Transparency Talk

Category: "Fund for Shared Insight 2015 Grantee" (7 posts)

Transparency Chat: CEP On Sharing What Matters
March 2, 2016

CEP_Ellie-ButeauEllie Buteau, Ph.D., is the vice president of research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), which 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. Transparency Talk is featuring grantees in the FSI openness portfolio. Janet Camarena, Foundation Center’s director of transparency, and Ms. Buteau discussed the findings of CEP's new report, "Sharing What Matters: Foundation Transparency."

Janet Camarena:  I'm going to start with what jumped out at me as surprising. The report lists time and inconsistencies across staff members as the most common barriers to greater foundation transparency.  Only 6% responded to your survey that a lack of commitment to transparency was a barrier and a full 24% responded that there was nothing specific that limited their foundation's transparency. Could this be because those surveyed are already predisposed to pushing the effectiveness envelope? Can you talk a little bit about the survey sample and how representative it might be? 

Ellie Buteau:  Yes, definitely. Response bias is always a top-of-mind question when we conduct a survey. The main bias we wondered about for this study was whether or not foundations that are already working on, and care about, transparency were more likely to respond. Unfortunately, we have no way of reliably measuring that. We did have data about a few other variables that were important to compare, including assets, giving, geographic location, etc. The main difference we saw was that foundations that have used one of CEP’s assessments (such as our Grantee Perception Report) in the past were more likely to respond to the survey. This is something we find in most of our survey samples. It doesn’t mean that foundations that haven’t used our assessments aren’t responding, but they are doing so at a lower rate. It could indicate, though, that foundations interested in gathering feedback on their performance were more likely to respond. We have more information about what we tested for response bias on page 45 of the report. 

JC:  I found it a little troubling that only 45% of CEOs of independent foundations view the general public as a relevant stakeholder group for their transparency efforts, yet the premise of philanthropy is that it is dedicated to serving the public good.  Did you also find this surprising? And any thoughts on the disconnect there?  

CEP_Foundation-Transparency_coverEB:  I did not find that surprising, and I’m not sure our data indicates that there is a disconnect between how foundations are thinking about certain aspects of transparency and serving the public good. If foundations are focused on being open with the nonprofits they fund and the nonprofits that may want funding from them in the future, that does seem like a pretty direct connection to serving the public good. After all, those are the organizations through which foundations are able to serve the public.

I think sometimes conversations about transparency suggest foundations should make sure they are sharing information with anyone and everyone. But that doesn’t seem like the most effective or efficient use of foundation resources. If people want to know what foundations are up to, most of the foundations of the size included in our study have websites or publicly available annual reports. Where I see real opportunity for foundations to do more is in sharing information about what does and doesn’t work in addressing the tough challenges they’re working to address. While that information itself may not be of interest to the general public, it can be applied in ways that benefit the general public.

JC:  Since the report points out that the philanthropy field is weak when it comes to sharing lessons learned and assessments of foundation performance, and since it also correlates stronger grantee-grantmaker relationships among foundations who have a tendency to be more transparent, will you be advocating that those who use your Grantee Perception Reports and other survey products share them?    Why or why not?

EB:  It’s up to foundations that use our Grantee Perception Report to decide whether to share their results publicly. Many, in fact, do, and almost all at least share a summary of what they learned. You can find on our website a list of those foundations that have made their GPRs public (scroll down on this page). I think it’s great when foundations are open in this way. But I don’t think that a foundation publicly sharing its GPR results is necessarily indicative of it doing more to respond to feedback or having strong relationships with its grantees.

JC:  Of the websites you examined, only 5% shared any information about lessons learned when things didn't go as planned.  Often this is because grantmakers fear harming the reputation of grantees or casting their work in a negative light.  Can you talk about how those grantmakers that were opening up this side of the work tackled that issue.

EB:  In the report, we share some examples of foundations being open about when things didn’t pan out as hoped. Those foundations do not name names of specific grantee organizations or tie results back to any individual organization. They seemed to share their lessons in a more general way, but still communicated enough specificity that others could learn from their experiences. I think their examples show that it’s possible to strike this balance.


