Transparency Talk

Category: "Feedback" (43 posts)

Last Call for Glasspockets Survey Feedback
September 16, 2015

Do you have a moment to help us make Glasspockets better? We are about to close our feedback period for a short survey to assess ways to improve Foundation Center’s Glasspockets web site, services, and social media presence. We invite you to contribute to our thinking around new directions for our work, and how we can improve our web site and social media engagement to better engage and inform our audiences toward the goal of encouraging greater foundation transparency.

You can access the survey here until September 25th. We look forward to your feedback!

Glasspockets Find: Open Philanthropy Project Forms New Partnership with Instagram Co-Founder
August 13, 2015

On a quest to “do as much good as possible with giving,” an innovative philanthropy project has attracted a new co-funding partnership with Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and Lovestagram founder Kaitlyn Trigger. 

Mike Krieger and Kaitlyn Trigger 140x140
Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and Lovestagram founder Kaitlyn Trigger

Krieger and his fiancee Trigger, who are committed to giving away “a lot of our wealth during the course of our lifetime,” are partnering with the Open Philanthropy Project (OPP) to maximize funders’ giving impact by developing innovative ways to identify and evaluate giving opportunities, and develop effective grantmaking strategies and approaches.  The OPP is a joint collaboration between nonprofit GiveWell and Good Ventures, a philanthropic foundation founded by Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook and Asana, and his wife, Cari Tuna.

“We believe it’s a highly efficient way to learn, plus it allows us to help fund important causes sooner than we could on our own,” Trigger said in a GiveWell statement. The couple have committed $750,000 to OPP over the next two years; 90% of the donation is earmarked for OPP-recommended grants, and 10% will support GiveWell’s OPP-related operations.

As part of its work as a Fund for Shared Insight grantee, OPP has published best practices and lessons learned for philanthropists in a series of blog posts.  The collaborators’ commitment to knowledge sharing, rigorous analytical thinking and transparency have spurred the exploration of thoughtful questions and issues for philanthropists, such as the role of a funder; how a funder selects focus areas and hires program staff; and how to make and evaluate grants.  

 Highlights of OPP’s blog posts include:

  • The role of the funder – active versus passive – and determining the amount of influence funders should have with grantees and partner organizations;
  • Should funding be restricted?  If yes, how and when?
  • How to identify important or underfunded issues;
  • How to choose and determine the number of focus areas to support;
  • Selecting and providing oversight for program staff;
  • Cultivating the relationship between funders and grantees; and
  • Developing criteria for evaluation and impact of grants.

 

Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna
Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna

The OPP also actively researches smart giving approaches by identifying how philanthropy can help in the areas of global health and development; policy advocacy; scientific research; and reducing global catastrophic risks.  The project’s research targets issues and approaches that are “important, tractable and relatively uncrowded.”  For example, within scientific philanthropy, the OPP is exploring the identification of important and neglected goals, systemic issues in fields other than life sciences, and building scientific advisory capacity.

OPP and Good Ventures’ commitment to transparency inspired Krieger and Trigger to enter the partnership.  This collaboration clearly demonstrates how working openly has the power to influence greater giving among peers.  

For a philanthropic foundation established only five years ago, it is quite remarkable how Good Ventures has opened up its processes and thinking through its blog and web features, which include open notes on all of its meetings with charitable organizations.  Although foundations are often criticized for pretending they have all the answers, it is refreshing to see how this young foundation is using transparency and web savvy to invite open discussion around questions with no easy answers, and ultimately inspire their peers to greater philanthropic participation and openness.

--Melissa Moy

Participate in the 2015 Glasspockets User Survey
June 11, 2015

Do you have a moment to help us make Glasspockets better? We are conducting a short survey to assess ways to improve Foundation Center’s Glasspockets web site, services, and social media presence. As a Glasspockets community member, we invite you to contribute to our thinking around new directions for our work, and how we can improve our web site and social media engagement to better engage and inform our audiences toward the goal of encouraging greater foundation transparency.

You can access the survey here. We look forward to your feedback. 

