Transparency Talk

Category: "Community Foundations" (15 posts)

How Engaging Conversations Build Better Strategic Plans
April 11, 2017

(Michelle Hunter is Director of Strategy and Alignment for The Chicago Community Trust. A version of this blog first appeared in The Chicago Community Trust’s blog.)

MichelleMartinHunterBW-150x150“How did The Chicago Community Trust create its strategic plan?”

This is a question we hear frequently from our colleagues in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors who are working on their own strategic plans, and it’s easy to see why.

Strategic planning can be a complex business: cumbersome, messy and time-consuming. In fact, the very words “strategic planning” are often enough to draw sighs of despair from the most dedicated staff and board members.

Despite the challenges, though, it is critical for organizations to have clarity of vision for what they want to accomplish and how they’ll know if they’ve succeeded. And when creating a strategic plan, process is almost always as important as the final product.

For the Trust, our highest priority as we developed our new plan was to ensure that we were listening to the voices of our diverse body of stakeholders as much as possible.  We viewed opening up the Trust’s work as an opportunity to cultivate transparency, participation, learning and dialogue. 

“Opening up our work has helped build trust and collaboration with our stakeholders, and served to improve our processes.”

As a community foundation, the Trust exists to improve the quality of life for all who call the Chicago region home. If we were to create a plan that had a strong chance of succeeding, we needed to find a way for our process to include the input of many, not just a few.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long for an opportunity to present itself: the year that we launched our strategic planning process was also the year of the first On the Table. 

On the Table is an annual Trust initiative. On one day a year, we invite residents of our region to come together with friends, colleagues and acquaintances to share a meal and to talk about what matters most to them and their communities.

How it works is simple: individuals and organizations sign up to host conversations on any topic of their choosing. The Trust provides a host toolkit  and a follow-up survey to learn what participants discussed.

The inaugural On the Table on May 12, 2014 drew about 11,500 participants from throughout metropolitan Chicago. We knew that the conversations would have a significant impact, not only on our region and the people who participated, but also on the direction of the Trust’s strategic plan. We eagerly awaited the results of the survey to learn what community members saw as the most pressing issues facing Chicago.

When the survey responses had been fully compiled and analyzed by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement,  we saw that the most frequently discussed topics at that year’s On the Table were:

  1. Education & youth development
  2. Community engagement
  3. Equity and social inclusion

It was uplifting to see that these and other topics that had been top of mind for us up to that point in our strategic planning process were also high priorities for community members.

Trust_logo_horizontal_CMYKIn addition, On the Table gave us the essential feedback from nonprofits we serve that the Trust’s grant application process was overly complicated, burdensome and derailing nonprofits from their missions. This input directly contributed to the launch of the Trust’s general operating grants program also known as GO Grants. The GO Grants program features a streamlined application process so that nonprofits can spend less time on the administrative work of seeking grants and more time on the vital services they provide to our region.

The experience of On the Table gave us the assurance that we needed to continue on our path of creating a strategic agenda for the Trust through 2020. And as many On the Table participants told us, the initiative provided a critical opportunity to tell their community foundation what was important to them. Opening up our work has helped build trust and collaboration with our stakeholders, and served to improve our processes.

No matter how you choose to engage your stakeholders in strategic planning, the important thing is that you engage them. It’s much easier to build full understanding and buy-in for a strategic plan among stakeholders by including them in the process as early as possible. And the plan itself will be much richer and stronger because of their contributions.

On May 16, the Trust will host its fourth On the Table and once again invite thousands of Chicagoans to engage with one another around mealtime conversations.

On the Table is a terrific opportunity to build deeper connections with your supporters and clients and to make progress together on shared priorities. If your organization is going through any kind of strategy development, you might consider using On the Table as a tool for connecting with your stakeholders. Visit www.onthetable.com to learn how.

--Michelle Hunter

From Good Idea to Problem Solved: Funding the Innovation Means Funding the Process
February 8, 2017

(Mandy Ellerton and Molly Matheson Gruen joined the [Archibald] Bush Foundation in 2011, where they created and now direct the Foundation's Community Innovation programs. The programs allow communities to develop and test new solutions to community challenges, using approaches that are collaborative and inclusive of people who are most directly affected by the problem.)

