Transparency Talk

Category: "Efficiency" (12 posts)

An Interactive Timeline to Mark Our 75th Birthday? Piece of Cake
March 23, 2016

(Sally Crowley is the communications director for The John R. Oishei Foundation.)

Sally Crowley Head shotOur 75th anniversary had been looming over us here at The John R. Oishei Foundation for about a year. We knew it was coming, and had brainstormed ways to mark it memorably and cost-effectively. It presented us with an excellent opportunity to build more awareness for our Foundation and its long history of supporting the community.

By mid-2015, we had developed a year-long communications plan to create an ongoing “buzz” about turning 75 in 2016. The plan focused on “75 Years of Giving” and included some “usual suspects” such as a kick-off reception, banners, signage, etc.

Probably the most interesting element of our anniversary plan is the interactive timeline that we created for our website’s homepage. We wanted to compile interesting facts to help the media write about us and to arm our board and staff members with key talking points.

We also wanted to acknowledge and honor the people who helped build the Foundation over time. And, we wanted to be “cutting edge” with our tactics to help enhance our image as a leader in digital communications in our region. Rather than starting from scratch, we searched for an existing timeline “widget” that could be integrated into our site somewhat easily.

We found one used by TIME Magazine to tell the life story of Nelson Mandela. We figured, “hey, if it’s good enough for TIME Magazine, it’s probably good enough for us.”

“TimelineJS” is an open-source tool offered by Northwestern University’s KnightLab that allows the “average Joe” (or “Jo” in this case) to create visually rich, interactive timelines. In theory, beginners (like me) can generate a timeline using nothing more than Google Sheets.

In order to use the tool, we had to have a Google account (which we did.) Our IT vendor got us started by placing KnightLab’s Google Sheets template into our Google Drive and setting up a folder for use as an image repository. Once these were in place, all we needed to do was type in dates, headlines and copy for each timeline entry. It was as easy as filling out an Excel spreadsheet. We then uploaded corresponding images to the repository. Happily, this was just a click-and-drag motion. We added the link from each photo into the matching record on the spreadsheet.

To be very frank, the process was a little more difficult and time consuming than I thought it would be. I needed our IT vendor to set things up for me – that was beyond my technical capabilities. Then, they also needed to “take the generated Javascript code provided on the Knightlab website, and arrange the code nicely in our website.” They, in fact, had to help me write that last sentence describing exactly what they did at the end. It seemed like magic to me. I told them, “I have completed the Google Sheet” and two days later, the timeline was up and functioning.

The most time-consuming part was gathering key milestones from our Foundation’s 75-year history. We scoured microfilm at the library. We rifled through boxes of old memorabilia, pulling out relevant newspaper clippings and scanning them -- being careful not to handle them too much for fear of their complete disintegration. We went through our electronic files to pull snippets from media releases, photos of key happenings, etc. The result, SO FAR, is over 100 timeline entries, and the rescue of significant artifacts of our Foundation’s past from the dustbin of history.

One of the coolest characteristics of the timeline is that it is dynamic. I can keep adding things as I have time. And, we can get input from the community. For example, we promoted the timeline on social media, asking folks to try it out and to let us know if we missed anything important. (I knew we’d missed something, since I have not been at the Foundation for 75 years and am, unfortunately, not omnipotent.) Sure enough, I heard back from a staff member -- I forgot the promotion of a colleague. So, I found a photo, uploaded it into Google Drive, went into the Google spreadsheet and added the date and headline. In 5 minutes, the entry was live.

Overall, I’d say the effort was very worthwhile. Feedback has been extremely positive. And, I have to admit: it’s better than I could have imaged.

Take a look. Let us know your thoughts on it and/or share your experiences with anniversary communications and/or interactive timelines!

--Sally Crowley

Innovation Trends: The Influence of Transparency Across Multiple Sectors
February 25, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)

A thoughtful and recently released report from Weber Shandwick –“Innovation Trends: Always-On Transparency” – investigates how transparency and openness can be implemented into organizations across corporate, social and public sectors.

Leader voices include Howard Schulz, Starbucks Chairman and CEO; Paul Polman, Unilever CEO; Jean Case, Case Foundation CEO; and Brad Smith, Foundation Center CEO.

AO_social_TC-1 and 3
Rather than view transparency and openness as an administrative burden, leaders among corporations, foundations, nonprofits and government share the realization that working in a more open way can accelerate effectiveness in unexpected ways. 

One organization is embracing failure and encouraging others to be open about what is not working.  As part of its “Be Fearless Campaign,” Case Foundation shares lessons learned on its website.  The foundation encourages organizations to “fail forward” and work through challenges by solving the right problem, being a collaborator and leading through uncertainty, and remaining humble to acknowledge learning opportunities and feedback. 

Transparency and openness can accelerate effectiveness in unexpected ways.

For “a clear theory of change” and transparency across nonprofits and foundations, Case advised that organizations must disclose legal status and financial accountability as well as evaluate effectiveness using rigorous social and environmental metrics.

At Foundation Center, Smith suggests foundations can take three critical actions to foster openness and partnership: innovate together, listen more and share early and often.  Foundations have the unique opportunity as funders and experts to “set the tone for collaboration among their grantees” and incorporate their perspectives into program design, measurement and evaluation.