JC:
 One of the struggles with the field and transparency is, of course, that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, once you start looking under the hood of foundation websites, patterns of emerging and best practices often surface.  Can you point to one or two transparency examples you uncovered that you wish others in the field would emulate?

EB:  Here is where we had a finding that did surprise me. I thought that perhaps the more information foundations shared on their websites, the more transparent they’d be seen to be by grantees. It turned out that was not borne out in the data. I think this is really important to consider: that the amount of information shared isn’t directly tied to perceptions of transparency. In my own experience, that makes sense. Sometimes, even when I know that a foundation has shared information about what it’s learned, I’ve had difficulty figuring out where to find that on a foundation’s website because there is so much other information on the site. I think what I’d suggest is that a focus be on how their websites can most effectively be used as a tool for sharing information that matters.  

 JC:  The last time CEP issued a report on transparency, it led to changes in the kinds of questions you include in your Grantee Perception Survey, which now includes questions specific to assessing perceptions about foundation transparency.  How will what you learned from this report impact your own work in the future? 

EB:  This research has given us a better understanding of how foundation CEOs, themselves, are thinking about transparency. It turns out there is a lot of agreement about what transparency means, so this research really validates the importance of the questions we added to our grantee survey a few years back. Transparency, especially about the substance of foundations’ work, is considered crucial by both grantees and foundation CEOs. Foundations and grantees are more aligned than they may realize when it comes to the information they think is important for foundations to share. Now it’s about foundations implementing — and really doing it well. Our research suggests they are doing well in some areas but not in others. We will build off of the findings in this study as we continue our research on other related topics. For example, we recently fielded a survey on evaluation practices at foundations, in partnership with the Center for Evaluation Innovation, and are seeing findings in that study that further build upon what we published in this report.

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

Transparency Chat: Creative Commons Helps to Scale Social Sector Knowledge Building
March 3, 2015

(Timothy Vollmer is the public policy manager at Creative Commons, 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 Timothy about the work this grant will fund.)

Tvol headshotJanet 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? 

Timothy Vollmer: We’re excited to work with foundations to adopt open licensing policies for their grant-funded content, and even homegrown works.  I think that increased openness can promote foundation effectiveness in different ways. First, by adopting open licensing policies on the outputs of the grants they are giving out, foundations set up the conditions to maximize the impact of their giving. By adopting open licensing policies for the digital outputs of their grantees—this could include reports, original research, educational courses, data, and other sorts of content—foundations are lowering the barriers to re-use of their grant-funded content. This is not a trivial change. Typically when grantees receive funds from a foundation to create something, the grantee is not required to share those materials. Instead, they  remain under “all rights reserved” copyright, and any third party who wants to take advantage of them for use in their own work needs to ask permission from the grantee in order to do so. Under open licensing, permission is granted in advance, allowing re-use for any reason as long as a minimal set of license conditions are met—for example attribution to the author. When open licensing policies are in place, grant-funded content can be more widely distributed and used in new ways. By requiring that foundation grantees contribute grant-funded materials to the commons, it can open doors that would have normally been closed. Grantees can access and use works produced by other grantees, and incorporate already openly licensed works into their own creations to make them better. Open licensing indicates, “I’m open for collaboration.”

By adopting a policy whereby the foundation works more in the open—and provides reports, grant databases, and other materials under open licenses—the philanthropic community can become better coordinated because they’re able to understand what’s being funded and where investment needs to be made.

Second, foundations themselves can begin to share more both within and between themselves. By adopting a policy whereby the foundation works more in the open—and provides reports, grant databases, and other materials under open licenses—the philanthropic community can become better coordinated because they’re able to understand what’s being funded and where investment needs to be made.

JC: Your specific funded project is to create resources and tools to help foundations adopt open licensing policies to enable increased sharing of grantee-produced materials. 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?

