Transparency Talk

Category: "Glasspockets Find" (74 posts)

Glasspockets Find: Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Talks About Philanthropic Transparency
March 24, 2015

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

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511bd210d970c-150wi“Giving away money is easy — doing so effectively is much harder,” says Silicon Valley philanthropist Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen in a recent article from the Washington Post. So often, transparency focuses on where foundations are making gifts. But Arrillaga-Andreessen argues foundations and individual donors should also be open about why they give: knowledge sharing boosts impact and effectiveness of foundations sector-wide.

“By sharing why we’re making those decisions, we’re enabling other people to direct their resources in a more informed way as well. By having glass skulls, we’re breaking down the intellectual silos in which philanthropy has traditionally operated.”

Arrillaga-Andreessen believes foundations and donors shouldn’t just have glass pockets, but glass skulls as well. “Every time we make a gift to one organization, we’re simultaneously deciding not to give, indirectly, to countless other organizations,” Arrillaga-Andreessen says. “By sharing why we’re making those decisions, we’re enabling other people to direct their resources in a more informed way as well. By having glass skulls, we’re breaking down the intellectual silos in which philanthropy has traditionally operated.”

Arrillaga-Andreessen helps the up-and-coming crop of philanthropists—like Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Meg Whitman, and Brian Chesky—make smart social investments. She’s observed that transparency around giving is not only appealing to wealthy millennials, but it also comes naturally. “It’s a generation that has grown up with a sense of global community and awareness that transcends traditional geographic boundaries and also a group that has become grown-ups with data as a key driver of decision-making,” she says. “Those two external influences naturally lead many individuals to sharing that particular philanthropic approach.” With millennials at the helm of philanthropy, the future for foundation transparency looks bright.

You can read the full article and interview with Arrillaga-Andreessen here

--Eliza Smith

Glasspockets Find: 2015 Gates Annual Letter Makes a “Big Bet”
January 29, 2015

(Janet Camarena is the director of Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the Center's Glasspockets effort.)

6a00e54efc2f80883301a3fd038242970b-800wiEvery year around this time our attention here at Glasspockets shifts to a super-scale analysis of goals, touchdowns, wagers, and keeping the ball moving down the field.  That’s right—it’s time for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Annual Letter!  The Super Bowl metaphor is an apt one, as this letter makes transparent the thinking and strategies behind the world’s largest philanthropy, so the stakes are high as the letter, in a very visible way, outlines the foundation’s playbook, what it’s tackling, and progress toward its ultimate goals. And the letter comes from the donors themselves, which contributes to breaking down barriers between its global stakeholders and the people behind the philanthropic institution.  

In past letters, one of the things I have particularly appreciated was the Gates’ reflections on lessons learned, which often included both successes and missteps. In many ways, this letter is a departure from that model as instead of using the letter as an opportunity to make the recent past transparent, the letter instead uses the experience and lessons the foundation has been learning to open our eyes to the possible future of the developing world.  

Icon_small_bill_melinda_gates_foundation_logoIt’s a risk to try and see into the future, so it’s fitting that the letter is titled Our Big Bet for the Future, and outlines how they are “doubling down” on the wager that they took when they started the foundation 15 years ago and, based on the progress made so far, making ambitious goals for what is possible 15 years from now. The “Big Bet” specifically is that “the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else's.” And the specific outcomes they predict will result are:

  • Child deaths will go down, and more diseases will be wiped out.
  • Africa will be able to feed itself.
  • Mobile banking will help the poor transform their lives.
  • Better software will revolutionize learning.
This is a reminder that when donors are transparent it helps them influence others and serves to create a movement for change.

The letter also departs from previous ones by acting as a call to action for others to get involved.  This is a reminder that when donors are transparent it helps them influence others and serves to create a movement for change. In fact, the Gates’ letter concludes with directing readers to join the Global Citizen initiative, which offers people the chance to take action to end injustice and inequality in the world.  