The report summarizes what transparency looks like across sectors:

  • Corporate: Lead and engage audiences to create shared value
  • Social: Live and foster a culture of shared accountability and impact
  • Public: Empower an informed and active populace

The report also summarizes common roadblocks to transparency across sectors.   According to the report, a lack of understanding of where to begin and how to move forward are the most common barriers to transparency.

To help address these barriers, the report offers an insightful five-step roadmap that provides concrete steps, or “a starting point for organizations across sectors to align their practices with best-in-class transparency efforts.”

Roadmap highlights:

  1. Integrate – Embed transparency and accountability throughout the organizational culture
  2. Listen – Create feedback loops to invite internal and external stakeholder perspectives
  3. Measure – Align indicators and analytics processes to continuously track outcomes and impact
  4. Learn – Surface examples of challenges and successes to document what works and fix what doesn’t
  5. Lead – Curate a rich multi-channel dialogue about progress and impact to share the transparency journey with key stakeholders.

Another helpful feature is a template that details how to visualize and act on concrete next steps.  The graph points to four key areas: research and reporting; thought leadership; storytelling and campaigns; and events and convenings.

For example, the firm advises how leaders should act in the area of thought leadership. 

  • With employees: “Empower employees to contribute to thought leadership with their own perspectives and impact examples.”
  • With consumers: “Position thought leadership as the authentic voice of the organization, leveraging diverse spokespeople.”
  • With shareholders and boards: “Leverage board member and shareholder expertise and perspectives to inform thought leadership and help co-create op-eds and think pieces.”

The leader lessons and transparency plan provide a unique framework and may help remove some of the guess work and uncertainty out of what organizations should explore and where change can occur.

How can your organization “fail forward” and cultivate a culture of transparency, openness and dialogue?  Where can you start today?

--Melissa Moy

Eye On: Giving Pledger & Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg
February 9, 2016

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

Sheryl Sandberg photoThis Bay Area philanthropist is passionate about gender equity and continues to “lean in” for women.

Sheryl Sandberg’s education and professional experience have helped cultivate her philanthropic interest in empowering women, global health and poverty, and the environment.

Through a recent public filing, we learned that the Facebook Chief Operating Officer, 43, has donated $31 million worth of Facebook shares to the Sheryl Sandberg Philanthropy Fund, a donor-advised fund at Fidelity Charitable.

Based on Sandberg’s giving interests, the majority of this latest gift will likely support women’s empowerment, particularly Sandberg’s own initiative, Lean In, and the Lean In Foundation, which are both committed to “empower[ing] all women to achieve their ambitions.” 

Spurred by the success of Sandberg’s bestselling, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, the Lean In Foundation seeks to inspire and support women through its online community, free expert lectures, and local peers groups called Lean In Circles.

Sheryl Sandberg:

  • Facebook Chief Operating Officer since 2008
  • Became first female board member at Facebook in 2012
  • Author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
  • Founder of Leanin.org
  • 2015 Forbes Magazine rankings: #16 America’s Richest Self-Made Woman; #8 The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women; #1741 Billionaires
  • TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2013 and 2012
  • Board member: Walt Disney Company, Women for Women International, the Center for Global Development, and V-Day
  • Resides in Menlo Park, California
  • Personal net worth is $1.3 billion

Professional Path to Philanthropy

While studying economics as an undergraduate at Harvard University, she met her mentor and thesis adviser Larry Summers.  She graduated with honors in 1991, the same year that Summers became chief economist at the World Bank.  As Summers’ research assistant for two years at the World Bank, Sandberg worked on various health projects in India, including Hansen’s Disease, AIDS and blindness.  

After earning her MBA at Harvard, Sandberg again teamed up with Summers, who was now Deputy Treasury Secretary under President Clinton.  As Summer’s chief of staff, Sandberg focused on debt forgiveness in developing countries; she continued in her role when he became Treasury Secretary. 

In 2001, Sandberg joined Google, where she helped develop the tech company’s philanthropic work, while heading its advertising and sales operations. 

“We wanted to do things that matter, not that were easy…We wanted to innovate, and we wanted to be disruptive,” Sandberg said of Google’s business and philanthropic principles during an annual gathering of philanthropists. 

Sandberg expanded Google’s giving principles so that it extended outside typical philanthropic boundaries, where charity generally stays within communities.  By focusing on worldwide issues – such as global health and poverty and climate change – Google’s philanthropic work could have a greater impact.

“We wanted to do things that matter, not that were easy…”

Since 2008, Sandberg has been a tremendous force at Facebook, where she helped the tech company scale its operations and expand globally.  By 2012, Facebook made its initial public stock offering, and Sandberg became the first woman on the company’s board of directors.

In addition to overseeing sales and business development, marketing and communications, Sandberg also expanded Facebook’s philanthropy.  Under her leadership, Facebook also highlighted organ donation; the addition of the status button helped spike the number of organ donor registrations.

Philanthropic Work

With her strong background in global issues, economics and philanthropy, it’s not surprising to see the evolution of Sandberg’s philanthropic philosophy.

Sandberg and her late husband, David Goldberg, founder and CEO of SurveyMonkey, joined the Giving Pledge in 2014.  Like Giving Pledge movement leaders Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the couple pledged to donate the majority of their wealth during their lifetime.

