Transparency Talk

Category: "Arts" (4 posts)

Big Ideas That Matter for 2015: Are Philanthropic Organizations Ready?
January 12, 2015

(Sara Davis is the Director of Grants Management at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California. She can be followed on Twitter @SaraLeeeDeee or reached via e-mail at sdavis@hewlett.org. This post was originally featured on the Grant Craft blog.)

Sara davisOne way I mark the passage of another year is the welcome arrival of the latest Blueprint — the annual industry forecast report written by Lucy Bernholz and published by GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center. This year’s report, Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2015, provides us once again with a rich opportunity to look back at the past year and to ponder what’s to come in the year ahead. The Blueprint is a great marker of time and creates a moment to pause for reflection. As I read this year’s report, I found much to digest, understand, and learn. Like the five previous editions, Blueprint 2015 is provocative, and — as I settled in to read — I was humbled to discover that it brought up many more questions than answers. The report piqued my curiosity about the state of the social economy and more explicitly about organized philanthropy and how we do our work. Specifically:

Are we agile and flexible enough? Are our philanthropic organizations ready?

The words “dynamic” and “dynamism” show up throughout the Blueprint 2015, and the pervasive thought I had while reading was that this is an exciting, creative, and expansive time for the social economy. Given this, I couldn’t help but wonder if philanthropic organizations are ready — will we be able to flex, bend, and adapt at the same pace as the change around us? Our ecosystem is evolving, moving, and reorganizing. In this time of globalization, disruptive technology, digital activism, new organizational forms, and even new language, are philanthropic organizations keeping pace? Do we have a picture of what “keeping pace” would really mean?

In this time of globalization, disruptive technology, digital activism, new organizational forms, and even new language, are philanthropic organizations keeping pace? Do we have a picture of what “keeping pace” would really mean?

My experience is that folks doing the work of philanthropy take their role very seriously. It’s a tremendous responsibility to be entrusted with private resources in order to create public benefit. That we take that trust seriously is a good thing. In practice, this means that we tend to be careful, we analyze everything thoroughly, and we remain deliberate, trying hard not to make mistakes. This subtle — or not so subtle — perfectionism creates a tension against our desire to also be nimble, innovative, creative, and dynamic. I wonder: how can we talk about and manage that tension? Are there times we should be using philanthropy as true risk capital, maybe leaping more and looking less? Can we be nimble enough to fail, learn, and course-correct quickly, and have that process be okay, even celebrated? It’s clear that many of the newer entrants in the social economy are working from this spirit of moment-to-moment dynamism. How can we collaborate with openness, adaptability, and readiness for change? Are we learning how to be more agile and flexible along the way?

Are the right people/skills at the table?

The other thing that struck me as I read the report is the variety of new skills and voices needed to work well within the changing social economy. We know, for example, that new technologies and digital data are emerging as important sources and byproducts for learning, innovation, and achieving results. It follows, then, that we need to make sure technology and data capacity are being fostered, used, and advanced within philanthropic organizations and across the sector. Together, we need to gain expertise as we take on challenging topics like intellectual property, open licensing, transparency, and privacy. Further, working in a digital world during this time of rapid change requires operational savvy. We need to build and maintain necessary infrastructure to execute well today, while also forging the space so we can adapt and shift easily in the future. Collectively, this is a tall order. Are we listening to the right experts to make this happen? Are we building the necessary capacity and knowledge?

We need to make sure technology and data capacity are being fostered, used, and advanced within philanthropic organizations and across the sector. Together, we need to gain expertise as we take on challenging topics like intellectual property, open licensing, transparency, and privacy.

As “pervasive digitization” has become the new normal, have we changed the way we think about technology and data expertise in our grantmaking? It doesn’t seem reasonable that all program officers now also need to be technology experts (though some are.) How do we make sure the technologists are being included at the right times? How can our daily work be informed by data expertise and digital best practices, and how do we successfully integrate these into our grantmaking? Bernholz notes that “technologists are becoming part of the sectors that they serve” and imagines a future where “data analysis and sensemaking skills” are integrated into strategy and grantmaking. What new understandings do we need in order to know how we will do this? And, who do we need to include in the conversation to live this out fully?