“Becoming a global citizen doesn’t mean you have to dedicate your life to helping the poor. It does mean you follow an issue of global importance…You take a few minutes once in a while to learn about the lives of people who are worse off than you are…You’re willing to act on your compassion, whether it’s raising awareness, volunteering your time, or giving a little money.”

Philanthropy is a team sport, and this year’s letter make it clear that the problems and solutions they are working toward are larger than any foundation alone can tackle.  But by making transparent a future in which the end to extreme poverty is within our reach, they are contributing to building a team and a final score for which we all can root.

--Janet Camarena

Metrics to Promote RWJF’s Culture of Health
August 7, 2014

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

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511bd210d970cWhat does being healthy mean to you? Does it mean not being sick, or does it mean you’re thriving? The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, America’s leading health and health care-focused philanthropy is investigating how to promote a culture of health nationwide.  In its most recent episode of the Foundation’s Pioneering Ideas podcast, Alonzo Plough, Vice President of Research-Evaluation-Learning and Chief Science Officer at RWJF, discusses the metrics he and his team are developing to measure health on the national, community, and individual levels.

As Alonzo explains in the podcast segment, finding metrics to study and ultimately change America’s culture of health is a huge challenge. “Culture is about the deepest thing one can change in society,” he says: analyzing culture, which is inherently diverse, is a complex undertaking. But Alonzo and his team were undaunted.

He wants to shift the understanding of “being healthy” from the absence of illness to something much more holistic and positive. Being healthy is, of course, not being sick, but it’s so much more: it’s being in shape, eating well, improving family dynamics, and engaging in your community.

Plough and his team are developing thirty or forty measures, which were lumped into various “buckets,” the first being, “Valuing Health and Social Cohesion.” He wants to shift the understanding of “being healthy” from the absence of illness to something much more holistic and positive. Being healthy is, of course, not being sick, but it’s so much more: it’s being in shape, eating well, improving family dynamics, and engaging in your community. That’s where the social cohesion aspect of this measure comes in: when communities work together to promote a culture of health, they thrive. By standardizing an understanding of being healthy, from the individual to the neighborhood to the state and national level, a greater percentage of the population has the opportunity to thrive.

The second “bucket” focuses on cross-sectional partnerships to improve health. Plough wanted to look at how communities were combining their assets—schools, hospitals, libraries, etc.—to thrive. For example, schools and health care centers can work together to organize free vaccination drives for students. Again, Plough is also looking at the concept of healthfulness through a broader lens: if neighborhoods concentrate on improving their well-being by building parks and preserving open space, or even ushering in green grocers and farmers markets, they will be much better off.

After listening to the Pioneering Ideas episode, my understanding of health, both in my home and in my community at large has expanded. I recognize now that having a farmer’s market blocks away from my home, where I can interact with my neighbors and local farmers is not only a civic asset, but a health benefit, as well.

How has your foundation worked to develop metrics for complex issues?  And have you considered sharing these metrics via blog or podcast?

 

Glasspockets Find: The Kaiser Family Foundation and JAMA Use Infographics to Inform About the Complex World of Healthcare
July 31, 2014

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

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511e79ac4970c-150wiAs health policy debates rage, have you ever wondered what story the data actually tells?  How many people are now covered as a result of the Affordable Care Act? Or what data is available about the health needs of recent war veterans? Or how about a non-partisan legal analysis of the Hobby Lobby ruling?  The Kaiser Family Foundation serves as a non-partisan source of facts, analysis and journalism for policymakers, the media, the health policy community and the public. As part of its mission it provides many reports, analysis, and more recently infographics to help make complex health policy more easily understandable and simply more transparent. Currently, in partnership with the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the Foundation is issuing a monthly infographic as part of their "Visualizing Health Policy" series.

The world of healthcare, from policy and insurance to access and beyond, is confusing and complex. But the Visualizing Health Policy series overcomes the obstacles the content presents.