The couple frequently advocated for gender equity and openly spoke about their support for shared earning/shared parenting marriage, whereby spouses equally share financial, family and parenting responsibilities.

Goldberg passed away in an accident in 2015.  In a heartfelt letter, Sandberg shared the importance of men leaning into their families.  Even in her grief, her passion for gender equity is evident, and she points to the benefits of gender equity for both men and women.

Sandberg has regularly leveraged her passion and influence to support causes she cares about.  In the Bay Area, Sandberg is co-chair of the Stand Up for Kids campaign, which supports the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

The Menlo Park resident sits on the board of directors for Women for Women International, which helps women survivors of war become self-sufficient through microloans and job training; Center for Global Development, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit thinktank focused on international development; and V-Day, a global movement dedicated to ending violence against women and girls.  Sandberg is also on the board of the Walt Disney Company.

In 2013, Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation gave $415,000, according to tax returns. The gifts included $250,000 to Women for Women International; $80,000 to Stanford University for the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research; $50,000 to V-Day; $25,000 to support the Open Field Foundation’s publication of “The Truth About a Woman’s Nation: Powerful, but Powerless”; and $10,000 seed money for the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, a gender-focused research-and-action organization.

Empowering Women

Sandberg’s engagement in gender equity issues dates back to her Harvard days when she co-founded Women in Economics and Government.  Today, she regularly speaks on gender inequities, from TED talks to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.  In 2015, Sandberg addressed U.S. Air Force Academy cadets on gender bias in the military.

In 2014, Sandberg and Lean In sponsored the Ban Bossy, a TV and social media advocacy campaign dedicated to banning the word “bossy” due to its perceived negative impact on young girls.  Celebrities including Beyonce, actress Jennifer Garner and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice contributed to the campaign’s video spots.

With her growing portfolio of philanthropic interests, from Lean In to her Fidelity fund, Sandberg is well positioned to be a major voice on gender and economic equality and the environment for years to come.

In the spirit of openness and transparency, it will be interesting to see if Sandberg, like her boss Mark Zuckerberg, will open up about the how and why of her philanthropy.  Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan recently launched the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative detailing the couple’s philanthropic plans.

Given Sandberg’s passion for global change and empowering women, we look forward to seeing her next philanthropic milestones and how she continues to inspire others.  

--Melissa Moy

Don’t let the “hairball effect” choke your strategic momentum
May 12, 2014

(Kate Wolford (@KateWolford) is president of The McKnight Foundation (@McKnightFdn).)

6a00e54efc2f808833019aff9f5db2970b-800wiBy design, many foundations deal with complex issues. At The McKnight Foundation, our work includes accelerating the Midwest’s transition to a low-carbon economy, improving water quality along the Mississippi River as it crosses 10 state boundaries, and promoting equitable transit-oriented development throughout the region. The systems in which we operate are often massively entangled and not designed to provide easy solutions for existing and emerging challenges.

So how do we deal with complexity without having it overwhelm us, a.k.a. succumbing to the hairball effect?

McKnightlogoHairballs, as people owned by cats will know, are tangled jumbles that your furry friend will reject and eject when they interfere with the cat’s comfort. I am not sure who first coined the phrase’s usage at McKnight, but it is now a running joke to invoke “the hairball” when our own discomfort arises from complexity and its inherent messiness.

McKnight’s Strategic Framework is predicated on adaptive leadership as a way to advance our goals amid the complexity and uncertainty in which we operate. To develop our strategies, we draw on research, field expertise, and input from stakeholders across the public, private, and civic sectors. Inherently transparent, our approach relies on an open exchange of information with grantees and field experts, informing our understanding of relevant systems and various actors within those systems. We bring discipline to this process as we make judgments about the roles and tools we are best positioned to deploy. In philanthropy-speak, this is how we develop our theory of change for each program.

No matter how thoughtful we are in the initial development of goals and strategies, “stuff happens” along the way — surprises, unexpected turns — that make it essential that our discipline doesn’t morph into dogma.

Then the fun begins. No matter how thoughtful we are in the initial development of goals and strategies, “stuff happens” along the way — surprises, unexpected turns — that make it essential that our discipline doesn’t morph into dogma. Changes in external conditions alter both opportunities and constraints. Implementation is messy in ways that twist and distort elegantly crafted constructs. As we take in and process new data, observations, and insights from grantees and stakeholders, we adapt and adjust to remain relevant and maximize impact. We need to be thoughtful and deliberative while resisting paralysis by analysis. Again transparency is critical here, ensuring grantees and partners are up to speed as our strategies inevitably evolve.

To sustain adaptive leadership through the twists and turns, McKnight draws on a mix of tools and competencies. One useful approach is to seek optimal balance among the parts, the whole, and the greater whole. For example, we have a program focus on climate and energy in our home Midwest region, where we can play key leadership and convening roles in addition to grantmaking. We also seek “climate smart” approaches in several other program areas. Across the board, our work informs and is informed by the greater whole of climate change as a global issue — and we connect all the related parts into one coherent narrative for the Foundation.

This approach allows us to break down complexity into actionable parts that might be harder to spot in the overall framework, while nonetheless honoring that there is a greater whole we shouldn’t ignore just because it’s beyond our current radius of action or bandwidth.

