Transparency Talk

Category: "Failures" (12 posts)

Glasspockets Find – Can the Silicon Valley Giving Code Be Cracked?
December 21, 2016

The fast and furious pace of Silicon Valley’s tech innovation culture has also given rise to burgeoning new wealth, and yes, new philanthropy.  From 2008 to 2013, total Silicon Valley-based individual giving increased 150%, from $1.9 billion to $4.8 billion, according to a new report. But how do established nonprofit groups make contact with the new philanthropic powerhouses in the neighborhood?

“Just blocks away from the region’s booming tech companies but (local nonprofits) aren’t sure how to attract Silicon Valley’s philanthropy to their causes.”

This question is at the heart of the new report, “The Giving Code: Silicon Valley Nonprofits and Philanthropy,” documenting the rising challenge local Silicon Valley nonprofits face in attracting funding from some of the world’s most generous funders – right in their own backyard.  Despite this wealth of local resources, about 30% of the community-based organizations focused on providing local safety net support – such as homelessness, poverty, troubled public schools – reported higher deficits than the national average.

The authors noted the region is developing an “emerging giving code – an implicit set of strategies and approaches shared by Silicon Valley’s individual, corporate, and institutional philanthropists alike.”  This approach to giving is “widely shared among the region’s new philanthropists” and heavily influenced by technology and business. 

Giving Code Report CoverWith support from The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Open Impact gathered data from more than 300 Silicon Valley stakeholders, such as wealthy residents and their advisors, nonprofit executives, corporate and private foundation giving officers, and thought partners across all sectors. 

A key issue raised in the report: Although Silicon Valley philanthropists give funds to local issues and causes, most but most are earmarked for private schools, universities and hospitals rather than for community-based organizations. 

The report stated, “These nonprofits are struggling to keep pace with exponential increases in demand for their services, lack the capacity and the funding to gain real traction, or are themselves in financial distress.  Some have offices just blocks away from the region’s booming tech companies—but they aren’t sure how to attract Silicon Valley’s philanthropy to their causes.  The support they need to have more systemic impact is often right next door, but it is not a door they know how to open.”

Silicon Valley Demographics

Although the Silicon Valley boasts a growing number of millionaires and billionaires, many of its 2.6 million residents are facing financial distress due to the high cost of living. About 29.5% or 800,000 people rely on public or private assistance.  The median sale price of a home in 2015 was $830,361, and in some neighborhoods, homes are two or three times that price.  Since 2011, rents have increased 27%, which is 227% higher than the national average.

Many of Silicon Valley’s community-based organizations operate on a small scale and are doing their best to meet the needs of a growing displaced and vulnerable population.  These organizations have little time, capacity or resources to advocate for systemic change – which appeals to many philanthropists seeking strategic impact.

Barriers to Local Giving

The report identified barriers to local giving:

  • The small size of community-based nonprofits, which have minimal capacity to partner with foundations, corporations and individual donors in the ways philanthropists expect or meet requirements that come with large grants.
  • The cultural divide between the new Silicon Valley donor and traditional nonprofits. Many Silicon Valley donors have business backgrounds and prefer a “return on investment”; they believe they will have more impact in a developing country, where costs and barriers are often low.
  • Knowledge and information gaps – local nonprofits do not know how to make contact with the new donors on the philanthropic scene; and new philanthropists lack awareness of local nonprofits and local needs.
  • Social network and experience gap – community-based nonprofit leaders and new philanthropists “don’t move in the same social circles.”
  • Mindsets and language gap – nonprofit leaders speak a kind of “moral language that emphasizes social responsibility, social justice, equity and the common good” and they use jargon like “empower,” “transformation,” and “theory of change.” Meanwhile, new philanthropists and donors speak in the language of “business, efficiency, and bottom-line profits… they talk about the ‘biggest bang for the buck’ not just in business but in their philanthropy.”

The authors noted that the combination of these gaps – knowledge and information gap, social network and experience – contribute to and reinforce an empathy gap that is felt by both sides.  Therefore, wealthy tech entrepreneurs don’t understand nonprofit leaders, and vice versa, which may lead to judgment and ultimately make it more difficult to “recognize how their work, their passions, their skills, and insights might align for the betterment of their shared local community.”

This report also captures hope amidst struggle.  This hope may be best manifested by the funder of the report, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which was one of the very first Silicon Valley philanthropies to emerge in the region.  The foundation was established in 1964 following the birth of the Hewlett-Packard Company, which was ahead of the curve, i.e. the now familiar trajectory of moving from garage shop tinkering to tech powerhouse. Today, despite being a large, global foundation, the Packard Foundation maintains an active grantmaking program that supports local communities.

The report concluded that potential opportunities to develop a more effective and collaborative Giving Code will “spark the creation of an even more powerful Silicon Valley giving code: one that works on behalf of all the region’s residents.”

--Melissa Moy

If An Evaluation Was Commissioned But Never Shared, Did It Really Exist?
November 15, 2016

(Fay Twersky is director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @FayDTwersky. This post first ran on Center for Effective Philanthropy's blog.)

Fay photoThere are a lot of interesting data in the recent Benchmarking Foundation Evaluation Practices report, co-authored by the Center for Effective Philanthropy and the Center for Evaluation Innovation. There is useful, practical information on how foundations structure their evaluation operations, how much they spend on evaluation, the kinds of evaluations they commission, and so forth. Great stuff.

