 million to the University of Chicago; $9 million to USC to endow three new faculty chairs in the cinematic arts; and $1 million to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art. 

Lucas’ smaller foundations: the AEL, JWL and KRL foundations (likely named for his oldest children) each distributed a modest $20,000.

What’s next for the brilliant filmmaker, entrepreneur, and philanthropist?  As Lucas himself puts it: “As humans, our greatest tool for survival is our ability to think and to adapt — as educators, storytellers, and communicators our responsibility is to continue to do so.”  

We look forward to the convergence of Lucas’s passion for storytelling and philanthropy, and we look forward to learning more about his expanding philanthropic interests.

--Melissa Moy

A Dash of Diversity and a Cup of Reality
December 15, 2015

(Dolores Estrada is director of grant operations at The California Endowment, a health foundation established in 1996 to address the health needs of Californians.)

Editor’s Note: In the near future, our “Who Has Glass Pockets?” transparency assessment will include an additional data element related to diversity. We will continue to track which foundations have values statements related to diversity and inclusion, and we will also be adding a transparency element indicating which foundations openly share diversity data about their staff and board.  Currently, relatively few foundations provide diversity head counts, with only 5 out of 77 profiled foundations sharing that data publicly.  The California Endowment recently completed and posted its annual Diversity Audit, so we invited its team to draft a series of posts explaining why and how they share this information. This is the second post in the series, and the first post appears here.

Estrada-150At The California Endowment (TCE), our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is strong.  It is driven by a fundamental belief that we cannot achieve our mission of improved health for Californians unless every segment of our community participates in advancing solutions.  This commitment to diversity created a guiding framework for our organization.  It also set the stage for what we now call an authorizing environment, which means permission to talk about and engage in diversity-related work with the Foundation as leverage.   This space also allows us to gather information on the governance, management, and staff composition of our community partners which, in turn, helps to ensure that TCE holds itself accountable to our diversity and inclusion goals. 

Timing, as they say, is everything. In 2010, TCE transitioned to our 10-year Building Healthy Communities (BHC) strategy.  The planning and implementation of BHC was the perfect time to embrace our values through meaningful collection and use of diversity data.  Our recipe for moving forward had a pinch of confidence, a dash of diversity, doused with a cup of reality. 

Over the course of the last five years, as the manager of grants administration, I have had the task of operationalizing our institutional values of diversity, equity and inclusion into our paperless grantmaking and grant administration.  Although The California Endowment has held to these values since inception, we needed clarity on the mechanics of how collecting data would help us with our mission.  We have the resources and technology to collect the data, but when diversity principles and values meet reality, it gets a little complicated.  We discovered that when it came to incorporating DEI practice in our grantmaking and grant administration, we knew the outcomes we wanted, but had no clear, easy recipe to get there.

Being an advocate of diversity, equity and inclusion has meant being prepared to embrace failure as a pathway for future success.  Promoting and practicing DEI is not simple.  It requires planning, patience, and a willingness to openly share and learn from our failures.  And boy have we shared a lot!

We started with voluntary applicant diversity data questionnaires attached to our online applications.  Our diversity questionnaire was crafted with care to ensure that we were using the correct terminology to capture the information we needed.  We asked for diversity information on the board of directors, executives, and staff of our grantee organizations and stored it in our grants database. 

Being an advocate of diversity, equity and inclusion has meant being prepared to embrace failure as a pathway for future success.

Bam!  Our first clue that something wasn’t working?  In a grouping of over 600 applications submitted less than 400 provided diversity data.  More importantly, the data points submitted didn’t make sense given what we knew about the grantees.  We decided to give the data collection process more time and see what happened. 

We considered the phrasing of the various questions, terminologies used, and online format as possible culprits.  Were those the reason for this data desert?  No, what we failed to do was to explain to our grantee organizations and community stakeholders why we were asking for diversity data and what we intended to do with this information.  In addition, we realized that we had assumed “everyone” had the data and did not factor in barriers or challenges that applicants might have in collecting this information themselves. 