Are foundations using feedback loops? The Fund for Shared Insight has answers
May 14, 2015

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

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511bd210d970c-150wiThe Fund for Shared Insight (FSI) is all about opening up philanthropy. You might remember, we published blog posts earlier this year from its 2015 openness grantees--organizations that are working hard at making our sector more transparent. But FSI isn’t just encouraging their beneficiaries to promote openness: they aim to walk the talk themselves. Recently, they published a report, Feedback Loops and Openness: A Snapshot of the Field that looks at how (and if) foundations are using beneficiary feedback to improve their grantmaking.

FSI teamed up with ORS Impact, an evaluation firm, to do a landscape analysis across the philanthropy sector.  ORS’ current analysis focused on openness and beneficiary feedback loops and here is a summary of the key findings:

  • Foundations understand conceptually what beneficiary feedback loops mean, but few have strong internal practices for intentionally collecting and putting to use feedback that comes from "the people they seek to help";
  • The three most common barriers to implementing feedback loops into foundation practice are organizational capacity, organizational culture and technical challenges;
  • Prior to the launch of Fund for Shared Insight, ORS Impact found some instances of feedback-focused content in a broad based review of sector-related blogs, reports and publications but there is definite room for more voices discussing this work;
  • The two most common barriers to foundation openness are organizational culture, including a fear of sharing failures, followed by time and resources.

FSI_logoFSI reviewed the evaluation findings, and found that “while the baseline report indicates that nonprofits and foundations seem to be talking about feedback loops, there isn’t a widespread understanding of how to do it well, how to integrate it into practice, and how to take action based on the feedback.”

As FSI found, it can be scary for foundations to adopt a culture of openness. Sharing anecdotes about positive impact and success is always much easier since it feels good to share news when things are going well. But broadcasting defeats, failures, and tough lessons learned can be intimidating and gives many foundation leaders pause. But with FSI’s help, we’re excited to see a greater culture of willingness and courage develop around transparency and accountability. 

--Eliza Smith

TAG and GMN: State of foundation transparency may simply be due to lack of technological know-how
April 30, 2015

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

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511bd210d970c-150wiThe Technology Affinity Group (TAG) and the Grant Makers Network (GMN) partnered to create a report that assesses how well foundations are using technology. Lisa Pool, executive director of TAG found that, "While many foundations are very progressive with respect to their grantmaking programs, they are not nearly as forward-thinking with respect to the strategic use of technology in their business practices.”

Since online information resources are the first place people look these days when they want to learn more about an issue or institution, clearly the weaknesses in technology know-how are slowing the adoption of tools that could lead to greater foundation transparency. 

Though this puts some foundations at a transparency disadvantage, it doesn’t have to.  Glasspockets and Foundation Center have plenty of resources designed to help usher foundations into the digital age. Our Foundation Websites service helps foundations build websites for free. The hGrant Format is a cloud-based grants data sharing platform. Transparency 2.0 shows which foundations are using which social media and online communications tools, from Vimeo and Twitter, to RSS Grants Feed and Wiki. The Who Has Glass Pockets? application checklist gives a list of elements foundations should consider adding to their websites, including audited financial statements and governance policies and information. 

--Eliza Smith

Glasspockets Find: GEO Funders is using grantee feedback to reshape philanthropy
March 30, 2015

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

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511bd210d970c-150wiAt the  end of 2014, GEO Funders, a network of grantmakers that works to reshape the way philanthropy operates, released a report, Strengthening Relationships with Grantees. In the report, GEO Funders examines how grantmaking has improved over the last few years, and how it can continue to improve in the years to come.

GEO Funders gathered data from 637 nonprofits in order to determine best practices in building more effective relationships with grantees.; According to the report, clear feedback mechanisms, and listening to grantee feedback, are core practices that set the stage for effective collaboration between  grantmakers and grantees to ensure a better future for philanthropy.

