Transparency Talk

Category: "Foundations" (182 posts)

An Interview with Jennifer Humke, Senior Program Officer, MacArthur Foundation…On How Bottom-Up, Citizen-Made Media Strengthens Democracy
September 19, 2018

Jennifer Humke is senior program officer for Journalism and Media at the John D. and Catherine T.  MacArthur Foundation. Jennifer focuses primarily on grantmaking in participatory civic media as part of the journalism and media team. In this role, she makes grants to enable more individuals and groups to use participatory media for social change.

Recently, Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives for Foundation Center, interviewed Humke about how supporting citizen-made media can improve our democracy. This post is part of the GlassPockets’ Democracy Funding series, designed to spotlight knowledge about ways in which philanthropy is working to strengthen American democracy.

Jennifer Humke 2GlassPockets: The MacArthur Foundation has long supported media. How has the way that the MacArthur Foundation thinks about the connection between journalism, media, and a healthy democracy changed over the years?

Jennifer Humke: MacArthur has invested in media for more than three decades. The first grants made in the 1980s focused on supporting independent and diverse perspectives on broadcast television and documentary film to ensure a multiplicity of voices and viewpoints were contributing to and represented in the media.

Of course, the world and the media have changed and evolved enormously since then, introducing new opportunities and new challenges. Our grantmaking also has evolved as a result, but we still hold strong to the fundamental belief that a high-functioning democracy is dependent upon a well-informed and engaged American public.

”Investments are designed to strengthen our democracy by supporting just and inclusive narratives that inform, engage, and activate Americans to build a more equitable future.“

Today, our Journalism and Media program makes grants totaling approximately $25 million each year to support nonfiction storytelling (primarily documentary film), investigative and accountability reporting (primarily through the support of national nonprofit newsrooms), and participatory citizen-made media (and I use the term citizen in the broadest sense to include everyone living in this country). Investments are designed to strengthen our democracy by supporting just and inclusive narratives that inform, engage, and activate Americans to build a more equitable future.

A priority of this grantmaking is to ensure all Americans, and especially those from historically marginalized groups, are able to have their voices heard and help us move toward a more inclusive and pluralistic American society.

GP: While on the topic of inclusion and pluralism, more foundations are developing initiatives around diversity, equity, and inclusion. How is the lens of racial equity informing your grantmaking strategies and practices?

JH: When Julia Stasch became President of the MacArthur Foundation, she charged all of us -- her staff -- to lead with a commitment to justice in all that we do. This included everything from elevating the voices of those who are not always heard in policy discussions to ensuring that our grantmaking considers and supports a broad diversity of organizations and helps to address historic and structural inequities. You can read an update by Julia Stasch about MacArthur’s “Justice Imperative” here.

The Journalism and Media program has an explicit focus on inclusion. Our grantmaking focuses on amplifying the voice and influence of often excluded and under-represented individuals, organizations, and communities, and on facilitating leadership opportunities for people of color.

Macarthur foundationGP: “Elevating the voices of those who are not always heard in policy discussions” makes me think of young people today. Since the students who survived the Parkland High School shooting have so effectively organized around gun control, there seems to be growing interest in youth movements and youth organizing. Yet, when I look at Foundation Center’s historic data about the populations served by most foundation democracy grants, youth-focused democracy grants have received less than 1% of funding. Is this changing at MacArthur? Do you think this is changing field-wide?

JH: MacArthur does not have a strategy to support youth movements and youth organizing. But our grantmaking in participatory civic media was deeply influenced by findings from a research initiative MacArthur supported to explore new strategies and approaches for preparing young people to be good citizens in a digital world. Called the Youth and Participatory Politics Research Network, it was a nearly decade-long effort, carried out by an interdisciplinary group of academics and practitioners, who worked together on a range of intersecting projects. One of the Network’s main insights was that young people are as engaged today -- if not more so than in any era in the past – in civic and political activity, but that it looks different today. Young people are not engaging through traditional civic and political institutions, but rather their engagement and participation is reflected through their media making online.

”Young people are not engaging through traditional civic and political institutions, but rather their engagement and participation is reflected through their media making online.“

The fact is that most young people, especially youth of color and from other marginalized groups, do not believe that many of our country’s institutions care about or are interested in meeting their needs. As a result, their organizing and engagement is taking place in spaces where they are better able to influence policy, culture and institutions, and that is oftentimes online and fueled and scaled using social media and other digital technologies.

The March for Our Lives is a prime example. The scale, reach and pace of that effort to organize youth in support of gun control happened largely outside the realm of adults, and it was made possible by new media tools, practices and platforms. It was the result of a highly distributed network of young people who together were able to shift public debate and, in some cases, sway multinational corporations to change their policies in support of the young people’s demands, through their media making and organizing online.

It is clear that Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have become the new public sphere, and our grantmaking is designed to enable inclusive and equitable participation in our democracy through these platforms and practices. We are supporting a number of youth-focused organizations -- such as Youth Speaks, Youth Radio and Voto Latino -- in part, because young people have been historically marginalized from public debate, but maybe more importantly, because they tend to be the leaders in using participatory media for social change. 

GP: It’s interesting to hear about some of the organizations in your portfolio. To help bring your work to life a bit more, can you describe some of the new grants you are making as part of your Participatory Civic Media grantmaking? And how does this complement the other longer-standing parts of the program?

JH: The participatory civic media strategy is the newest part of our Journalism and Media Program. It encompasses the media produced, remixed, and circulated by individuals and small groups to express their lived experiences, viewpoints, and concerns with the goal of influencing policy and culture. A significant hallmark of this type of media making is its low barrier to participation. Advancements in technology and communications have dramatically expanded the ability of non-experts to use media and storytelling for social change. Today, anyone with a smartphone can help to shine a light on long-ignored issues, such as police brutality or violence against immigrants. These are issues that have been marginalized from public debate for decades, if not longer, because they disproportionately affect communities that hold little political power, and as a result do not have access to traditional gatekeepers of news and information. New media platforms, tools, and practices are enabling bottom-up citizen participation in our democracy by knitting together the individual voices of those from marginalized communities that, together, have significant influence over public debate and agenda setting.

We are supporting organizations and activities that are doing work in various ways at the national level to create more opportunities for individuals and groups, especially those that have been historically marginalized from inclusion or representation in mainstream media, to contribute to public dialogue.  This ranges from improving the media making and media literacy skills and knowledge of youth in news deserts across the country (with grants to organizations such as Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute and Utah’s SpyHop,) to supporting storytelling initiatives that amplify the voices of under- and misrepresented communities (examples include, Pillars Fund, Define American and The Opportunity Agenda.) The goal of this grantmaking is to increase civic participation in our democracy, largely through the making, sharing, circulating, and critiquing of media online.

”Social media platforms have disrupted traditional news business models, diverting most ad revenue away from publishers and into the coffers of large technology platforms.“

Of course, we recognize the negative impacts these new platforms and practices are having on our democracy. Social media platforms have disrupted traditional news business models, diverting most ad revenue away from publishers and into the coffers of large technology platforms. At the same time, the participatory nature of these platforms has empowered extremists and hate groups to spread and, in some cases, mainstream misinformation and lies. These, of course, are messy problems with no simple answer. We have entered into this space with great humility, making a small number of exploratory grants – to organizations such as The Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Data & Society – to examine the dynamics of these problems with the goal of identifying interventions and seeding and building alliances and processes to address them.

