Transparency Talk

Category: "California" (39 posts)

Glasspockets Webinar Series: Transparency and Technology Tools for Grantmakers
October 23, 2013

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

Rebecca Herman PhotoPublic expectation about what information is made available online is increasing at a rapid pace—whether you are operating in the public sector, the private sector or the social sector. For grantmakers, emerging online technologies and platforms also provide an array of new opportunities to be transparent about their approaches to philanthropy and the impact of their work.

Over the past few months, in partnership with California Philanthropy and the James Irvine Foundation, Glasspockets offered three webinars to help foundations take advantage of online tools and resources that address timely issues in philanthropy. Our Glasspockets webinar series for grantmakers explored how harnessing the power of transparency can facilitate greater collaboration, reduce duplication of effort, build stronger relationships with stakeholders, and cultivate a community of shared learning:

Check out these webinar recordings for tips on the newest transparency tools:

Equipping Your Foundation for the Age of Transparency and Big Data, presented by Foundation Center President Bradford K. Smith

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Watch the webinar»

Are you ready for big data? Big data—the gathering of unprecedented amounts of digital information to understand trends and predict future behavior—is fundamentally changing the way we understand the world and make decisions. This webinar explores how grantmakers can use big data to inform their work. He also discusses how revolutionary changes in technology-fueled transparency, data access and data mining will have a profound impact on foundations of all sizes.

Sample tip: The field of philanthropy resembles an archipelago—islands that are far too isolated from each other, especially in this era of data-sharing. Foundations’ urge to be unique (and create their own “island”) creates disadvantages when it comes to harnessing big data, since each grantmaking program is speaking its own language. Stop trying to be unique!

What Do We Know? Tapping the Social Sector’s Collective Intelligence, presented by Gabi Fitz, Director of Knowledge Management Initiatives, The Foundation Center

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Watch the webinar»

Our collective intelligence is one of our most valuable offerings as a field. Access to quality research provides the social sector with the ability to improve programs and strengthen funding initiatives. How can you amplify the impact of the knowledge you create, fund, and produce? This webinar addresses how social sector research can help your organization fulfill its mission; it also provides an introduction to IssueLab, the Foundation Center’s free database of more than 13,000 white papers, case studies, and evaluations.

Sample tip: How can you make your knowledge more accessible? In addition to putting your research on your website and disseminating it to your networks, add a copy to IssueLab—a resource that we see as the public library of the social sector. You many also consider open licensing for your research, so that it to be used more widely. Make sharing research your default, not the exception!

Transparency 2.0: Foundations in the Age of Social Media, presented by Jereme Bivens, former Digital Strategy and Emerging Media Manager, The Foundation Center

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Watch the webinar»

Learn how social media tools can help you improve information flow, interact with partners and stakeholders, and operate more transparently. This webinar shares proven techniques to stay on top of industry trends, participate in mission-related conversations, communicate effectively with your teammates, and reduce your e-mail and meeting schedule. The webinar also discusses organizations who are leading in social media, as well as new tools to track and measure your social media campaigns.

Sample tip: Google Analytics gives you information about how many people visit your website, where they are coming from, which pages they went to, and even more. For instance, are they accessing your website from a mobile device, even though your website is not mobile-friendly? There is also a new section in Google Analytics to help you identify which social media platforms are getting people to your website.

If you are interested in other transparency tools, let us know! We thank our Glasspockets webinar series sponsor, The James Irvine Foundation, and our webinar partners: Northern California Grantmakers, San Diego Grantmakers and Southern California Grantmakers.

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: The James Irvine Foundation's 2012 Annual Report Highlights Engagement
August 1, 2013

Irvine-logoThe James Irvine Foundation just released its 2012 Annual Report. The report continues the tradition it began with its previous reports by also serving as a performance assessment for the overall work of the foundation.   

James E. Canales highlights engagement as central to this year’s report and a driver for their grantmaking in 2012. “When people engage in their communities, in their work, in their state, good things can happen. At The James Irvine Foundation, where our mission is to expand opportunity for the people of California, this idea of engagement – and working to improve Californians’ prospects to engage – has often been core to our work, no matter the program area. This seemed more so than ever in 2012, during our 75th anniversary as a foundation.”

As in prior years, this year’s report is entirely online allowing readers to “engage” actively with the content. The report features an Introduction as well as four distinct areas: Program Impact, Leadership, Finance and Organization, and 2012 Grantmaking. The report makes great use of infographic and data visualization displays by organizing information into easily digested graphics throughout all of the areas and can serve as a helpful example of how to present investment returns, staff and board demographics, program impact data, anniversary content, and social network statistics. Engage with the Irvine Foundation's 2012 Annual Report online.

The James Irvine Foundation just released its 2012 Annual Report. The report continues the tradition it began with its previous reports by also serving as a performance assessment for the overall work of the foundation.   

James E. Canales highlights engagement as central to this year’s report and a driver for their grantmaking in 2012. “When people engage in their communities, in their work, in their state, good things can happen. At The James Irvine Foundation, where our mission is to expand opportunity for the people of California, this idea of engagement – and working to improve Californians’ prospects to engage – has often been core to our work, no matter the program area. This seemed more so than ever in 2012, during our 75th anniversary as a foundation.”

