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March 2018 (4 posts)

It’s Not You, It’s Me: Breaking Up With Your Organization’s Inequitable Funding Practices
March 21, 2018

Erika Grace “E.G.” Nelson is a Community Health and Health Equity Program Manager at the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. E.G. recently led the Center through an equity scan of its Request for Proposal (RFP) policies and procedures.

Erika Nelson photo“It’s not you; it’s me” is possibly the most cliché break-up excuse, but for many funders, it really is their own policies and procedures that undermine their ability to find community soulmates. Perhaps you have had conversations with community members who have said that they found out about your funding opportunity too late, were too busy to apply, or, worse yet, were rejected even though their project sounds like a great fit based on the conversation you are currently having with them. The reality is that funders typically enact policies that are convenient for themselves, as opposed to what makes sense for grantseekers, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) fall by the wayside of expediency. As a result, organizations with the most social and fiscal capital have the best shot at receiving awards.

Have you ever taken the time to think about how your funding portfolio might look differently if your RFP process was designed to be more equitable and inclusive? We recently completed an equity scan, and here is a bit about how this reflection has led to changes in our RFP process.

“Funders typically enact policies that are convenient for themselves, as opposed to what makes sense for grantseekers.”

At the Center for Prevention, our goal is to improve the health of all Minnesotans by tackling the leading causes of preventable disease and death – commercial tobacco use, physical inactivity, and unhealthy eating. While Minnesota has one of the best overall health rankings in the nation, we see huge gaps in health outcomes when considering factors such as race, income, and area of residence.

We also know that communities are aware of what they need to be healthy, but organizations established by and for marginalized communities tend to face greater barriers than well-resourced, mainstream organizations in getting what they need. We wanted to remove as many barriers from our application process as possible so that we could find and support more community-based and culturally-tailored approaches to addressing health needs. To begin identifying these barriers, our team reflected on challenges identified by communities we work with and walked through our application process from beginning to end using an equity lens. As a result, we have implemented several systemic changes to move towards our vision of a truly equitable process.

Bringing the Funding Opportunities to the Community

BCBS_Center_Prevention_vert_blueWe began our journey by thinking about funding opportunities. Before an organization can even apply for funding, it needs to know that an opportunity exists. Through community conversations, we learned that many organizations were unfamiliar with our resources and work. We recommended that project teams develop a tailored outreach plan for each funding opportunity, with specific outreach to organizations or sectors we considered to be key stakeholders or who had been markedly absent in previous rounds. Moving forward, we also have a goal of literally meeting folks where they are at – town halls, cultural events, on social media – to share our work and funding opportunities.

As a result, here are some ways we shifted how we engage with community organizations through our RFP process:

  • Time. Once applicants find out about an opportunity, they need to apply, which takes some time. We learned that some potential applicants prioritized other opportunities because they didn’t have the staff capacity to apply for multiple opportunities concurrently. The easiest solution to this problem was to give applicants more time, so we extended our open application period. In our case, we went from no set minimum to at least six weeks.
  • Assistance. We also wanted to make sure that applicants could make informed decisions about how to prioritize staff time, so we opened up new channels for discussing funding opportunities. We made sure that every application had a designated point person for answering questions from the public, and even piloted some creative ways to interact with the community in advance of the submitted application, such as an “office hours” hotline where anyone could call in and ask questions. The number of inquiries was manageable and allowed applicants to receive guidance on whether their projects were a good match before they invested time in applying. Follow-up survey data showed that this strategy paid off because applicants reported that they understood our funding objectives and that the time they invested in applying was appropriate for the potential award.
  • Accessibility. We are also working towards using more accessible language to articulate the merits of a viable proposal. We now run a readability test on all RFP language before publication, with the goal of using language that is no higher than an eighth grade reading level. Such tests have helped us remove jargon, and improve comprehension by professionals outside of public health as well as by non-native English speakers.

Leveling the Playing Field of Community Relationships

Our team also considered the role relationships play in evaluating proposals. We approached equity from two angles. We set limits on which and when “outside information”— knowledge we have about a project that didn’t come from the application—can be shared during proposal review. We also started reaching out to new applicants to discuss their work more deeply. Our familiarity with mainstream organizations and those we have previously funded can influence how we evaluate an application, and in some cases lead to an unfair advantage for groups that already have many advantages.  So these limits on “outside information” were put in place to level the playing field, as well as to begin to strengthen relationships with organizations that were new to us. These conversations helped us to fill in gaps in our understanding that we may unconsciously fill in for organizations we are already familiar with.

“We now run a readability test on all RFP language before publication…to remove jargon, and improve comprehension.”