GP: What you’re referencing reminds me that #FakeNews is a hashtag that has grown in prominence since the presidential election. Since working toward a more informed citizenry is at the heart of much of your Journalism and Media portfolio, how has the aftermath of the election and what we’ve learned about how misinformation played a role, affected your grantmaking moving forward?

JH: As a foundation, we spent a lot of time post-election reflecting on whether our grantmaking strategies were addressing the most pressing issues in our fields of operation. The spread of false and misleading information and the role it played in the election was of great concern to us in the Journalism and Media Program. As I mentioned earlier, we have made some new grants since the election to more deeply explore the role large technology platforms have played in spreading lies and amplifying hate, but we also believe that our continued investments in the range of efforts we have supported over the years to ensure all Americans are well-informed and highly engaged is the most important contribution we can make to strengthening our democracy in the current media environment. We will continue to support nonprofit newsrooms and independent documentary filmmakers to create and distribute rigorously researched and nuanced news and narratives and support individuals and citizen groups to use participatory media to engage civically. Together, we believe, these strategies work to hold power to account, uncover injustices, and result in more just and inclusive narratives that reflect the needs and aspirations of all Americans. 

--Janet Camarena

Staff Pick: If a Free Press Can Strengthen Our Democracy, Who Will Strengthen Our Free Press?
September 13, 2018

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

This post is part of the GlassPockets’ Democracy Funding series, designed to spotlight knowledge about ways in which philanthropy is working to strengthen American democracy. The series will highlight new research and interviews with top democracy funders and recipients.

Janet Camarena PhotoA free press is central to our democracy, but a strong, robust news operation does not come free. As the collapse of the newspaper industry leaves gutted newsrooms across the country with reduced capacity for news gathering, policy analysis, and original reporting, can the information needs of voters be met? Does the rise of social media, #FakeNews, and ideological media bubbles threaten our democracy by filling gaps in local and national news coverage with misinformation? And can foundation philanthropy help to turn around these troubling trends?

A new report published earlier this summer by Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy attempts to answer such weighty questions by analyzing $1.8 billion in foundation giving to journalism and media from 2010 to 2015 to see what we can learn from existing funding priorities and special initiatives. A central finding of the research is that though there is much experimentation and innovation taking place as a result of these investments, it is not enough to address decades of shrinking revenues and shuttered newsrooms. The report also finds that it has fallen to too few national funders to fill the media gaps, and there is an urgent need for greater investment by a more diverse group of funders.

As Transparency Talk continues our series illuminating philanthropy’s role in strengthening democracy through the body of knowledge it has commissioned or produced on the topic, we shine the spotlight on this deep analysis of the impact of foundation funding into journalism and media, and implications for the health of our democracy. This report, and others like it, are all openly available via the new Knowledge Center in the Funding Democracy portal. The Knowledge Center, powered by IssueLab, is an open repository to which any foundation can freely add its knowledge.


STAFF PICK

Funding the News: Foundations and Nonprofit Media

Download the Report

PUBLISHERS

Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School

Northeastern University's School of Journalism

FUNDERS

Barr Foundation; Heising-Simons Foundation; Media Impact Funders

QUICK SUMMARY

The analysis of more than 6,500 grant makers suggests the money they are pumping into journalism-related ventures is neither advancing the media's democratic function nor filling the gap left by rampant newspaper closures.

FIELD OF PRACTICE

Journalism and Media

WHAT MAKES IT STAND OUT?

NewsMany foundations commission and produce reports assessing the impact of their funding. Sadly, precious few make these kinds of report public, particularly in cases like this in which there is a focus and diligence on identifying the gaps, pain points, and insufficiencies of the existing funding. This comprehensive review of the foundation funding flows offers both a helpful snapshot of the top funders, and funding trends, while also providing an honest assessment of what is needed to improve the effectiveness of these efforts.

The report is arranged into three parts: section one charts the growth of the nonprofit news sector leading up to the 2016 election; section two provides a detailed analysis of 32,422 journalism and media-related grants totaling $1.8 billion distributed by 6,568 foundations between 2010 and 2015; and the final section highlights the report’s main findings and gives the reader a sense of the direction of the field with a look at significant emerging initiatives.

Introductory context also helps clarify the severity of the situation, and after reading the gloomy financial picture of the media landscape it is enough to make anyone wonder how philanthropy alone can turn things around. For example, at the beginning of the Internet era in 2000, ad revenue for print advertising in newspapers reached $67 billion. In 2014, adjusting for inflation, digital and print revenue yielded only $20 billion, meaning that once you adjust for inflation, newspapers were making less revenue than they did in 1950! This field-wide crisis set the stage for a number of resourceful journalists to create a variety of local and national nonprofit digital news start-ups, which were mostly supported by donors and foundations. However, this led to a “Darwinian” ecosystem of support that created more challenges than solutions given the state of competition, local economies, and “the fickleness of funders.”

Other media funding challenges that the report surfaces include:

  • A “Pack Philanthropy” culture in which a few nonprofits are able to quickly scale due to large investments from a number of foundations, leaving others financially vulnerable with too little support;
  • The new field of start-up journalists had little experience running nonprofits and were not savvy at donor cultivation or diversifying revenue streams;
  • The tendency among foundations to finance innovative start-ups with “seed funding” only to move on before the start-up is equipped to overcome the funding deficit;
  • Because foundations tend to generally be risk-averse, convincing them to fund news start-ups is a hard sell;
  • According to an API survey conducted in 2015, 52 percent of funders reported they make media grants in areas where they want to affect public policy, and a third of funders indicated they fund media in order to advance a “larger strategic agenda” indicating there may be pressure on news nonprofits to align their work around the political objectives of their funders;
  • Local news has been particularly hard hit as most small, place-based funders and community foundations lack the expertise or track record in funding local media, and this has led to the creation of “nonprofit media deserts” outside of the large metro areas on the East and West Coasts where most large foundations that support media are based.

Highlights of foundation funding patterns between 2010 to 2015 include:

  • The largest funder of nonprofit media related activities is the Freedom Forum giving nearly $175 million in funding, almost all of which goes to support the museum activities of the Newseum, which it operates;
  • The second largest funder in this area is the Knight Foundation with approximately $133 million in support of a broad array of journalism activities, including being the leading funder for the majority of start-up news nonprofits with $53 million given to such activities, and Knight also accounts for a 20 percent of all grant dollars supporting local/state nonprofit news;
  • Approximately half of all funding was earmarked to established, “legacy” media nonprofits such as public radio and television stations, and long established magazines;
  • An estimated $331 million or 19% of all foundation funding supported mostly newer, digital nonprofit media including national nonprofit news organizations, local nonprofit news organizations, and university-based media;
  • Foundation funding for public media tends to be highly concentrated across a small number of grant recipients. About two dozen recipients accounted for 72 percent of all foundation funding to public media;
  • Ten states accounted for 83 percent of total foundation funding to public media indicating that large regions of the country lack access to nonprofit news apart from what might be provided by public television and radio;
  • Nationally, news nonprofits depended on about two dozen foundations for nearly 70 percent of the grants awarded.