Here are some of the report’s key findings:

  • 53% of funders now ask grantees for feedback. This number is up from 36% six years ago.An increasing number of grantmakers now regularly seek feedback from grantees and are creating more opportunities for grantee input to inform grantmaker strategy and practice.
  • A median of 25% of grant dollars now goes to general operating support. This number is up from 20% six years ago. Grantmakers increased the types of support most commonly associated with boosting nonprofit success, including general operating, multiyear and capacity-building support.
  • 76% of funders evaluate their work. Grantmakers evaluate their work, but most are not getting all that they could out of these efforts because the focus remains on internal uses.
  • 80% of funders say collaboration is important. Although grantmakers believe it is important to coordinate resources and actions with other funders to achieve greater impact, they are unlikely to support grantees to do the same.

You can read the report in its entirety here. But one of the best ways to dive in is the summary, which GEO Funders has published as an infographic, making the data-heavy report much easier to digest.

With this data in mind, how has your foundation helped to reimagine and reshape philanthropy? Have you enlisted feedback from your grantees to better your grantmaking process? Share with us in the space below.

--Eliza Smith

The McKnight Foundation’s Strategic Framework, Updated for 2015-2017
March 27, 2015

(Kate Wolford is the president of the Mcknight Foundation, and Meghan Brown is the board chair of the Foundation.) 
””

Kate Wolford

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Meghan Brown

With 2015 now in full swing, we are pleased to share with you The McKnight Foundation’snew Strategic Framework, updated and refreshed for 2015-2017. This is the second iteration of this important document, the first of which was developed in 2011 and implemented for 2012-2014. We got good mileage out of our inaugural framework during the first three years; we are excited to put the new one — a slightly streamlined model which retains the parts that worked well and revises those that needed some tuning up — to use during the next three.

McKnight’s Strategic Framework is very much a living document, which — like our work — must evolve in response to a changing environment if it is going to remain useful and relevant. We intentionally took an open and collaborative approach to the framework update process, inviting input from stakeholders connected to McKnight’s mission at all levels. Naturally, our board and staff were highly engaged; but we took a further step this time around, turning to our network of grantees, peers, and other partners for ideas on mapping our strategic course based ontheir unique contexts.

We intentionally took an open and collaborative approach to the framework update process, inviting input from stakeholders connected to McKnight’s mission at all levels.

I want to thank everyone who responded to my earlier blog post inviting input as we updated the previous framework. It was gratifying to hear affirmations of McKnight’s embrace of adaptive action in addressing complex challenges and changing external conditions. There were also comments specific to individual program areas and suggestions for new issues we should consider, all of which were shared with relevant staff. I also heard from several foundation and nonprofit colleagues that they had used the framework format for their own reflection and planning efforts. Thank you for contributing to our process; your input helped make the final product relevant and useful to us, our peers, and our partners.

McKnight-Foundation-LogoMcKnight’s Strategic Framework 2015-2017 commits the Foundation to optimize the use of all of our resources to advance our mission. It reflects continuity in our conviction that our ability to achieve deep impact depends not only on what we do, but also how we do our work. It is intentionally broad, reflecting the diverse set of program interests and goals which we pursue. (More detailed information about specific program goals, strategies, and guidelines is available here.) Importantly, this iteration also embraces the Foundation’s recent full and robust implementation of impact investing.

As board and staff developed this document, we followed an adaptive action process framed by the questions:

  • What? What is the external context in which we pursue our mission and goals? What data, trends, and patterns do we see?
  • So What? What are the implications of these trends and patterns for our work as a Foundation and across our diverse program areas and operations?
  • Now What? How do we best deploy our resources to optimize our impact?
Naturally, our board and staff were highly engaged; but we took a further step this time around, turning to our network of grantees, peers, and other partners for ideas on mapping our strategic course based ontheir unique contexts.

The principles of adaptive action support an approach we use across the Foundation and within each program area to adjust our strategies over time in response to changes in cultural, economic, environmental, political, scientific, and technological landscapes. For example, trends relevant to multiple program strategies range from the continuing rise of greenhouse gas emissions and growing pressures on life-sustaining natural resources globally, to changing demographics and persistent disparities across race and ethnicity in our home state of Minnesota. In subsequent posts on our blog throughout this year, I anticipate that McKnight staff colleagues will examine in greater detail key trends that are influencing directions and shifts within specific program areas and how we are responding. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, please don’t hesitate to share any thoughts or questions as you read through the document, which you might think of as a pocket guidebook for McKnight’s upcoming three years. And, as always, we are grateful to grantees and partners for the work we do together on our shared journey to improve the quality of life for present and future generations.