TV: Our efforts will be two-fold: First, we will develop a foundation-focused website for open licensing and policy information, likely to be dedicated to the open licensing needs of foundation staff and grantees. It’s important to have a set of easy to understand resources for foundations that are looking to adopt open licensing policies. The website will host various types of resources, with a specific focus for foundation staff and foundation grantees. Such things might include licensing how-to guides, best practices for marking/attribution, explanations of the benefits of open licensing, case studies of existing foundation open policies, and a database of intellectual property policy texts from existing foundation practice.

Second, we will conduct outreach to new foundations about open policy and provide open licensing adoption and support. We think that a hands-on approach is desired in order to help foundations effectively implement an open licensing policy and support grantee compliance with the foundation’s openness goals. We plan to offer support services to all relevant foundation staff to ensure a successful adoption of open policies within the foundation. Such things could include legal support with foundation general counsel or legal staff on policy text drafting/adoption on all appropriate grantee documents, technical assistance for foundation web developers or grantees in order to license and mark works correctly, communications and promotional outreach to ensure accurate presentation of open policy details, and strategic discussion with foundation program officers and leadership team regarding how to work with grantees on understanding and complying with the open licensing policies. 

By adopting open licensing policies on the outputs of the grants they are giving out, foundations set up the conditions to maximize the impact of their giving.

JC: Your work centers on creative licensing and sharing; Creative Commons must see a great deal of compelling content all the time. With the implementation of the FSI grant, what sorts of contributions to the social sector do you anticipate from grantees? Are there any specific projects you’ve seen in the past that, because they previously could not be shared with the sector at large, would bring about more innovation and change?

TV: With open licensing policies, there’s massive potential to scale the creative reuse of content. We shouldn’t overlook how inefficient the current system is. This is true even more so in the public sector, where billions of dollars of taxpayer funded materials are not realizing their full potential because those grant recipients are not required to share their creations with the public that paid for them. What if we were able to flip the default from “closed” to “open”? One project we’ve been working on is helping grantees of the Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program (yes, it’s a mouthful). The program funds community colleges to create course content for worker retraining. The innovation in this $2 billion federal grant is that the outputs of grantees must be shared online and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license for reuse by anyone, even for commercial purposes. The Department says it want “to ensure that the Federal investment of these funds has as broad an impact as possible and to encourage innovation in the development of new learning materials.” It’s still too early to see how all this content is being used and reused because it’s currently in development, but imagine the possibilities with a huge repository of openly licensed publicly funded educational resources.

Cc logoAnother thing that open licensing enables is reuse of materials in novel, unexpected ways contemplated by the original author. Take for example the PubMed Central CC BY article repository, an open access repository of scientific articles. A small group of Wikipedians developed the Open Access Media Importer, which scrapes PubMed Central CC BY-licensed articles and uploads the audio and video materials (almost 19,000 files thus far) to Wikimedia Commons so that those resources can be reused within Wikipedia articles. The reason this content can be used on Wikipedia is because it is licensed under a liberal license such as CC BY.

JC: Foundations and their grantees are sometimes reluctant to embrace open licensing because they support or manage projects that develop revenue streams for their organizations, and perceive open licensing to mean free.  Can you explain briefly what you mean by open licensing and whether it only encompasses free content?

TV: It’s true that some foundations support projects and ventures that are trying to make money, but I wouldn’t assume that the majority of them operate in this way. When we talk with foundations and other institutions contemplating adopting an open licensing policy, we urge them to match their policy with the overarching goals and missions of the foundation. For many types of foundations funding content like scientific research, educational resources, datasets, and the like—it makes a lot of sense to try to adopt the most liberal policy possible so that the materials have the best chance to be broadly reused and the impact of the foundation funding will be maximized. And foundations are in an optimal position to do this! We’ve already seen the most progressive policy for the funding of scientific research coming out of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which will require CC BY for all articles created with foundation funds.

Of course, for some types of foundation funding, open licensing doesn’t make sense—for example for general operating support or for the funding of salaries. And it should also be noted that foundation that have already passed policies setting CC BY as the default for the outputs of grantees also have written in a safety valve for releasing under a different license. For example, both the Hewlett and Ford Foundation policies say they will entertain exceptions/opt-outs if the grantee can make the case that CC BY doesn’t make sense or can’t be used for a particular publication or educational resource. This seems reasonable, especially as open licensing can be a new or confusing concept to grantees and foundation staff, at least initially.