The report provides an open invitation for a greater variety of donors to become involved. The transparency a report like this provides is a good strategy to motivate additional funding for the ambitious goal of sustaining a robust press in order to preserve the health of our democracy.

KEY QUOTE

“A final concern voiced among those we interviewed is that patterns in foundation funding to date reflect ‘elites supporting elites,’ financing those nonprofit journalism initiatives most likely to be consumed by audiences who already read the New York Times or Washington Post and listen to NPR. Our findings specific to the concentration of funding within a few national news nonprofits, the disproportionate focus on the environment and health as subjects, and deep geographic disparities in funding that favors the East and West Coasts all suggest there is merit to these critiques. Apart from these geographic differences and subject biases, several of our interviewees not only expressed concerns that minority and ethnic communities are being underserved, but also that women who found or run news nonprofits are receiving insufficient funding in comparison to their male counterparts, a likelihood that merits further analysis.”

--Janet Camarena

“Because It’s Hard” Is Not an Excuse – Challenges in Collecting and Using Demographic Data for Grantmaking
August 30, 2018

Melissa Sines is the Effective Practices Program Manager at PEAK Grantmaking. In this role, she works with internal teams, external consultants, volunteer advisory groups, and partner organizations to articulate and highlight the best ways to make grants – Effective Practices. A version of this post also appears in the PEAK Grantmaking blog.

MelissaFor philanthropy to advance equity in all communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, it needs to be able to understand the demographics of the organizations being funded (and declined), the people being served, and the communities impacted. That data should be used to assess practices and drive decision making.

PEAK Grantmaking is working to better understand and build the capacity of grantmakers for collecting and utilizing demographic data as part of their grantmaking. Our work is focused on answering four key questions:

  • What demographic data are grantmakers collecting and why?
  • How are they collecting these demographic data?
  • How is demographic data being used and interpreted?
  • How can funders use demographic data to inform their work?

In the process of undertaking this research, we surfaced a lot of myths and challenges around this topic that prevent our field from reaching the goal of being accountable to our communities and collecting this data for responsible and effective use.

Generally, about half of all grantmakers are collecting demographic data either about the communities they are serving or about the leaders of the nonprofits they have supported. For those who reported that they found the collection and use of this data to be challenging, our researcher dug a little deeper and asked about the challenges they were seeing.

Some of the challenges that were brought to the forefront by our research were:

PEAK Grantmaking reportChallenge 1: Fidelity and Accuracy in Self-Reported Data
Data, and self-reported data in particular, will always be limited in its ability to tell the entire story and to achieve the nuance necessary for understanding. Many nonprofits, especially small grassroots organizations, lack the capability or capacity to collect and track data about their communities. In addition, white-led nonprofits may fear that lack of diversity at the board or senior staff level may be judged harshly by grantmakers.

Challenge 2: Broad Variations in Taxonomy
Detailed and flexible identity data can give a more complete picture of the community, but this flexibility works against data standardization. Varying taxonomies, across sectors or organizations, can make it difficult to compare and contrast data. It can also be a real burden if the nonprofit applying for a grant does not collect demographic data in the categories that a grantmaker is using. This can lead to confusion about how to report this data to a funder.

Challenge 3: Varying Data Needs Across Programs
Even inside a single organization, different programs may be collecting and tracking different data, as program officers respond to needs in their community and directives from senior leadership. Different strategies or approaches to a problem demand different data. For instance, an arts advocacy program may be more concerned with constituent demographics and impact, while an artist’s program will want to know about demographics of individual artists.

Challenge 4: Aggregating Data for Coalitions and Collaborations
This becomes even more complex as coalitions and collaborative efforts that bring together numerous organizations, or programs inside of different organizations, to accomplish a single task. The aforementioned challenges are compounded as more organizations, different databases, and various taxonomies try to aggregate consistent demographic data to track impact on specific populations.

These are all very real challenges, but they are not insurmountable. Philanthropy, if it puts itself to the task, can tackle these challenges.

Some suggestions to get the field started from our report include

  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Pilot systems for data collection, then revisit them to ensure that they are working correctly, meeting the need for good data, and serving the ultimate goal of tracking impact.
  • Fund the capacity of nonprofits to collect good data and to engage in their own diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
  • Engage in a conversation – internally and externally – about how this data will be collected and how it will be used. If foundation staff and the nonprofits they work with understand the need for this data, they will more willingly seek and provide this information.
  • For coalitions and collaborative efforts, it may make sense to fund a backbone organization that takes on this task (among other administrative or evaluation efforts) in support of the collective effort.
  • Work with your funding peers – in an issue area or in a community – to approach this challenge in a way that will decrease the burden on nonprofits and utilize experts that may exist at larger grantmaking operations.
  • Support field-wide data aggregators, like GuideStar or the Foundation Center, and work alongside them as they try to collect and disseminate demographic data about the staff and boards at nonprofits and the demographics of communities that are being supported by grantmaking funds.

Grantmakers have the resources and the expertise to begin solving this issue and to share their learning with the entire field. To read more about how grantmakers are collecting and using demographic data, download the full report.

--Melissa Sines

New Report Sheds Light on Global Funding Trends by U.S. Foundations
August 23, 2018

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives for Foundation Center.

Janet Camarena PhotoThose of us in philanthropy often hear that foundations are increasingly rising to the challenge and working to address the world’s most pressing problems, and new data now available demonstrates that in order to fully address these challenges, philanthropic dollars are transcending borders and prior levels of giving. A new report released this month by the Council on Foundations and Foundation Center reveals that global giving by U.S. foundations increased by 29% from 2011 to 2015, reaching an all-time high of $9.3 billion in 2015. Interestingly, despite reaching that new peak in global giving, the report also documents that just 12% of international grant dollars from U.S. foundations went directly to organizations based in the country where programs were implemented.

The State of Global Giving by U.S. Foundations is the latest report in a decades-long collaboration between the two organizations and aims to help funders and civil society organizations better navigate the giving landscape as they work to effect change around the world. A treasure trove of data from prior reports dating back to 1997 is publicly available here.

In terms of transparency and openness, the report offers a helpful data-driven perspective on some of the key global philanthropy debates, issues, and movements of our time. Are you concerned with whether increasing government regulations are preventing foundations from supporting efforts in countries that have enacted tougher funding restrictions? Or, do you want to know how much funding goes to groups on the ground vs. U.S.-based intermediaries? Or, how about getting a better understanding of where the $9.3 billion was spent and how it is advancing the 17 different Sustainable Development Goals? These are just a few examples of the kinds of data and analysis you’ll find in the new report.

Increased Restrictions on Foreign Funding

Global GivingAs governments around the world continue to pass legislation that places increasing restriction on civil society, these restrictions can complicate direct grantmaking to local organizations by U.S. foundations. Between 2012 and 2015, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law found that almost 100 laws constraining the freedoms of association or assembly were proposed or enacted across more than 55 countries. And, perhaps of most concern to foundations, 36% of these laws limited intentional funding of local civil society groups. Common restrictions affecting international funding include: governmental pre-approval of all grants coming from foreign sources; routing of all foreign funding through government entities; or enacting funding caps or taxation.

