Transparency Talk

Category: "California" (39 posts)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Eliza Smith

Funder's Forum: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
May 26, 2015

(Funder's Forum interviews of foundation leaders by Foundation Center staff are featured in our monthly E-Updates for Grantmakers newsletter. These interviews enable funders to exchange ideas and connect with their peers to increase their effectiveness. If you are interested in learning more about Funder's Forum, please contact R. Nancy Albilal at (212) 807-3624, or rna@foundationcenter.org.)

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation honors the commitment to philanthropy and ethos established by its founders through its work in education, global development and population, conservation and energy, performing arts, philanthropy, and more. Foundation Center's Vice President for Development, Nancy Albilal, asked Larry Kramer, the foundation's president:

QuestionWhat contributed to your decision to make transparency a priority at Hewlett, and what results has your increased openness produced?

To other funders who ask why they should be transparent, my response is: Why shouldn't you be?

“Having come from outside philanthropy, my first task was to learn. That proved difficult when I discovered how hard it was to find information, even about my own organization. I couldn't find what I was looking for on the Hewlett site, or on most other foundations' websites for that matter. It was while following up to understand why this was so difficult that I first realized how transparency was an issue. I had come to Hewlett from academia, a world in which transparency is taken for granted, so I was surprised to discover it was even a question, much less something that needed a lot of emphasis.

Wfhflogo“I approached it by issuing a challenge to the staff. "Start by assuming that we are going to make 100 percent of everything we do publicly available," I said. "Now go back through and tell me if there are good reasons not to disclose something. If so, we'll consider holding it back. But otherwise, we should share."

I approached transparency by issuing a challenge to the staff. "Start by assuming that we are going to make 100 percent of everything we do publicly available," I said. "Tell me if there are good reasons not to disclose something. If so, we'll consider holding it back. But otherwise, we should share."

“It's important to note that Hewlett never had a practice of withholding information; we always provided anything we were asked for. We simply had not been proactive about it and so didn't have procedures in place to ensure that everything possible would be made available publicly. A lot of work produced for internal use — things like the grant descriptions we prepare for the board, or memoranda and summaries explaining our programs, or evaluations of strategies — were not as a rule being made public. Occasionally, either because someone asked or because we really wanted to raise awareness regarding a particular issue, we would share something. For the most part, however, we just weren't reaching out. Now we are.

“The reasons to do so are obvious. Both potential grantees and other funders need to know what we're doing so they can build on our successes and learn from our failures. To the extent one deems it important to collaborate — and I deem it very important — people need to know what we are doing (and vice versa) so we can find each other. Finally, and this is more unique to the foundation world, the fact that we are formally unaccountable makes it imperative to share what we are doing and invite people who may be affected by it to tell us what they think.

“It sounds simple, but making an organization transparent is actually pretty complicated, and our effort is still a work in progress. Identifying what to make public turned out to be the easy part. The next step is to create processes to make that happen, which is harder than you think. And after that, we still need to build a website that enables people easily to find what we're sharing. There is already a lot more on our website than in the past, but we have a lot of work still to do to make sure everything is fully accessible.

“We have also extended the general notion of openness to our grantees. When we support a project that results in the creation of some kind of work or data, we're requiring that, as a condition of the grant, the material be open-licensed and made easily available on a public website whenever possible.

Occasionally, either because someone asked or because we really wanted to raise awareness regarding a particular issue, we would share something. For the most part, however, we just weren't reaching out. Now we are.

“Already, some of the information we've shared has produced reactions. We recently wrote about our reasons for ending a strategy called the Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative (NMI), which in turn generated a quite productive public debate. NMI was intended to help donors give more effectively by providing information about which nonprofits were performing well and which were not, thus creating a competitive marketplace for funding. Unfortunately, it didn't work as we had hoped. Our grantees — all high performing organizations themselves — did exactly what we asked, but donors did not respond as we had hoped and assumed. The ensuing public debate drew a lot of attention to the general question of how to encourage donors to base their giving on the effectiveness of the organizations they're supporting. At some point, members of the staff commented wryly about how this increased transparency stuff was time-consuming. I replied that we need to view this as part of our regular work: it's time well spent to better convey our message and what we're learning.

“To other funders who ask why they should be transparent, my response is: Why shouldn't you be? It can't be that you're afraid of criticism because, first, you're unaccountable, and, second, criticism is often useful. Not always, of course, but you'll never know unless and until you invite it. Take care not to unfairly hurt others while being transparent, of course, but once you've done that, there's no reason not to share.”