As in prior years, this year’s report is entirely online allowing readers to “engage” actively with the content. The report features an Introduction as well as four distinct areas: Program Impact, Leadership, Finance and Organization, and 2012 Grantmaking. The report makes great use of infographic and data visualization displays by organizing information into easily digested graphics throughout all of the areas and can serve as a helpful example of how to present investment returns, staff and board demographics, program impact data[JC1] , anniversary content, and social network statistics.  Engage with the Irvine Foundation's 2012 Annual Report online.


 [JC1]Natasha, can you please hyperlink each of these things I’m mentioning so it jumps to the right part of the annual report for each of these.  Let me know if you have trouble finding any of them.

Part 2: Top 10 Lessons Learned on the Path to Community Change
June 25, 2013

(Robert K. Ross, M.D. is President and CEO of The California Endowment. Yesterday he shared three aha moments from the Endowment’s first two years of work in its Building Healthy Communities plan.)

Ross-100Okay, at times I step back and look at the BHC initiative and wonder—could we have made it more complicated? 14 sites. Multiple grantees in each site. A core set of multiple health issues. Multiple state-level grantees. And the expectation that the parts will add up to something greater and catalyze a convergence that builds more power and leads to greater impact.

But then again, supporting an agenda for social and community change does require multiple strategies, operating in alignment: the use of data, message framing and story-telling; innovative models; a variety of influential messengers; convening and facilitating champions; “grassroots and treetops” and coordination; meaningful community engagement. Power-building requires multiple, aligned investments.

Our Top Ten Lessons for Philanthropy

Finally, I want to share some lessons with partners in philanthropy regarding planning and implementing a community-change initiative. As we engaged in the planning process of BHC, we tried in earnest to stick by a key aphorism, one I learned from colleague and mentor Ralph Smith at the Annie E. Casey Foundation: make new mistakes.

The track record of community change work by philanthropy is not a work of art. Tapping into the wisdom of institutions such as the Aspen Institute, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Skillman Foundation, the Marguerite Casey Foundation, and the Northwest Area Foundation, we incorporated the lessons of success and struggle from our colleagues in the field. Learning from these and other colleagues, we were able to avoid hitting major rocks as our BHC ship sailed out of harbor. So, we learned the following:

Community engagement in planning processes will be simultaneously exhilarating and messy.

1. Take time to plan, and plan to take the time. We embarked on a 9 month community engagement process in the 14 BHC sites, and we ended up taking 12-15 months. Nobody died, and nobody got fired. Community engagement in planning processes will be simultaneously exhilarating and messy. If it is going too smoothly and too well, then something may be terribly wrong – like the possibility that a foundation is not receiving candid, meaningful input from local leaders. If it is bumpy and messy and getting to consensus, and clarity is taking much longer than originally planned, it may very well mean that you are gaining the trust of leaders to raise thorny, difficult issues. As a general rule, we just took the time that was needed for local leaders to develop their local BHC plans, and we did not pit BHC sites against one another to race by the foundation’s clock. Community leaders want a compass more than they want a clock.

2. Don’t lead with the money. The issue of whether to announce “how much” the dollar commitment is in a foundation initiative is a tricky path. On the one hand, a major dollar-commitment announcement by a foundation can provide excitement, anticipation, and mobilize civic and community support. On the other hand, “leading with the money” can instigate all manner of posturing, control issues, manipulation, and political grantsmanship among potential grantees. We decided to quietly announce the breadth and scope of our commitment -- $1 Billion over a ten-year period in local and statewide policy funding – but veered away from formally announcing precise budget commitments in each site. In other words, we wanted to send a message that our commitment was serious without leading the conversations with grant dollar puppetry.

3. Date logic models, but get married to learning. There is no doubt that engaging in the disciplined exercise of how you think – and how community leaders believe – positive change and results will happen is a sound practice. But it is also important to recognize that community change and positive results in the context of complex social and political systems often defy tidy, linear models. If you want to get married, it is wiser to commit to the process of active, dynamic, real-time learning. We provided logic model training for leaders in the 14 BHC sites, with varying levels of effectiveness across the sites; we have been clear, however that learning is not optional, either for grantees or our own program staff.  

4. Be transparent about desired results. There are written and unwritten axioms about the need for philanthropy to be completely community driven in community-change work. Our experience is that this thinking is a truism without being entirely true. For starters, our foundation is legally chartered as a health foundation, and although we employ a broad definition of the word “health”, there are limitations and constraints about what we can and cannot fund. This issue led to some considerable tensions within the foundation (at the board and staff level), as well as with grantees and stakeholders, about prioritized community needs that were outside the scope of our health mission. The most obvious and recurrent tension-generating themes, in the context of a pervasive economic recession, were issues of economic development, job creation, and mortgage foreclosure across the sites. The battles over if and how we should enter “the space” of economic development as a health foundation were intense and emotional. We ultimately landed on a framework (utilizing mission-investing in our investment portfolio) for how to move forward without “mission drift”, and have been communicating our approach to our own program staff and stakeholders, but it has not been easy. But the worst of all worlds would have been to promise community leaders a course of action that we would either abandon or renege upon later on. We decided to stick to our mission and results (the right move, however discomforting for foundation-community relations).  