Despite the growth of these potentially chilling restrictions, surprisingly the report data did not show a correlation between the funding flows to a specific country and its level of restrictions as ranked on the “Philanthropic Freedom” index. However, it’s important to note that this kind of analysis may be more accurate over time. Since this study used grants data from 2014-2015, it could be likely that the effects of recently enacted legislation on philanthropy would surface in future grant years after the laws take full effect. Based on the currently available data, what is clear is that when we look at the top recipient countries that most benefit from U.S. foundation funding, some of these high ranking recipient countries are the ones with very challenging legal environments. Of course, philanthropic funding flows are always determined by a multitude of factors, but this raises questions to explore, such as why are certain countries with difficult legal environments high on the recipient list while others are not?

Intermediary Giving vs. Local Support

Representatives from NGOs, and advocates of community-based groups have long pushed for increased philanthropic capital to flow directly through these groups rather than through large, U.S-based intermediaries. And growing movements like #ShiftThePower have continued to build momentum around direct investments in communities. However, perhaps due to the aforementioned increasing restrictions on foreign funding, the new report reveals that foundations continue to favor funding through U.S.-based intermediaries, and:

  • Direct grants to local organizations were substantially smaller in size, averaging just under $242K, while grants to intermediaries averaged just over $554K; and
  • In terms of dollar amount, U.S.-based intermediaries received $20.5 billion in total, while non-U.S. intermediaries received $10.5 billion, and direct support tallied $4.1 billion.
  • By number of grants, nearly 49,000 grants during this four-year period went to U.S. intermediaries, 7,514 went to non-U.S. intermediaries, and 16,948 grants were awarded directly.

Progress on Sustainable Development Goals

Readers of this blog might recall that last year around this time we added the Sustainable Development Goals to our “Who Has Glass Pockets?” transparency self-assessment framework. This allowed us to document examples of funders using this shared, multi-sector language to convey their priorities and ultimate goals of their work. The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Some foundations have started aligning their funding with the SDGs, and some even using it as a shared language across philanthropy and across sectors to signal areas of common interest, and measure shared progress.

GlassPockets currently has tracked examples from corporate, community, independent, and family foundations that are using the SDG framework as a means to better communicate their work. Now, thanks to the new report, we now also have data about how philanthropic grantmaking is making progress on the SDGs, as well as trend data based on the Global Goals:

  • The Global Goals that represented the largest share of global grant dollars were Good Health & Well Being ($17 billion); Gender Equality ($4.9 billion); and Zero Hunger ($3.6 billion).
  • And among the Global Goals that showed the greatest reduction in grant support over the time period covered by the report were Affordable & Clean Energy which declined by 40 percent; Quality Education which dipped by 31.4 percent; and Clean Water & Sanitation which dropped by more than 30 percent.

It’s important to note that the SDGs formally did not go into effect until January 2016, and the data from this report begins from 2011. Still, the distribution of foundation funding by SDGs during the five year period before will serve as a baseline for tracking U.S. philanthropic efforts toward the achievement of the global goals.

With mounting challenges that transcend national boundaries, it’s increasingly important to understand how funds are being allocated to tackle global issues. Now, thanks to this report, we have a window into the scope and growth of institutional philanthropy as a global industry.

--Janet Camarena

Staff Pick: Foundation Funded Research Explores How to Improve the Voter Experience
August 9, 2018

Becca Leviss is a Knowledge Services Fellow at Foundation Center.

This post is part of the GlassPockets’ Democracy Funding series, designed to spotlight knowledge about ways in which philanthropy is working to strengthen American democracy.

Becca 2Voting is central to our democracy, providing citizens from all communities direct way to influence the future by conveying beliefs through civic participation. Though foundations by law must be non-partisan, they can and do support democracy in a variety of ways, and we are tracking these activities in our publicly available Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy web portal.  
 
From this data we can see that encouraging broad civic participation is one of the most popular ways in which institutional philanthropy supports our democracy. Specific strategies under civic participation include issue-based participation, civic education and leadership, naturalization and immigrant civic integration, and public participation. So, what have foundations learned from these efforts about how to strengthen our democracy? Today we will zoom in to learn from a foundation-funded report that is openly available, containing findings from data collection on elections and voting patterns, including how well the process is workingand who is included or excluded. 
 
Our latest “Staff Pick” from IssueLab’s Democracy Special Collection, which is comprised of foundation-funded research on the topic, explores an aspect of the voter experience in America that could be improvedWith less than 90 days to go before the midterm elections, we’re pleased to offer this deep dive into an important piece of voting-related research. 
 
Research in the social sector can sometimes feel inaccessible or artificial—based on complex theories and mathematical models and highly-controlled situations. This report, however, presents its research methodology and results in a clear, understandable manner that invites the reader to continue its work to understanding how polling sites can use their resources to both investigate and improve the voter experience.  

STAFF PICK

Improving the Voter Experience: Reducing Polling Place Wait Times by Measuring Lines and Managing Polling Place Resources, by Charles Stewart III; John C. Fortier; Matthew Weil; Tim Harper; Stephen Pettigrew 

Download the Report

Publisher

Bipartisan Policy Center

Funders

Ford Foundation; The Democracy Fund

Quick Summary

Voting is the cornerstone of civic engagement in American democracy, but long wait times and inefficient organization at polling places can undermine the voting process and even discourage citizens from voting altogether. In 2013, President Barack Obama launched the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) to initiate studies and collaborative research on polling place wait times. The PCEA’s work revealed that while wait times and poll lines are a serious issue in the United States, they are also reflective of deeper, more complex problems within the election administration system. This report by the Bipartisan Policy Center summarizes the PCEA’s efforts and highlights how the knowledge gained can produce action and improvement at polling sites. Ultimately, the report emphasizes the need for continued research and innovation in approaching common issues in the voter experience.

Field of Practice

Government Reform

What makes it stand out?

Ne report“Long lines may be a canary in the coal mine,” begins the report,“indicating problems beyond a simple mismatch between the number of voting machines and voters, such as voter rules that are inaccurate or onerous.” Quantitative and qualitative data has shown that long lines at the polls have wide-reaching economic costs of over half a billion dollars in a presidential election, as well as the immeasurable cost of voter discouragement due to polling place problems. These issues are exacerbated at polling sites that are urban, dense, and with large minority populations, where lack of resources and access can disenfranchise the voting population.

While the dilemma of election administration is complex, the report describes a rather straight-forward series of projects by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Bipartisan Policy Center. MIT and BPC collaborated to create a system of data collection on polling lines and polling place efficiency that would be simple and easily implemented by poll workers. The program utilized basic queuing theory: calculating the average wait time of a voter by dividing the average line length by the average arrival time. For fellow (and potential future) researchers, this report spends a meaningful portion of time explaining the significance of each variable, how it is calculated, and how its fluctuation impacts the overall results of the investigation. We are given examples of several successful iterations of the study and their evaluations, as well as insight into certain research choices.

MIT/BPC’s work has found that an overwhelming majority of Election Day polling sites—82 percent—experienced the longest line when the doors first opened. In all, a total of 90 percent of Election Day polling sites have their longest lines within the first two hourly samples (when observed on Hour 0 and Hour 1), with the lines declining at an average rate after that. Similarly, voters experience the longest wait times when the lines were at their longest. This pattern is vastly different from that of early voting sites, where wait time is relatively constant; however, these sites still most commonly experience their longest lines at the beginning of the day (25 percent of the studied population).