But some findings give me pause. Perhaps the most sobering statistic in the report is that very few foundations consistently share their evaluations with their grantees, other foundations, or the public. Only 28 percent share their evaluations “quite a bit or a lot” with their grantees.  And that drops to 17 percent for sharing with other foundations, and only 14 percent for sharing with the general public.

“We have a moral imperative to share what we are learning from the evaluations we commission so that others may learn from our successes and mistakes.”

Really? Why are we not sharing the lessons from the evaluations we commission?

It feels wrong.

It seems to me that we have a moral imperative to share what we are learning from the evaluations we commission so that others may learn — both from our successes and mistakes. 

After all, why would we not share?

Are we worried about our stock price falling? No. We don’t have a stock price.

Are we worried about causing undue harm to specific organizations? There are ways to share key lessons from evaluations without naming specific organizations.

Do we believe that others don’t care about our evaluations or our findings? Time and again, foundation leaders list assessment and evaluation as high on the list of things they need to get better at.

Are reports too technical? That can be a challenge, but again, there are ways to share an executive summary — or commission an easy to read summary — that is not a heavy, overly technical report.

So, the main question is, why commission an evaluation if you are going to keep the lessons all to yourself? Is that charitable?

--Fay Twersky 

The Foundation Transparency Challenge
November 2, 2016

Janet CamarenaI often get asked which foundations are the most transparent, closely followed by the more skeptical line of questioning about whether the field of philanthropy is actually becoming more transparent, or just talking more about it.  When Glasspockets launched six years ago, a little less than 7 percent of foundations had a web presence; today that has grown to a still underwhelming 10 percent.  So, the reality is that transparency remains a challenge for the majority of foundations, but some are making it a priority to open up their work. 

Our new Foundation Transparency Challenge infographic is designed to help foundations tackle the transparency challenge. It provides an at-a-glance overview of how and why foundations are prioritizing transparency, inventories common strengths and pain points across the field, and highlights good examples that can serve as inspiration for others in areas that represent particular challenges to the field. 

Trans challenge_twitter1-01

Using data gathered from the 81 foundations that have taken and shared the “Who Has Glass Pockets?” transparency assessment, we identified transparency trends and then displayed these trends by the benefits to philanthropy, demonstrating the field's strengths and weaknesses when it comes to working more openly.

Transparency Comfort Zone

Despite the uniqueness of each philanthropic institution, looking at the data this way does seem to reveal that the majority of foundations consider a few elements as natural starting points in their journey to transparency.  As we look across the infographic, this foundation transparency comfort zone could be identified by those elements that are shared by almost all participating foundations:

  • Contact Information
  • Mission Statement
  • Grantmaking Priorities
  • Grantmaking Process
  • Key Staff List

Transparency Pain Points

On the flip side, the infographic also reveals the toughest transparency challenges for philanthropy, those elements that are shared by the fewest participating funders:

  • Assessments of Overall Foundation Performance
  • Diversity Data
  • Executive Compensation Process
  • Grantee Feedback
  • Open Licensing Policies
  • Strategic Plans

What’s In It for Me?

Community of Shared LearningOnce we start talking about the pain points, we often get questions about why foundations should share certain elements, so the infographic identifies the primary benefit for each transparency element.  Some elements could fit in multiple categories, but for each element, we tried to identify the primary benefit as a way to assess where there is currently the most attention, and where there is room for improvement. When viewed this way, there are areas of great strength or at least balance between strengths and weaknesses in participating foundations when it comes to opening up elements that build credibility and public trust, and those that serve to strengthen grantee relationship-building.  And the infographic also illustrates that philanthropic transparency is at its weakest when it comes to opening up its knowledge to build a community of shared learning.  For a field like philanthropy that is built not just on good deeds but on the experimentation of good ideas, prioritizing knowledge sharing may well be the area in which philanthropy has the most to gain by improving openness. 

“The reality is that transparency remains a challenge of foundations, but some are making it a priority to open up their work.”

And speaking of shared learning, there is much to be learned from the foundation examples that exist by virtue of participating in the “Who Has Glass Pockets?” assessment process. Our transparency team often receives requests for good examples of how other foundations are sharing information regarding diversity, codes of conduct, or knowledge sharing just to name a few, so based on the most frequently requested samples, the infographic links to actual foundation web pages that can serve as a model to others.

Don’t know what a good Code of Conduct looks like?  No problem, check out the samples we link to from The Commonwealth Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Don’t know how to tackle sharing your foundation’s diversity data?  Don’t reinvent the wheel, check out the good examples we flagged from The California Endowment, The Rockefeller Foundation, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund. A total of 19 peer examples, across seven challenging transparency indicators are offered up to help your foundation address common transparency pain points.

Why did we pick these particular examples, you might ask?  Watch this space for a follow-up blog that dives into what makes these good examples in each category.

#GlasspocketsChallenge

And more importantly, do you have good examples to share from your foundation’s transparency efforts? Add your content to our growing Glasspockets community by completing our transparency self-assessment form or by sharing your ideas with us on Twitter @glasspockets with #GlasspocketsChallenge and you might be among those featured next time!