5. Be dogmatic about the results, but flexible about the strategies. The work of community change is noble, but funders cannot afford to fall in love with the process of the work at the expense of meaningful results and impact. Once community leaders and funders agree on a set of outcomes, objectives, or results, these must represent the “true north” on the compass. In the BHC planning and early implementation, we gave community leaders and organizations in the BHC planning process a blank slate on strategies, but insisted on being results driven and logic-model supported. The good news is that across our 14 BHC sites, there is community and resident ownership about the priorities and the strategies to achieve healthier community environments for young people. While these strategies vary, we are seeing growing convergence as the sites engage and learn from one another.

6. Listening is a form of leadership. Irish poet David Whyte underscores the importance of “leadership through conversation.” We have been quite intentional about active listening at all stages of the planning and implementation, and being mindful of closing the feedback loop with community leaders and grantees. We utilized a fairly simple “what we said, what they said, what we heard, what we’ll do” format. At the conclusion of the one-year planning process, our past Board Chair (Tessie Guillermo) and I co-authored and co-videotaped messages to the 14 sites summarizing the key themes and priorities we heard from community leaders in the sites, and what to expect in support from our foundation in the months ahead. We have now begun to bring site leaders together twice annually with foundation staff, so that leaders and staff can share stories of progress, struggles, and inspiration. All of this in service of the all-too critical “t-word”: trust. Trust is the mother’s milk of community change efforts by philanthropy, and active, engaged listening is the foundation.

7. Make “patient” grants, and “urgent” grants. Investors engaged in place-based, community change efforts encounter several tensions to manage. Among them is the tension of patience versus urgency. As efforts such as the Harlem Children’s Zone, Market Creek Plaza in Southeast San Diego, the Skillman Foundation’s work in Detroit, and the Dudley Street Initiative in Boston have demonstrated, positive community change takes time. A two- or three-year grant just won’t do it, and most successful efforts require 7, 10, or 12 years of “patient money.” The most thoughtful investments on this front involve leadership development, organizational capacity building, and collaborative efficacy; but “impact” yield from these investments will typically take years to bear fruit. “Urgent” money involves investing in short-term campaigns or capital projects where tangible results are realized within 12-18 months. Community change, place-based philanthropy will require both types of investments, and too heavy a bias or tilt towards “patient” investments will leave the investor and the partnership vulnerable to allegations that some money has been spent, some meetings have occurred, but nothing “tangible” has been produced. As a result, confidence in the effort will dissipate. Our BHC effort in the early going has been appreciative of the need to simultaneously make “patient” and “urgent” (which we also call “early wins”) grants.

8. Story-telling is part of the doing. The two-most under-appreciated and under-invested themes in social-change philanthropy are power-building and story-telling. Having been at the helm of a large-asset foundation for more than a decade, I am guilty-as-charged on this front; in retrospect, I would gladly trade in half of the (often expensive) academic and research-oriented reports we have commissioned in my twelve years as CEO for more compelling, interesting, and impactful “stories” of community-level change that illuminate the path towards a healthy, more vibrant community. Story-telling by community leaders, youth, or community-based organizations can be powerful tools on multiple fronts: local residents and youth experience the power and passion of their own voice; local media are inspired to re-tell the story in a way that scales up the audience; policymakers pay greater heed and attention to the issue being raised; civic engagement and participation is served; cynicism, disengagement, and disempowerment are reduced. Utilizing multiple forms of story-telling, from social media to flip-cam videos to traditional approaches, we have been assertive in support of community leaders and youth on this front, and it has been inspiring to witness.

Why build, preserve, and protect our respective brands and reputations if we are not going to spend it? Spend that damn brand.

9. Spend the damn brand. Institutional philanthropy is risk-averse. We tend to worry and fret about how our institutional brand, reputation, and civic standing might be sullied by associating with potentially controversial efforts or organizations, and as a general rule, we keep our heads and our profile low. But we have discovered, in the early years of the BHC effort, that thoughtful, surgical application of our civic standing and reputation matters to community leaders – and that they want us to spend “it” on their behalf. Sometimes it comes in the form of convening a meeting, writing and placing an op-ed, placing a phone call to a civic leader, or taking out a full-page ad on an issue in the local newspaper. We have done this with regards to healthy food options for youth and families, health insurance coverage for the uninsured, gang prevention and intervention strategies, and school health efforts. There is a school of thought among philanthropy that our job as funders is “to make the grant and get out of the way.” We would argue that our job is to achieve our respective missions, and by any means necessary. On occasion, this requires stepping out of character on behalf of grantees, and utilizing our voice as well. Why build, preserve, and protect our respective brands and reputations if we are not going to spend it? Spend that damn brand.

10. A Highly Engaged Board. In the earliest planning stages of BHC with our Board of Directors, the Board made it clear that they understood the value and importance of a ten-year commitment, but they also made three points clear. The first was the importance of honesty, candor, and trust about the progress of the effort. The second was a complete commitment to an evaluation approach framed by “learning through impact.” And thirdly, they wanted to be engaged for the purposes of learning, and governance, but not micromanagement. We accomplished the latter by organizing our quarterly Board meetings in or near a BHC community site at least three times a year, and each Board member accepted an assignment of one community site for more in-depth and richer learning. Board members share their observations over dinner at our Board meetings.