The research emphasizes the importance of how to adequately prepare for the length of the longest line. The report suggests that if polling sites adjust worker shifts to accommodate for strong early morning voter turnout on Election Day, they can easily clear the lines within the first few hours of voting, thus saving money and better serving their voters. The report also recognizes the range of its results: in other words, individual precincts have individual needs. Without meaningful research, however, we cannot know how to meet those needs and improve the voter experience. Therefore, as readers (and hopefully fellow voters), we are encouraged by MIT/BPC’s work to take clear and simple action to improve our own polling sites through continued research and investigation. This report exemplifies the importance of making the research and data process transparent and attainable so that we can not only understand its significance, but actively contribute to its efforts. There are many processes that could benefit from this kind of data analysis to improve the user experience. What if foundations analyzed their grant processes in this way? I can’t help but think that there is much that philanthropy can learn from the government from reports like this that show how institutions are opening up data collection to improve the user experience for actors and stakeholders.

Key Quote

“Precincts with large numbers of registered voters often have too few check-in stations or voting booths to handle the volume of voters assigned to the precinct, even under the best of circumstances. Precincts that are unable to clear the lines from the first three hours of voting are virtually guaranteed to have long lines throughout the day. Polling places in urban areas often face design challenges—small, inconvenient spaces—that undermine many election officials’ best efforts to provide adequate resources to these locations.”

--Becca Leviss

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An interview with Kate Fryberg of New Zealand's Te Muka Rau Charitable Trust
August 2, 2018

Te Muka Rau Charitable Trust is the first New Zealand Foundation to join the GlassPockets movement. Kate Frykberg, trustee and philanthropy advisor, explains why.

Katie 2GlassPockets: Why is Te Muka Rau prioritizing foundation transparency?

Kate Frykberg: For us, transparency is simply about being open and honest about who we are, what we do, and how our funds are spent.  I would hate people to wonder if we had anything to hide, and I think this does sometimes happen with foundations that are not transparent.  Additionally, charitable foundations receive tax benefits, so we need to clearly show that we are using that foregone tax for the public good – and that we have achieved at least as much public good as the government would have done with that tax money.

”If we are being philanthropic, we should be upfront about how we are serving our communities.“

GP: Some assume that transparency is important for larger foundations. Why do you think it's important for smaller foundations as well?

KF: We are a small foundation by New Zealand standards and we are tiny by US standards – but transparency matters whatever the size.  If we are lucky enough to live comfortably, we should, I believe, be philanthropic and share some of what we have.  And if we are being philanthropic, we should be upfront about how we are serving our communities.  Big foundation, small foundation - the concept is the same – it’s just the number of zeros in the dollar figures that are different.

That said, one size does not fit all – so it was important for us that the GlassPockets process did not issue a score that counted against us if we were not sharing all of the indicators. For example, a small foundation like us with no paid staff doesn’t need things like executive compensation processes and whistle blower policies.  So transparency needs to be able to be adjusted to fit values, purpose, and  size.  It’s really just about openness and clarity.

GP: You have lots of experience as a philanthropy consultant and also as the prior Chair of Philanthropy New Zealand. Why is philanthropic transparency important in the New Zealand context?

KF: The New Zealand context is a little different from the United States – for example there is currently no legally required annual payout amount here.  I think this makes it all the more important to open up things and be very clear how much is given and how the community is benefiting.  Additionally, people here are often a little shy about talking about their giving, so transparency can help normalise philanthropy and build the culture of giving.  Finally, unless we are transparent, it is very difficult for the organisations that we might want to support to know about us and decide whether they should try to connect with us.  So transparency also helps our core business of funding public good initiatives.

”…with templates like what GlassPockets offers, this stuff isn’t hard to do.“

GP: How did the GlassPockets assessment help you to improve your foundation and its transparency, and why should your peers also participate?

KF: With the help of the GlassPockets team, a New Zealand version of the transparency guidelines and a self-assessment form was created; we went through that first and made quite a few changes to our website as a result.  Then we did the US GlassPockets assessment and made a few more changes.  But actually both processes were really easy – maybe a day’s work in total to think things through and tweak our website.  Of course, the leaner a foundation is, the faster the process. But, I think it’s a good message for peers to hear– with templates like what GlassPockets offers, this stuff isn’t hard to do. 

GP: Do you have any examples or anecdotes to share regarding how being a transparent funder has helped you to become more effective in your philanthropy?

KF: I think that being transparent has made it easier for organisations working in the space we fund (social cohesion) to find us, to assess how well our values and work fits theirs and then to connect with us.  That said, what helps create effective philanthropy is a much debated question and requires more than transparency alone, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle that helps build the field as a whole. 

GP: Since transparency is always evolving, what are some of your hopes for how you continue to evolve your openness in the future?

 KF: We value continual learning and I think the next thing we will prioritize is to add a place to share what we are learning.  For example, we are a bicultural funder and half our trustees are Māori (indigenous) – there may be something we can share about this journey.   On the GlassPockets assessment there is an item called “knowledge centre” – which sounds a bit grand for us - but actually no matter what size we are, we have lessons and learnings to share.  So ticking off the knowledge centre box by sharing our learnings will probably be our next step.

What Philanthropy Can Learn from Open Government Data Efforts
July 5, 2018

Daniela Pineda, Ph.D., is vice president of integration and learning at First 5 LA, an independent public agency created by voters to advocate for programs and polices benefiting young children. A version of this post also appears in the GOVERNING blog.

Daniela Pineda Photo 2Statistics-packed spreadsheets and lengthy, jargon-filled reports can be enough to make anybody feel dizzy. It's natural. That makes it the responsibility for those of us involved in government and its related institutions to find more creative ways to share the breadth of information we have with those who can benefit from it.

Government agencies, foundations and nonprofits can find ways to make data, outcomes and reports more user-friendly and accessible. In meeting the goal of transparency, we must go beyond inviting people to wade through dense piles of data and instead make them feel welcome using it, so they gain insights and understanding.

How can this be done? We need to make our data less wonky, if you will.

This might sound silly, and being transparent might sound as easy as simply releasing documents. But while leaders of public agencies and officeholders are compelled to comply with requests under freedom-of-information and public-records laws, genuine transparency requires a commitment to making the information being shared easy to understand and useful.

“…genuine transparency requires a commitment to making the information being shared easy to understand and useful.”

Things to consider include how your intended audience prefers to access and consume information. For instance, there are generational differences in the accessing of information on tablets and mobile devices as opposed to traditional websites. Consider all the platforms your audience uses to view information, such as smartphone apps, news websites and social media platforms, to constantly evolve based on their feedback.

Spreadsheets just won't work here. You need to invest in data visualization techniques and content writing to explain data, no matter how it is accessed.

The second annual Equipt to Innovate survey, published by Governing in partnership with Living Cities, found several cities not only using data consistently to drive decision-making but also embracing ways to make data digestible for the publics they serve.

Los Angeles' DataLA portal, for example, offers more than 1,000 data sets for all to use along with trainings and tutorials on how to make charts, maps and other visualization. The portal's blog offers a robust discussion of the issues and challenges faced with using existing data to meet common requests. Louisville, Ky., went the proverbial extra mile, putting a lot of thought into what data would be of interest to residents and sharing the best examples of free online services that have been built using the metro government's open data.