--Janet Camarena

 

Glasspockets Find: Exponent Philanthropy Video Series Encourages Transparency
July 14, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)

Embracing failure has the potential to maximize effective and impact in philanthropy.  This trend of self-reflection and sharing lessons learned among foundation and funder leaders is upping the ante on the need for transparency and opening up the work of grantmakers.

Exponent Philanthropy – a philanthropic membership organization representing approximately 2,300 foundations and funders – won a Fund for Shared Insight grant last year to produce a video series that shares wisdom and best practices in philanthropy. The videos will delve into how foundations can be more open about how they work, why and how they make their decisions, and the lessons they have learned – both good and bad.

This year, Explonent Philanthropy released a total of nine Philanthropy Lessons videos that highlight tips and best practices for funders, grantees and philanthropy work. 

Among the videos, the importance of transparency and the tricky topic of evaluation are explored.  How can funders and grantees communicate honestly with one another, and with the communities they serve?  How can impact and effectiveness be measured?  What criteria should be used? 

Several funders acknowledged the challenge in evaluating the effectiveness of grantees and the measures used.  One funder likened the overzealousness of foundation reports to “overjudginess,” where foundation expectations of grantees may be unfair.  Another funder said it’s OK for a grantee to fall short of their program objectives; instead, he expected grantees to be honest and explain the encountered challenges and barriers.

Miguel Milanes, vice president of Allegany Franciscan Ministries (also profiled on Glasspockets), described the importance of flexibility and listening, truly listening to grantees.

Milanes’ organization had given a $2,000 grant to help preserve Mexican American culture through traditional dance and requested a written report on the project outcomes.  Unable to speak or write in English, two grantee representatives gave a face-to-face report to Milanes and shared two binders full of photos and receipts documenting the project.

“It was more important than any report I’ve ever received,” Milanes said of the unorthodox grant report.  “That was a seminal moment.  It changed the way we did our grantmaking and our reporting.  We accept other types of reports and documents on the grants we make.”

Other foundation leaders raised questions about the how and why of evaluation.  Would pre-and post-test survey results really show the impact of helping a human trafficking survivor?  Is the requirement of sending an international fax report of every attendance list for an African HIV women’s program excessive and costly?

Exponent Philanthropy’s innovative project also invites website visitors and funders to share their lessons and personal stories on the website and also via social media using #MyPhilLesson. 

One website visitor, Lisa Tessarowicz of The CALM Foundation, shared how being “uncomfortable” and not having the answers actually helps foundations to think creatively, take more risks to “experiment more and think critically” about how money is given away.

We look forward to seeing more stories from funders, grantees and community at large.  It will interesting to see what grantmaking leaders glean from their experiences with grantees, and how they will apply these important lessons to improve philanthropy and elevate transparency.

--Melissa Moy

Walking the Talk on Foundation Openness: Behind the Scenes in the Making of an RFP
April 19, 2016

(Chris Cardona is program officer for philanthropy at the Ford Foundation.)

Chris Cardona Photo

When the latest Star Wars movie came out on DVD, Disney made a big deal about its inclusion of deleted scenes. Director J.J. Abrams announced the deleted scenes on social media and mentioned them in magazine interviews.

While we haven’t just directed a billion-dollar-grossing movie, the Fund for Shared Insight (“Shared Insight”) is taking a page from Abrams’ playbook and offering the following commentary on our own deleted scenes. In our case, they’re from our recently published request for proposals for projects that advance foundation openness.

Come take a look behind the scenes of how a philanthropic initiative evolves….

"Compared to what nonprofits do on the front lines, foundations talking about failure is not particularly courageous."

Shared Insight is a funder collaborative working to improve philanthropy by increasing foundation openness – i.e. sharing our goals, strategies and failures; listening and engaging in dialogue with others; acting on what we hear; and, sharing what we have learned.  We made our first round of grants in 2014, and have been learning a lot alongside the grantees with whom we’re privileged to work. And as my colleague Melinda Tuan wrote about on the CEP blog, one of the things we’ve learned from our evaluation partners at ORS Impact, who are looking at the impact of our grants as well as that of our own collaboration, is that we’re not making as much progress as we’d hoped on foundation openness. (To download the full report, please see Fund for Shared Insight: Theory of Change Progress and Lessons.)

In an effort to do better, we sought the advice of our philanthropy infrastructure colleagues and had a number of productive conversations among members of the collaborative. Based on those discussions, we developed a draft request for proposals (RFP), and decided that we should model the behavior we hope other funders will adopt by publishing the draft online, and inviting anyone to comment.

If you compare the draft and the final version, they’re pretty different.

So what changed, and why did we take certain things out in response to feedback?