In closing, we have found the work of community change to be an exhilarating journey in pursuit of our health mission. We have gained an appreciation of the importance of the “right brain-left brain balance” in this work: having a Theory of Change, and Logic Models, and metrics are important, but trust-building, power-building, and the spiritual dimension of the work constitutes the real glue to hold partners and relationships together over the long haul. And finally, a special note of thanks and appreciation to those foundations who have traversed this path before us, sharing tidbits of lessons and wisdom so that we can “make new mistakes” in the battle for community improvement and health justice.

--Robert K. Ross, M.D.

Part 1: Aha Moments on the Road to Building Healthy Communities
June 24, 2013

(Robert K. Ross, M.D. is President and CEO of The California Endowment.)

Ross-100We are now two-plus years into the implementation of The California Endowment’s 10-Year Building Healthy Communities plan, and I can safely say that it has been the two most exciting years of my career in community and public health. It has already been quite a ride.

This is the first of periodic reports we will produce to share our progress, observations, mistakes, and lessons along the way as we support the efforts of community leaders to create healthier environments for young people in distressed and underserved communities.

Building Healthy Communities – we call it BHC for short – is a commitment of our Board of Directors to a two-pronged strategy. We have “dropped anchor” in fourteen distressed California communities for a 10-year period to work in partnership with community leaders to improve the health and life chances of young people. In addition, we are supporting change at the regional and state levels through funding advocacy, organizational capacity building, and communications on our key health issues.

Watch the video »

It is our intent to have these place-based and "bigger than place" strategies complement one another, and for the moving parts to develop a powerful synergy. At the local level, the BHC communities are engaging multiple sectors to develop innovative efforts to advance health. As these innovative strategies emerge, we’re looking for ways to scale the ideas up through policy change and communications at the state and regional levels. Through acting on multiple levels with complementary strategies, we expect to make a greater contribution than if we were to work only at the place level or only through supporting statewide advocacy. This is central to our theory of change. In a sense, it is fair to consider BHC as a “place-based plus” community change campaign.

In the spirit of the knowledge sharing that is one of the central aspects of Glasspockets and Transparency Talk, I will lift up three “aha” moments we’ve had so far, followed tomorrow by a second post listing key lessons for philanthropy.

Aha #1: The message matters
As we all know, when one talks about the “social determinants” -- the roles that poverty, education, and housing play in health status -- outside the public health world, eyes glaze over. We experienced this communication gap early as local communities strived to decipher our jargon-laden list of 10 targeted outcomes and 4 Big Results. Our communications team, inspired by the engagement of community leaders and residents in the planning process, took this obstacle head-on, and have created what I believe is one of the first successful decodings of the social determinants research: Health Happens Here.

Health-happens-here-250Health doesn’t just happen in a doctor’s office; health happens where we live, work, learn and play.

If you put the phrase Health Happens Here on a photo of a healthy school lunch, or a bike path, or a father and daughter hugging each other, we immediately communicate the norms change we are promoting. We took this message a step further by incorporating it into our internal structures. In looking at our grant-making, we found that 80% of our grants were focused around three areas: neighborhoods, schools and prevention. This led us to create three themes – Health Happens in Neighborhoods, Health Happens in Schools and Health Happens with Prevention – that have become the essential building blocks for our work. In fact, we call them campaigns, another use of language that communicates our intent as a foundation to use our brand to push for policy and systems change. And we are investing in aggressive media strategies to promote this message—through television, radio, print and social networking and through partnerships with influential messengers including First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Oz, and Jamie Oliver. A simple, compelling message carried by influential messengers, can shape a new narrative of change.

Aha #2: Trust young people to lead
Early in our BHC process, we chose to bring young people into leadership roles in BHC. Little did I know that this decision would not only impact community efforts but would impact how we view our work. Young people and adults view health issues differently, and it makes perfect sense to engage young people directly in developing strategies to improve their health. It makes sense but in the past, we didn’t. We operated like most adult organizations and didn’t engage young people in our thinking.

We’ve seen first hand that young people can be powerful leaders for social change. When they tell their stories through the arts, spoken word, social networking and journalism, they compel action. They are not only about our future; they are leaders of today.

Now that we have taken this step, we’re learning a lot. Young people brought to our attention the scandalous epidemic of suspensions and expulsions in our schools, and helped us understand how this issue connects to their health. Young men of color led us to a greater understanding of the role of trauma in the lives of youth growing up in homes and neighborhoods plagued with violence and gangs, and lifted up the need for social/emotional health and healing. And we’ve seen first hand that young people can be powerful leaders for social change. When they tell their stories through the arts, spoken word, social networking and journalism, they compel action. They are not only about our future; they are leaders of today. We’re evolving into an organization informed by adult and youth perspectives.

In addition to the numerous youth organizing and development efforts in the sites, I’ve created a “President’s Youth Council,” consisting of 14 youth leaders across the state, who meet with me at least twice annually in my role as President & CEO. In this way, I have the privilege of  hearing directly from youth leaders themselves about the progress and struggles of BHC, and how our foundation can be more responsive to and supportive of young people’s distressed neighborhoods. I believe this represents a fundamental culture change that will influence our work in the years to come.