McKnight’s framework of adaptive leadership is supported by competencies we intentionally nurture among our staff team. We hire intelligent people with strong subject expertise. But to fully embrace adaptive leadership, it is equally important that we are intellectually curious as well as rigorous, confident yet humble in our leadership, willing to engage with stakeholders in open and honest dialogue, and comfortable with ambiguity because the world never stops changing around us.

Hairballs happen, despite all our mindfulness. The issues foundations and the nonprofit sector tackle are notoriously complex, and those complexities do sometimes feel overwhelming. But the real trick is in your recovery. Rather than choking on complexities you can’t control or avoid, take a moment to refocus and realign, clear your throat, and carry on.

-- Kate Wolford

Glasspockets Find: GrantCraft’s Technology Tool Finder Helps Foundations Work Together
December 2, 2013

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

Herman-150GrantCraft recently launched a great new resource for funders who want to work together, called Harnessing Collaborative Technologies. This easy-to-use, interactive tool finder can help you find the best online technology tools for collaborating, sharing information, learning from partners, building community, and assessing progress.

The finder can generate custom results of tools that are well suited to your collaboration, based on the size of the group and your project needs. Or, you can search for tools by 17 different functions that help facilitate collaboration. Among the types of tools that foundations may find particularly helpful for transparency are:

Harnessing Collaborative Technologies_crop


The interactive tool finder was developed in conjunction with a joint report issued by the Foundation Center and the Monitor Institute, which sheds light on how online tools are changing the way funders collaborate. Harnessing Collaborative Technologies: Helping Funders Work Together Better helps funders learn about the different phases of collaboration and online tools that can help them advance all types of sharing, coordination, and cooperation. (An executive summary of Key Findings is also available.)

Funders worldwide have an opportunity to grow their impact by working with one another. The goal of the finder is to facilitate collaborations, share tips, and allow funders to suggest other tools that should be added in the future. If you like the interactive tool finder, don’t keep it to yourself—you can tweet about it, too.

-- Rebecca Herman

Grantmakers, Go On—Ask!
November 25, 2013

(Jessica Bearman is lead consultant to the Grants Managers Network’s Project Streamline, an initiative to help funders understand and minimize the burden of grantmaking. She blogs as Dr. Streamline at http://www.projstreamline.org/.)

Bearman-150Improving foundation transparency and accountability can improve relations with grantees and prospective grantees, especially around the application process. Have you ever wondered:

  • Are your grant application requirements sensible and comprehensible to applicants?
  • Does your online application system work well or waste grantseekers’ time?
  • What does your application process cost nonprofits (unfunded and funded) in time and financial resources?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re not alone. But there is no reason to be afraid to ask.

Project Streamling header (640x131)Project Streamline, an initiative of the Grants Managers Network, recently reported that many funders—more than half in our survey sample—don’t seek feedback on their practices from nonprofit grantseekers. Grantseekers reported that, on average, fewer than 15% of their funders had ever asked for input.

This means that funders don’t know the answers to the questions posed above.

Nonprofit grantseekers have learned all too well the perils of unsolicited candor. They often don’t believe that funders want to hear anything critical about practices. As one grantseeker put it, “As far as negative feedback, I don't give it unless they ask for it, or I do not plan to ever approach them again.” Meanwhile, funders seem oddly unwilling to invite constructive critique that would both demonstrate good partnership and improve their systems.

But funders have so much to gain from inviting feedback from grantseekers and grantees; it’s hard to imagine a significant downside to increased transparency. So, go onask!

Although you may have strong relationships with your grantees, they’re not likely to tell you the whole truth unless you ask specific questions in a format that allows them to comment anonymously.

Ask by surveying. I believe that an anonymous survey—either your own or one administered by a third party—is a good place to begin your inquiry. Although you may have strong relationships with your grantees, they’re not likely to tell you the whole truth unless you ask specific questions in a format that allows them to comment anonymously. For example, I worked with a foundation to ask very detailed questions about their budget forms. Grantee comments pointed out confusing sections, which the foundation was then able to clarify. They also decided to stop using budget forms for general operating support grants after receiving consistent feedback that the forms didn’t work for organizations’ budgets.

Ask in conversation. You can also get great insight through focus groups or individual conversations by asking directly for feedback after you’ve granted funding, or when there’s no funding on the table. Again, specificity is critical. “How was the process?” will not get the same type of useful response as, “Did you run into any issues using our online system? How would you suggest we improve it?”

One experienced grantseeker was asked by a funder to review their application, question by question, in a private conference call. She reported that her feedback made a difference; the funder later modified or eliminated requirements that were particularly difficult to manage.

Ask as part of ongoing learning and improvement. Grantseekers can appreciate and respect your interest in improving the grantmaking process, and they will be more inclined to be honest if they know you have a plan to use their constructive comments.

No matter how you do it, asking for input on these practices shows nonprofits that you recognize that applying for and reporting on grants carries an administrative burden. It tells them that you’re serious about minimizing unnecessarily labor-intensive tasks. It also tells them that you’re conscientious about your own learning process and improvement as a funder.

You may need to ask, and ask again, but eventually your nonprofit partners will understand that you truly want to know what they think—especially if you post your questions and share their input publicly. And they will thank you for it.

Tell us about your experiences seeking feedback from applicants and grantees. What worked well for you, and what did you learn?