For many types of foundations funding content like scientific research, educational resources, datasets, and the like—it makes a lot of sense to try to adopt the most liberal policy possible so that the materials have the best chance to be broadly reused and the impact of the foundation funding will be maximized. And foundations are in an optimal position to do this!

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?

TV: First, open licensing is a somewhat new topic for most of the philanthropic world. CC licenses are only 12 years old, and only recently have they been incorporated into the publishing workflows of foundation grants and foundation-created materials. And of course, most program officers at foundations have decent-sized portfolios of projects, and a lot to do! I think most program officers, legal staff, and even foundation leadership would be completely on board with open licensing policies if it could help them achieve their goals and increase the impact of the philanthropic grant making. Of course, anytime you ask them to add on even one more thing to their workload, it can be a big deal. So partly, asking foundations to change how they work is a matter of internal capacity to do so.

But it also has to do with education, and it’s incumbent upon Creative Commons and the “open” community to demonstrate the benefits of open licensing and make its adoption and  implementation as easy as possible. That’s why we want to use the support of this Fund for Shared Insight grantt to develop easy to understand open licensing guides, marking best practices, and useful policy language, and also to provide legal and technical assistance directly to foundations.

The ball is already rolling with foundation open licensing. Just in the last year we’ve seen announcements of new or expanded open policy adoptions at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. Let’s keep it up!

--Timothy Vollmer

Transparency Chat: IssueLab Boosts Foundation Effectiveness through Knowledge Sharing
February 25, 2015

(Gabriela Fitz is the director of knowledge management initiatives at IssueLab, a service of Foundation Center, 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 Gabriela about the work this grant will fund.)

GfitzJanet 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 knowledge sharing and greater foundation effectiveness, and what have you learned about this from your prior work?

Gabriela Fitz: Thanks. We’re really grateful for the chance to focus some of our time and energy on this effort!

The relationship between knowledge sharing and effectiveness is a really basic one. It’s about our ability to learn from our collective experiences and to build on and improve the work we do as a sector. Foundations have helped to create one of the largest examples of collective insight and intelligence that exists: the thousands upon thousands of evaluations and case studies produced by nonprofit organizations on the front lines of service.

The more willing and able foundations are to share this knowledge, the better able we all are to design and deliver services that make a difference in people’s lives. One of the biggest assets foundations have is the knowledge they fund and produce. When they are intentional about sharing that knowledge as a public good, we all benefit.

One of the biggest assets foundations have is the knowledge they fund and produce. When they are intentional about sharing that knowledge as a public good, we all benefit.

JC:  Your specific funded project aims to enable greater openness and broader sharing of knowledge produced and funded by foundations. 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?

GF: That’s right. Our project focuses on educating foundations about what we call “open publishing”, and supporting their efforts to adopt practices that better align with the very reasons they fund and publish research in the first place. Our project will focus on helping foundations of all sizes to overcome their own obstacles to greater openness, whether those obstacles are technical, legal, or cultural.

The project will combine technical elements of a social sector publishing system, such as the roll out of IssueLab’s DOI (digital object identifiers) service, which helps organizations better track readership, and the possible adoption and adaptation of a shared data vocabulary called schema, which makes it easier for search engines and repositories to find social sector research. At the same time we will be providing foundations with some of the behavioral and logistical support they might need to open up, including: the drafting of sample grant agreements that encourage open licensing (work which will be done in partnership with our fellow grantees at creative commons); and the forming of a working group of foundation professionals that can help shape these new approaches and shared practices, while also serving as potential models for what it means - and why it matters - to open up.

IssuelablogoThere are definitely opportunities for Transparency Talk’s audience to participate! We would love it. We are very much at a moment where we are all trying to figure this out, together. So we need this to be a bigger conversation, where we hear from folks about what holds them back and/or what motivates and inspires them to adopt more open publishing practices. Transparency Talk could certainly help us capture this conversation but also help us to share what we are learning along the way!