This post is part of the Funding Innovation series, produced by Foundation Center's Glasspockets and GrantCraft, and underwritten by the Vodafone Americas Foundation. The series explores funding practices and trends at the intersection of problem-solving, technology, and design. Please contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #fundinginnovation. View more posts in the series.

Mandy Ellerton

Molly Matheson Gruen

Good ideas for solving our toughest social problems come from a variety of places. But, we need more than just good ideas – we need transparent and thoughtful ways to get community buy-in and a wide variety of perspectives to make those ideas a reality.

For a cautionary case in point, take the origin story (later chronicled in the book The Prize) of the ill-fated attempt to transform the failing Newark public schools. A prominent governor, mayor and, later, an ultra-wealthy tech mogul, hatched the idea to radically transform the schools in the back of a chauffeured S.U.V. Commentary suggests that these leaders did not consult community stakeholders about the plan, only half-heartedly seeking community input much later in the process. As one community member put it to these leaders, "You have forced your plans on the Newark community, without the

measure of stakeholder input that anyone, lay or professional, would consider adequate or respectful." To some observers, it's no surprise that without initial community buy-in, nor a transparent process and over $100 million later, the plan ultimately crashed and burned.

But, let's not throw stones at glass houses. The Newark example is indicative of a larger pattern especially familiar to those of us in the field of philanthropy. We've learned that lesson the hard way, too. Many of us have been involved in (well-intentioned) backroom and ivory tower deals with prominent community leaders to magically fix community problems with some "good ideas." Sometimes, those ideas work. But a lot of times, they don't. And unfortunately, we often chalk these failures up to innovation simply being a risky endeavor, comparing our social innovation failure rates to the oft-discussed (maybe even enshrined?) business or entrepreneurship failure rates. What's more, we almost never actively, sincerely discuss and learn from these failed endeavors.

But social innovation failure often comes at a cost, leaving behind disillusioned community members, bad outcomes for some of our most vulnerable, and lots and lots of wasted dollars that could have gone to something better. Take the Newark example: the failed attempt to transform the schools created massive civic disruption, re-awakened historic hurts and injustice and will likely leave community members even more skeptical of any future efforts to improve the schools.

Through our work at the Bush Foundation, we've learned that truly good ideas–those that will really have a sustainable impact–are often created in deep partnership and trust between organizations, leaders, and–most critically–the people most affected by a problem.

But, that kind of deep community partnership and transparency takes a lot of work, time, and attention. And, most everything that takes a lot of work takes some funding.

Community-innovation

That's why we created our Community Innovation programs at the Bush Foundation in 2013: to fund and reward the process of innovation–the process of solving problems. While the emphasis in innovation funding is often on "early stage" organizations or projects, we joke that we are a "pre-early" funder or that we fund "civic R & D." We provide funding for organizations to figure out what problem to address in the first place, to get a better understanding of the problem, to generate ideas to solve the problem, and then, after all that work (and maybe having to revisit some of the earlier stages along the way), the organization might be ready to test or implement a good idea. See how we depict that "pre-early" problem solving process here.

Most importantly, throughout the innovation or problem-solving process, we also look for particular values to drive the organization's approach: Is the organization genuinely and deeply engaging the people most affected by the problem? Is the organization working in deep partnership with other organizations and leaders? Is the organization making the most of existing resources?

Let's bring it to life. Here are three examples of the 150+ organizations we've funded to engage in a process to solve problems in their communities:

  • World Wildlife Fund's Northern Great Plains initiative is bringing ranchers, conservationists, oil business developers, and government officials together to create a vision for the future of North Dakota's badlands and a shared energy development plan that protects this important landscape.
  • PACT for Families Collaborative engaged truant youth, their parents, education staff, and service providers to understand barriers to school attendance and redesign services and test strategies for positive, sustainable solutions to truancy in western Minnesota.
  • Pillsbury United Communities is using human-centered design processes to engage North Minneapolis residents to address their neighborhood's food desert and create North Market: a new grocery store managed in partnership with a local health clinic that will also be a clinic, pharmacy, and wellness education center.

"We've learned that truly good ideas–those that will really have a sustainable impact–are often created in deep partnership and trust between organizations, leaders, and...the people most affected by a problem."