Louisville's efforts point up the seemingly obvious but critical strategy of making sure you know what information your target audience actually needs. Have you asked? Perhaps not. The answers should guide you, but also remember to be flexible about what you are asking. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District is set to launch a new portal later this summer to provide parents with data, and is still learning how to supply information that parents find useful. District officials are listening to feedback throughout the process, and they are willing to adjust. One important strategy for this is to make your audience -- or a sampling of them -- part of your beta testing. Ask what information they found useful and what else would have been helpful.

“When you share, you are inviting others to engage with you about how to improve your work.”

Remember, the first time you allow a glimpse into your data and processes, it's inevitable your information will have gaps and kinks that you can't foresee. And if you are lucky to get feedback about what didn't work so well, it may even seem harsh. Don't take it personally. It's an opportunity to ask your audience what could be done better and commit to doing so. It may take weeks, months or maybe longer to package information for release, making it usable and accessible, but this is an investment worth making. You might miss the mark the first time, but make a commitment to keep trying.

And don't be daunted by the reality that anytime you share information you expose yourself to criticism. Sharing with the public that a project didn't meet expectations or failed completely is a challenge no matter how you look at it. But sharing, even when it is sharing your weaknesses, is a strength your organization can use to build its reputation and gain influence in the long term.

When you share, you are inviting others to engage with you about how to improve your work. You also are modeling the importance of being open about failure. This openness is what helps others feel like partners in the work, and they will feel more comfortable opening up about their own struggles. You might be surprised at who will reach out and what type of partnerships can come from sharing.

Through this process, you will build your reputation and credibility, helping your organization advance its goals. Ultimately, it's about helping those you serve by giving them the opportunity to help you.

--Daniela Pineda

Opening Up from the Inside to Engage Philanthropy in Race & Equity
June 28, 2018

6a00e54efc2f80883301b7c924e526970b-150wi 2Hanh Cao Yu is chief learning officer for The California Endowment. She started her career in philanthropy through The San Francisco Foundation’s Multicultural Fellowship program. In this post, she explores the significance of fellowships and other intentional foundation approaches, to creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive philanthropic sector.

At the age of 7, I remember the sheer terror of my family of five fleeing Vietnam to find political asylum. Branded “alien” and “outsider,” I found it hard to speak about the trauma of my experience as a refugee. Coming to America did not end the pain, violence, or oppression we endured.  In the “Land of Opportunity,” we experienced the vicissitudes of discrimination, poverty, unsafe neighborhoods, and sub-standard inner-city schools.  I remember the cramped living quarters of our one-bedroom apartment in South LA where gun shots and sirens erupted with regularity.  To survive and succeed, I worked hard to assimilate, to perfect my English, and to rarely speak of my early experience or native culture.  But all the while, I felt incomplete and a sense of disconnection from my community.

In graduate school, the carefully constructed walls separating my private and public selves began to crack open.  As I was considering a topic for my doctoral thesis, I finally chose to focus on the experiences of second wave Vietnamese immigrant students.  This not only informed educators on the lived experiences of the children of the “Boat People,” it also helped me to reflect on my own experience of navigating the distinct worlds of family, peers, and schools and the need to constantly “code switch” to fit in and succeed.

Looking for post-graduation opportunities, I never imagined a career in philanthropy.  However, I was intrigued by the goal of the Multicultural Fellowship at The San Francisco Foundation (TSFF) to introduce young professionals of color to institutional philanthropy and to increase the pipeline of leaders of color interested in making a difference in their communities through positions in philanthropy, the nonprofit, public, and private sectors.  

“Transparency is often thought of in institutional contexts, but here I am also reflecting on how philanthropy can be improved if more of us “outsiders” who find a seat at the philanthropy table can share the power of our personal stories to influence, inform, and ultimately, to humanize the work.”

As a fellow, I was introduced to what it meant to have access to power and wealth.  I sat in board of trustee meetings and supported the development and implementation of multi-funder initiatives.  This program gave me keen insights into the inner workings of foundations and the role of philanthropy.  It taught me humility as a steward of charitable resources.  More than anything, the fellowship gave me poise and fearlessness to open up for the first time to share my intensely personal history because I realized my new colleagues could learn about the historically excluded communities they were serving through my experiences.  Transparency is often thought of in institutional contexts, but here I am also reflecting on how philanthropy can be improved if more of us “outsiders” who find a seat at the philanthropy table can share the power of our personal stories to influence, inform, and ultimately, to humanize the work.

I was encouraged to explore why community-led solutions mattered to me.  Countering the dominant behavioral expectations around race, class, and culture, this fellowship provided a nurturing, supportive environment.  I thrived under the tutelage of a powerful, Black-Filipino female mentor and the support of a peer cohort of accomplished women of color. 

I re-entered philanthropy two decades later to fulfill the promise and a great debt of gratitude for the TSFF Fellowship.  Joining The California Endowment (TCE) allowed me the opportunity to serve as a member of the executive team and to contribute to one of the most racially diverse foundations in the U.S.  Through strategic recruiting efforts, TCE has intentionally established a deep and strong pipeline of diverse staff and leaders—supporting and drawing from high-quality fellowship programs such as TSFF Multicultural Fellowship, Greenlining Equity Fellowship, and National Urban Institute Fellowship.

At TCE, we push ourselves, as grantmakers and change leaders, to learn and adapt to the shifting socio-political environment to create an equity-focused organization and improve our work as a result of having a number of staff who are representative of the diverse communities we serve.  This entails:

  • Creating the space and time for healing and difficult internal conversations on race: Although TCE is renowned for its work to advance health equity and social justice, our staff continues to ensure we take the time to openly discuss the effects of current events on our well-being, and build an “authorizing environment” to support a shared understanding and analysis of racial equity to inform our work with communities. 
  • Using the foundation’s platform to influence and collaborate: TCE staff is engaged from the inside to transform philanthropic practice and to have difficult internal conversations about our role as a health foundation in taking a stance against state sanctioned violence and exclusionary practices.  Most recently, our President & CEO used his voice and TCE joined forces with numerous foundations and advocates and grantee partners in a joint statement to express outrage at the policy of separating children from families at the border and how this affects TCE’s mission and our work as a foundation. And earlier this year, following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, given the implications to public health, our Board committed to scrubbing our stock holdings of any investments in gun manufacturing.
  • Ensuring that power is built and sustained in marginalized communities. In the long-run, TCE has identified our North Star as “Building voice and power for a health and inclusive California.”  Our work is not done until historically excluded adults and youth residents have voice, agency and power in public and private decision making to create an inclusive democracy and close health equity gaps, so we prioritize supporting youth movements and governing for racial equity. 

By all measures, the work of TCE is better and more attuned to communities because the foundation opened up its work to those who have traditionally been on the outside of philanthropy.  As the first Vietnamese Chief Learning Officer, I am proud of my branded outsider, refugee status. This gives me the strength, inspiration, and empathy to do my best work in philanthropy and to re-envision the land of opportunity for my community and all Californians.