As of this writing, BHC youth leaders, working in coalitions with the organizations that support them, have begun to rack up a series of policy victories that will put a check on the epidemic numbers of school suspensions, calling for alternative, common-sense discipline practices (like restorative justice approaches) that keep kids in school. This was an issue, by the way, that was nowhere on our radar screen in the early planning of BHC. It emerged from the youth voices in the BHC sites.

Aha #3: Build power, not just knowledge and innovation  
Frederick Douglass said that power concedes nothing without demand. The world doesn’t change because of the release of new data. It responds or concedes when people demand change.

Institutional philanthropy tends to worship at one of two altars: new knowledge, and innovation. Both are overrated, over-hyped, and over-subscribed to in our field.

Institutional philanthropy tends to worship at one of two altars: new knowledge, and innovation. Both are overrated, over-hyped, and over-subscribed to in our field. It can be argued that the primary value of philanthropy to civic society is the issue of problem-solving at scale. In a wonderfully linear, logical, and intellectually-driven world, good data, research, and new knowledge would be king. But that is not the world we live in. Recently, I noted that the state legislature in North Carolina effectively banned the use of scientific projections on global warming-induced tidal changes because they stand to impede the path of business development. More recently, the NRA-led prohibition against gun violence research by the CDC was recently challenged by President Obama after Newtown. I wish these represented isolated events, but history has shown that good science is frequently set aside by political and economic forces to the detriment of civic society.

The best public health example of this issue is the 80-year-plus war against big tobacco. The medical and public health communities have had the science about the detrimental effects of tobacco use since the 1920’s; but big tobacco had the power. We lost the battle decade after decade, and it was not until we discovered the merits of political and grassroots advocacy which, in combination with the science, led to a strategy where we began to rack up some victories.

On a related front, philanthropy seems hopelessly in love with “innovation” as well.  In the corporate, for-profit world, innovation quickly scales through profit – the I-phone being a classic example. In the social sectors, innovation rarely paves the way towards scale on its own merits. Too many politically powerful forces are in play. Power, voice, and advocacy matter, and matter greatly. Data and innovation, without the recognition of political power and advocacy, is in vain. The school suspensions battle was a perfect illustration of this point, as youth leaders and youth advocacy organizations utilized suspension data that demonstrated a disproportionate impact on African-American and Latino young men as a result of the practices.

In Building Healthy Communities we’ve decided to be clear; we want to help community leaders and residents build the power they need to promote healthier places for young people. We want to support people and organizations that think power, act with power and demand change. Power concedes nothing without demand, and as Douglass added, it never has and it never will.

Tomorrow, in part 2 of this series, Dr. Robert Ross discusses 10 lessons learned on the path to community engagement.

--Robert K. Ross, M.D.

Sean Parker and the Perils of Stealth Philanthropy
June 17, 2013

(Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the Center's Glasspockets effort.)

Camarena_100I love weddings and I love philanthropy, so I have been following the fallout from Sean Parker’s wedding with growing interest over the last couple of weeks of unrelenting news coverage surrounding the big event. Mr. Parker is the co-founder of Napster and was also Facebook’s first president. To believe the tabloids, the nuptials involved an elaborate staging akin to those of sets for Lord of the Rings crossed with Game of Thrones all under the canopy of old growth redwoods in Northern California.

Unfortunately many new donors fear that philanthropic transparency will lead to being inundated with requests, and instead opt for treating philanthropy like a “stealth mode” operation.

Couple those images with the fact that he apparently did not secure the proper permits, and in the end made a “voluntary payment” to make the whole brouhaha go away (the California Coastal Commission can technically not levy fines), and you have the makings of story that any news cycle will love about billionaires being able to make up the rules as they go along. And that is where philanthropy enters the picture, as when Mr. Parker has tried to catch up to the story and correct the record, he refers to his foundation and its work supporting conservation efforts as a means to demonstrate his commitment to the environment. And given this history of philanthropic support for conservation, he also explains that his goal for the wedding was actually one in which the event would leave the forest in better shape than when he found it, with ample funds included for restoration. 

As a philanthropy observer, that was the sound bite that really grabbed my attention! Sean Parker has a foundation?  Who knew? I was aware of Mr. Parker’s excellent work on the crowdfunding platform Causes, and in fact, we have featured its good work on several occasions here at the Foundation Center, since it is a platform that has helped many nonprofits mobilize their networks to raise millions of dollars for charity. Given his efforts to build Causes soon after making it big with Facebook, it is clear he has made philanthropy, and the technology that can serve as its catalyst, a professional priority. 

What surprised me was the foundation part, as I had not previously heard of its work. So, I looked up the Sean Parker Foundation in our Foundation Directory Online database, which contains profiles of more than 100,000 grantmaking foundations, and I could not initially find any foundation there listing Mr. Parker as its donor, officer, or trustee. So, next I reached out to our data department to see if they had record of it and learned that it is indeed, a new foundation in the process of being added to our database. This means that the only source of public information on the foundation would be its 990-PF tax form, so I reviewed that to get a better idea of Mr. Parker’s philanthropic activities.

Unfortunately, given the nature of the turnaround with tax forms, the most current publicly available form only provides insights into the Sean Parker Foundation’s giving in 2011. At that time, this new foundation had approximately $1.8 million in total assets and had disbursed three grants totaling $225,000 and the funding was given to the Beckley Foundation to support a global initiative for drug policy reform, to Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for cancer research, and to the Bridge School to support education for developmentally disabled children. All worthy causes, but nothing to indicate his interest in conservation. 