Our grantees and partners are teaching us a lot about what it takes for communities to solve problems. One of the biggest things we've learned is that collaborative projects often take far more time than anyone initially expects, for a variety of reasons. Over the past few years nearly a third of our grantees have requested more time to complete their grants, which we have readily agreed to.

For example, the Northfield Promise Initiative is a highly-collaborative, cross-sector, community-wide effort to address education disparities in Northfield, Minnesota. The initiative utilizes action teams composed of diverse stakeholders to drive its work. Early on in the project they decided to stagger the rollout of the teams rather than launch them all at once. That allowed them to take more care in composing and launching each team and allowed interested stakeholders to engage in multiple teams. In addition, later teams could learn from the successes and challenges of the earlier ones. As the grantee put it, "Partners felt strongly that it is important to give the process this extra time to ensure that all the different community voices and insights have been included (thereby maintaining this as a community-owned initiative)." We gladly extended their grant term from two years to four years so that they could spend the time they believed necessary to lead the problem-solving effort thoughtfully and inclusively.

Bush-altlogo-colorFor more helpful examples, here are a couple of resources to explore:

  • One of our innovation programs is an award for organizations that have a track record of solving problems with their communities, called the Bush Prize for Community Innovation. Together with our evaluation partner Wilder Research, we created a report about some of our Bush Prize winners that digs into specific conditions, methods and techniques that appear to help organizations innovate.
  • We believe storytelling and transparency inspire innovation. Our grantees openly share what they're learning as they pursue solutions to community problems in grantee learning logs. The learning logs also include references to specific techniques and methods the organizations use to pursue innovation.

As funders, we also have a role in the innovation process that goes beyond writing the check. By virtue of our relationships and portfolios, we have a bird's eye view of the field. By opening up what we are learning, we hope to build trust with our stakeholders and help others build on our work, hopefully leading to more and better future innovations.

-- Mandy Ellerton and Molly Matheson Gruen

An Insider’s Guide to Giving Day
November 28, 2016

(Mike Berkowitz and Daniel Kaufman are co-founders and principals at Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies. Whitney Caruso is a director at Third Plateau. They are the authors of the recent report, “Beyond the dollars: the long-term value of giving days for community foundations.”)

Mike Berkowitz
Mike Berkowitz

Giving days can be incredible tools for place-based foundations to catalyze nonprofit fundraising. We have witnessed this up close through monitoring and evaluating 49 giving day campaigns as part of the Knight Foundation’s Giving Day Initiative and through advising the Sacramento Region Community Foundation on its BIG Day of Giving. We are also the authors of Knight Foundation’s Giving Day Playbook, a how-to guide with resources and recommendations for giving day organizers. Based on our experiences, however, we have also seen that just hosting a giving day is no guarantee of community impact.

Here are three key tips for foundations in accelerating community impact with giving days and other community-wide online fundraising campaigns:

Caruso Headshot
Whitney Caruso

1. Become a data hub. The power of big data to improve programs and accelerate social impact is becoming increasingly apparent. Giving days enable communities to collect large amounts of data from participating nonprofits and donors, which they can utilize to inform programs and ideas to improve their communities. In Miami, the community foundation is creating a map of the nonprofits and donors that participated in Give Miami Day in 2015. Community foundation staff have said that this will give them a firm understanding of where nonprofits and donors come from and enable them to identify gaps in services and more strategically engage specific neighborhoods. Going a step further, technology expert Amy Webb, speaking at Knight Foundation’s 2016 Media Learning Seminar, argued that community foundations have the potential to use data not just to map current community needs, but to predict them.

Daniel
Daniel Kaufman

2. Build local nonprofit capacity. This kind of fundraising does not necessarily come naturally to all organizations. Trainings are a central component of giving day organizers’ responsibilities and provided community foundations a chance to teach nonprofits important new skills. To build the capacity of nonprofits for the giving days and beyond, community foundations ran trainings on topics such as online fundraising, communications and branding, major donor cultivation and donor retention.

The Sacramento Region Community Foundation had a sophisticated training series for its Big Day of Giving. The “Boot Camp” series included sessions on building a GivingEdge profile, maximizing social media, engaging nonprofit donors and boards, and developing an eight-week work plan for the campaign. Post-event surveys in 2015 found that these trainings paid off, as nonprofits whose representatives attended all four sessions of the series raised 100 percent more than those that did not.