--Hanh Cao Yu

An Interview with Lateefah Simon, President, Akonadi Foundation…On the Power of Openness, Listening, and Connecting to Improve Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion
June 21, 2018

Leteefah SimonLateefah Simon is a nationally recognized advocate for civil rights and racial justice, and brings more than 20 years of executive experience in advancing opportunities for communities of color and low-income communities in the Bay Area. Prior to joining Akonadi, which seeks to eliminate structural racism that leads to inequity in the United States, Simon served as program director for the San Francisco-based Rosenberg Foundation, a statewide grantmaker focusing on systemic barriers to full access to equity and opportunity for Californians. She managed the Foundation’s portfolio of grants supporting groundbreaking advocacy in criminal justice reform, immigrant rights, low-wage workers’ rights, and civic engagement.

Before joining Rosenberg, Simon was executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, where she revamped the 40-year-old organization’s structure and launched successful community-based initiatives, including the Second Chance Legal Services Clinic. Her passion for supporting low-income young women and girls, and her advocacy for juvenile and criminal justice reform began at San Francisco’s Center for Young Women’s Development (CYWD), now called the Young Women’s Freedom Center. Simon became executive director of that grassroots organization, run for and by young women who come through and are affected by these systems, at age 19; she remained in that role for 11 years.

In January, our PhilanTopic colleagues interviewed Simons to discuss her work on racial equity in this 5Qs post. Recently, Glasspockets caught up with Simons for a follow-up interview about her career arc from grassroots activist to foundation leader, her observations about how openness can help to mitigate the grantee/grantmaker power imbalance, and how her current grantmaking practices are informed by important lessons she learned about philanthropy, equity, diversity, and inclusion from the other side of the grantmaking table. 

GlassPockets: As the field of philanthropy is turning its attention to racial equity, I think there is a lot we might be able to learn from your story of how you started out in philanthropy when you led a small, grassroots organization, knowing no one in the field, and now have navigated your career to becoming a philanthropy insider. Can you start by describing your career path, the challenges you faced as a young woman of color, and how you broke into philanthropy? What were some of the key breakthroughs for you that made it possible?

Lateefah Simon: I started my career in the in the 1990’s - in the midst of the AIDS crisis, the war on drugs and the out migration and displacement of black people. Sill in high school, I began working as an organizer at the Young Women’s Freedom Center in San Francisco. The girl-led organization was founded to build advocacy and power with systems involving young women through political education, organizing, and building economic stability.

“I remember thinking, 'If I’m ever a funder, I am going to listen.'”

Three years after joining the organization, I became its executive director. I was a single mother, living in low-income housing – but, despite these struggles, I was an excellent organizer. As a young executive director of color, I faced daily challenges in engaging with folks in philanthropy because I was not part of their usual networks.  One encounter during these early days still haunts me. It was 1998, and we’d just launched a political education program in juvenile hall and in SRO hotels. We were building a membership base to mount a campaign to oust the homophobic ombudsman at the detention center. A program officer from a well-known advocacy funder came to visit and learn more about our work.  We’d assembled about 15 staff and organization members - all homeless and system-involved girls. Rather than trying to understand our programmatic approach, she immediately dismissed the work as not aligned with the foundation’s definition of organizing, in effect telling us “we were not organizing.” It was at that moment that I realized that the power dynamics of race and class manifested in the funder and organizer relationship, even among well intentioned funders, were dangerous. She came into a space run by, and for, women of color and told us what she thought was best for our community. She set up the dynamic: We couldn’t engage in honest conversations, we couldn’t push back, and if we wanted resources from her group, we’d have to fall in line. I felt so clear at that moment about the purpose of our work with these young women, and I remember thinking, “If I’m ever a funder, I am going to listen.”

Another challenging instance I remember is that I had to fill out a diversity report about our organization for a foundation that had no people of color on its leadership team and might have benefited more from the exercise than we did. We had to report statistics such as how many people of color and how many women we had on staff and were serving through our programs. We had to comply with the data points to get the funding that we needed. I remember thinking about the contradiction inherent to a process like this one in which the funders themselves didn’t have to disclose their own diversity data. That’s why the fact that GlassPockets encourages foundations to publicly share their own diversity data as part of their commitment to transparency is so important. I think foundations have more to learn than community-based groups from such an exercise.

In contrast, one of the first funders to believe in me was Quinn Delaney, founder of the Akonadi Foundation. She and an advisor came to a site visit and took the time to listen to me for two hours, using it as an opportunity to learn rather than demonstrate what she already knew. She listened, asked questions, believed in us, and supported us. Another transformational experience was when I was newly hired at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. I was pitching funders about our work, and I was lucky enough to land a meeting with Dr. Ross, CEO of The California Endowment. He was one of the most gracious people I’ve ever met. I told him what we were doing and he declined our programmatic grant request. But he also said, “I believe in you, so I’m going to give you some money. It’s important that we invest in young people of color.” He invested in me as a leader, and in so doing, demonstrated to me the importance of foundations having flexibility even when programs don’t align.

Maya Harris, when she was at the Ford Foundation, is another positive example of a funder who worked to make philanthropy more inclusive by making time to provide one-on-one assistance. Instead of saying “no” to my grant application, she actually personally called to walk me through the grant application step-by-step, and told me what I needed to correct about the proposal to make it stronger.

Those individuals continue to be mentors in my life to this day, and they’ve worked like that with scores of young people. Building strong relationships between grantees and grantseekers is invaluable. These types of investments of time and resources and mentorship are vital to building mutual trust for real social change to occur.

GP: How do those breaks you received inform how you now structure your own grantmaking policies and procedures to ensure those not connected and well-resourced have a chance?

LS: In philanthropy, we should look at prospective grantees as our educators. I’ve been in philanthropy for seven years, and I’m very clear about what I don’t know. It is a privilege to be in this sector, and important to approach the work as a student, not an expert, and ask the questions without having the answers. We are students of the movements that we seek to support. Now, being in the sector, I’d like to be the kind of professional funder who continues to “do the least harm and do the most good.”

“We are students of the movements that we seek to support.”

I always tell my staff that you should be working the hardest that you’ve ever worked. And they are. Our Akonadi team continues to work hard at creating intentionality in our grantmaking by taking the time to answer the phone and respond to grantees, to walk people through the application process, and to answer questions. We do public information sessions in communities that may not have heard of Akonadi and wouldn’t know how to apply for a grant. We attend grantee community events and plan learning convenings to engage our community of grantees to find out how we can sharpen our process. It’s a privilege to support groups that are doing the most difficult work on the front lines, fighting racism and oppression, particularly in the current political environment in which so many of the communities we serve are under attack. The bottom line is that we try to hold a high standard of excellence while also making the process accessible and making ourselves as available as possible.

GP: As more industry conferences and foundation portfolios are focusing on racial equity, what advice would you give them on practices that can help the field improve its record and better serve and reflect its communities?

LS: Through our Beloved Community Fund, we supported an annual event at Oakland’s Lake Merritt called 510Day, which is organized by youth in the community to bring to light issues like gentrification, over-policing and mass incarceration. 510 Day happened on the heels of #BBQBecky, the story that went viral about the white woman who called the cops on black folks having a barbecue at Lake Merritt in Oakland. The event gained national attention because of the community response to the incident, and put a spotlight on the economic pressures that communities of color are facing in the city. I spoke to a young man at the event, and he said, “If you’re a police officer or a firefighter, you get a four-gun salute when you die. We, the community, are out here organizing and doing the work on the streets. We are the first responders in our neighborhoods to crime and violence.”