Next I tried his Wikipedia entry, and found some good indication of his philanthropic interests there, and more details about Causes, but nothing more specific about the work of his foundation in the last year. I was able to find one recent gift attributed to Sean Parker through a Google search, which yielded a general donor list for Stand Up to Cancer, indicating either that his foundation’s work on cancer has continued, or that he has multiple giving vehicles through a donor-advised fund or supporting organization, which may serve to administer additional giving on his behalf through a community foundation or banking institution. 

This structure does not reduce the value of his grantmaking, but the lack of transparency for those vehicles make his good work invisible, which puts him at a distinct disadvantage now that he is on the defensive. As a tech pioneer, Mr. Parker could have simply used the online tools at his disposal and voluntarily disclosed his fund or foundation’s grantmaking details and strategies on his own web site, or provided greater detail about it on his Wikipedia profile.

Had he established a web site for his foundation with a list of recently awarded grants, his current giving would now be a matter of public record for all to see, including prying journalists and an unforgiving public. 

Although I cannot speculate as to why Mr. Parker hasn’t chosen to be more open about his foundation, the more private approach is not uncommon in philanthropy. Unfortunately many new donors fear that philanthropic transparency will lead to being inundated with requests, and instead opt for treating philanthropy like a “stealth mode” operation. However, the philanthropic record and reputation private foundations can build ultimately serve the philanthropist, particularly in occasions such as this. For if you don’t tell your own story, others will tell it for you. And more importantly, if no one knows you have a foundation, doesn’t that limit its capacity to do good?

Furthermore, in our work at Glasspockets.org, a web site committed to encouraging greater philanthropic transparency, we have found that online foundation transparency has the power to build public trust and credibility, improve relationships with grantees, facilitate greater collaboration, reduce duplication of effort, and cultivate a community of shared learning. 

The forest Mr. Parker and his bride selected as the setting for their nuptials is called the Ventana Wilderness. In Spanish Ventana means window, which seems fitting since thanks to news and digital media, we now all feel like we got to peek through the reception’s window. Too bad we didn’t have more of a view of his philanthropy leading up to this event, which may have made his efforts at damage control an easier task.

--Janet Camarena

Foundation Transparency: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
May 17, 2013

(Aaron Dorfman is executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). He frequently blogs about the role of philanthropy in society. Follow NCRP on Twitter @ncrp.)

Dorfman-100As I reviewed “Foundation Transparency: What Nonprofits Want,” the latest publication from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), I had an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. So I dug deep into the archives to find reports on the subject produced by the organization I now lead, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).

What I’m left with is a sense that, on the issue of transparency, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In May 1980, NCRP released Foundations & Public Information: Sunshine or Shadow? It was a scathing report that took foundations to task for their reticent approach to sharing information, and it launched a decades-long commitment by NCRP to promote increased transparency. The report explored why foundations should be accountable and transparent, and also the inadequate government requirements at that time. It ranked and scored 208 of the largest philanthropies using a rigorous methodology and found that 60 percent of foundations in the sample did not meet an acceptable standard of transparency. Just 4 percent were found to be “excellent.”

The methodology included a heavily weighted assessment of whether foundations provided the kinds of information that nonprofits most desired, including information about grantmaking interests and policies, and how grant applications were evaluated and decisions made about which organizations to fund.

I see many parallel findings between that report and CEP’s excellent new report. A full 33 years later, nonprofits are still clamoring for more information about how foundations make funding decisions and they want clear and open communication about priorities. They want to know whether it’s worth their time to cultivate a relationship and pursue funding. And despite an explosion of glossy annual reports and fancy websites, leaders of grant-seeking organizations are still highly frustrated by the lack of clear communication about a central element of foundation activity, namely how foundations decide which organizations to fund.

Foundation Transparency surveyed 138 nonprofit leaders, and I was unsurprised to see many of the respondents reference a desire to know how foundations assess their own performance and the impact they have. It only seems fair that since foundations are requiring this from grantees, that they be willing to be accountable for articulating impact, too.

Some of the findings suggest to me that nonprofits really want foundations to function as true partners. For example, the fact that an overwhelming majority of respondents wanted to know more about what foundations are learning indicates that grantees want learning to go both ways.

The CEP report doesn’t explore the regulatory framework for foundation transparency, nor does it explore in-depth the arguments for why greater transparency may be warranted. But another report released this year does revisit those questions. The Philanthropy Roundtable published in March 2013 Transparency in Philanthropy: An Analysis of Accountability, Fallacy, and Volunteerism.

As I reviewed Foundations & Public Information in light of the Roundtable’s current offering, I was struck by how little the arguments in favor of greater foundation transparency have changed since 1980. The original NCRP report looks at the partially-public nature of philanthropy, which is revisited by the Roundtable (though our organizations obviously come down on different sides). The partially-public dollars argument asserts that because of the preferential tax treatment afforded to foundations, a high level of transparency and accountability is owed to the public and grantees. NCRP repeated and expanded on this argument in our 2009 publication Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best: Benchmarks to Assess and Enhance Grantmaker Impact.