Our team convened, determined to clearly communicate our values and goals and the importance of the data.  Our CEO, Dr. Robert Ross, then penned a message for our online applications and communicated our intent for collecting diversity data, stating: 

"The data collected will serve multiple purposes: to help us understand how we reflect the communities we serve, equip our staff with critical data to assistant nonprofits to better serve the needs of California's diverse communities and to track our progress with our Board and our grantees and communities."

For the next couple of months, our goal will be to create opportunities to learn, share and have open dialogue about DEI data pertaining to the foundation and that of our grantees organization wide.  Our benchmark for success is not about collecting data from everyone, but rather an understanding of how diversity data is incorporated into our grantmaking and allow us to engage our communities and partners in meaningful ways. 

A dash of diversity and a cup of reality make the best recipe for success.

Diversity at the Foundation: Important Enough to Measure
December 8, 2015

(Robert K. Ross, M.D., is President and Chief Executive Officer for The California Endowment, a health foundation established in 1996 to address the health needs of Californians.)

Editor’s Note: In the near future, our “Who Has Glass Pockets?” transparency assessment will include an additional data element related to diversity. We will continue to track which foundations have values statements related to diversity and inclusion, and we will also be adding a transparency element indicating which foundations openly share diversity data about their staff and board.  Currently, relatively few foundations provide diversity head counts, with only 6 out of 77 profiled foundations sharing that data publicly.  The California Endowment recently completed and posted its annual Diversity Audit, so we invited its team to draft a series of posts explaining why and how they share this information. This is the first post in that series.

Ross-150About seven years ago, our Board of Directors engaged in a conversation about the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion at our institution.  While we re-affirmed our allegiance to these values which was present at the inception of The California Endowment, we concluded that we needed to ratchet up the seriousness of our resolve.  The questions that arose: Are we, as a foundation, committed enough to this issue to measure and track improvement?  We have metrics for a range of equity indicators in our healthy communities work, Sons and Brothers program etc., and overall strategic plan, so why not on the matter of diversity in our operation and structure as a foundation?

So, off we went.  We resolved to create a tool to assess our progress, now known as the Diversity Audit.  In it, we committed to express the value of, and commitment to, diversity across a range of parameters at The California Endowment: on our Board, at the management level, among our staff, grantees of the foundation, as well as contractors, consultants, and even investment managers.  We wanted to be able to express our commitment to diversity-equity-inclusion no matter which aspect or element of the foundation one might encounter.

The process of creating, and then institutionalizing the Diversity Audit required the support and engagement of Board, management, and staff.  There is a saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” We pay particular attention to recruiting new board members and senior management who value diversity, equity and inclusion.  We look to them to ensure that this commitment lives beyond any one individual or position, and becomes engrained in the DNA of the culture of The Endowment.  While turnover is inevitable in any organization, we do not ever take this commitment as a given. 

Cal Endow Photo
We also required the support of a savvy, thoughtful partner to hold our organizational hand through the process, and we procured the services of SPR Associates to do so.  SPR worked with our staff to begin establishing the right kind of data collection and reporting platform; we needed our Human Resources, Grants Administration, Contracts Administration, Program and Learning Staff, and Investments team all in the boat.  Obviously it required us to embark on the business of asking grantees, contractors, and consultants for the right kind of diversity information – and in the right way.  We now have the diversity question being posed nearly every time we engage in a financial or business transaction.

Diversity Audit 2013 coverOur Diversity Audit, while focusing on tracking progress through metrics, should not be confused or mistaken with the use of quotas.  Simply put, we don’t have numerical goals that define “success” in the Diversity Audit.  But we do want to know whether we have an organization that reflects the range of diversity that the state of California – and the communities we serve – now boasts.  Can we look ourselves in the mirror and comfortably state that our commitment to diversity is at last maintained, and even improves over time?

The Diversity Audit has helped us strengthen the culture and authorizing environment to express our values through our policies, practices, processes.  We review its progress with our Board every three years.  We share both our successes and mistakes with the philanthropic field because we believe that our efforts and value can inform our sector’s learning.  Diversity is indeed an element of my performance measures as President & CEO.  And that’s the way it should be.