We were honored to receive 18 pages worth (!) of feedback on the draft request for proposals. Here’s what we took away from the comments:

  • Don’t impose a framework where it doesn’t belong. At the core of the draft RFP was a three-part model distinguishing among “closed organizations,” which don’t practice any openness; “fundamental openness,” in which foundations broadcast information in a one-way manner; and “courageous openness,” in which they engage in two-way dialogue with outside parties. This framework went through much iteration in our internal discussions. Somewhere there’s a PowerPoint slide with an image of a mountain, with “courageous” at the summit, “fundamental” at the basecamp near the foot of the mountain, and “closed” in a cave underneath the mountain. We talked about it as a spiral. We talked about multiple points of entry. Gosh, foundation folks sure do love our frameworks. But this one just didn’t work. No matter how we tried to frame it, people told us, it’s not a spectrum. All three levels are valid and have their benefits, and all three require changes in practices and/or culture. So, we dropped the idea of a spectrum with judgments about more or less desirable kinds of openness.
  • “Courageous” we’re not. That specific label was VERY unpopular. We were inspired by one of our colleagues who used that term to describe (we thought) things like foundations talking openly about failure. Yet that very person wrote to us to say that we’d gotten it wrong! Compared to what nonprofits do on the front lines, and what the people we seek to help face in their daily lives, foundations talking about failure is not particularly courageous. Whatever risk a funder might face in engaging in dialogue about what works and what doesn’t pales compared to the risks our partners and beneficiaries take all the time. So we dropped that label.
  • Listen to the sounds of silence. Our category of “closed foundation” didn’t take into account funders that deliberately remain anonymous for personal or ethical reasons. Anonymous giving is a tradition with deep cultural and faith-based roots, and is very different than the case we had in mind, of a foundation just neglecting to share information it has ready at hand. So we dropped “closed foundation” as a category or point of contrast, and focused instead on the positive or affirmative elements of openness that we seek to foster.
  • Don’t assume you have control over your message. This is the flip side of anonymity. One commenter pointed out that because of the increasingly public nature of foundation tax returns (known as 990-PFs), which are starting to become machine-readable, foundations do not have the luxury of remaining anonymous. As this commenter observed, soon, two kids in a garage in Ohio could be able to write a program that searches machine-readable 990-PFs and produces analyses of giving patterns. Another commenter made a related point; we shouldn’t assume that foundations have control over their communications and information, because in an increasingly social-media-saturated and surveilled world, they don’t. To assume that a base level of openness is a choice may not turn out to be true. This is another reason we dropped the “closed foundation” as a point of contrast.
  • What will it take to make this real? Finally, we heard from commenters who asked about the implications of foundation openness for decision-making. Under the kinds of practices we’re encouraging, will foundations retain control over decision-making about resources? In “courageous” openness, how much decision-making power are you giving stakeholders? While it only came from a couple of people, this was a particularly interesting piece of feedback, because it gets to a core issue in foundation openness: the desire for control, and the fear of giving it up. Foundation openness does usually mean real change in organizational practices and culture. That’s not something we took out in response to feedback; if anything, we’re doubling down on that notion. We are betting it will take real commitment by CEOs and boards to change their culture and become more open.

The upshot of this feedback is we’ve produced an RFP that we hope is more streamlined, more straightforward, and more direct. We added several more examples of the types of projects we’re interested in funding, and we made our definition of openness much simpler, without a framework. The process of gathering the feedback was tremendously informative, and we deeply appreciate all those who contributed their time and wisdom to this effort. We hope the result was worth it – and that in the end, we’re able to fund even better projects that advance foundation openness.

Apparently, a feature of the new Star Wars DVD is that if you already have a toy of the robot* BB-8, it can react to what’s playing on the screen. While we can’t promise anything as cute or compelling as that, we hope you’ve enjoyed this peek behind the scenes of how a philanthropic initiative evolves. We look forward to the projects that will result, and to the impact that they’ll generate.

*Yes, I know it’s technically a droid!

--Chris Cardona

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

Through a Glass a Little Less Darkly: 2015 Philanthropic Transparency Highlights
January 7, 2016

(Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at the Foundation Center.)

Janet Camarena PhotoAs we begin 2016, it’s important to reflect on the progress and highlights from the previous year.  And here at Glasspockets, we are always looking for examples of how the field is opening its windows and giving us all a better glimpse of what is going on inside. So, here you will find a listing of the top ten moments, efforts, and singular examples in 2015 that stood out to me as serving to bring the great kaleidoscope of philanthropy into sharper focus. 

The Thought Leaders:

#10 - Fund for Shared Insight (FSI) shares baseline report, Feedback Loops and Openness: A Snapshot of the Field, in March.  One of the report’s most interesting findings was that the key barrier to foundation openness is organizational culture.  This could be seen as a lowlight rather than a highlight since culture is tough to overcome.  But this was an important finding and report to be commissioned and shared because FSI is not just another industry group out to improve philanthropy; it is actually made up of philanthropy professionals now representing more than a dozen leading foundations, so the opportunity for peer learning, influence, and momentum building is high. 

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen#9 - Philanthropist and Silicon Valley Thought Leader, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, advocates that philanthropy should adopt a "glass skulls" approach, encouraging donors to open up about the processes and strategies foundations use to think through grantmaking decisions.  In an August Transparency Talk blog, she explained that true transparency "provides a window into the brain of the foundation," and also elaborated on the link between greater transparency and greater impact.  The tech community has not exactly been lauded for openness around its giving. Since Arrillaga-Andreessen is particularly influential among Silicon Valley’s tech philanthropists, this is a hopeful sign that her peers may eventually recognize openness - as a better strategy than stealth - to attain social impact. 