“We have to find ways to connect with those groups who are not on 'the radar,' but are doing the heavy work of healing and organizing communities that are hit hardest by racism and oppression.”

I sat with that as a funder. There is a heavy weight on us in philanthropy. We have to stay aware of what’s happening in our communities, and what’s happening at the margins of those communities that we serve. We have to find ways to connect with those groups who are not on “the radar,” but are doing the heavy work of healing and organizing communities that are hit hardest by racism and oppression. That means getting out of our offices and into the streets. Not just carrying protest signs and bullhorns, but to set up and clean up after rallies, and to show up for the movement and get involved, to meet and learn from the people who are most affected. Additionally, when thinking about equity, it’s important that foundations realize that we shouldn’t talk about equity without being explicit about advancing racial equity. That means addressing and fighting racism on every level from the ground up.  At the same time, we have to continually think about how to do the most good and the least harm.

In a perfect world, philanthropy would be focused on working ourselves out of business. What would it be like if real money was re-invested in struggling communities so folks would not get pushed out and our communities lived up to the promise of possibility? Philanthropy is filling gaps around the world that are extremely important. We can’t wait for government to catch up, or fill gaps left by cuts in government support. But we have to think very carefully about power and who gets to distribute resources, or we are part of the problem.

GP: Since you have worked on both sides of the philanthropic table, what advice would you give to grantseekers and grantmakers about strengthening their relationship, particularly in ways that can mitigate the power dynamic and pave the way for racial equity, diversity, and inclusion?

LS: It’s hard being a funder and being asked this question. Every foundation is different, and every leader is different. My advice to grantseekers would be: Don’t compromise your vision and values for resources. Stay true to your vision, and follow that. I know this is a struggle because I’ve been there and know that often you don’t have that luxury because you have to make payroll and launch a campaign. But as much as possible, stay true to the work and the people.

And, in a perfect world, grantseekers could speak to their funding partners with complete honesty and integrity and wouldn’t have to fold or bend their ideas. I wish I could go to a site visit and have an honest conversation about what’s not working. We know how amazing people are, and the incredible work they are doing, wouldn’t it be powerful to engage in a conversation about what would make things better? That should go for funders too. Find ways to hold funders more accountable. This is so tricky because of the power dynamics, but there are tools, like GrantAdvisor, where grantseekers can review foundations and provide information about the process and what the experience applying for funding is truly like.

Also, neither side should consider a decline letter as the end of the story. Instead, grantseekers should use declines as an opportunity to engage funders and learn about ways to strengthen your application. These kinds of conversations allow the program officer to explain why they chose to decline the request, whether it is worth your time to re-apply at a later date, and how you can write a stronger proposal. And funders should be willing to engage in such conversations and use them as a tool for learning as well, because these post-proposal dialogues can also be a time to get feedback from grantees on your process as well, so both of you can learn from the experience.

Akonadi FoundationGP: Since Akonadi has been doing racial equity work for nearly 20 years, and you are now two years into your administration there, what new directions are ahead for it under your leadership? Are there changes you have already made because of your experience being a grantee, nonprofit executive director, or philanthropy outsider?

LS: I came into a foundation where the principles of racial equity were built into the brick and mortar of this institution. I don’t know if everyone comes into a foundation like that. We deeply value building relationships with our grantees, and think of ourselves as partners in the work. As funders, we try to be thoughtful about the demands that we place on our grantees, and are available for them to provide feedback, answer questions, or just be here as thought partners. Our staff actively engages with our grant partners, out in the field at events, or through convenings. I was lucky I landed in a foundation that mirrors my values and pushes me to think about the sector and our work even more.

Since I have come to Akonadi, I am actively thinking through what power building looks like in the context of the work that is happening here in Oakland. We’ve seen in philanthropy that a lot of funders are cautious and stay away from electoral work. This year, we are leaning in around integrated voter engagement, and are confident in the leadership of our grant partners to find ways to build power and make sure Oakland is engaging fully in the work to bring voters to the table to build political power. Additionally, we are thinking about the best ways that Akonadi can support cohorts of organizations to work and learn together. We are learning important lessons around how to engage our grant partners in collective learning, and we are actively trying to understand the best use of our positioning as a funder and what our role is in bringing folks together in a way that is not burdensome, and leads to shared momentum.

Nominations for Foundation Center’s #OpenForGood Award Now Open
June 13, 2018

Sarina Dayal is the knowledge services associate at Foundation Center.

Sarina DayalTo encourage funders to be more transparent, Foundation Center has launched the inaugural #OpenForGood Award. This award will recognize foundations that display a strong commitment to transparency and knowledge sharing.

Last year, we started #OpenForGood, a campaign to encourage foundations to openly share what they learn so we can all get collectively smarter. Now, we’re launching this award as a way to bring due recognition and visibility to foundations who share challenges, successes, and failures openly to strengthen how we can think and act as a sector. The winning foundations will demonstrate an active commitment to open knowledge and share their evaluations through IssueLab, an open repository that is free, searchable, and accessible to all. We’re looking for the best examples of smart, creative, strategic, and consistent knowledge sharing in the field, across all geographic and issue contexts.

What’s In It for You?

Winners will receive technical support to create a custom Knowledge Center for their foundation or for a grantee organization, as well as promotional support in the form of social media and newsletter space. What is a Knowledge Center and why would you want one? It is a service of IssueLab that provides organizations with a simple way to manage and share knowledge on their own websites. By leveraging this tool, you can showcase your insight, promote analysis on your grantees, and feature learnings from network members. All documents that are uploaded to an IssueLab Knowledge Center are also made searchable and discoverable via systems like WorldCat, which serves more than 2,000 libraries worldwide, ensuring your knowledge can be found by researchers, regardless of their familiarity with your organization.

Why Choose Openness?

OFGaward-528The #OpenForGood award is focused on inspiring foundations to use existing and emerging technologies to collectively improve the sector. Today, we live in a time when most expect to find the information they need on the go, via tablets, laptops, and mobile phones, just a swipe or click away. Despite this digital era reality, today only 13 percent of foundations have websites, and even fewer share their reports publicly, indicating that the field has a long way to go to create a culture of shared learning. With this award, we hope to change these practices. Rather than reinvent the wheel, this award and campaign encourage the sector to make it a priority to learn from one another and share content with a global audience, so that we can build smartly on one another’s work and accelerate the change we want to see in the world. The more you share your foundation's work, the greater the opportunities to make all our efforts more effective and farther reaching.

Who Is Eligible for the Award?

  • Any foundation anywhere in the world (self-nominations welcome)
  • Must share its collection of published evaluations publicly through IssueLab
  • Must demonstrate active commitment to open knowledge
  • Preferential characteristics include foundations that integrate creativity, field leadership, openness, and community insight into knowledge sharing work
  • Bonus points for use of other open knowledge elements such as open licensing, digital object identifiers (DOIs), or institutional repository

Anyone is welcome to nominate any foundation through September 30, 2018. Winners will be selected in the Fall through a review process and notified in January. The award will officially be presented at next year’s annual GEO Conference. If you have any questions, please email openforgood@foundationcenter.org. Click here to nominate a foundation today!

Who will you nominate as being #OpenForGood?

--Sarina Dayal

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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.

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

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