JC: What sort of technological and educational services will you implement with your FSI grant? How will they widen Issuelab’s reach? Finally, how will they expand your transparency efforts?

GF: I already talked a little about the technological and educational elements of the grant but I want to emphasize how truly committed we are to walking the talk of knowledge sharing. We will be sharing our own lessons learned throughout the two-year grant and will develop educational materials based on what we hear and learn from foundations in this first year.  This grant will be a great chance for us, as a service of  Foundation Center, to be as transparent as we can be about what we are learning, what’s working, and what’s not. We want to be as transparent as we are asking others to be.

We certainly hope that the hands-on work we will be doing in supporting foundations, the writing we will be doing about this effort, and the joint efforts of the working group, will build greater awareness about IssueLab’s service and the importance of open repositories in the sector. But we also hope that it will build greater awareness about IssueLab as a project that really belongs to the sector and which represents our collective intelligence and efforts.

JC: This may be the first time many in our audience are reading about Schema.org and digital object identifiers (DOIs).  Can you tell us a little bit more about them and why they are important to grantmakers?

GF: Sure. Both DOIs and Schema.org are “technical” solutions that are already being broadly used on the Web and which we believe foundations and nonprofits could really benefit from using.

You may not have heard of DOIs but there are hundreds of millions of them in existence today. In fact, it’s next to impossible to find a published article in a peer-reviewed journal that doesn't have a DOI. They provide a way to start moving toward more accurate knowledge management and knowledge sharing metrics by attaching a permanent, unique identifier to a resource that serves as a persistent and singular link. Essentially a DOI acts as a permanent tracking device when attached to objects—documents, web pages, videos, and other online resources—providing a direct link to details about, and access to, the object itself. 

The relationship between knowledge sharing and effectiveness is a really basic one. It’s about our ability to learn from our collective experiences and to build on and improve the work we do as a sector.

Here's an example of how a DOI can be useful. Right now anyone who wants to know how often a report is being viewed or downloaded has to cobble together analytics from every website where that document might be housed; which in the case of a report produced by four or five organizations … and funded by multiple organizations.... Well you get the point: there are a lot of analytics to synthesize. To help the sector benefit from DOIs, starting this Spring IssueLab will begin issuing DOIs for free to any social sector organization that shares its work through IssueLab.

Schema.org is also a widely mechanism that carries great potential for changing the “findability” of research and other resources online. Co-created by Google, Yahoo, Bing!, and Yandex in 2011, Schema.org is essentially a data vocabulary with the primary purpose of better describing all manner of Things on the Internet. We already see it at work when we do a search in Google and detailed search results, extracted from websites themselves, shows up in the right hand sidebar. We want to make sure that social sector resources don’t get left out of this content stream! All it takes to use Schema.org is adding a bit of familiar looking HTML code to the usual code we already include in our Web pages. Doing so can turn a Web page that could only be understood by search technologies in literal terms into, essentially, a database that search engines can mine for semantic meaning. One of the questions our working group will be grappling with is whether we want to augment this vocabulary a bit (like others in the educational sector have done) so that social sector resources carry additional, sector-specific information.

JC:  Given your work on this project is focused on openness, will there be any public-facing elements to it that has the opportunity to reach or include a broad audience of grantmakers or other influencers outside of your networks?

GF: Yes, for sure! We will be writing for blogs and other online venues (hopefully including this one if you’ll have us!) throughout the process. We will be welcoming committed individuals to participate in our working group. And we welcome anyone who is interested in helping their organization to publish and share its research and knowledge more openly to get in touch with us right away. We are eager to work with foundations that want to adopt more open publishing practices, regardless of their size, technical ability, or current level of openness. And of course we welcome any and all grantmakers to freely share their work through IssueLab!

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?

There is no one right way to do openness nor is there one right place to start. Building an infrastructure for openness will require that foundations are active at many points in the same system and in ways that best fit their organizational culture and capacity.