Darren Walker photo#8 - Leading foundations opened up their processes and strategies via the blogosphere and other online engagement.  Some foundations have been blogging for a long time, but last year I noticed a couple of online missives in particular that I hope signals a new trend of foundations, including their own CEOs, more regularly engaging online with audiences-and more importantly, signaling that they are listening, informing strategies based on what they are hearing, and responding to feedback and questions.  A notable example is Ford Foundation CEO Darren Walker and his online letter in June, "What’s Next for the Ford Foundation?" Much has been written, and deservedly so, about Walker’s eloquent case for continuing to focus the foundation’s resources on inequality.  What stood out to me happened earlier in that letter, where Walker wrote about the responses he received when he asked stakeholders to assess his first year on the job: "Tell me the truth. That simple request drew more than 2,000 e-mails to my inbox. Some of them were profound and insightful. Others, lighthearted. But all of them were truthful. And I couldn’t be more grateful. In reading and reflecting on each and every response, I have become more aware of the ways in which we can improve our institution, and serve our mission."

In a field in which many grantees never receive a response to a completed grant report, hearing about a CEO who reads his emails is hard to believe were it not for how Walker proceeded to then openly share the kind of institutional self-awareness that is only possible from taking such an exercise seriously.

Larry Kramer PhotoAnother notable mention in this vein is the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's "Work in Progress" blog, which counts CEO Larry Kramer as a regular contributor, and offers insights into foundation operation, strategy, and direction.  The blog, which just completed its second year, quickly gained attention when Kramer made it a key part of his foundation leadership to create a culture of transparency at Hewlett, and has consistently offered a window on a variety of leaders at Hewlett.  At a foundation with term limits, in which the cast is consistently changing, having this kind of frequent access to the humans behind the philanthropy machinery is important.  This was underscored in a blog Kramer wrote in September called Question Time in which he re-caps good questions that came up in "open forum" calls the foundation hosted in the summer to offer grantees a platform to ask the foundation about "anything and everything."  The questions and answers included everything from the foundation’s strategy to combatting climate change to preparing grantees for program staff transitions given the term limits, as well as future directions for funding. But the key message from the post and the Open Forum is that the foundation is listening and responding.

The Watchdogs:

David Callahan photo#7 - Inside Philanthropy becomes a must read.  The world needs watchdogs, and in 2015, Inside Philanthropy became a must read for many insiders looking to see if they had been written about.  David Callahan used his journalistic chops and considerable knowledge about philanthropy to write compelling content about high profile givers and didn’t hold back on his assessments.  More than 30 of Inside Philanthropy’s blogs in 2015 either mention or focus on transparency, and in fact, he closed the year with a particularly detailed piece, Darkness Grows: Time for a New Conversation About Philanthropy and Transparency that shows why for those who find transparency a burden, it is definitely better to give than to receive.

 

Aaron Dorfman photo#6 - NCRP’s executive director, Aaron Dorfman releases video footage of how difficult it can be to get an appointment with foundation executives. Philamplify, which is a project of NCRP, produced a report criticizing the opacity of the Hess Foundation and challenging it to evolve beyond "transaction philanthropy."  The only problem is they had no way to actually make sure the foundation ever saw the written report.  You can watch the video to see the lengths to which Dorfman went to try and deliver the unsolicited advice.  But the reason this is a highlight and not a lowlight is that the video and Philamplify have a sphere of influence beyond just the foundation in question, and it served as a cautionary tale here to others about why the "don’t call us, we’ll call you" approach in philanthropy is part of the problem and not a solution.

 

Philanthropy-Not Business as Usual:

DonSDoering Photo#5 - While some foundations are still debating the merits of sharing grants data publicly on websites or external databases, one foundation executive director devoted significant real estate on the JRS Biodiversity Foundation website to showcasing the full story of each funded project. In a March Transparency Talk blog post, Don Doering outlined the JRS Biodiversity Foundation’s commitment to transparency in service to greater philanthropic impact.  The online "Grant Portfolio" section of its website reads like one might expect an internal board docket would look.  Visitors to this area of the website can quickly get up to speed on: the background of each grant; key objectives and activities of the grant; planned outcomes and outputs; progress reports; lessons learned; and notes from JRS staff about the project in question.  When colleagues ask me what my hopes are for the future of transparency in philanthropy, it often looks a lot like what the JRS Biodiversity Foundation website already has to offer. 

James Canales#4 - In late November our CEO Brad Smith wrote a blog post that appeared in PhilanTopic and Transparency Talk on the growing and troubling trend of foundations accepting applications by invitation only. In fact, he cited that only 28 percent of foundations in our database appear to have a responsive grantmaking process, and asserted that isolating a foundation from the outside world is not a best practice and concluded with some practical suggestions for how the field can open the door, "even if it’s just a crack."  Well, we heard back very swiftly from one foundation CEO, Jim Canales of the Barr Foundation, who immediately took the advice to heart and took the time to add language to the foundation’s website explaining the various ways in which one can get invited to apply.  The page outlines the often mysterious process of things like trustee-directed grants, staff initiated grants, and how to introduce foundation staff to a new idea or organization. Since taking the helm of the Barr Foundation, similar to what I stated earlier about Kramer at Hewlett and Walker at Ford, Canales has made improved transparency a priority at Barr and a signature of his leadership strategy. I hope this signals a trend of foundation leadership transitions that actually do lead to, well, leadership.   It may seem a small thing to add language to a website, but to those on the outside looking in, explaining the process of securing an invitation shows sensitivity toward inclusion, as opposed to the growing tendency toward exclusion.