-- Jessica Bearman

Make Success Open Source, and Bring on the Competition!
October 29, 2013

(Eric Stowe is the founder and director of Splash, an international nonprofit working on smart solutions to the water crisis in developing countries.)

Stowe-100Greater transparency and open source sharing could accelerate the pace of social sector change, but few organizations are able to take this thinking forward. I recently wrote a piece for the Stanford Social Innovation Review wherein I suggested that successful organizations in the social sector could finally start to see real traction and systems change if, and when, we open up our internal business strategies to competitors.

Help Entrepreneurs Use Proven Models

The belief behind this is that no one organization, or even a handful, can solve the massive problems we are fighting against. If we open-sourced our work and allowed some of the brilliant entrepreneurs out there to take our respective work further by enabling them to start at step 20, instead of step 1, it would ultimately advance our causes for the better.

No single group has effectively taken proven solutions to global scale to eradicate the very problems they started out to conquer.

If the end goal is true scale toward a solution, not an organization’s scale toward perpetuity, then we need to get a fraction of the growing pool of amazing social innovators away from focusing on the newest unproven solutions—continually building new starting lines toward untested finish lines.

Instead, encourage the sector as a whole to make success open source and scale what works. Why? Because no single group has effectively taken proven solutions to global scale to eradicate the very problem(s) they started out to conquer. I believe this trend will continue unless we methodically and systematically promote theft of our proven and successful models.

Lest it be seen simply as NGO naiveté, I am actually a fan of the market side of the equation. My argument ultimately advocates for more solid competition in the sector, not less. If someone can best us at our game (which they most assuredly can), and force us to either step it up or be put out of business (which they absolutely might), that is a net gain.

Use Risk Capital to Make Success Open Source

How do we take this further, from dialogue to action?

In funding terms, when we collectively talk about “scaling impact,” it usually means “scaling an organization’s footprint.” To funders, I say that lone organizations in any sector simply don’t have, nor have they ever had, the resources to pull it off. Funders should no longer bear the notion that single implementers should carry the burden alone; nor should funders accept organizations that say they can.

In my conversations with successful implementing organizations, most have stated they would be willing to promote imitation of their models by competent third parties. But funding it is incredibly tricky, if not outright impossible, in a field where most grants go the traditional route of project-by-project funding—which leaves little or no room in the budget to strategically document our respective paths to success and, more importantly, promote its imitation by separate organizations.

It is terribly exciting when we think of finally scaling our solutions rather than continually locking them down and walling them off.

If willing organizations could marry their openness to this concept with donors willing to bundle a bit of risk capital in their larger grants, it would open up the space to try this out and catalyze second-mover advantage, rather than hinder it.

Invest in Imitation and Move Toward Real Scale

But what happens if the imitation of a successful model is weak? The donors who will fund global solutions at scale can sniff out the difference between a weak approximation of the gold standard and the real thing. This should mitigate risk for donors at every level within the funding spectrum and ensure that the overall drag from anemic imposters doesn’t result in a net decrease in efficiency, reach, or quality. It will certainly take time to standardize and evaluate the growth of imitators—with all sorts of speed bumps along the way. Sadly, time is on our side, since we aren’t currently solving any singular problem on our own.

From an implementer’s perspective, this is scary ground to cover, because it has the potential to put our brand, our reputation, and our hard-won success at risk. Yet it is terribly exciting when we think of finally scaling our solutions rather than continually locking them down and walling them off.

Aqua_logo_smallFor my part, it is easy to preach this indefinitely without ever acting on it. To supplant that, in the coming years I will try to push my own organization, Splash, to invest up to 5% of our annual funding to nurture second-mover advantage. This will include rigorously documenting and standardizing our strategies, as well as bringing “competitors” into our office to learn our work from front to back—with the intention that we will start to see real growth outside my own organization's abilities and reach. I believe that committing 5% toward nurturing imitation will go much further toward real scale than isolating that same amount to our own program growth ever could.

If we get throttled and crushed in the process by a group that is quicker, smarter, and sharper than us—so be it. To them I say, “Bring on the competition!”

-- Eric Stowe

Advancing Social Media Measurement for Foundations: A Re-Cap (Part One)
May 29, 2013

(Beth Kanter is a Master Trainer and the author of Beth's Blog, one of the longest running and most popular blogs for nonprofits, and co-author of the highly acclaimed book, The Networked Nonprofit, published by J. Wiley in 2010, and its new follow-up, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, published in 2013 by J. Wiley.)

Kanter-100Last month, I was invited to participate in a meeting organized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation called Advancing Social Media Measurement for Foundations where I presented on the State of Nonprofit Social Media Measurement. The participants were a cross-disciplinary group and included people who work at different foundations in the areas of evaluation, communication, social media, and programs as well as people who work for nonprofits and as consultants who work in evaluation, social media, network analysis, data scientists, and others.

To be transparent means that a foundation is open, accountable, and honest with its stakeholders and the public. Transparency exists to a lesser or greater extent in all organizations. Greater transparency is a good thing, not just because it is morally correct, but because it can provide measurable benefits.

We had two working sessions where we focused on defining outcomes, strategies, key performance metrics, and measurement methods for five outcome areas that may be common to many foundation’s communication’s strategies including transparency –a topic that KD Paine and I devoted an entire chapter to in our book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit.