--Nancy Albilal

IssueLab’s Collection Offers Important Example for the Field of Philanthropy
June 17, 2014

(Ned Schaub is principal at Ned Schaub Consulting – Social Change Strategy, and has collaborated with palliative care organizations and leaders around the country for a decade. He helps organizations, including foundations and their grantees, articulate the social change they will achieve, and related sustainability, business, and strategic plans.)

1390262883Almost a decade ago I had the good fortune to be asked by a foundation to look into potential grantmaking in the fields of hospice and palliative care, which led to a master’s thesis about palliative care grantmaking and the advancement of the field. I was struck then by the relatively limited ways that foundations working in the field collaborated, and the degree to which many foundations had no idea what palliative care was.

Certainly a lot has changed in the last ten years, but after seeing IssueLab’s newly launched collection, Improving Access to Palliative Care, I had to wonder what might have happened if this collection of documents had existed then? How much faster might the foundation I worked for have investigated the possibilities, and how much more compelling might the opportunities for social change and return on grantmaking investment have been?

Many in the field of palliative care are working hard to foster greater transparency between healthcare professionals and patients, making choices more obvious and decision-making easier for patients and their families. This represents a real shift from the traditional model where doctors held most, if not all, the decision-making authority.

Many in the field of palliative care are working hard to foster greater transparency between healthcare professionals and patients, making choices more obvious and decision-making easier for patients and their families. This represents a real shift from the traditional model where doctors held most, if not all, the decision-making authority. Fittingly, this new collection of palliative care documents from IssueLab also does the same for philanthropy, encouraging greater transparency about what we have learned from years of work in the field of palliative care, potentially helping to make funding choices more obvious and decision-making easier for grantmakers.

The collection includes more than eighty documents that bring together “evidence and insights about the millions of people who are denied access to palliative care and what organizations worldwide are doing to help them.” It was made possible by support from Atlantic Philanthropies, which has invested $58.5 million in palliative care over the last decade and is now considering the best ways to extend its legacy as it prepares to close its doors in 2020.

The documents included in the collection represent knowledge gained by Atlantic, other foundations, practitioners, and nonprofits – as opposed to strictly clinical or academic research entities. The documents offer a vivid demonstration of just how much hard work has gone into advancing palliative care and make obvious the different ways that foundations have contributed to creating change in this field. It is a rich collection, which groups the documents into categories indicated by three key questions about palliative care: Who is affected? What are common barriers? What are some recommended solutions?

While the collection is an asset to the field of palliative care advancement generally speaking, it also has special significance for palliative care philanthropy going forward. Because of the way it has been set up it serves as rich repository for those seeking to initiate palliative care grantmaking, as well as for foundations already working in the field that want to make deeper impact and work in more strategic and sustainable ways. By focusing on what has already been realized by philanthropy – which is represented so vividly in this collection – there is a real opportunity to beat the learning curve and ensure greater return on investment with foundation dollars.  

Just as importantly, the collection is a model for how foundations could better support the gathering of key information, related to their work. It seems that foundations are more likely to reflect, and to invest time and resources, when they are leaving a particular field or closing their doors altogether. While such reflection is valuable, foundations could be learning more from one another and advancing more highly strategic grantmaking with greater collective impact if they built such thoughtfully organized repositories well before they ended their efforts. So much information-gathering and decision-making carried out by foundations is recorded in internal documents that are never shared beyond staff, consultant, and board teams. What if more of these documents were made public through outlets like IssueLab?

-- Ned Schaub

Sharing What We've Learned: Evaluation Spending
May 5, 2014

(Fay Twersky is Director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.)

Twersky-150“We are conducting a scan of foundation practices so that we can inform our own efforts about… Would you be willing to talk with us about your foundation practices?” Fill in the blank. It might be about foundation strategy development, due diligence practices, grant monitoring, grantee relationships, board materials, evaluation practices, organizational learning approaches, and the list goes on. Several times each week, I receive this kind of request from other foundation colleagues or from the consultants they hire. I have also made these calls myself and commissioned many such scans from consultants. The results of these efforts can be useful and informative. They can give us new ideas and useful benchmarks.