--Kate Wolford and Meghan Brown

Does Your Process Invite ‘Em In or Keep ‘Em Out? Streamlining’s Connection to Diversity and Inclusion
February 5, 2015

(Jessica Bearman works with foundations and other mission-based organizations, focusing on organization development, facilitation, and R&D to help them become more intentional, effective, and responsive to the communities that they serve. She is also known as Dr. Streamline. Follow her on Twitter @jbearwoman. This blog post was originally posted on the Grants Managers Network blog. Project Streamline is a service of the Grants Managers Network focuses on helping grantmakers get the information they need, while reducing the burden of application and reporting practices on nonprofit grantseekers.)

Jessica-bearmanA grantmaker had an inspiring conversation with an African American community leader who was unaffiliated with any particular organization. Based on that conversation, the Program Officer worked with that leader to develop a proposal for submission, which led to a grant. Without the conversation, this community leader would never have applied for a grant, or would have done so in a way that would not have gained attention, and the good work that followed would have languished.

A Program Officer attended an event celebrating nonprofit leaders funded by her foundation, which had articulated a goal to fund organizations serving and led by people of color. Once at the event, she realized that the majority of the nonprofit executives were white and middle-upper class.

I heard these stories last year at a Streamlining Workshop, during a conversation about how communication and application practices can enable or create an invisible barrier to entry. The question on the table was: How is streamlining connected to funders’ goals around diversity and inclusion in grantmaking? Your application practices may keep some groups* out – even when they are efforts and communities that your organization says it wants to fund. What can you do about it?

“Sometimes we don’t ask about the diversity of our grantees because we’re afraid to talk about race. People need to reduce their anxiety and fear around these issues and just ask the question.” -Kelly Brown, director of the D5 Coalition

1. Articulate your intention. There’s power in clearly stating what you’re trying to do. What does success look like? What percentage of funding will go toward diverse organizations? Sometimes organizations say things like: “Caring about diversity and inclusion is in our DNA – we don’t really need to put a number on it.” But this often results in a gradual slide – or sometimes a precipitous drop – away from original intentions as staff change or other compelling issues come up. Putting some numbers to your deeply held values means that you care enough about them to track and monitor your progress. If you have a vague desire to fund across your community, give it more definition.

2. Ask the question. According to Kelly Brown, Director of the D5 Coalition, a time-limited initiative focused on building philanthropy’s diversity, equity, and inclusive practice, “Sometimes we don’t ask about the diversity of our grantees because we’re afraid to talk about race. People need to reduce their anxiety and fear around these issues and just ask the question.” The most helpful question to ask: Are we actually funding the types of organizations we say we want to fund?

2015-01-26-diversity-and-inclusion-610x3303. Get the data. You don’t know if you don’t ask, and you can’t answer if you don’t have some way of getting data about the diversity of your grantees’ staff, board, and constituents. This is a tricky one! After all, laborious data collection is one of the things that flies in the face of streamlining. The D5 Coalition and GuideStar have been working on a repository for standard diversity information, which is now available through guidestar.org. Data can be entered through the GuideStar Exchange and viewed by logging in and searching organization profiles in GuideStar’s database. At the same time, Simplify has been building and launching a tool that will allow grantmakers to pull the standardized demographic data about nonprofits from the GuideStar Exchange. Nonprofits can enter their information at their convenience—once a year or as frequently as information in their organization changes and they choose to update the information—in one format, rather than accommodating idiosyncratic requests from each of their potential funders. You can read all about it in this press release.

4. Check your image. Applicants and community members will probably see your website and materials before they know anything more about your organization. Do the images, language, and examples align with your commitment to funding diverse, minority-led, minority-serving organizations? What happens when they call or email to learn more? Do those interactions mirror your commitment to connecting with diverse organizations?