Transparent Evaluation Processes

We felt transparency in our decision-making process could only improve the quality of proposals. One way we have done this is by making scoring rubrics available to applicants. We also began providing tailored feedback to each declined applicant on how the proposal could have been stronger in hopes that it will improve future submissions. Though we have yet to determine what impact this will have in the future, we can say that applicants have been appreciative and found this feedback to be useful.

Hope and More Work to Be Done

While we don’t yet have much data to analyze post-implementation, we have noticed a few positive outcomes. We have seen a great increase in applications from greater Minnesota in particular, demonstrating that our targeted outreach is increasingly effective. Our funding awards to projects by and for people of color have also doubled in one of two opportunities we have analyzed since implementation. Despite this progress, we continue to wrestle with how to develop scoring tools that better reflect our values. 

The above are just some examples of how we have begun to identify and address equity barriers in our process that may be helpful for others. If your foundation is considering something similar, here are some things we learned from our experience that may be helpful for you.

  • Leadership & Promising Practices. As with any new process implementation, support from leadership is critical. If you are met with resistance, keep in mind that funders typically want to emulate best and promising practices in philanthropy, and sharing what other funders are doing around diversity, equity, and inclusion can be highly motivating.
  • Checks & Balances. It is also important to keep in mind that old habits die hard. It is not necessarily because team members are resistant to change, but simply need to get into the routine of doing things differently. For that reason, be sure that you build in checks and balances along the way to ensure that all who touch your RFP process have the opportunity to identify pain points along the way while also upholding equity commitments.
  • No One Size Fits All. Keep in mind that there is not one model that will work for everyone, and much in the same way, not all the communities you serve will be pleased with the changes you make. So, keep asking for and responding to feedback from community and know that correcting mistakes is part of improvement and part of ensuring our processes continue to be ones that facilitate, rather than undermine, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

--Erika Grace “E.G.” Nelson

New on Glasspockets: Open Knowledge Feature Added to Glasspockets Profiles
March 19, 2018

Janet Camarena is director of foundation transparency iniatives at Foundation Center

Janet Camarena photoWho has glass pockets when it comes to knowledge? Answering this question using our Glasspockets profiles just became a lot easier, thanks to a new feature we’ve added to emphasize the importance of creating a culture of shared learning in philanthropy. Beginning today, Glasspockets profiles are featuring a tie-in with our ongoing #OpenForGood campaign, designed to encourage open knowledge sharing by foundations.

All Glasspockets profiles now have a dedicated space to feature the knowledge that each foundation has contributed to IssueLab, which is a free, open repository that currently provides searchable access to nearly 24,000 knowledge documents. Currently, 67 of the 93 profiles on Glasspockets showcase recently shared reports on IssueLab.

"Sharing your knowledge via open repositories is openness that is good for you and good for the field."

This window on shared knowledge is a dynamic feed generated from our IssueLab database, so if you have published evaluations or other publications to share that are not showing up in your profile, simply go to IssueLab to upload these documents, or contact our Glasspockets team for assistance. And if your foundation invested specifically in monitoring and evaluating results, you can share those evaluations in our new IssueLab: Results. To acknowledge your efforts for sharing your recent evaluations, your foundation will receive an #OpenforGood badge to display on your website and on your Glasspockets profile to signal your commitment to creating a community of shared learning.

Though not a formal part of the transparency assessment, the #OpenForGood feature makes profile users aware of the kinds of learning that are available from participating foundations. Besides linking to the two most recent reports, a shortcut is also provided linking the user to a landing page of all of that foundation’s available knowledge documents.

OFG Everyone Learns GroupSince Glasspockets began, the transparency self-assessment has tracked whether foundations make available a central landing page of knowledge on their own websites, and that will continue to be included moving forward. So what’s the difference here? Opening up your knowledge on your own website is great for people who already know about your institution and visit your website, but it doesn’t really help to spread that knowledge to peers and practitioners unaware of your work. The fragmentation of knowledge across thousands of websites doesn’t do much to accelerate progress as a field—but that’s where open repositories like IssueLab come in.

Open repositories have several things going for them that truly live up to the idea of being #OpenForGood. First of all, any report you make available on IssueLab becomes machine-readable, so it can more easily be used and built upon by others doing similar work. Secondly, once a resource has been added to IssueLab, it becomes part of the sector’s collective intelligence, feeding through an open protocol system, which integrates with systems like WorldCat in 10,000+ public libraries, which means students, academics, journalists, and the general public can easily find the knowledge you’ve generated and shared, even if they’ve never heard of IssueLab, Foundation Center, or your organization. Once in the system, your knowledge resources can also be issued something called a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), so you can track access and use of that knowledge in an ongoing way.