Transparency is a developing practice for nonprofits and their funders, and the field of measurement of transparency for foundations and nonprofits is embryonic. To be transparent means that a foundation is open, accountable, and honest with its stakeholders and the public. Transparency exists to a lesser or greater extent in all organizations. Greater transparency is a good thing, not just because it is morally correct, but because it can provide measurable benefits.

Measureable Benefits of Transparency
Transparency helps an organization by engaging its audiences and by speeding the processes of learning and growing. Transparency helps foundation programs improve in ways they might not otherwise. Two of transparency’s readily measureable benefits are increased efficiency, and increases in the stakeholder perceptions of trust, commitment and satisfaction.

Increased efficiency: Transparency makes organizations more efficient because it removes the gatekeeping function, which not only takes extra time, but can be an exhausting way to work. When foundations are working transparently, problems are easier to solve, questions are easier to answer, and stakeholder’s needs are met more quickly.

Increased trust, satisfaction, and commitment:  Dr. Brad Rawlins’ research has demonstrated that increased organizational transparency is directly tied to increases in trust, credibility, and satisfaction among the organization’s stakeholders. He sees a key benefit of transparency as, “enhancing the ethical nature of organizations in two ways: first, it holds organizations accountable for their actions and policies; and second, it respects the autonomy and reasoning ability of individuals who deserve to have access to information that might affect their position.”  (Rawlins is the Dean of the Communications Department at Arkansas State University)

Now that we have defined what working transparently means and the benefits, what is the method for measuring it? 

In the second part of my post tomorrow, I will outline the best approaches to measuring the value of transparency to your foundation.

--Beth Kanter

Valuing Beneficiary Feedback: Promoting Foundation Accountability and Programmatic Outcomes by Incorporating Recipient Assessments into Decision-Making
May 9, 2013

(Emily Keller is an editorial associate in the Corporate Philanthropy department at the Foundation Center.)

Emily KellerFoundation leaders who want to increase the accountability of their work should consider supporting efforts to solicit feedback from beneficiaries, say three experts in the field of conducting recipient assessments.

To succeed, the feedback must be representative, actionable, systematic, and comparable, said Fay Twersky, Phil Buchanan, and Valerie Threlfall in a webinar presented last month by the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR). The webinar was based on the article, "Listening to Those Who Matter Most, the Beneficiaries," written by the webinar speakers and published in the spring 2013 issue of SSIR.

Despite its inherent difficulties, beneficiary feedback is poised for growth as a method for measuring performance and accountability within the social sector movement toward "big data."

Twersky, who is the lead author of the article and the director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, said gaining knowledge from beneficiaries, in addition to experts and crowdsourcing, is a moral issue and a smart thing to do to achieve effective program results. "I think if this is important to practitioners to listen systematically and to do it well, it will be important to funders who are responsive to their grantees...I don't think we have done a good job as funders of listening to those voices. I think we can do a lot better," she said.

A 2011 survey of CEOs by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) showed that just 19 percent of responding foundations use beneficiary focus groups or convenings to assess the effectiveness of their foundation's programmatic work, and 16 percent use beneficiary surveys to do so. Those who collect this information reported having "a better understanding of the progress their foundation is making against its strategies" and "a more accurate understanding of the impact the foundation is having on the communities and fields in which it works."

So why aren't more foundations supporting programs to solicit beneficiary feedback? The webinar speakers examined the issue by discussing benefits and success stories, challenges and criticisms, and best practices for establishing a feedback system.

Benefits and Success Stories
Twersky, Buchanan, and Threlfall drew on their experiences as co-founders of YouthTruth, a nonprofit organization that administers online surveys to high school students across the country, to exhibit an effective system for gathering beneficiary feedback. YouthTruth was created in 2008 by CEP, in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to leverage student opinions into schools' decision-making processes. The questions focus on student engagement, school culture, student-teacher relationships, rigor of classes and instruction, and preparedness for the future. Two hundred thousand students from 275 schools have answered the survey, and 85 percent of participating administrators say they have used the data to make policy or programmatic decisions.

"In the case of YouthTruth, we have seen real benefits — courageous students and schools that have participated in the process — in that it has really opened up new areas for discourse and I think changed both adults' and students' expectations about their involvement in decision-making," said Threlfall, a senior advisor at YouthTruth.

In the healthcare sector, the push for using beneficiary feedback to improve outcomes has focused around patient-centered and accountable care, as measured through initiatives such as the Hospital Care Quality Information from the Consumer Perspective (HCAHPS) survey. The publication of "Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century" by the Institute of Medicine in 2001 spurred an increase in the collection and use of recipient feedback for this purpose, the authors explained. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act continues in this direction with goals for measuring patient experiences during hospital stays and incorporating consumer assessments in determining insurance reimbursements. "When patients have better communication with providers, and when they understand treatment options and feel that they have some say in their own care, they are more likely to follow a treatment regimen and improve their health," the authors wrote in the SSIR article.

They pointed to work by the Cleveland Clinic to increase nurse check-ins as a result of patient feedback, as part of a successful quest for a 90 percent satisfaction rate using HCAHPS; and an initiative by the California HealthCare Foundation to gather feedback from patients outside the commercially insured population that has been the traditional focus of data collection.