3. Build awareness of broader foundation efforts. Giving days should not operate in a vacuum, and community foundations increasingly tied the campaigns to their other strategic initiatives. For example, the Community Foundation of Grand Forks used its giving day in 2014 as part of an existing effort to engage the community around two issues (homelessness and limited access to health care) and two opportunities (adventure and public arts).

4. Connect fund holders to the broader community. Community foundations found the giving days to be a useful and exciting opportunity to engage fund holders. Thirteen community foundations enabled DAFs to donate through their giving days, resulting in 592 DAFs donating $3,556,129 to participating nonprofits.

Giving days are not for every foundation, so if a giving day does not align with your foundation’s goals, you may be better off skipping it than trying to get in on the campaign just because everyone else is. But as with most things in life, the more experience you have with giving days, the better you will be at using them to your organization’s full advantage—particularly if you see them as learning opportunities and track donation and marketing data to help shape future efforts.

Good luck, and happy holidays!

--Mike Berkowitz, Whitney Caruso, and Daniel Kaufman 

Glasspockets Find: Philanthropic Leaders Join Ban the Box Movement to Address Inequality
October 26, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)

A growing number of foundations are becoming more comfortable taking public stands on issues, rather than just offering behind the scenes support. One recent example is the Ban the Box movement, whereby public and nonprofit employers, and more recently foundation leaders are taking a public stand designed to draw attention to the employment discrimination of people with arrest and conviction records.

2016-10-26Ford Foundation CEO Darren Walker is one such foundation leader, who recently highlighted Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, and his video promoting the Ban the Box movement.  The video is part of Ford Foundation’s #InequalityIs campaign, which engages the public to share its thoughts around inequality, from a motel housekeeper’s perspective about immigration to writer/activist Gloria Steinman’s on gender inequality and reproductive rights.   

Foundations are generally known for their role and leadership in funding and supporting nonprofits and organizations that address societal and socioeconomic issues, and not known to be on the front lines of movements themselves.  Perhaps the success of the Civil Marriage Collaborative is creating a change in awareness - that when foundations are visible partners, they can actually accelerate change.

“When foundations are visible partners, they can actually accelerate change.”

Through the Ban the Box Philanthropy Challenge, 42 foundations are using their influence and communications expertise to spur movement and action to eliminate barriers to employment for people with arrest and conviction records.

Organizers note that a prior history of convictions or arrests is a form of employment discrimination that has a “disproportionate impact on men of color, who are more likely to be incarcerated as a result of rampant over-criminalization,” according to the Ban the Box website.

In 2015, foundation leaders affiliated with the Executives’ Alliance for Boys & Men of Color submitted a letter to President Obama urging him to issue an executive order to “Ban the Box” in federal government and federal contractor hiring, which would open employment opportunities in the private sector.

Ban the Box Logo

Foundation leaders also recognized that a wide spectrum of stakeholders needed to be involved to address this employment barriers, including employers in the philanthropic sector.

The collaborative is challenging foundations to adopt fair hiring policies so that foundations will play their part as employers “to remove the stigma associated with a record, and (set) an example for other foundations and their grantees to follow.” Such actions will help advance opportunities to assist formerly incarcerated individuals and reduce recidivism.

The Ban the Box movement has attracted a bevy of prominent foundations across health, economic and social welfare focus areas, including The California Endowment, Ford Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The group is calling grantmakers and other organizations to action.  The current social media campaign is asking supporters to #BanTheBox and promote #FairChanceHiring.

Since transparency is still a challenge for the field of philanthropy, seeing foundation leaders step forward on the pressing social issues of the day could be an encouraging signal that some are growing more comfortable with more public facing and influencing roles.  Transparency Talk looks forward to tracking the impact this movement will have on the philanthropic sector’s hiring practices, as well as its influence on encouraging other foundations to take more visible roles on the issues and causes they care about.

--Melissa Moy

Who Has Glass Pockets Now? New Transparency Indicators Added
March 9, 2016

Who Has Glass Pockets?As of today, the "Who Has Glass Pockets?" transparency and accountability self-assessment form has been expanded to a total of 25 indicators, which includes the addition of three new indicators: diversity data, open licensing, and strategic plans.