In 1980, NCRP devoted some attention to why greater transparency is in the self-interest of foundations and how it might improve their effectiveness. This topic is explored robustly in the Roundtable’s new report, Criteria, and is touched on in the CEP report. Because I see additional regulation as unlikely in the near future, the link between effectiveness and voluntary transparency merits further exploration.

Speaking of regulation, there has been some increase in activity around this in recent years, though nothing has actually changed for more than 20 years in terms of mandated disclosures. Most philanthropy insiders are familiar with efforts by the Greenlining Institute to pass AB624, which would have required new disclosures for the largest foundations in California. Fewer are aware of quieter efforts by the Philanthropy Roundtable to pass legislation in several states banning efforts similar to AB624.

The last substantive change that shaped the current required information disclosure in the IRS form 990-PF can be traced to when NCRP worked with Senator Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.) to influence the IRS to change what it required in the form. Those changes contributed to helping the Foundation Center produce the best data available about the sector. An abbreviated version of how NCRP’s efforts on transparency evolved, including the Durenberger intervention with the IRS, can be found on page 10 of this look back at NCRP’s history.

What I’m left with is a sense that, on the issue of transparency, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Coincidentally, around the same time as I was reviewing the new CEP publication and beginning to think about crafting this blog post, Bob Bothwell invited me to join him on a Friday evening for a baseball game at Nationals Park. Bothwell was NCRP’s executive director from its inception in 1976 until 1998. I am reminded again of how important it is for those of us from a new generation who are leading nonprofits and foundations to intentionally nurture connections to our history, even while we attempt to take our organizations in new directions.

And in case you’re wondering, the Washington Nationals beat the Cincinnati Reds 1-0, and Jordan Zimmerman pitched a one-hitter.

--Aaron Dorfman

The Global Philanthropy Forum: 2013 Conference
April 15, 2013

A project of the World Affairs Council of Northern California, the Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF) aims to build a community of donors and social investors committed to international causes, and to inform, enable and enhance the strategic nature of their work. Each year, GPF hosts a conference for individuals who have made a significant commitment to international philanthropy, donors who have established family foundations and executives of corporate, private or public foundations based in the U.S. and overseas.

This year’s conference kicks off today and features a program agenda that includes topics that put transparency, technology, and open data center stage, such as “The Future We Make: Development in the Digital Age,” “Decision-Making in Philanthropy: A Science or an Art?,” and “Building an Information Infrastructure: Unlocking Data for Philanthropy.” Although attendance at the conference is by invitation only, GPF provides access, via live stream, to conference sessions as they happen, and via recorded video, once the programs have concluded. Access this year’s conference here.

From the President: Transparency 2.0
February 13, 2013

Jim Canales is the President and CEO of the James Irvine Foundation. This post first appeared February, 13 on the foundation's Web site.

Canales-100Within the past few weeks, I have read with interest the observations of a number of active bloggers in the arts field whom I have come to respect and admire: Nina Simon, Diane Ragsdale, Clay Lord and Barry Hessenius. Each of them has blogged on aspects of the Irvine Foundation’s new arts strategy and, in doing so, has contributed to a robust dialogue that has played out on their respective blogs as well as on Twitter.

And that’s what prompts my contribution to this discussion: I will comment only lightly on the substantive issues they have raised related to our Arts strategy as my colleague, Josephine Ramirez, who directs our Arts program, plans to post a more substantive comment on those issues in the next week or so. There is another aspect of this discussion that I do want to comment upon and invite others to engage on with me and my colleagues in philanthropy.

Whether people agree or disagree with the choices we have made, we are now discussing it, publicly, intelligently and forthrightly.

From my early days as Irvine’s CEO, and with great support from our Board of Directors, I have placed a premium on transparency, both with regard to our work at Irvine and for the broader field of philanthropy. I have certainly not been alone in this quest (Brad Smith at the Foundation Center is probably our field’s leading champion), and I think it’s a fair observation to say that the field has come a long way in the past decade.

At the same time, I would characterize much of the progress under the headline of “Transparency 1.0”: creating useful and information-rich websites; describing in detail the strategic priorities of the foundation; sharing results of evaluations and learning; posting results of surveys that offer feedback, such as the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Grantee Perception Report. All of these have been positive developments, aimed toward shedding more light on what is often an opaque and impenetrable field. At the same time, these efforts at transparency are primarily one-way, aimed at information transmission. In “Transparency 1.0,” we decide what to be transparent about and then put it out there for you to digest.

Today, the advent of social media, to which philanthropy is still a bit of a newcomer, combined with the recognition that foundations certainly do not have all of the answers, offers opportunities for the field to embrace and practice what I will call “Transparency 2.0,” oriented toward dialogue, debate and shared learning.

And that’s what has struck me about this recent dialogue related to Irvine’s Arts strategy. Whether people agree or disagree with the choices we have made, we are now discussing it, publicly, intelligently and forthrightly. I admire those who have stepped forward to criticize aspects of our strategy, whether they believe it is wrong on its merits or they view it as yet another example of “strategic philanthropy” gone awry, where we are dictating and imposing our solutions upon the field.

That is certainly not our intention. What is different for us in our new Arts strategy is that rather than continuing with a broad-based approach that funded projects across multiple objectives, we made the strategic decision to direct our finite resources in a way that, in our view, will best position the arts field for future viability and success. In doing so, we are openly expressing a point of view about how we think the field must evolve to ensure its dynamism and relevance. Yet, we are very clear about our willingness to learn with our partners in this effort, to refine our approach accordingly, and to help to advance the field’s understanding of the many ways to engage a broader cross-section of Californians (in our case) in the arts.