The easiest way to think of it is that sharing your knowledge via open repositories is openness that is good for you and good for the field. So how about it? What will you #OpenForGood?

--Janet Camarena

Robert K. Ross, MD, President and CEO, The California Endowment: Parkland Students Inspire Foundation to Screen Out Investments in Firearms Manufacturing
March 14, 2018

Dr. Robert Ross photoOne month after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people, students across the country are continuing to press for stricter gun control legislation with protests and school walk-outs. According to the Gun Violence Archive, more than 2,837 gun related deaths have occurred so far this year, and both the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association have recommended addressing gun violence as a public health issue.

The week following the shooting, The California Endowment (TCE), California’s largest healthcare foundation, announced it would begin screening out firearms manufacturing from its investment holdings. TCE’s mission is to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians. TCE’s mission statement also outlines that the foundation doesn’t focus on prescriptions, but rather “we focus on fixing broken systems and outdated policies, ensuring the balance of power is with the people. We don’t focus on the individual, we focus on the larger community as an ecosystem of health. We work with citizens and elected leaders to find lasting solutions to impact the most people we possibly can.”

Recently, Glasspockets spoke with TCE president and chief executive officer Dr. Robert Ross, about the foundation’s decision to ban firearms investments, and how this aligns with both TCE’s stated health mission, and its core values around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Glasspockets: The California Endowment recently announced that it will be scrubbing its investments of any holdings in firearms manufacturing, and this is actually not a new practice, but the third “negative screen” you are adding, since you already had screening in place for tobacco and for-profit prisons. Data shows that this practice is actually fairly uncommon in foundation philanthropy, so it’s clear it’s a challenge for the field. When did you begin the practice, and what led to you going down this path initially when you first implemented negative screening?

Dr. Ross: Since we are a health foundation, the founding board actually started with the tobacco screen in the late 90’s.  We added for-profit prisons more recently, after hearing from community leaders that they considered hyper-incarceration as an unhealthy practice affecting communities of color. This is consistent with our core values statement, which also helps guide our board. The very first item in our values states: “We believe that diversity, equity and inclusion are essential to our effectiveness and the long-term health of all Californians and commit to the integration of diversity, equity and inclusion in all our policies, practices, processes, relationships, internal working culture and systems.” By filtering out tobacco, for-profit prisons, and now gun manufacturing we are being consistent with these values.

“We really have to ask ourselves the question of whether the management of our investments portfolio reflects the values we hold dear.”

Glasspockets: There have sadly been many shootings prior to Parkland. What was it about this one that motivated your foundation to act?  

Dr. Ross: We were motivated by the youth and high school student activism – I think we were “shamed” to act by their leadership. The California Endowment “values the energy, agility and fearlessness of youth leadership and youth organizing in its many forms including local, statewide and online community-building.”

Glasspockets: And are you aware of other foundations being similarly motivated to act, either now or that already had such prohibitions in place? 

Dr. Ross: We have followed the leadership efforts of The California Wellness Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Joyce Foundation, all of which, to the best of my knowledge, already have a screen on firearms in place. I’m not certain how many other funders currently have a firearms manufacturing screen.

Glasspockets: The California Endowment was an early adopter of our Glasspockets approach to a more transparent philanthropy. So clearly transparency, openness, and accountability are priorities. Is your commitment to these values part of what motivated the decision and the public stand you are now taking? 

Dr. Ross: Yes, and it was the reason I published the OpEd in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.  Even though these boardroom conversations can get a little “messy,” it strengthens philanthropic practice if we can demonstrate vulnerability and transparency on tough issues. Without actions, our values just become words on a page.

Glasspockets: Glasspockets is currently advising foundations to become more familiar with what holdings they do have, since these are publicly listed on the 990-PF that foundations annually file with the IRS. And that data is now being released as machine-readable, open data—making it more open and accessible than ever before. Is this something TCE is tracking or do you have any internal practices about monitoring what’s in your 990-PF that may be helpful for others? 

“Without actions, our values just become words on a page.”

Dr. Ross: We have begun utilizing ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) practice approaches, as have many others, as a “values and principles” overlay to our investments portfolio. [ESG screening is an array of ethical exclusion metrics designed to govern certain investment decisions. Excluded companies can include those in the tobacco, firearms, and for-profit prison industries. The alerts look for mentions of portfolio companies (those not currently excluded) and rate them as positive, negative or neutral in terms of these screens.]

Glasspockets: The things you are screening out make a lot of sense for a healthcare foundation. Why do you think so few do it? And what advice would you have for them as far as overcoming those challenges?