The 2015 Blueprint marks a time that is vibrant, rich, and exciting for us to be working in this sector. It also invites us to adapt, flex, and change — more than ever before. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but sometimes I find myself thinking about the proverb of the shoemaker whose children have no shoes. Those of us who work in philanthropy understand that our grantees need to adapt within changing circumstances and must constantly evolve. We know that executing well is the challenging standard we place upon grantees as we give them resources. I’m not sure we always hold ourselves to the same standard, or that we take the time to know what executing well might mean within our own changing context. Just as we offer capacity building support and technical assistance to the organizations we fund, it’s also important that we do our own capacity building work, making the necessary changes within our organizations to be effective, real-time participants in the social economy. Are we checking ourselves to make sure we have the skills, roles, knowledge, and processes needed to do that?

Our changing ecosystem will certainly require that we become comfortable with the continued blurring of lines and re-imagining of everything around us. As we strive to achieve impact and social benefit, it may mean we need to bring new people to the table, while developing new skills and new ways of working ourselves. My hope is that all of our good intentions and hard work continue to fuel the adaptability, learning, and dynamism that Bernholz points to so brilliantly.

--Sara Davis

Glasspockets Find: Ask Me Anything
October 3, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

Spreddit8You may know the social news website Reddit for its humorous photos, videos and links to articles about hot topics. One of the most popular content areas is IAmA (or "I Am A…"), where users may participate in "AMAs" (for "Ask Me Anything"). AMAs are a forum for interviews on any topic, and there are several live AMAs scheduled everyday. Any Reddit user may post a question or comment and vote topics “up” or “down”, so the collective response informs how the Q&A appears, and how it is ranked within the Reddit site.

The topics and seriousness of the Reddit users’ questions vary widely, but it is great to see some very direct inquiries that touch on challenges in the nonprofit sector.

A few foundations and philanthropic organizations have participated in AMAs in the past few years—most notably Bill Gates, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as reported on our blog earlier this year. Among the recent Reddit AMAs from the nonprofit and philanthropic sector are the Himalayan Cataract Project and Give2Asia. The topics and seriousness of the Reddit users’ questions vary widely, but it is great to see some very direct inquiries that touch on challenges in the nonprofit sector. Here is an excerpt from the AMA with Dr. Matt Oliva, a Himalayan Cataract Project board member:

redishhead: What types of resistance, if any, do you come up against when providing healthcare in other countries with laws and values?

mattoliva: Good question. It is important that US doctors working in other countries work within the current medical system and the local providers. We always get a local medical license if possible. We also strive to "never leave a patient behind" and ensure that the local partner can provide followup if there are any complications. Long term success requires a collaborative relationship with the local medical team and empowering them. If the quality of the service is high, even the poorest people will recognize this quality and seek the service. Many organizations and doctors can do more harm than good with the "fly in/fly out" model of care.

Give2Asia participated in a Reddit AMA about earthquake and tsunami recovery work in Japan that included advice on disaster giving and real-life lessons from the field:

macdaddy0086: How difficult was the whole thing?

give2asia: Every disaster is different, but this was one of the most difficult disasters I’ve worked on. It was a triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear) that affected over 420mi of coastline.

In the beginning, it was made even more complex because many NGOs and NPOs were waiting to hear the government’s response, so there was a fair amount of waiting, and a lack of coordination between them. For a time, they were limiting access to the area, and permits were required to enter. Even the humanitarian response was strictly measured, since the country has such a strong focus on equality. We’d never seen that before in any disaster, and it added a measure of complexity.

Only three days after the MacArthur Foundation announced its 2013 Fellows last month, new fellows Kyle Abraham and Jeremy Denk participated in an AMA. Here is the most popular exchange, as voted on by Reddit users:

aedwards044: What do ya'll intend to do with the Fellowship stipend?