When Glasspockets launched in 2010, there were a total of 23 indicators that were developed based on an inventory of current foundation practice and on a framework designed to identify how foundations were using their websites to demonstrate transparency and accountability.

Those 23 elements were never meant to be the same indicators forever, and in fact, our hope was that they would evolve over time to reflect greater transparency at work in the field. Well that time has come, as foundation websites (for those that have them) have continued improving and some foundations are using them as a place to build awareness about their evolving strategies, or to build for scale through open licensing efforts by stating what can be done with the knowledge the foundation funds or produces, or to demonstrate their own commitment to diversity by providing demographic data about the foundation's staff and leadership.

The three new indicators were selected based on a survey of Glasspockets users, from our own inventory of emerging transparency practices in the field, and on which have the greatest potential to address critical transparency gaps. As was the case when we launched, every indicator has examples of foundations that are already using their websites as a way to share this information.

As part of the evolution of the "Who Has Glass Pockets?" assessment framework, we also determined it was time to remove the indicator that focused on how economic conditions affect the foundation's grantmaking since that had greater relevance during the recession, and we can bring that back in the future, when appropriate.

"By opening up strategic plans, grantmakers can strengthen relationships with their grantees."

Open Licensing Policies

Among the new indicators, there seems to be greatest momentum around sharing information about open licensing policies in which foundations specify what can and cannot be done with intellectual property that the foundation produces and/or funds. Generally, an open license is one which grants permission to access, re-use, and redistribute a work with few or no restrictions.

For a field that focuses on investing in new solutions to complex issues, this seems a natural and necessary next step to spreading the knowledge produced from those investments, and ultimately creating a learning culture in philanthropy. In our latest review of foundations which have used the Glasspockets assessment, 13% of them now have such policy statements on their websites, and most have recently added this to their websites, so there is reason to believe that this will continue to grow.

Strategic Plans

Though nearly all of the foundations that have used the Glasspockets assessment use their websites to share information about their grantmaking priorities, only 12% share information about the strategy that led to those priorities. By opening up strategic plans, grantmakers can strengthen relationships with their grantees as well as understanding about how a particular grant fits into the overall foundation's strategy.

Diversity Data

We are continuing to track which foundations have values statements related to diversity and inclusion, which has been an indicator since the beginning of Glasspockets, and have now added a new transparency element indicating which foundations openly share diversity data about their staff and, in some cases, also their board. Currently, relatively few foundations provide diversity head counts, with only 6 out of 77 profiled foundations sharing that data publicly.

A good example of why it's important to share this information can be found in the tech industry, where public pressure pointing to the lack of diversity led many companies to issue such reports. Though the diversity gaps were known before, the act of aggregating and publicly sharing the information has led to increased and formalized efforts to diversify the industry with many leading companies now offering fellowships and other diversity pipelines. Pinterest's Inclusion Labs, Intel's Diversity in Technology Initiative, Google's NextWave program, and Toptal's Global Mentor program are just a few examples of the power transparency has to make inclusion a priority.

You can learn more about the importance of sharing diversity data from this blog series featuring California Endowment's efforts in this area.

Next Steps

The "Who Has Glass Pockets?" self-assessment form has now been updated to reflect the new indicators and framework. So, if you are currently working on your submission, please download the new form. And for those foundations that have already participated, this may be good timing to revisit the transparency indicators and discuss whether your foundation's approach to transparency would benefit from providing these added dimensions. 

Our team reviewed the websites for all 77 foundations who have publicly participated in the transparency self-assessment process, and added links to the new indicators on each profile, as appropriate. Of course, in our review, it's possible we may have missed a relevant link, so let us know if you have any links that we should add. 

So, how about it - Who has Glass Pockets now? We can't wait to find out.

-- Janet Camarena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Rick Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Public Should Private Philanthropy Be?

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

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

The Dichotomous Nature of Foundations

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

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

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

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

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

--Rick Cohen

 

Eye On: Chobani Founder Hamdi Ulukaya
November 18, 2015

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

Ulukaya_medium photoFamily and homeland helped shape this Kurdish American billionaire’s interest in global philanthropy and improving the plight of worldwide refugees impacted by war and poverty.