The problem is that these scans are rarely shared. There are lots of reasons given for why—“it was just a quick scan,” “it was just for internal purposes,” “It would take too much time to verify all of the information and we just wanted to get a directional sense of the field.” And so forth. All of these are real reasons. I’ve even used a few of them myself over the years. But I’ve come to think that it is a bad habit we have developed in the foundation world and that we all lose out because of this bad habit. We lose the ability for accumulated knowledge, for benchmarking practices, and for catalyzing dialogue about how foundations work and why.

I am trying to break the habit. I am going to try to share the information I gather in the scans I conduct or commission at the Hewlett Foundation, beginning with this brief scan we conducted to benchmark spending on evaluation. Last year, our Board asked how much should we be spending on evaluation. It was a reasonable question. As I was preparing to answer the question, I wanted to draw on the latest benchmarking data for evaluation spending. Only there was none. The last published spending benchmark was several years old, published by the Evaluation Roundtable in 2010 using data from 2009. And the evaluation world was changing rapidly. Many more foundations were building evaluation functions and I wanted more recent data.

So I conducted my own brief scan, contacting colleagues who lead strong evaluation functions and asked them about their spending levels. I incorporated those benchmarks as points of comparison and folded it into additional analysis that we conducted with the Hewlett Foundation’s own data, and prepared a memo to answer our Board’s question. As part of our November 2013 board meeting, we had a discussion about how much we should be spending on evaluation, and the Board endorsed our recommendations.

I am sharing a distillation of this memo. The memo is not perfect. The scan is not comprehensive. My colleagues offered all sorts of caveats about the information they provided. But it was useful for us. And I share it now in case it is useful for others.

-- Fay Twersky

Inviting Grantees to the Table
April 1, 2014

(Austin Long is a manager at the Center for Effective Philanthropy and leads relationships with funders using CEP's assessment tools. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and to funder boards and staff on topics of grantee, donor, and foundation staff feedback. This post originally appeared on the CEP blog.)

Long CEP headshot 150x150In a recent blog post from my colleague at the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Kevin Bolduc, he shared inspiring examples of two funders trying something a bit different: sharing the results of their Grantee Perception Reports (GPR) in-person with their grantees. While we often see foundations sharing their GPR results publicly, it is all too rare that grantees are invited to join the conversation when CEP engages in discussions about the results with staff and boards.

This past October, I had the opportunity to discuss the results of one foundation’s GPR with both its staff and grantees, and I wanted to share more about the experience. My hope is that it may encourage other funders to consider these unconventional but incredibly valuable opportunities to connect with grantees.

The Whitman Institute (TWI) cites its mission as investing in “the power of relationships, constructive dialogue and the connections they generate to trigger problem solving and creative approaches.” As a result, an important part of surveying their grantees was communicating back to them about what the Institute learned.

It was an ideal opportunity to hear insightful and specific suggestions from grantees—both anonymously from the Grantee Perception Report results but also delivered there.

After receiving its Grantee Perception Report in August of 2013 and participating in a conversation between CEP, the board and staff shortly thereafter, TWI decided that its annual grantee convening in October would be the ideal time to facilitate a further dialogue about the feedback.

On a sunny weekend in Santa Cruz, about 100 grantees, other funders, and stakeholders from all over the country came together for TWI’s annual convening and to discuss the GPR findings. In keeping with TWI’s values, the goal of the day was not only for me to report back to grantees about TWI’s exceptionally positive feedback and ratings compared to other funders, but also to facilitate a dialogue about what to do next.

It was an ideal opportunity to hear insightful and specific suggestions from grantees—both anonymously from the GPR results but also delivered there—about how the Institute could strengthen their work together. Standing in front of the room, it was amazing to see some grantees actually defending TWI in some areas where it was rated relatively less positively; grantees also reinforced what they felt to be TWI’s strengths, and shared personal perspectives on the key opportunities to improve.

For the second half of the meeting, TWI asked groups of grantees to formulate ideas and discuss next steps about acting on the GPR recommendations. Grantees had very insightful suggestions to share, illustrating what I consider to be one of the most valuable aspects of this type of meeting—the opportunity for a funder to hear specific suggestions and ideas from the individuals and organizations that it has chosen to help them create impact. These group conversations allowed TWI to accelerate its ability to act on the guidance from the report.

Of course, it’s not possible for every funder to convene all of its grantees and stakeholders in one place. But for TWI, it was about much more than simply having the right people together in the same location; it was about using open dialogue and grantee feedback to build stronger relationships and meaningfully improve the ability of the Institute to achieve its vision.

Now isn’t that a conversation worth having?