--Robert K. Ross

Beyond Money: Foundations Can Create Change by Building Communities
December 3, 2015

(Mark Schmitt directs the political reform program and is director of studies at New America, an independent think tank and civic enterprise. He is a former editor of The American Prospect and has been a program director at the Open Society Foundations and worked on Capitol Hill. Follow him on Twitter at @mschmitt9. This post originally appeared on Philantopic. It is the 10th and final post in a series about U.S. democracy and civil society.)

Schmitt headshotThe world of foundations and the work they fund has for too long been shrouded in obscurity. While many foundations boast a commitment to transparency and release lists of their own grants, it has been far too difficult to see who funds an entire field, or understand how a foundation-backed policy idea made it onto the agenda. Given that foundations can be at least as influential as big political donors, driving policy initiatives such as charter schools and health reform, there should be resources that open up the sector to journalists and activists, as well as grantseekers interested in understanding the often mysterious question of who got what.

But that’s only part of the question. Even the most complete list of grantees and grant dollar amounts tells us only so much about the work and the vision: What does restoring American democracy mean, in practice? Can this mapping resource help answer that question?

Foundations do more than just give money to worthy projects. At their best, they make at least two other vital contributions: They help build a community — that is, the whole network of sustainable, adaptive organizations, from research projects to grassroots activists, that can further a cause — and they create connections, across issues and communities, in order to make each one stronger and more vibrant. So in looking at the Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool, I wanted to ask those questions: Where have foundations built strong communities around democracy issues? And have they created the kinds of connections — between, for example, nonprofit journalism and efforts to reduce the role of money in politics — that strengthen these communities and the cause?

Schmitt_blog_image
The “constellations” section of the tool doesn’t fully answer these questions — to do so would require much deeper analysis and for foundations to provide more complete and plain-English descriptions of the “why” of their grantmaking — but it provides some useful clues. For example, one can see a distinct community of organizations working on election administration and access-to-the-ballot issues — a relatively small number of sizable organizations, with reliable support over several years, often in the form of general-support grants. Closely aligned to these core groups is a larger group of smaller organizations focused on a single state or a particular constituency. (This community would be even larger if the substantial and central contribution to the field made by the Pew Charitable Trusts were included. While grants to its elections project from other foundations are listed, its self-financed work is not.) It is probably no accident that despite the partisan acrimony over voting and significant setbacks to the voting rights movement, there has been significant progress and consensus on ideas such as early voting, online voter registration, and other aspects of election reform.

In a 2013 article in Democracy, Nick Penniman and Ian Simmons argued that the $45 million a year that foundations and other donors were investing in efforts to reform the role of money in politics was too little, and that if they wanted to advance progress on the causes they care about, individual and institutional philanthropists ought to commit one percent of total private giving, or $3 billion annually, to causes such as fixing the corrosive role of money in politics. This tool extends the point made by Penniman and Simmons to show that not only is total funding for campaign reform inadequate to the challenge, the community engaged in that effort is diffuse, the core organizations comprising that community are hard to identify, and the grants awarded in support of that cause are relatively small and often for specific projects rather than general support.

Moreover, in neither case does there seem to be much connection to other issues of democracy or to efforts such as improving journalism or civic education. Each of these issues, such as funding for innovations in public service journalism or for the Newseum in Washington, DC, seems to attract a unique set of funders who do little or no giving for other democracy issues.

Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy is not the definitive answer to the questions about how funding works and whether it has built effective communities around democracy issues. To really see foundation funding for democracy and how it has worked requires a deeper investigation and the kind of real journalistic scrutiny that foundations rarely get. But much like the databases we rely on to understand the influence of money in democracy, this tool is a start and provides valuable clues and an outline for those who want to follow the money.

--Mark Schmitt

Giving Pledgers Sign Up for Clean Energy
December 2, 2015

Egp-icon-typepadA coalition of private investors led by Giving Pledge co-founder Bill Gates has announced the launch of an investment fund to help accelerate progress on clean energy development.

The announcement coincides with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition includes Gates and 26 other investors, who have a combined net worth of more than $380 billion. What’s more, those investors include 11 other Giving Pledge signatories:

Learn more about the Breakthrough Energy Coalition and explore our Glasspockets feature Eye on the Giving Pledge.

-- Daniel Matz

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