Chobani yogurt founder Hamdi Ulukaya said that his mother’s generosity toward those in need seeded an early interest in philanthropy.  Even the company name reflects his native Turkish roots.  Chobani is the Turkish word for “shepherd,” and Chobani has said that the moniker is an homage to the “spirit of giving farmers.”

“Growing up, I watched my mother give to those who needed and it came from the most amazing place in her heart,” Ulukaya said in his Giving Pledge letter, whereby individuals pledge to give away the majority of their wealth during their lifetime.  Upon joining the Giving Pledge in June 2015, he dedicated his Pledge commitment to his mother.

In addition to family, peer influence also played a part in Ulukaya’s decision to make a “public commitment” to help refugees.  In his letter, the New York resident praised Bill Gates and Warren Buffet for setting an example for global philanthropy.  Ulukaya is among 138 Giving Pledge participants in 16 countries.

“I hope that my commitment to the Giving Pledge will in turn inspire others to do the same,” Ulukaya said in his letter.

Hamdi Ulukaya:

  • Founder, Chairman and CEO of Chobani yogurt
  • Kurdish American entrepreneur and businessman
  • Ernst & Young’s 2013 World Entrepreneur of the Year
  • Founder of the Chobani Foundation, which focuses on youth and underserved communities, and entrepreneurs and small business owners
  • Founder of the  Tent Foundation, which provides direct aid to refugees and advocates for refugee rights and policies
  • Personal net worth is over $1 billion

Humanitarian Giving

The Giving Pledge marked Ulukaya’s public commitment to donate the majority of his personal wealth to helping refugees and finding a solution to this humanitarian crisis. 

Earlier this year, the 43-year-old launched the Tent Foundation to specifically provide direct aid, effect policy changes and develop strategies to help 50 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.  His foundation aims to collaborate with worldwide governments and organizations.

The magic and power of the American dream is something I believe should be available to everyone.

Since the early days of founding his Greek yogurt empire, Ulukaya has donated 10% of his profits to the Chobani Foundation, which focuses on access to food for youth and underserved communities, and supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners. 

In 2013, the Chobani Foundation distributed $624,920 to 17 organizations in the United States, Canada and England, according to the foundation’s 2013 990 Form, a form that certain federally tax-exempt organizations file with the IRS.  The largest gift of $285,630 helped establish the South Edmeston Community Center in Edmeston, New York, and the city that is also home of Chobani’s first yogurt factory.

Other gifts included $100,000 to the Canadian-based Global Enrichment Foundation, which supports leadership in Somalia through educational and community-based empowerment programs; $92,230 for the Halabja Community Playground Project, a London-based charity that built an adventure playground for children in Halabja, Northern Iraq; and $25,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Magic Valley in Twin Falls, Idaho.  The Idaho city boasts a Chobani factory, which opened in 2012 as the world’s largest yogurt factory.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

While studying English in New York in 1994, the Turkish immigrant became fascinated by the idea that “anyone can start something in America,” he said in his letter.  By 1997, Ulukaya enrolled in business courses at the State University of New York.

“The magic and power of the American dream is something I believe should be available to everyone—and is part of my hope for a modern Turkey and for entrepreneurs around the world,” Ulukaya said.

I believe that as people who have been blessed with opportunity in our own lives we must give hope to others.”

Growing up in a hardworking communal culture in Turkey, Hamdi Ulukaya used his background as a Kurdish dairy farmer to cultivate his entrepreneurial dream into a billion-dollar reality.  In 2002, he started a modest feta-cheese factory. 

In 2005, Ulukaya took a risk purchasing a defunct yogurt factory in upstate New York and launched Chobani.  In October 2007, he shipped his first Chobani yogurt order to a Long Island grocer. 

Relying on his entrepreneurial skills, the savvy Ulukaya negotiated with supermarket retailers to pay the slotting fees – the fee to place product on retailer shelves - over time and also in yogurt rather than cash.  He also relied on social media to promote Chobani.  Within five years, Chobani grew into a billion-dollar business.

In his Giving Pledge letter, Ulukaya pointed out the benefits that entrepreneurship has on impacting community change, including his own success.  His foundations provide local and global grants.