-- Austin Long

Transparency, Inclusion and Collaboration: Three Ways Philanthropy Can Take Its Own Medicine
March 20, 2014

Shauna Nep is the social innovation manager at the Goldhirsh Foundation. She has a background in program development, and in mobilizing online and offline engagement with various organizations in Los Angeles. This blog was re-posted with permission from Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy. This post represents Shauna’s own opinions.

Goldhirsh-shauna-1-150x150In philanthropy, we are working each day to make the world a more open, inclusive, and participatory place. A place where marginalized voices are heard and smart solutions that work rise to the top. But, we have lagged behind in modeling the behavior we want to see in the rest of society. With some notable exceptions, the way we as philanthropic institutions currently engage is not only inconsistent with our current values, but also behind the times in which we live.

This is nobody’s fault. Foundations today are primarily top-down institutions, and changing “the way it’s always been” is hard. In many cases, foundations desperately want to engage but don’t really know how, or feel they lack the appropriate tools.

As a social change advocate who grew up in a time when most platforms are expected to be crowd-powered and open-source, I want nothing less for my field. The good news is that the field is constantly developing new tools and capabilities to help philanthropy put these values into practice.

Let’s talk about some of these values and opportunities to advance them in our own work.

Transparency

As funders, we ask for full transparency from our grantees—impact reports and financial records at the very least. At the Goldhirsh Foundation, we ask our grantees to tell us about roadblocks early on, so that we can help. We want to be considered partners, and expect honesty. What would happen if we all held ourselves to these same standards for impact and disclosure?

Ways to change it

New tools and platforms allow philanthropy to embrace transparency more easily than it could in the past. IssueLab—a project of the Foundation Center—allows foundations to upload case studies, evaluations, white papers, and issue briefs, and ensures that the content is both archived and accessible. GlassPockets, another initiative of the Foundation Center, champions philanthropic transparency by inspiring private foundations to adopt openness in their communications and by highlighting where philanthropic dollars are going. Tools like these make philanthropy more transparent and streamline access to knowledge generated by philanthropy.

One action step

Check out the many transparency tools available on the Glasspockets website and share your publications on IssueLab.

Inclusion

A fundamental issue seems to be that as foundations, our funding strategies are developed in isolation rather than in consultation with the people and organizations we seek to benefit. As a result, the impact is piecemeal, and not nearly as lasting or transformative as it could be.

Ways to change it

There are great examples of foundations who are dramatically embracing inclusion in their grantmaking. The Vancouver Foundation youth grants are administered by their Youth Philanthropy Council—made up of Vancouver youth from diverse backgrounds. The youth not only decide who gets the grants, but also, how much. Their youth are actively engaged and strong advocates for the work of the foundation.

Other great examples include the Durfee Foundation in California, who consistently rely on former grantees to help decide which individuals and projects to fund today, or the Raymond John Wean Foundation in Ohio, whose board includes a diverse mix of community voices.

One action step

Review this comprehensive report by Grantmakers For Effective Organizations on the benefits and types of grantee and public engagement, and find one action your institution might put into practice.

Collaboration does not have to be a large effort. There are low-touch ways for foundations to learn from one another and develop solutions together to make all of our work more streamlined and more effective.

Collaboration

One area in which philanthropy is getting stronger is collaboration. Funders increasingly encourage and/or require collaboration amongst their grantees, and are also starting to adopt the practice themselves, with an eye towards leveraging greater impact in the ecosystems in which they work. Over the past few years several funders collaboratives have formed, and Collective Impact (which had its third birthday this January) is gaining traction.

Ways to keep the momentum going

Collaboration does not have to be a large effort. There are low-touch ways for foundations to learn from one another and develop solutions together to make all of our work more streamlined and more effective. The field is making progress in developing better feedback loops with other funders and grantees, and efforts like the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership are even making progress in establishing common performance measurements and sharing data. New advances in Big Data and data visualization and analysis should only accelerate this trend.

Putting these values into practice: my own experience

At the foundation where I work, the Goldhirsh Foundation, we sought to create through our LA2050 initiative a shared vision for the future of Los Angeles, and to track and drive progress toward that vision.

To create this shared vision we wanted and needed public participation, but did not have the capacity to conduct a large-scale public deliberation. So, we played to our team’s strengths: We built a brand that people wanted to engage with; we used digital media to collect thousands of visions for the future; we crowdsourced $1,000,000 in grants; and we brought together leaders in business, government, and the social sector to talk about how we are going to change the future of Los Angeles, together. And, demonstrating their willingness to collaborate, the Annenberg Foundation even pooled some of their own resources and funded an additional ten projects to move LA2050 forward.