MacArthurFellows [Kyle Abraham]: I still owe over 100k in student loans :-/ I'm hoping to get rid of those completely... Other than that, I'm hoping to work with a financial advisor to see how I can really work on building my company structure for the long haul. We recently found an affordable plan for health care for our company and plan on implementing that as of October 1st. That was already in the works, but now I know that we'll actually be able to pull it off for sometime to come!

Do you think AMAs are a tool that can make philanthropic work more accessible? Let us know if you have participated and what you have learned. And if you would like to read the Reddit AMAs without the extensive comments, I definitely recommend skimreddit.

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: Irvine Infographic Shares Insights of Arts Innovation Fund
December 12, 2012

Irvine infographic - home_feature_aifThe James Irvine Foundation has just released the findings from its Arts Innovation Fund (AIF) initiative via a very user-friendly, concise, interactive infographic.  Launched in 2006, Irvine invested more than $24 million to support 28 innovative projects led by 19 of California’s foremost arts organizations.  AIF nurtured experimentation to explore the gap between traditional arts programming and the changing expectations of audiences—and to better adapt to this new environment.

And speaking of the changing expectations of audiences, and adapting to a new environment, this new infographic demonstrates that the Irvine Foundation is walking its own talk in this “easy-on-the-eye” approach to knowledge sharing.  The interactive infographic serves as a terrific model for how foundations can think about incorporating more graphics and less text to increase accessibility and usability of important matters like lessons learned, challenges faced by grantees, and summaries of specific grants.  You can examine the interactive overview, read commentary by Irvine Arts Program Director Josephine Ramirez, and access or download the full report.  Each of these media also provides links to video insights and case studies detailing each of the AIF-funded projects.

Is a grantmaker you know using graphics and interactive online tools to creatively and compellingly share its knowledge?  Let us know.

-- Mark Foley

Glasspockets Find: Spotlight on the James Irvine Foundation
July 14, 2011

 

Kudos to the James Irvine Foundation for two very visible steps designed to increase its grantmaking transparency and participation. This month the Irvine Foundation announced that it will introduce a new grantmaking strategy for its support of the arts in California, effective 2012. After spending the past year gathering input from grantees and other experts, the foundation has identified major shifts in the California arts sector, due primarily to demographic and technological changes, and hopes to address the resulting challenges and opportunities posed to nonprofit arts organizations.

 

Eager to engage the public and to promote the new, still-evolving strategy, the foundation has posted a new video webinar of a public, online presentation made to its grantees and the California arts community on June 27, 2011, and is soliciting feedback on its web site and its Facebook and Twitter pages. The web site also features more than a dozen frequently asked questions that relate to its current and future support of the arts in California.

The foundation's current priorities will continue to guide its grantmaking for the remainder of 2011. As a supporter of the California arts community since its founding in 1937, the James Irvine Foundation is to be commended not only for making a thoughtful review of its existing strategy, but most especially, for its efforts to think out loud and be as inclusive and transparent as possible, with its many communication devices, as it prepares to launch its new strategy.

 

In a separate effort to be more transparent, the Irvine Foundation has taken the traditional features of its annual report and added more detail and analysis of the foundation's performance in order to measure its progress and to hold itself accountable to its long-term goals. The foundation's just-released 2010 Annual Performance Report not only includes such common annual report features as a complete listing of its 2010 grant awards, but also:

 

  • examines progress in each of its grantmaking programs and its effectiveness as a philanthropic institution;
  • allows online viewers to watch an introductory video from Jim Canales, president and CEO;
  • provides a section on "Exercising Leadership" and another on "Constituent Feedback" that includes highlights of its second Grantee Perception Report, commissioned by the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

Please share your thoughts regarding the Irvine Foundation's efforts to be more transparent. All comments are welcome!

-- Mark Foley

Share This Blog

  • Share This

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:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

    If you are interested in being a
    guest contributor, contact:
    glasspockets@foundationcenter.org

Subscribe to Transparency Talk

Categories