5. Revisit Process and Requirements. As grantmakers, we have a lot of latitude when it comes to how we solicit applicants and what we require of them. There are good arguments for various approaches to grantmaking, but you should select your process with an eye toward its impact on potential grantees.

    • Do you have an open-RFP process that requires a detailed full proposal? Think about the organizations with the wherewithal to devote several days’ worth of time to an application process that requires the laborious construction of a full proposal in response to an open process or an open RFP. If you have an open RFP, consider ways to invite ideas and conversation first, so that all organizations can be at their best. In-person or phone conversations, Letters of Inquiry, and even brief “tell us your idea” surveys will reduce the barrier to entry for organizations that might need more help or encouragement to tackle the full proposal.
    • On the other hand, open RFP processes have the advantage of being, well, open. Funders that move to invitation-only processes – in which organizations are invited to apply after careful vetting – may be eliminating groups that aren’t yet on their radar screens. If you have an invitation-only process, think about how you are methodically scanning the landscape for new prospective grantees who might not yet have a high profile.
    • Do your basic requirements even make sense for small organizations? Some due-diligence staples, such as audited financial statements, are prohibitively expensive and not legally required for organizations with budgets under $500,000. Other requests, like logic models or strategic plans, may require more capacity than these organizations currently have**. These aren’t bad practices, but they may not be appropriate for the types of organizations you are trying to get in the door. Take a fresh look at your information requirements and ask yourself whether they may be presenting a barrier that you don’t intend.
Streamlining doesn’t mean that you need to have low expectations of the proposals you receive, but it does mean that you should get to know the capacities and constraints of your targeted grantseekers, and make sure that your process allows them to be most successful.

6. Consider Your Expectations. Brilliant leaders, thinkers, and writers work for small organizations just as they do for big ones – there’s nothing inherently *unsophisticated* about proposals you’re likely to get from grassroots organizations. At the same time, there’s probably a lack of time for planning and reflection, a dearth of support for research, very little money for graphic design, and no nice camera for fancy images. There may not be an experienced grant writer on staff who knows the words that ring most brightly in a funder’s ear. Streamlining doesn’t mean that you need to have low expectations of the proposals you receive, but it does mean that you should get to know the capacities and constraints of your targeted grantseekers, and make sure that your process allows them to be most successful. So my answer to that critical question, “How is streamlining connected to funders’ goals around diversity and inclusion in grantmaking?” is that streamlined grantmaking can be a core tool in making sure that all organizations have a fair shot at funding. And streamlining is an important consideration when you add questions about organizational demographics to your requirements. But most of all, ask the question about how your process works for the organizations you want to engage. For me, that’s the most important streamlining habit of all.

*Words like diverse, community-based, grassroots, can be code. In this blog, I’m talking about organizations that focus on low-income and traditionally marginalized communities, often communities of color. The organizations are led by folks who reflect or come from these communities. The organizations themselves are often small-staffed and small-budget.

**Some funders have told me that they “build capacity” in grantseekers by requiring these items. I am all for helping grantees build capacity, but I think that grantmakers should do it in the context of a relationship, in response to an earnest conversation about needs, and in combination with funding – not as a unfunded mandateopportunity in which funding is the dangled, elusive carrot.

--Jessica Bearman

Transparency Chat: Exponent Philanthropy Shares Foundation Successes and Failures
January 21, 2015

Jeanne Metzger headshot September 2014Jeanne Metzger is the chief development and marketing officer at Exponent Philanthropy, which recently received a grant from the Fund for Shared Insight (FSI).FSI is a multi-year collaborative effort among funders that pools financial and other resources to make grants to improve philanthropy. This is the first in a series of interviews Transparency Talk is conducting with grantees of the FSI openness portfolio. Janet Camarena, director of Foundation Center’s San Francisco office and project lead of the Glasspockets initiative, asked Jeanne Metzger about the work this grant will fund.