The education and healthcare sectors provide unique opportunities for collecting feedback, as the service structure enables providers to track recipient populations and compare information across institutions, the speakers said.

Criticism and Challenges
Despite positive outcomes, experts say that beneficiary feedback is under-utilized by philanthropic organizations for many reasons. According to the CEP study, 73 percent of the responding foundations provided some funding to assist grantees in understanding the effectiveness of their programs, but only 9 percent did so for all of their grantees.

The speakers identified a range of challenges that may explain why beneficiary data is not more commonly used. According to Buchanan, who is president of CEP, soliciting feedback can be expensive and difficult to gather, particularly for populations that are hard to reach, and power dynamics between recipients and service providers can create a barrier to candid information sharing with a high response rate. Twersky cited low literacy rates, trust issues among vulnerable populations, and access to technology as other potential barriers. Allocating funding for surveys may be viewed negatively as an administrative cost that takes resources away from the direct provision of services. Another criticism is that placing an increased focus on outcome metrics can impede innovation and risk-taking. And although recipients may be viewed as customers of a business, they are not the ones paying for the services they receive, the speakers explained, which makes it easier for service providers to overlook their opinions.

Best Practices for Gathering and Incorporating Beneficiary Feedback
Twersky, Buchanan, and Threlfall offered a series of recommendations for collecting and utilizing beneficiary feedback effectively, including the following:

  • Seek Feedback When it Matters

The speakers recommended initiating the survey process before or during a program rather than only after it ends, enabling the data to have the most impact. Twersky compared this to leading indicators used in business.

  • Design Surveys for Impact

The speakers recommended developing a process to integrate feedback early on and to consider the use of focus groups before or after administering surveys, as well as establishing requirements for a high response rate. Buchanan stressed the importance of detailed survey design and methodology and suggested working with consultants or providers if necessary.

  • Strive for Candid, Representative Responses

Threlfall made the recommendation: "Check for non-responder bias to make sure certain populations aren't left out." This requires cultural awareness of the population being surveyed. For example, with smallholder farmers, "Men tend to have disproportionately more access to mobile phones than women, so whose voices are we hearing?" Twersky noted.

  • Prepare for Negative Results

In a YouthTruth video shown in the webinar, Dr. Brennon Sapp, principal of Scott High School in Taylor Mill, KY, described receiving difficult feedback. "One question that will haunt me to my grave is the question that was ‘do your teachers care about you?' We rated bottom 1% in the nation on that one specific question and it really hit hard. It's hard to swallow, hard to take, hard for my teachers to take," he said in the video. Following the survey, Sapp said he worked with staff to change policies and shift the culture of the school, which led to a decline in the failure rate and increased teacher intervention.

  • Collaborate with Other Organizations

Working with other groups enables providers to generate comparative data. In the CEP survey, 26 percent of respondents said they were currently using coordinated measurement systems with other funders in the same issue area, and 23 percent were considering doing so. According to Twersky, developing benchmarks through collaboration will help organizations to interpret the data.

Beneficiary Assessments in the "Big Data" Movement
Despite its inherent difficulties, beneficiary feedback is poised for growth as a method for measuring performance and accountability within the social sector movement toward "big data." The push for evidence-based social programs utilizing impact evaluations was echoed in the Obama Administration's launch of the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) in 2009 to provide million-dollar matching funds to nonprofit organizations chosen by grantmakers that are working in the areas of economic opportunity, healthy futures, and youth development. The SIF's "key characteristics" include: "Emphasis on rigorous evaluations of program results not only to improve accountability but also to build a stronger marketplace of organizations with evidence of impact."

While some challenges will remain insurmountable — as Twersky pointed out during the webinar, "When the intended beneficiary is the earth, how do we listen to the earth?" — there are more than enough resources available to start speaking to more of its inhabitants today.

What are the biggest challenges your organization has faced in collecting and incorporating beneficiary feedback into decision-making? What role should recipient assessments play in the "big data" movement? How can foundations and nonprofits use beneficiary feedback to enable greater accountability and effectiveness? Please provide your comments below.

-- Emily Keller

Social Media, So What? RWJF Tackles How to Answer the Social Media, So What Question
April 17, 2013

Debra Joy Perez (@djoyperez) is currently serving as Interim Vice President of Research and Evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Perez-100Last year, after Steve Downs shared an overview of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) social media strategy, we hosted a series of interviews with RWJF staff members about how social media, and more broadly, the transparency and participation they offer, are adding new and critical dimensions to their work. The first case study on social networking as a learning tool is available here. The second on experimenting with different social mediums to serve as a catalyst for collaboration is available here. The third on leveraging social media to expand networks is available here.

The latest post offers perspective on how the use of these tools—which have become essential to our communication efforts—can be measured to reflect the impact of our work and rooted in a context of achieving social change goals.

Q: Let’s start with a glimpse into a day in the life of your work at the Foundation in light of all these new technologies. Why are metrics important to RWJF?
A: RWJF has a 40 year history of developing evidence-based programming. We are known for our research and evaluation work nationally and internationally. Yet, as new ways to advance our goals in health and health care become more reliant on technology, we struggle with measuring success and accountability.

Since 2009, RWJF has been incorporating Web 2.0 technology in our everyday work. That is what people who visit our website  can see since our September redesign, as we have more social sharing facilitation tools across the site. We also invite conversation about how to advance health and health care on Twitter, Facebook, and produce content that can serve the needs of various online communities.