Dr. Ross: The answer to this is values-values-values.  Most foundations have both a statement of mission and a statement of values, and we really have to ask ourselves the question of whether the management of our investments portfolio reflects the values we hold dear.  You can’t make a blanket values exception for the investments portfolio.  

Glasspockets: In terms of the screening that had already been in place, what has been the impact on endowment growth?

Dr. Ross: I’m not sure, but I do know that a concern some raise when discussing this is the belief that growth may be negatively impacted by the lack of tobacco and private prisons holdings.  But if you’re acting on your values, then I’m not sure the question is material.  Slavery is profitable, but we’d never invest in that….

Glasspockets: And how about the qualitative impact—things that bottom lines don’t measure? 

Dr. Ross: It’s good for boardroom cohesion, and messaging to staff and community that we intend to live up to our values, even if it is discomforting.  It’s hard to put a price tag on reputation and accountability.

--Janet Camarena

Why Salary Compensation Transparency Can Counteract Equity
March 7, 2018

Vincent Robinson is founder and managing partner of The 360 Group, a national executive search firm dedicated to creating social impact by placing exceptional leaders into extraordinary mission-driven organizations.

Vincent Robinson photoIn The 360 Group’s work as executive search consultants to foundations and nonprofits, we know that transparency around compensation is a perennially thorny issue, and one that we find many well-intentioned organizations getting wrong. Given the counter-intuitive nature of what I’m about to say, I would like to provide important context that may help others understand how we approach compensation transparency, particularly in light of our efforts to make diversity and equity a key priority in our work.

“...We advise our clients not to ask that candidates submit their salary histories because we know that contributes to inequitable salary structures, particularly for women and people of color.”

For a bit of background: I launched The 360 Group 13 years ago, specifically with an eye on making the sector more diverse, more contemporary, and better prepared to address a whole new set of challenges in increasingly complex times. Our view is that more diverse teams — and more diversity in leadership — maximize the variety of perspectives that organizations need to be successful, effective, and more representative of the communities that they serve. Countless studies, notably those by Maggie Neale and Scott Page, have demonstrated the power of diversity in groups and teams, only emboldening our firm’s mission and theory of change. Diversity in groups can also make what can be challenging work a hell of a lot more fun.

Beyond compensation, then, our goal is to extend our reach and that of our clients to identify people from all backgrounds and walks of life for leadership opportunities. To do that, we want to reduce barriers for candidates, rather than build them up (and those barriers can be completely artificial). Our charge is to understand organizations well and identify candidates who can lead them and have the desire to do so with passion, heart and values.

At The 360 Group, market comparables drive our guidance to clients (and candidates) around compensation, as well as the skills and value of a candidate. We do not tie executive compensation to salary history. We know that women and people of color are represented in just a fraction of leadership roles — across every sector. To build that leadership bank, especially in senior positions, we seek out candidate pools of devoted (and often underpaid) nonprofit professionals as well as highly-paid executives. The salary one has earned shouldn’t dictate the salary one may earn, so we advise our clients not to ask that candidates submit their salary histories because we know that contributes to inequitable salary structures, particularly for women and people of color. That is our philosophy and commitment in this work. And in states like California and Oregon, as of 2018, it is now against the law for employers to ask candidates for salary history because of this very issue.

EquityPerhaps more important than the range itself is transparency around the process by which foundations establish their executive compensation. Demystifying the process serves to create both internal and external understanding about how this key decision is made, and discloses who gets to weigh in on the process. This level of transparency is helpful to the institution as much as outsiders – just ask any compensation consultant! Useful examples of how other foundations are publicly describing their executive compensation process are included in the helpful Glasspockets transparency self-assessment tool here.

Additionally, we also field questions about why we do not post a salary range for the CEO role. Our answer comes from the heart: we don’t want fabulous people to self-select out, based purely on numbers. To be truly committed to equity (which we are), creating even the perception of obstacles runs at cross-purposes to acting in equity. For better or worse, in the philanthropic field, salaries and compensation packages are all over the map. That is why we rely on independent market analyses and our compensation expert colleagues to inform ranges for our client organizations. So if a role is valued at between, say $300,000 and $500,000, the person ultimately selected will be compensated in that range based on the experience and value they bring to the role — regardless of whether they have earned a fraction of that amount or orders of more magnitude. That is equity in compensation, a practice we have relied on from the inception of our firm, and just one important ingredient in our efforts to bring diversity and equity to our sector.

As I’ve noted above, not all transparency works against diversity, equity, and inclusion. There are specific kinds of transparency that work to accelerate the creation of a more equitable sector, and I’ll delve into that in this space in a future post.

--Vincent Robinson

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

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