Janet Camarena: Congratulations on your recent grant from the Fund for Shared Insight!  Your grant falls within the part of the portfolio dedicated to supporting "efforts to increase foundation openness in service of effectiveness." What do you think the relationship is between increased openness and greater foundation effectiveness, and what have you learned about this from your prior work?

Jeanne Metzger: We are the largest philanthropic support membership organization representing approximately 2,300 foundations and other funders who operate with few or no staff. Our mission is to empower philanthropists to leverage their resources and amplify their impact. We achieve this mission through a strategic framework that defines our activities into three areas/goals: Guide, Connect, and Champion. 

In philanthropy, going public refers to intentionally engaging publicly with the communities, causes, and conversations that matter to you and your mission. Going public for a philanthropist is also about raising and leveraging capital – philanthropic capital – or the connections, expertise, influence, and dollars that allow funders to achieve their charitable missions.

By creating a safe place for grantmakers to share information and learn from one another, they report back to us that they are more effective and fulfilled by their philanthropy. We are hoping that by getting some of our member stories on video through the Fund for Shared Insight grant we will be able to improve the effectiveness of more grantmakers.

Throughout our 18 year history (originally as the Association of Small Foundations and now as Exponent Philanthropy) we have found that our members learn a tremendous amount from one another. By creating a safe place for them to share information and learn from one another, they report back to us that they are more effective and fulfilled by their philanthropy. We are hoping that by getting some of our member stories on video through the Fund for Shared Insight grant we will be able to improve the effectiveness of more grantmakers.

JC: Since your specific funded project is to produce videos tell us more about the details about what this work will produce and what you hope its impact will be, and whether there are opportunities for our Transparency Talk audience to participate?

JM: In 2015, we will be producing a series of videos that capture stories from Exponent Philanthropy members about lessons learned from their grantmaking. We will be encouraging our participants to share lessons learned through successes and failures.  The videos will all be posted to our website and we welcome other organizations to link to them and help spread the word so that the largest community of funders possible can benefit from them. We hope these videos will help to inspire dialogue on platforms such as Transparency Talks. This dialogue will lead to shared learning.

Exponent-logoJC: Greater openness in philanthropy can encompass a lot of elements--why did you choose to tackle lessons learned from both successes and failures? And also why are you choosing video as a way to tell this story over other forms of media (as opposed to podcast, webstory, blog, etc.)?

JM: People can learn a lot from their failures. And, let’s face it, not every grant and/or investment results in the outcomes that it was intended to have. Embracing failure is a unique attribute of the American culture and one that fuels our entrepreneurial spirit. Video is a powerful medium and one that is growing in use and popularity. We already tell our members’ stories through social media, our blog, our website, our publications, and in our programs. A natural progression is to leverage the power of video and it’s something we have wanted to do for several years but have not had the financial resources to do so. The grant from the Fund for Shared Insight is providing us the opportunity and we are really excited about the potential of this project.

JC: Exponent Philanthropy brings a lot of expertise in terms of working with smaller foundations, who often decide that the effectiveness and transparency conversations are better left to the larger foundations that have more staff capacity. What are your thoughts around how to best engage smaller foundations in these kinds of initiatives?

People can learn a lot from their failures. And, let’s face it, not every grant and/or investment results in the outcomes that it was intended to have. Embracing failure is a unique attribute of the American culture and one that fuels our entrepreneurial spirit.

JM: We find that our members are very much interested in effectiveness and how to amplify their impact. That is why they seek out our resources, attend our programs and are part of our community. It is true that many small foundations are private about their philanthropy but a growing number of our members see the benefit of being more open about their activities, collaborating with other funds, and convening key stakeholders around key issues. We hope that these videos will inspire more small foundations to be more open in the future.

JC: Some of the risks mentioned in the Fund for Shared Insight's Theory of Change include the fact that institutional philanthropy is resistant to change.  How do you plan to get past that to achieve what you need to as a part of this project, and what do you think needs to happen for the field to be more change-oriented.