We can clearly see and have made projections about the future value of social media. Social media can help us create social change and build movements around the causes that we care deeply about. We have learned many key lessons from initiating this work guided by our principles of openness, participation, and decentralization. Specific lessons include:

  • Personal outreach matters;
  • Responsiveness to requests for engagement is important;
  • Criticism can lead to healthy dialogue;
  • Make engagement easy and simple; and
  • Engagement takes work and dedicated resources.

These take homes suggest that each of these principles requires concerted efforts and conversations about policies and processes for achieving the intended goals. With each social media campaign, we must be explicit about expectations. Social media metrics is an essential part of our efforts at RWJF. We need measurement to help us achieve those expectations. Measurement also helps us continually improve our use of social media to achieve our broader social change goals.

Social media is another tool to achieve larger goals. While it can be a very powerful tool, it should not be mistaken for an end in itself.

Q: What does an effective and efficient social media campaign look like?
A: So where do you start: well, you might start first with acknowledging what you are already doing in social media and celebrating that. Do you have a Facebook page, an organizational presence on Twitter, operations on Tumblr? Conduct an inventory of what you are doing as an organization, as well as the engagement by individuals. Do staff leverage social media for their job, how have they been able to extend their reach, do we regularly appear on relevant blogs?

As you do this, you might start to recognize how much you don’t know. BUT don’t let the “not-knowing” stop you.

  • Have an explicit dialogue about your goals, what are you trying to accomplish with your social media efforts, e.g. what is the purpose of tweeting something, what is the action you want an individual to take? Although click-through is not itself an outcome, in my view, it is a process measure. 
  • Identify your networks. You probably already have more of a network than you recognize (see The Networked Nonprofit  by Kanter).
  • Schedule a formal discussion about value proposition in-house. Talk to who does it now and who doesn’t. Don’t expect everyone to Tweet. Some are better long-form writers and therefore might be better suited for blogging.
  • Establish data points for measuring impact of what you do.
  • Provide unique URLs for product releases and then test URL placements against each other (AB testing) to see which one is more effective.

Ultimately, discuss to what end are you using social media. Social media is another tool to achieve larger goals. While it can be a very powerful tool, it should not be mistaken for an end in itself.

Q: What is the expected ROI for social media?
A: We believe social media can have a profound effect on expanding our reach, as more people are building trusted networks of individuals and organizations and engaging online. Appropriate use of social media channels help us provide the right information and the right tools into the hands of our health and health care advocates (also known as message evangelists). You then start to see how making data accessible in new ways, such as interactives, data visualizations, and infographics, enables us to illustrate key points for case-making and building awareness.  

Because social media is a vehicle through which ideas can be generated, tested, built upon, and spread, we believe that this is worth measuring. However, while there is a plethora of ready to use analytical tools crowding the market, the challenge will be to avoid the “low-hanging fruit” trap of measuring activity over action. If we do our job correctly, we will be able to say what works and what doesn’t using social media metrics, as well as distinguishing online from offline impact.

Q: What is the current state of the field for measuring social media? Where do we go from here?
A: The potential power of social is undeniable and we are looking for ways to continue to test our assumptions about what we are producing. For example, by watching others comment on Twitter about our work we not only have a better sense of how we are being understood, it also serves as a kind of content analysis of the impact we are having. By monitoring a recurring Twitter chat, we can hear whether our meaning and intention is influencing the discussion in the way we desire it to.

As the unit responsible for measuring the impact of our work, we regularly ask ourselves: What are we using social media for? Who are our target audiences (segmented, as well as aggregated)? (The ability to diversify our networks is a huge value to RWJF; developing metrics that includes demographics of our audiences is an important part of the measurement effort.) What is the expected action/behavior we wish to see? How do we measure behavior change? How can we best go beyond measuring online activity (page views, unique visitors, tweets, and re-tweets) to measuring offline action and policy change? This is the key challenge for philanthropy today: assessing an effective and efficient social media campaign. As a foundation, accountable to our Board and the public, we must have standards for our investments in social media just as we do for our programmatic investments. We ought to be able to answer the so-what question for investing staff time and talent in social media campaigning. As a sector, we are becoming much more sophisticated in our use of communications to advance our work. Looking at ways to measure social media should fit within the framework of measuring communications broadly. Even as the task of identifying communications indicators is challenging, social media lends itself well to being more precise and thus measurable.

In order to engage the field in a dialogue on social media measurement, RWJF is hosting a national convening of experts in three domains: evaluation, communications, and social media. The April convening will produce a set of indicators on five Foundation-focused outcomes:

1. Our foundation is viewed as a valuable information source.

2. Our foundation is viewed as transparent.

3. Lessons are disseminated, multiplying impact beyond our foundation’s reach.

4. Public knowledge, advocacy, influence, and action is increased in strategic areas

5. Our networks strengthen and diversify.

We invite you to help us advance the field of social media measurement. Please follow hashtag #SM_RE on Twitter for conversations stemming from the social media measurement meeting this month, including a live Twitter chat on April 18, 3 p.m. EDT, as we continue to move the field forward in using data to evaluate and assess impact of our work.

-- Debra Joy Perez

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