GF: There are several ways in which we plan to address this risk. The first and most important is to allow foundations flexibility, giving them options for how and to what extent they adopt new practices. There is no one right way to do openness nor is there one right place to start. Building an infrastructure for openness will require that foundations are active at many points in the same system and in ways that best fit their organizational culture and capacity. For instance a smaller foundation may adopt a change to its grant agreements whereas a larger and more tech savvy organization would also adopt the use of DOIs.

It is equally important that the solutions and recommendations we are offering can co-exist or be integrated with related initiatives which foundations may have already invested in, e.g. the development of a custom e-library or the funding of a field specific information portal. In order for foundations to adopt shared practices that can benefit us all, these practices also have to work for their own organizations.

When it comes to the topic of knowledge sharing I think it’s too easy to push it to the bottom of the list of priorities. It just doesn’t seem so urgent. But the consequences of our current behaviors are real. Despite our best intentions, the program officer who is considering new areas for investment still can’t do a quick search on what’s already been learned about an issue, problem, or attempted solution. The nonprofit practitioner who is shifting towards an earned income model still can’t easily track down existing models from which to borrow. The evaluator who has been hired to understand the impact of an initiative still has no way to easily review existing evaluations of similar efforts. And the people we as a sector serve, who rely on us to build on and improve the services we deliver, still bear the brunt of our failure to learn from past mistakes and successes.

There are a lot of different things that keep us all from changing – and it’s important to recognize those realities and points of resistance. But it’s also critical that we ask ourselves again and again whether our institutional behaviors are really serving our mission and purpose. By orienting, and re-orienting, ourselves to the change we want to see it follows that we become more change-oriented.

--Gabriela Fitz

Transparency Chat: GiveWell Promotes Transparency through Open Philanthropy
February 3, 2015

(Eliza Scheffler is a research analyst at GiveWell, 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 Eliza Scheffler about the work this grant will fund.)

ElizaSchefflerphotoJanet 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?

Eliza Scheffler: Thanks, we're really grateful for the support of the Fund for Shared Insight. We believe philanthropy could be more impactful by becoming more transparent. Very often, key discussions and decisions happen behind closed doors, and it's difficult for outsiders to learn from and productively critique philanthropists' work. We envision a world in which philanthropists increasingly document and share their research, reasoning, results, and mistakes to help each other learn more quickly and serve the world more effectively.

JC: Your specific funded project is The Open Philanthropy Project. 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?

GiveWell has expertise in charity research and evaluation, but the funding for our recommended charities has historically come from individual donors.

ES: The motivating question behind this work is, "How can we accomplish as much good as possible with our giving?" Our mission is to give as effectively as we can and share our findings openly so that anyone can build on our work. Through research and grantmaking, we hope to learn how to make philanthropy go especially far in terms of improving lives.

One of the key innovations of the Open Philanthropy Project is that we didn't arrive at focus areas based on any of our particular passions. Rather, we want to improve the world as much as we can, and our level of excitement about an issue depends on how much good we believe we’ll accomplish by working on it. We've conducted dozens of cause investigations in order to answer that question and help us strategically select focus areas. These cause investigations are available on our site, and we hope that they will also serve as a resource for other funders.

Though we continue to investigate new causes, we are also moving forward with some highly promising ones. We've made early grants in criminal justice reform, labor mobility, global health, and other areas.

To stay up to date on this work,  Transparency Talk readers can visit the Open Philanthropy Project website, follow the GiveWell blog, and read about the grants that Good Ventures has made as a part of the Project If you’re a philanthropist who’s interested in co-funding alongside the Open Philanthropy Project, please contact us at info@openphilanthropy.org.

GWLogoJC: GiveWell is partnering with the Good Ventures Foundation on The Open Philanthropy Project. What will Good Ventures bring to the project in addition to GiveWell’s expertise?

ES: GiveWell has expertise in charity research and evaluation, but the funding for our recommended charities has historically come from individual donors. Working with a foundation enables us to consider new types of giving opportunities that may be more suited to an institutional donor. Good Ventures and GiveWell share common core values: global humanitarianism, risk tolerance and patience, action in the face of uncertainty, and a desire, as Good Ventures puts it, "to help humanity thrive."