We celebrate the successes we’ve had with our incredible partners thus far, but also recognize that (1) our approach is one of many possible ones, and (2) our efforts so far are only a tiny portion of what’s needed to make change at the scale we’d like to see, and it’s going to require much more collaboration and inclusion with Angelenos to really move the needle. But, if we are able to embrace the medicine we’ve so often prescribed to our grantees, we are optimistic that we’ll get there.

What can your foundation do to catch up with the times, and emulate the society we are trying to build? And what can we do together?

-- Shauna Nep

Transparency, So Far: An Update from the Hewlett Foundation
January 9, 2014

(Eric Brown is Communications Director of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. This post is re-published with permission from the Hewlett Foundation’s blog, Work in Progress.)

Brown-eric-150In November, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation president, Larry Kramer, kicked off the Foundation’s new blog, Work in Progress, by explaining that the blog is one element of the Foundation’s evolving approach to transparency and openness. Larry explained that we will try to share as much information as we can about what we do and why we do it. Sometimes we just share items of interest. (By the way, if you’re not following Ruth Levine’s Friday Notes, you should. They’re really interesting and fun.)

We’re conducting research into the kind of information about the Foundation that people are most interested in and we’re going to figure out how to make that information easy to find and easy to use.

It’s not enough to make information merely available, though. We are also going to try to make that information easy to find and easy to use. We are going to talk more about it in the future, but we are just getting started on a project that we think will help deliver on our commitment to transparency. We’re conducting research into the kind of information about the Foundation that people are most interested in and we’re going to figure out how to make that information easy to find and easy to use. We are already discovering that it’s harder than it looks. People have wildly different interests and different ways of seeking out information. We will spend the next several months conducting research on this question, and we will have much more to say about it as the project develops.


There are a few things we are doing right away. For example, we are beginning to make more information about our grants available on the web site. We are now publishing the summaries of grants that we provide to our Board so that grantees, grantseekers, other funders, and interested observers have a better sense of the purpose of the grants. We began by publishing new Global Development and Population Program grants from our most recent Board meeting (those listed as awarded on November 10, 2013 in our Grants Database), but we will expand to the rest of the programs after our next Board meeting in March. We’d be very interested in knowing how people use this information, if in fact they do.

Hewlett logo_WFHF_reversegreyFor the last several years, when we published our annual report, we included the annual memos that programs submit to our Board. This was a pretty good example of potentially useful information that we made public, but I have to confess that we didn’t do a good enough job of publicizing this information. You can read these memos in our most recent annual report. In them, each program reports on the past year and gives the Board a sense of what to expect in the coming year. It’s a way of holding ourselves accountable to our Board and to our own strategies. If you are interested in learning about a program’s strategy, this ought to be pretty useful information. Is it? Let us know.

We are by no means the only foundation to make this kind of information available, by the way. As we were refining our approach to transparency, we learned a great deal from a number of foundations that we think do a great job of sharing information. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Gates Foundation are just two examples. Are there exemplars of openness that you can cite? Please share them. We need as many models as we can find.

As I said, we are by no means pioneers, but my guess is that our announcement has stirred some interest in this topic. In fact, in the time since Larry’s blog post, I’ve gotten a number of messages from colleagues at other foundations who explained that they are now reexamining their own approach to transparency and openness. I imagine that those are not always easy internal conversations. I would be very interested in learning (to the extent you feel comfortable) how those conversations are going. What do you think the value of increased transparency might be? What might the drawbacks be? 

As you can probably tell, our work on transparency is very much a work in progress. We are learning as we go, but it feels like we have made a decent start (if the spirited comments to the Hewlett Foundation's blog are any indication). Nevertheless, we also know that we have a lot of work ahead of us. Onward!

-- Eric Brown

Glasspockets Find: The Hewlett Foundation’s New Transparency Policy, Sharing "Work in Progress"
November 20, 2013

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

Herman-150Yesterday the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced their new blog, Work in Progress, with an ambitious inaugural post by the foundation’s president, Larry Kramer. A new foundation blog may launch every week—and we certainly enjoy reading them—but it doesn’t always change our outlook on transparency within the field of philanthropy. What makes this blog unveiling noteworthy is that is reads like a manifesto, as Mr. Kramer writes:

“Transparency matters. Being open matters. The Hewlett Foundation and our peers in the philanthropic sector have the great privilege to operate within a system that allows—and even encourages—us to use our resources for the betterment of society as we see it. And with that privilege comes the responsibility to act with the highest ethical standards and commitment to the public good.”