Ross-150#3 - Throughout 2015, a number of high-profile foundation CEOs wrote about the importance of tracking and sharing diversity data.  Business as usual in philanthropy often can mean a double standard applies, with high expectations for transparency with grantee organizations, and a completely different yardstick for foundations.  So it was refreshing to see the foundation executives who were stepping forward to make these declarations do so with their own data in hand.  Dr. Robert Ross, CEO of The California Endowment (TCE), wrote about why diversity is important enough for philanthropy to measure in a Transparency Talk blog post last month, and he reflected on the impact the TCE Diversity Audit has had.  Ross states, "The Diversity Audit has helped us strengthen the culture and authorizing environment to express our values through our policies, practices, processes." In case you’re wondering, TCE is one of a very few foundations that conduct and publicly share transparency data.  According to our "Who Has Glass Pockets?" transparency assessment tally: of the 77 foundations that have taken and shared their assessments, only six publicly share head counts of this kind publicly, so TCE’s example here will perhaps serve as a framework for others. 

Another initiative, Green 2.0, has been pushing for similar transparency among environmental organizations, including environmental funders.  According to its latest chart, 12 of the top 40 environmental funders are sharing diversity data, and eight have made public statements about its importance. So the net positive here is not just the individual sharing of the data, but the movement building among peers that has the potential to influence how foundations approach inclusivity and diversity in the future, and perhaps more importantly, expand the spectrum of individuals who might consider philanthropy as a viable career path.

Rainbow Flag#2 - One of the great philanthropic strategy success stories happened in 2015 with Marriage Equality officially becoming the law of the land.  Through the work of the Civil Marriage Collaborative, philanthropy learned that when it works collectively and engages in storytelling about its beneficiaries, it can accelerate the pace of change.  Changing public opinion on gay marriage was key to the decision. In a break from business as usual in philanthropy, a collective of funders came together to support advocacy efforts, and stuck together over 11 years, investing $153 million to change hearts and minds.  Key to this was a willingness to invest in media campaigns, as well as to think broadly about the beneficiaries who would benefit from this investment, and then to humanize the case by showcasing stories featuring the voices of parents and grandparents of gay children as part of the effort.  The Civil Marriage Collaborative also gets extra kudos for sharing the lessons learned over those 11 years, the successes as well as the failures, with a case study and video titled appropriately, Hearts and Minds: The Untold Story of How Philanthropy and the Civil Marriage Collaborative helped America Embrace Marriage Equality.

Zuckerberg & Chan#1 - Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan launched the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in December, and in so doing, also launched a global debate that put philanthropic transparency in the spotlight like never before.  Some may be surprised to see me list the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as a transparency highlight, but what gave me hope is not the Initiative on its own, but the attention and visibility it gave to the importance of philanthropic transparency.  Suddenly topics usually reserved for the geekiest of foundation geeks--tax code, philanthropic vehicles, and the difference between traditional philanthropy and the LLC approach -- were being covered by everyone from The New York Times to San Jose Mercury News.  Committing Facebook shares currently valued at $45 billion to "advancing human potential and promoting equality" was bound to make a splash, but the ripples of the splash had more to do with the structure the couple chose for its largesse, rather than their eloquently written letter and the couple’s desire to make a positive difference. 

Unlike private foundations, LLCs are not required to provide details on giving, are able to fund both for profit and nonprofit entities, and there is no transfer of funds to an entity that is regulated to serve the public good.  However, on the positive side, with the launch of the Initiative,  Chan and Zuckerberg didn’t just write a moving letter; as one might expect, they developed an extensive and actually very informative Facebook page that includes a detailed timeline going back to the Initiative’s inception in 2009 through to the present, outlining key milestones and investments.  There are many foundations that don’t go to this extent.  However, at least with a private foundation, eventually all grants must be disclosed on the 990pf form, and there is no telling whether whatever information the Initiative provides is comprehensive.  So, is a Facebook status update really enough for an Initiative of this scale? It is a fair question to ask whether the public is really going to be served if there are no public disclosures actually required. And the win here is that perhaps enough people globally raised this question that it will inspire greater affinity for more transparent vehicles. 

So, what am I missing?  The drawback of a list like this is that inevitably something that should be included gets left off.  And we want to continue to use this space to highlight excellent examples of transparency at work in philanthropy, so please share any thoughts, self-promotion, or suggestions below.  We have a whole year of blog content ahead of us to fill and welcome audience input.  Happy New Year!

--Janet Camarena

A Dash of Diversity and a Cup of Reality
December 15, 2015

(Dolores Estrada is director of grant operations at The California Endowment, a health foundation established in 1996 to address the health needs of Californians.)

Editor’s Note: In the near future, our “Who Has Glass Pockets?” transparency assessment will include an additional data element related to diversity. We will continue to track which foundations have values statements related to diversity and inclusion, and we will also be adding a transparency element indicating which foundations openly share diversity data about their staff and board.  Currently, relatively few foundations provide diversity head counts, with only 5 out of 77 profiled foundations sharing that data publicly.  The California Endowment recently completed and posted its annual Diversity Audit, so we invited its team to draft a series of posts explaining why and how they share this information. This is the second post in the series, and the first post appears here.