JC: Given your work on this project is focused on openness, will there be any public-facing elements to it that has the opportunity to reach or include a broad audience of grantmakers or other influencers outside of your networks?

Transparency about our work also facilitates change, because our reasoning is subject to outside critique, and we publicly recognize our mistakes along with our successes. These attitudes and practices keep us always working to improve.

ES: We will continue to make public our research and reasoning, including summaries of information-gathering conversations and our full cause investigations. We will also publish reports about the grants we make and detailed follow up on those projects. GiveWell hosts regular conference calls on our work for the Open Philanthropy Project and publishes recordings and transcripts of those meetings.

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?

ES: GiveWell has been evolving since the day it was founded. We place a lot of importance on being reflective and self-critical. Every year, we publish a retrospective self-evaluation and a plan for the upcoming year. Transparency about our work also facilitates change, because our reasoning is subject to outside critique, and we publicly recognize our mistakes along with our successes. These attitudes and practices keep us always working to improve. One vehicle for change in philanthropy is new foundations, which are continually arising. We see future foundations as a major part of our target audience.

--Eliza Scheffler

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

Transparency Chat: Why Transparency Matters, and What It Takes
December 18, 2014

PhilbPhil Buchanan is the president of The Center for Effective 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 Phil Buchanan 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?

Phil Buchanan: We see in our surveys of grantees that one of the most important dimensions in their views of foundations is the perception that foundations are clear about their goals and strategies. They are looking for specificity about what foundations are trying to do, how they are trying to do it, and how they fit in. They’re not especially concerned about 990-PFs, annual reports, or charter documents – but they care about the specifics of the work, and what foundations are learning about what is and isn’t working. All of that affects grantees’ abilities to be effective in pursuit of shared goals. So I think openness and effectiveness often go hand in hand.

CEP LogoJC: Your specific funded project is a research project and publication entitled, “Foundation Transparency: Why It Matters and What It Takes”.  Tell us more about the details about what this work will produce and what you hope its impact will be. Also, when do you expect the report to be available?

PB: We’ll be analyzing our data set of grantee perceptions of foundations on several questions about transparency that we added to our grantee survey in recent years. This will allow us to profile the exemplars. What do they do? Why do they do it? We’ll also look at foundations’ attitudes and practices with respect to transparency and we’ll connect those to the grantee experience. We can also examine the relationship between grantees’ perceptions of transparency and their perceptions of foundations’ impact – what is the connection? Our report on results will be available in early 2016.

JC: One of the assumptions about any data related to philanthropy and perceptions is that there is a positivity-bias among those grantees who have received funds and a negativity-bias among those how have been declined support.  How does CEP overcome that challenge in its work?

I think almost all powerful institutions can be resistant to change. But what we have seen is that foundations can – and often do – change in response to relevant data about how they are doing. Colleagues influencing colleagues – that is a powerful part of the change equation.

PB: As critical as nonprofits can be of funders in general – and they can be – they of course tend to rate the specific foundations that fund them toward the high end of an absolute scale on most dimensions. That’s not surprising – they’re getting crucial funding from these institutions. But there is meaningful variation within the range of average ratings that foundations receive. That’s why comparative data is so crucial. We are able to compare results across hundreds of foundations whose tens of thousands of grantees we have surveyed. That way a foundation can understand what are really strengths and what are weaknesses – or, in the euphemistic jargon of today, “opportunities for improvement.”

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 part of this project, and what do you think needs to happen for the field to be more change-oriented?​

PB: I think almost all powerful institutions can be resistant to change. But what we have seen is that foundations can – and often do – change in response to relevant data about how they are doing. That’s been the inspiring part of our work at CEP for the past 13 years. We have seen, and evaluations have confirmed, that foundations change practice in response to our research reports and assessment tools – and that those changes are experienced as positive by grantees. Not all the time, and not every foundation. But a meaningful number. There are some ways to make it easier for foundations, including sharing exemplars of various types from which they can learn. Colleagues influencing colleagues – that is a powerful part of the change equation.

-- Phil Buchanan

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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