Hewlett-blog-titleThe post culminates in the announcement of the Hewlett Foundation’s new Statement of Purpose on openness and transparency. Here, Mr. Kramer codifies transparency, taking it from a value to a policy—one that states the foundation is starting from new default mode: “To put this commitment to openness and transparency into action, we begin with a presumption that information created by or about the Foundation should be freely available.”

“In being open and transparent, we demonstrate confidence in our strategies, but also show that we are willing to have them challenged.”

The comments section of the Hewlett Foundation’s first blog post is a lively read as well, responding to Mr. Kramer’s call for more discussion and disagreement. As he states, In being open and transparent, we demonstrate confidence in our strategies, but also show that we are willing to have them challenged.”

Among those weighing in to question the status quo is political scientist Robert Reich, who commented, “Transparency is also important, it seems to me, because it confers additional legitimacy on the work of foundations, rightly positioning their work as worthy of public scrutiny and debate. It acknowledges that the activity of private foundations is not in fact private. It is public-facing, aimed at improvements on issues of public concern.” 

To see how the Hewlett Foundation “walks the talk” in the area of transparency, check out its “Who Has Glass Pockets?” profile on our new Glasspockets web site. You can also read our own statement of purpose in the Why Transparency section of the site. We’ll be following all the commentary to see if it leads to wider policy changes across the field and more real dialogue on transparency.

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: Blue Shield of California Foundation shares Health Care research through live webcast
November 5, 2013

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

Herman-100Foundations produce reports and issue briefs every day—and we love them for it. However, not everyone has the time or inclination to read every worthwhile report that funders work so hard to produce. Some foundations take it upon themselves to find new and proactive ways to share their new-found knowledge with stakeholders, colleagues, practitioners and policymakers who can effect change in the field.

The Blue Shield of California Foundation hosted an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on October 23 to discuss findings and issues raised in its latest report on a timely topic, “Building Better Health Care for Low-Income Californians,” which was developed as part of its Strengthening the Safety Net program.

The foundation’s event at the National Press Club featured a panel discussion with experts in health care delivery, community health centers and health law and policy. Guests who could not attend in person could watch the event online through live webcast, and the program concluded with a question-and-answer session that was open to those attending virtually or in person. The recorded webcast is now available online:

Watch the video»

One particularly memorable moment was when an attendee asked the panelists what kind of research on health care policy they would like to see undertaken in the future. One panelist, Dr. Ron Yee, chief medical officer of the National Association of Community Health Centers, said he would like to understand how co-pays and deductibles will affect low-income patients accessing the health care system, which was also a question raised by an audience member. Dr. Yee commented, “I know from the front line, how my patients handle their money, the little money they have… Even a $10 co-pay is a big deal for my patients.” 

“You know we’re getting serious when we’re talking about money."

Peter Long, president & CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation remarked, “You know we’re getting serious when we’re talking about money. You know it’s not a theoretical conversation anymore, when people are talking about payment, and about what it looks like, and the end outcomes.… To me that’s very successful, in a progression of a conversation, when we’re starting to get to a point where you take human aspiration and needs, their real experience, and then what the heck do we do with them.”

Another panelist, Dr. Kavita Patel of the Brookings Institution, noted in closing, “I’m very excited to see this study escape the traditional research/beltway/policymaker circles. It is one of the few studies that has this generalizability for regular viewing audiences. What’s wonderful about that is…that movement will often precede policy changes or the public sector doing something.”

On the Blue Shield of California Foundation’s web page for “Building Better Health Care for Low-Income Californians” you can find the PowerPoint presentation from the event and an executive summary of its October 2013 research report. You can also download the entire report and find other issue briefs and research on health care in the foundation’s extensive publications section.

To gain audiences and knowledge beyond each individual funder’s own connections, we encourage all foundations to post their research, reports, white papers and case studies on the Foundation Center’s IssueLab website, which aims to gather, index and share the collective intelligence of the social sector. For those interested in health care policy, be sure to delve into IssueLab’s new special collection of research on the Affordable Care Act.

-- Rebecca Herman

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