Estrada-150At The California Endowment (TCE), our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is strong.  It is driven by a fundamental belief that we cannot achieve our mission of improved health for Californians unless every segment of our community participates in advancing solutions.  This commitment to diversity created a guiding framework for our organization.  It also set the stage for what we now call an authorizing environment, which means permission to talk about and engage in diversity-related work with the Foundation as leverage.   This space also allows us to gather information on the governance, management, and staff composition of our community partners which, in turn, helps to ensure that TCE holds itself accountable to our diversity and inclusion goals. 

Timing, as they say, is everything. In 2010, TCE transitioned to our 10-year Building Healthy Communities (BHC) strategy.  The planning and implementation of BHC was the perfect time to embrace our values through meaningful collection and use of diversity data.  Our recipe for moving forward had a pinch of confidence, a dash of diversity, doused with a cup of reality. 

Over the course of the last five years, as the manager of grants administration, I have had the task of operationalizing our institutional values of diversity, equity and inclusion into our paperless grantmaking and grant administration.  Although The California Endowment has held to these values since inception, we needed clarity on the mechanics of how collecting data would help us with our mission.  We have the resources and technology to collect the data, but when diversity principles and values meet reality, it gets a little complicated.  We discovered that when it came to incorporating DEI practice in our grantmaking and grant administration, we knew the outcomes we wanted, but had no clear, easy recipe to get there.

Being an advocate of diversity, equity and inclusion has meant being prepared to embrace failure as a pathway for future success.  Promoting and practicing DEI is not simple.  It requires planning, patience, and a willingness to openly share and learn from our failures.  And boy have we shared a lot!

We started with voluntary applicant diversity data questionnaires attached to our online applications.  Our diversity questionnaire was crafted with care to ensure that we were using the correct terminology to capture the information we needed.  We asked for diversity information on the board of directors, executives, and staff of our grantee organizations and stored it in our grants database. 

Being an advocate of diversity, equity and inclusion has meant being prepared to embrace failure as a pathway for future success.

Bam!  Our first clue that something wasn’t working?  In a grouping of over 600 applications submitted less than 400 provided diversity data.  More importantly, the data points submitted didn’t make sense given what we knew about the grantees.  We decided to give the data collection process more time and see what happened. 

We considered the phrasing of the various questions, terminologies used, and online format as possible culprits.  Were those the reason for this data desert?  No, what we failed to do was to explain to our grantee organizations and community stakeholders why we were asking for diversity data and what we intended to do with this information.  In addition, we realized that we had assumed “everyone” had the data and did not factor in barriers or challenges that applicants might have in collecting this information themselves. 

Our team convened, determined to clearly communicate our values and goals and the importance of the data.  Our CEO, Dr. Robert Ross, then penned a message for our online applications and communicated our intent for collecting diversity data, stating: 

"The data collected will serve multiple purposes: to help us understand how we reflect the communities we serve, equip our staff with critical data to assistant nonprofits to better serve the needs of California's diverse communities and to track our progress with our Board and our grantees and communities."

For the next couple of months, our goal will be to create opportunities to learn, share and have open dialogue about DEI data pertaining to the foundation and that of our grantees organization wide.  Our benchmark for success is not about collecting data from everyone, but rather an understanding of how diversity data is incorporated into our grantmaking and allow us to engage our communities and partners in meaningful ways. 

A dash of diversity and a cup of reality make the best recipe for success.

#FailEpic Continued
August 19, 2015

(Chris Cardona is program officer for philanthropy at the Ford Foundation. This post first ran in The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy.”

I appreciate the lively response to my last post asking why it’s so difficult to talk about failure in philanthropy. Commenters brought up important points, including that it can be difficult to decide when failure has actually happened – when do you know to throw in the towel? – and that it’s not just admitting failure but learning from it that generates insight and improvement.

Chris CardonaI would also note an incisive piece in Nonprofit Quarterly assessing the failure of the social impact bond designed to reduce juvenile recidivism on Rikers Island. Cohen and Zelnick rightly point out that what is being hailed as a partial success – that because the program did not hit its targets, taxpayers did not have to pay for it – masks a more complex reality. Recidivism was not reduced (no upside there), and taxpayer dollars were tapped in the form of in-kind time by city officials. This example reinforces one of the points made by a commenter on my original post: what counts as failure depends on who’s doing the telling, and when.

I see two strands of conversation worth pursuing, given the interest my original post has generated as part of an overall mini-trend toward more reckoning with failure in philanthropy.

One is to explore what it looks like to have candid conversations between funders and nonprofits about real issues of execution and responsibility (on all sides!) in a context beyond the one-on-one grant relationship. I come to this with an instinct that a more public version of such conversations would be salutary, but also deep wariness about doing it in a way that’s constructive instead of harmful.