To draw from Diane Ragsdale’s very thoughtful analysis, I suppose one person’s coaxing might be another person’s coercion, but I hope what we will be able to do via this work is to co-create. In the end, we care about impact. And we believe that to maximize our ability to have impact requires a clear, focused and coherent strategic direction. That’s what we are aiming for in the Arts, similar to what we have already been committed to in our other core program areas of Youth and California Democracy.

Just as we lament the fact that the arts are too often (and wrongly) viewed by funders as discretionary or recreational, so must we demand that arts grantmaking be guided by the same level of rigor and strategic direction as other program areas. That’s what we are striving for at Irvine, and we know that we have much to learn along this journey. And that’s why I have been inspired and pleased by the active engagement from others, demonstrative of the evolution of transparency in philanthropy. So, please keep the ideas, observations and critiques coming. It’s the best way to ensure we can achieve the end we all agree upon: a vibrant, relevant and successful arts field. And in doing so, we might just model new ways for foundations and their partners to engage, debate, discuss and learn together.

-Jim Canales

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

50 Shades of Transparency
November 29, 2012

(Daniel Matz manages the Glasspockets web site.)

Daniel MatzGlasspockets is turning 50. Well, more like three — in January 2013 — but as of this week, the Glasspockets web site now hosts 50 transparency and accountability profiles. Collectively the foundations that have put themselves to the "Who has glass pockets?" challenge represent $138 billion in assets and more than $6.5 billion in annual giving – close to 15 cents of every foundation grant dollar distributed in the United States. Back in 1952, Russell Leffingwell, then chairman of the Carnegie Corporation, called on the philanthropic community to have glass pockets; that is, to make the work of foundations transparent and to make them accountable to the public and the communities they serve. We now have tangible proof this is happening. Congratulations to the Glasspockets 50 for showing their commitment to transparency and accountability, and meeting the Glasspockets challenge!

... this movement is not just about California or limited to grantmakers with the deepest pockets. Profiled grantmakers hail from 19 states and Washington, DC. And some of the most creative work and most forthright efforts have come from relatively modest quarters.

What exactly is a Glasspockets profile? For the uninitiated, since 2010 we have been cataloging foundations' online transparency and accountability practices — everything from the obvious like contact information and application procedures, to the more demanding like codes of conduct and diversity statements, through to the most challenging activities like making public their grantee feedback and assessing overall foundation performance. We've identified 23 such practices and keep track of them across six types of online communication vehicles (from web sites to blogs to RSS feeds). Together, these indicators help us all see into a foundation; they provide a snapshot of a foundation's "glass pockets." Trends across the sector emerge from aggregated findings displayed as a national Heat Map, the map itself becoming a unique reference tool for other foundations.

Who has glass pockets? Not surprisingly the list includes many of the very largest foundations, many of them at the forefront of the move toward transparency, championing better communication and challenging themselves to ever-greater openness. Some, like the James Irvine Foundation, have even gone so far as to support a statewide initiative to promote transparency among California grantmakers. Thanks, in part, to their support, California grantmakers now represent 40 percent of those foundations with Glasspockets profiles. With such a strong representation of California grantmakers, Glasspockets now features a Twitter feed that opens a window on what California foundations are saying, as well as a California-specific Heat Map showcasing transparency trends among the state's grantmakers. 

But I am also happy to report this movement is not just about California or limited to grantmakers with the deepest pockets. Profiled grantmakers hail from 19 states and Washington, DC. And some of the most creative work and most forthright efforts have come from relatively modest quarters. The Texas-based KDK-Harman Foundation (annual giving of less than $1 million) volunteered to have a Glasspockets profile, demonstrating that even smaller foundations can regularly assess their performance and have a strong voice in larger conversations around transparency. Foundations are increasingly fond of having grantees complete logic models as part of the proposal process. In the case of KDK-Harman, they've applied the logic model to their own work and use it as a way to report on progress and performance to all their stakeholders. In terms of creative energy, the Mitchell Kapor Foundation (annual giving of $4.3 million) produces video annual reports that are a master class on communicating more effectively using digital media technology.

The "Who has glass pockets?" profiles also provide an inventory of foundation communication vehicles, including social media efforts.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was an early adopter of these tools and has been offering insights and advice throughout the year on the Glasspockets Transparency Talk blog about the ways in which social media tools are transforming the work of philanthropy as well as how to measure the impact and value of social media efforts.

These are just three of the dozens of narratives throwing light on the sector-wide push  toward transparency. The Glasspockets 50 also includes regional foundations, health foundations, and community foundations; foundations focused on international giving like Trust Africa, and small foundations like Nebraska's Woods Charitable Fund (whose web site is designed and hosted by the Foundation Center). The varied interests and size of these organizations (Woods has a staff of four) are the real measure of how deep the move to transparency has become.

Join us in being among the first 100 foundations to show the world their Glass Pockets. Submit your profile today or to learn more, contact Janet Camarena in our San Francisco office.

Explore the Glasspockets 50»

-- Daniel Matz

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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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