JM: One of the key findings of our recent strategic planning process was that our members unite around a unique style of philanthropy that is agile, responsive, grounded in their communities and in their key issues. Philanthropists who work with few or no staff are different in many ways from larger foundations and I think because of their agility and size tend to be more open to change than larger institutions. There is also a generational change happening in philanthropy and we are finding that the next generation of philanthropists think about their philanthropy differently than the previous generations. All that said, there is still a lot of work to be done to move more small funders to be change oriented.  Highlighting examples of how change and new approaches have resulted in increased impact will help push the needle further.

--Jeanne Metzger

Group of 9: Setting the Stage for Grantees to Be Transparent with One Another
October 22, 2014

(Kristin R. Goerg is the grants manager at the Colburn Foundation.)

Goerg_ColburnIn the years since our most recent economic decline began in 2008, foundations have been looking for new ways to provide support to grantees “beyond the grant.” For some foundations, providing inspiring and creative technical assistance and professional development opportunities can be an option, but for a smaller foundation like the Colburn Foundation, we have to be creative with the limited resources we have beyond the grant dollar.

Businessman, philanthropist, and amateur violinist Richard D. Colburn established the Colburn Foundation in 1999 to support and promote a healthy and vibrant classical music community, primarily in Southern California, and to make grants to artistically excellent organizations for the performance and presentation of classical music, as well as for music education and the training of musicians. 

Our philanthropic niche allows us to focus our funding objectives within a single nonprofit community for maximum impact – which also allows for the development of longstanding, strong relationships with our grantees and a deep knowledge of their programming.

Picking up on the need for a neutral zone in which grantees could come together to openly discuss challenges, we decided to host a group of grantees.

In late 2009 the noticeable deleterious effects of the economic downturn were beginning to wear on some of our grantees both professionally and personally. At the same time, in meetings, some executive directors began mentioning how nice it would be to have a safe space to commiserate with others in their field. Were they also having a difficult time fundraising and bringing in revenue? What new approaches were organizations taking in programming to broaden their audiences? But simply approaching an associate and asking these very confidential questions in the absence of an invested relationship wasn’t a realistic option.

Picking up on the need for a neutral zone in which grantees could come together to openly discuss challenges, we decided to host a group of grantees in early 2010 with only three conventions in mind:

  1. All participating members must be the executive directors (or equivalent) of their organizations.
  2. Participants must agree to be involved in conversations, and in return we offer them a safe space for sharing (or a “circle of trust”). The spirit of being in this group is to be real, and to create relationships through honesty and integrity (through all the grit and the glamor).
  3. Participants must represent organizations with an annual budget of between $100,000 and $4.5 million per year. This criterion was set to reflect the majority of the organizations we serve (eliminating only a few outliers) allowing for more relateability in conversation between peers.

Colburn_logoThese three requirements served only to set the stage for dynamic and often therapeutic discussions in which all was laid bare, as well as the development of personal and professional relationships that would eventually forge partnerships and collaborations. Addressing more particularly the participants in our group circle, a range of experience, background, budget size, and leadership styles is represented. We believe having a breadth of diversity in a group like this is preferable. What it seems to inspire is quick group brainstorming over concrete obstacles, and (when needed) a more concentrated topical discussion touched by a variety of perspectives.

In the years since that first meeting, there have been inevitable leadership transitions; if a director has had to discontinue their participation, we have offered suggestions of other individuals to invite into the group, but leave in tact its overall autonomy.  

There is something beautiful in empowering a group of your grantees over time to face and tackle – on their own terms – relevant issues with a collective of trusted peers.

There is something beautiful in empowering a group of your grantees over time to face and tackle – on their own terms – relevant issues with a collective of trusted peers. We do very little planning – if any planning at all – for the majority of our group discussions. What we provide is space, time, and a free lunch. What this group provides in return is invaluable: a raw, real look into our grantees lives, and the information we need to serve them better.

While we as funders can offer excellent suggestions to grantees based on what we see in the field, what we read in research and reports, and what we observe of each individual organization through the relationships we develop, our perspective can’t compare to the cohesive and energizing nature of providing a group of cohorts a sacred space to share, vent, and collaborate.

-- Kristin R. Goerg

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

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    Director, Transparency Initiatives
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