  • Are there stages by which such conversations evolve? Do you need to start with self-reflection, then within your own organization, then within a trusted network of peers, then more publicly? That’s an awful lot of steps.
  • Perhaps the best starting place is not talking about failure within a particular grant relationship, but in the context of a topic of shared interest in which the participants don’t have a direct stake. One can imagine a study group dedicated to reviewing examples of initiatives that have failed, and seeking to generate and apply insight from them – with an audience of funders and nonprofits who aren’t part of that field. Might that be a less threatening way to get started?
  • Because trying to have a conversation within a field about what worked and what didn’t is incredibly difficult. I think about the “four pillars” strategy in the immigration reform movement, which national funders and nonprofits developed together after a failed attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2006-07. They analyzed why they lost and how they could overcome those disadvantages, and then moved resources and effort toward filling those gaps. What makes cases like that possible? Where else does this happen?

The other strand of conversation worth pursuing is to ask what it looks like within an organization, and specifically a foundation, to be open to acknowledging, learning from, and acting on failure. What values and motivations need to be in place? Who are the change agents and culture bearers? How do incentives need to change? Are there particular structures or systems that make it easier to learn from and act on failure? What do a higher risk tolerance and a culture of inquiry look like in practice? I feel like we know a lot about this in the field, but the threads of conversation aren’t necessarily organized.

  • Part of the challenge is, who owns failure within the institution? In other words, who’s responsible for identifying it, naming it, lifting it up, creating a safe space in which to discuss it, making sure meaning is derived, and then following through on application of that insight? Those responsibilities fall across a number of function – evaluation, HR, programs, senior leadership, board. What role should be the steward or the shepherd ensuring that those functions are integrated in pursuit of mining improvement from failure, and what resources or tools does that person or team need?

Thanks again to all have engaged on this topic, and to the organizations that have begun hosting conversations among funders about being more open about failure. Do the strands of conversation I suggest above seem relevant, and worth pursuing? What kinds of spaces could we create for more authentic funder-nonprofit dialogue? And how can we get clearer about the organizational culture needed to support openness about failure?

--Chris Cardona

#FailEpic
July 28, 2015

(Chris Cardona is program officer for philanthropy at the Ford Foundation. This post first ran in The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy.”)

CCardonaAt three recent philanthropy gatherings*, I’ve heard open discussions of failure in grantmaking strategy and execution. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” but I’m heartened by this mini-trend.

Why is it still so hard to talk about failure in philanthropy?

  • There’s no incentive. Under what circumstances is one encouraged to fail? Working out, playing sports, rehearsing for a performance – these are all activities where you’re meant to try something new, see how it goes, fix what didn’t work, and try again. You get immediate signals that tell you what’s not working, and often someone is there to tell you what to do instead, or how to do better. What’s crucial in those cases is that you’re not alone, and that there is someone in the role of spotter – observing your performance with a frame of reference of how to do it better, giving you timely feedback on how to improve. And you can see the results of your improved performance. Signals about performance in philanthropy travel much more slowly, if at all, and the roles are not nearly as clear. As discussed in a prior post, most foundations are minimally staffed, so there’s not a lot of space for an HR function. And most program staff are recruited for their content expertise, not because they’re good managers. So you can’t count on there being a spotter for you within your foundation. Don’t get me wrong, people within the foundation do pay attention to what you’re doing, and you are called to account if you don’t follow the rules. But those rules aren’t necessarily set up to support performance or performance improvement. Which brings up another point…
  • There are disincentives, real and imagined. Boards are often risk-averse. (But what exactly are they worried about?) Senior leadership may be launching a new initiative that they’ve had to persuade the board or outside stakeholders is worth taking on, and they don’t want to give ammunition to their critics. (But is anyone actually paying attention?) There are internal cultures of perfectionism. (But what are the actual consequences of imperfection?) The audience with whom you’re sharing may not understand what it takes to make a good grant, and will take your failure out of context. (But what’s so bad about having to explain yourself?)
  • There’s not enough context. Foundations are not good about telling the story of their work. On the one hand, you don’t want to brag, when it’s really the nonprofits to whom you provide support that are doing the hard work. On the other hand, if no one ever has any understanding of where you’re coming from, and why you operate the way you do, then it becomes especially hard to talk about when things don’t go right. If the first time people are hearing about you is when something goes wrong, you’re going to get an unsympathetic reading, and you’ll be on the defensive from the get-go.
  • It’s not easy for anyone. Let’s not underestimate the fragility of the human ego: it stings when something doesn’t work out, especially when, like a lot of foundation folks I’ve met (and am), you’re a high achiever with a passion for this work who feels lucky and privileged to play this kind of role.
  • The stakes are comparatively high. I owe this insight to Phil Buchanan from CEP: failure in philanthropy is not the same as failure in a commercial enterprise, the kind where “fail fast” is a popular mantra. If the newest tech product launch fails, the consequences are not the same as if a social-impact bond working on recidivism among juvenile offenders fails. There’s actually an interesting discussion to be had about the loss of jobs if a business effort fails vs. the failure to receive services if a nonprofit effort fails (how well do we know the service works, etc.), but some other time.

What other reasons are there for why it’s hard to talk about failure in philanthropy? How can we overcome them?

*I note that all three discussions happened in grantmaker-only spaces. There’s value in a trusted network of peers, as my colleague Brian Walsh calls it, that provides a space in which to be more open. I look forward to the day when such conversations can happen in broader public networks.

What would it take to promote a more open discussion of failure in philanthropy? What benefits would that provide?

--Chris Cardona

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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."

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