Infographics have become increasingly popular in the last few years, both in the media at large and the philanthropic sector in particular. They combine information and graphics to create an easy-to-understand visual representation of a set of data. In the case of the Kaiser Foundation and JAMA project, the infographics tackle a different topic each month, from the physical and emotional health of Iraqi war active duty soldiers and veterans, to the impact of the Affordable Care Act on women.

Jama_2014march_us-global-funding1

View the infographic»

Infographics inherently make the data they represent more accessible, and this is essential for understanding the work of the Kaiser Foundation and JAMA. The world of healthcare, from policy and insurance to access and beyond, is confusing and complex. But the Visualizing Health Policy series overcomes the obstacles the content presents. A fantastic example of this is the April, 2014 infographic, "A Snapshot of the US Global Health Funding." It shows not only what percentage of the overall US budget is allocated for Global Health, but also to which countries this money is given. Additionally, there is a breakdown of how much funding is given to various healthcare areas, from maternal and child health to malaria and tuberculosis.

On the homepage of the Visualizing Health Policy project, there are several filters available for finding infographics that cover specific sets of information. For example, you can search a myriad of topics, including HIV/AIDS, Medicaid, and Private Insurance. These infographics are excellent resources for those wishing to educate themselves on any healthcare-related topic; and provide a great example of how the use of data visualizations can help foundations make complex ideas more accessible to the outside world.

-- Eliza Smith

Glasspockets Find: The Lumina Foundation's Annual Report
July 23, 2014

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

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511bd210d970cThe Lumina Foundation, an educational achievement-focused philanthropy, has set an ambitious goal: they want to leverage their "outcomes-based approach" to increase "the proportion of Americans with high quality degrees, certificates, and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025."

Thanks to the clarity and specificity of the goal, as I read through the Foundation's annual report, A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, I started to see Goal 2025 as a truly achievable milestone. The Foundation has been issuing Stronger Nation since 2009. While it presents a great number of statistics, it's surprisingly accessible. This is due in great part to its design:  which manages to be data-rich yet still retain a feeling of accessibility and flow.  

The Foundation has been issuing Stronger Nation since 2009. While it presents a great number of statistics, it's surprisingly accessible. This is due in great part to its design:  which manages to be data-rich yet still retain a feeling of accessibility and flow.

Rather than begin with a letter from leadership, the introduction begins with a compelling graphic "tracking the trend" of the rising percentage of the population that has earned at least an associate's degree. The graphic charts the upswing here, rising from  37.9 percent of the population that met this achievement level in 2008  to 2012, with 39.4 percent of the population  attaining a degree. Yes, the increments are small, but the increase each year is constant and encouraging.

Lumina-report-2014-07
Read the report»
What may be most helpful to those interested in regional trends and community needs is that the report then outlines each state's progress in the area of higher education attainment. There is a summary, followed by  graphics that demonstrate the state's progress towards Goal 2025. Pie charts offer percentages of the population with educational levels ranging from "less than ninth grade" to "graduate or professional degree." There's a breakdown of these statistics across specific population groups.. There's also a graph illustrating the path to Goal 2025 attainment. They even breakdown degree achievement by county. Everything is clear, concise, and quite convincing.

Yes, Goal 2025 is ambitious. But the Lumina Foundation is demonstrating a commitment to transparency practices by openly sharing the progress of its goal, as well as its obstacles, incremental achievements, and  next steps. Lumina's annual report is the gateway to understanding how they intend to achieve Goal 2025 and provides a framework for others to consider when grappling with how to measure progress toward philanthropic goals.​

-- Eliza Smith

Glasspockets Find: NCRP Launches Philamplify to Give Grantmakers Honest Feedback
May 7, 2014

(Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the Center's Glasspockets effort.)

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511ab651c970c-800wiI have been having fun today poking around Philamplify, the new NCRP web site that aims to help grantmakers get an outside perspective on how to improve their effectiveness.  It is rare for grantmakers to be able to get honest feedback, and this goal is at the heart of NCRP’s efforts, and I think that’s what makes the site fun and interesting to explore.