 “I believe that as people who have been blessed with opportunity in our own lives we must give hope to others,” Ulukaya said.

--Melissa Moy

Grantmaker Transparency: The Dawn of a New Age in Philanthropy
November 16, 2015

(Aaron Lester is demand generation manager at Fluxx.  This blog post first ran in PhilanTopic.)

Aaron_lester_for_PhilanTopic"People tend to be private about love and money, and in philanthropy, it's both," says Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

It's only natural that, traditionally, philanthropy has unfolded behind closed doors. On the one hand, the freedom to make personal funding choices gives grantmakers the ability to stay above the fray, uninfluenced by both market and political pressures. On the other hand, it doesn't allow the public to understand, learn from, or think critically about philanthropy.

"Giving and charitable acts are such private, emotional transactions," says Suki O'Kane, director of administration at the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. "How do you come from such strong traditions of privacy and intimacy, and bring that out into the open?"

Where do things stand?

Indeed ­– how do we as a sector make the switch from a traditionally opaque business model to an enterprise that embraces more transparency? It all comes down to the following questions: What am I funding? Why am I funding what I'm funding? Is my funding making an impact? And perhaps most importantly, how do we improve?

How do we as a (philanthropic) sector make the switch from a traditionally opaque business model to an enterprise that embraces more transparency?

There is good news: transparency in philanthropy is happening, there's no denying it. In fact, it's well under way, with large foundations like Gates, Ford, and Getty, sharing their endeavors with the public, surveying their grantees (and sharing the results), and creating searchable grants databases. Still, transparency can be difficult.

As a grantmaker, you know that sometimes your investments fail, sometimes grantees don't perform the way you expected, and sometimes, despite your best intentions, you can't pull off a new initiative or program. "Philanthropy isn't venture capital," says Christine Maulhardt, director of communications and public affairs at the Blue Shield of California Foundation. "Big losses aren't typical in our sector. We want everything to work out perfectly."

Regardless of the perceived risks, transparency in philanthropy is here to stay. And yes, it can be scary and hard to figure out how to get started. But the rewards for embracing transparency far outweigh the risk of turning your back on it.

Time for Transparency ImageWhere are we headed?

 

As we look to the (not so distant) future, we're particularly excited about the potential for grantmakers and grantees alike to have the ability to track incoming evaluation data, to understand in real time their organization's short- and long-term impact, and to be able to respond to that data and take action to ensure continued progress.

In the past, there was no common language used to talk about impact evaluation. Now, for the first time, technology can help create that common language. It is possible for foundations to not only track their own progress toward a goal, but also to compare results with other groups working toward the same end. The intelligence learned creates a greater potential for real needle-moving impact.

Becoming Transparent: Best Practices

If your foundation is just beginning the journey toward greater transparency, Camarena has suggestions for working in league with your peers. First, there's no need to be revolutionary. "Rather than creating something custom for your foundation, really look across the field to some standard practices," she says. "When it comes to creating the application process, look at grants management systems that exist already, and look at taxonomy so that you're not inventing a language that won't make sense field-wide." Her key takeaways:

  • Look to other foundations for standard practices on transparency; don't reinvent the wheel
  • Take advantage of modern grants management systems to help guide your application process and to create a common taxonomy.
  • Join a regional association of grantmakers so you can network with your peers and share ideas, successes, failures, and best practices. If you're using a grantmaking solution, join the community of users.
  • Participate in field-wide movements like the Who Has Glasspockets initiative and Foundation Center's Get on the Map campaign.

As daunting as it may be to open your foundation's doors to the public, transparency has far more benefits than drawbacks. Not only will you be moving in step with a growing movement, you'll also be in great company. It's time we started to share the why and how of our giving. All of us stand to benefit.

--Aaron Lester

The 30-Layer Cake of Grants Management
November 11, 2015

(Adriana Jimenez is grants manager at the Surdna Foundation and also serves on the board of directors of the Grants Managers Network.  She will be a regular contributor to Transparency Talk, discussing issues pertaining to transparency, data, and grants management.)

AjimenezReality TV is not all mind-numbing. I recently discovered a baking show that had lessons to teach about working in the evolving world of grants management. 

In PBS’s The Great British Baking Show, contestants test different recipes to showcase their baking talents. One of the top challenges on the show was preparing a cake with 30 perfectly distinctive layers. This was the ultimate feat because it would expose the mastery of the bakers’ technical skills.

While the bakers relied primarily on precision and rules to pass this 30-layer trial and other “technical challenges,” the winning bakers also demonstrated “soft” skills: they were creative, flexible, and collaborative; they worked well under pressure; and they knew when to ditch tradition and take a risk when the conditions demanded it. These are precisely the skills that today’s -- and tomorrow’s -- grants managers need to thrive in a changing environment.

This was not too different from the advice I’d heard at a recent Grants Managers Network (GMN) program, Become the Grants Manager of the Future: be flexible and open; be a chief problem-solver and a team-player; and understand the rules so you know when to break them. Grants management, like baking, requires precision, measurement and technique, but it also requires creativity, adaptability, and nimbleness.

Led by Sara Davis, director of grants management at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Daniel Weinzveg, an organizational consultant, Become the Grants Manager of the Future addresses the growing hunger (pardon the food pun) among grants managers to get clarity on where the profession is headed and how we can collaborate to increase our impact in the philanthropic sector.  The program captures the excitement around these new opportunities.

Grants management, like baking, requires precision, measurement and technique, but it also requires creativity, adaptability, and nimbleness.

One of the session’s key points is that by connecting grants managers’ expertise in the “how” of grantmaking with the strategic side of grant practice, we can create frameworks that lead to greater transparency in order to support learning and collaboration. Operations can no longer be siloed from strategy, because transparency is the new norm.

In fact, there are many “new norms.”

The profession of grants management is rapidly evolving. The transactional elements of grants administration (e.g., processing grant requests, getting grantees paid, assembling board books) have always existed, and will remain critical to grantmaking organizations. 

However, over the past decade technology has automated many of these processes. According to the 2014 GMN/Technology Affinity Group survey, 65 percent of foundations now manage some level of paperless grant systems. This has opened up opportunities for grants management professionals to shift into more strategic roles and collaborate more closely with program staff and leadership. 

Grants management has also shifted as organizations have become more data-driven. Foundations now have access to vast amounts of information, and they are relying on grants managers to help them make sense of it.

Grants managers play a central role in collecting key data sets and trends about our grant portfolios over time, such as: demographic information about grantees and constituents served; outcomes, activities and indicators of success; statistics about average grant size/duration; geographic areas served; etc. We can also gather baselines about our internal processes to gauge efficiencies and stopgaps (e.g. turn-around time for making a grant, processing a payment, or reviewing a letter of inquiry).

As we become the grants managers of the future, what should foundations of the future look like?

Access to the right data – and knowing how to interpret it—can help foundations make informed decisions that lead to better outcomes in service of mission and grantees. It can help us set policies and procedures that are based on real needs and not arbitrary rules; it can support us in learning about our portfolios and making strategic course-corrections where needed;  and it can aid us in becoming more transparent about our work and measuring progress towards our stated goals.  We can also use benchmarks, such as Who Has Glass Pockets, to help in this endeavor.

The 2015 GMN Salary Survey found that grants management professionals spend only 42 percent of their time on “core” grants management functions.  Other job responsibilities include IT, evaluation, legal counsel, finance or working within grant programs.

The multi-functional nature of grants management provides an opportunity for transparency, as grants management professionals often act as a liaison between multiple areas of foundation work.  

Meanwhile, this disparity presents a challenge: Are grants managers properly trained to step into leadership roles as data analyst experts and decision-makers? Do we all aspire to be?  Is there an obstacle among foundations who do not recognize this potential in their grants management staff? How can they support grants management in their professional growth?

So, as we become the grants managers of the future, what should foundations of the future look like? From a strategic standpoint, philanthropy leaders have many questions to address if they want to foster a data-driven and learning-based culture:

  • How can foundations leverage their existing data to make informed strategic decisions?
  • What frameworks can be put in place to integrate grants management as key contributors to foundation learning, analysis, and decision-making in order to benefit the foundations themselves and the grantees they support?
  • How can foundations incorporate effective practices into their strategic grantmaking?

Answering these questions is not an easy feat, but neither was baking a 30-layer cake on The Great British Baking Show.

--Adriana Jimenez

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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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