NCRP states that in the coming months it plans to release assessments on the top 100 grantmakers in the country and the site has launched with three in-depth assessments of: Lumina Foundation for Education, the William Penn Foundation, and the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation.  

Logo-tabletThough I could not easily find reference as to why these three foundations were selected, an exciting aspect seems to be that foundations do not opt in, but rather are selected to participate.  I imagine some funders welcome this like they welcome an IRS audit, but that’s also what makes it an important exercise, since for some it might be the only avenue through which they will get out of what NCRP sees as their “isolation bubble.”  But that’s where I would have appreciated more detail about why these three were selected, and how others can be nominated.  Since the site is set-up for audience interaction, making public which foundations the audience wants to nominate to be assessed next could be a welcome addition.

Philamplify’s assessments combine research and analysis on the work of foundations with the voices of stakeholders.  Assessments include key findings and recommendations, along with in-depth analysis of foundations’ funding strategies.  And given my work on Glasspockets and my belief in the power of transparency to change philanthropy for the better, I was heartened to see ample space and thought devoted to recommendations around improving foundation transparency.

Of course grantmakers frequently hire firms to give them this kind of feedback, but often that knowledge and feedback remain internal and if shared, only in summary form, and the foundation as the client controls the process.  In this case the entire assessment is publicly shared and visitors to the web site can actually vote on whether or not they agree with the recommendations, and send a direct message to the executives at the foundation in question.

...foundations can often be inflexible with their grantees, so perhaps it’s a positive thing to let foundations have the experience of being at the mercy of a bureaucracy they don’t control?

And in terms of control, from what I can tell of reading the methodology for the William Penn Foundation’s assessments, it seems once selected by NCRP, a foundation cannot opt out.  Apparently the William Penn Foundation was going through a leadership transition at the time NCRP was to conduct the audit, so the foundation requested that the process be postponed until the transition was complete.  “But to provide timely, actionable feedback in the interests of the communities the foundation seeks to benefit, NCRP decided to proceed.”

If the aim of the assessment is to influence the leadership of the foundation to change for the better, this seems a little inflexible to me.  And it does raise the question of how much change can one effect if the subject of one’s assessment is an unwilling subject? Then again, foundations can often be inflexible with their grantees, so perhaps it’s a positive thing to let foundations have the experience of being at the mercy of a bureaucracy they don’t control? Take a look and let Transparency Talk know what you think in the space below or directly on the Philamplify site.

-- Janet Camarena

Glasspockets Find: The Ford Foundation’s Un-Survey Invites Inquiring Minds
April 28, 2014

(Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the Center's Glasspockets effort.)

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511634173970c-800wiEveryone who has ever raised funds from foundations quickly learns that grantmaking professionals excel at asking questions—lots of them.  From the submission of the letter of inquiry to the completion of an online grants application form, to the face-to-face meeting with a funder, a grantseeker can face a seemingly endless series of questions.  In a refreshing change of pace, the Ford Foundation’s new Un-Survey puts its users in the interviewer’s chair, and invites its community to publicly ask the questions they wish the foundation would use its web site to answer.  In addition to posing a query, one can also view all of the questions that have already been asked, and then vote on the submitted questions to let the foundation know which ones are of most interest to its audience.

BrandmarkThe goal of the Un-Survey is to help inform the Ford Foundation’s web redesign process, and hopefully to unearth suggestions through this process that a traditional survey might have missed.  The thinking behind this is that in a traditional survey model, the questions asked have built-in assumptions and are shaped by the thinking of the survey writers themselves, and that the Un-Survey will serve to eliminate those assumptions and avoid leading its audience in a particular direction framed by the foundation.  It will be interesting to see if the Un-Survey lives up to this expectation, but at this early stage it seems a great example of an effort to expand participation, transparency, and accountability since anyone can ask a question, vote on those questions already asked, and help inform the direction of not just the web design, but ultimately of answers and knowledge to be shared.

In preparation for the Un-Survey Launch, Ford invited some well-known inquiring minds to get the inquiry started, and as a result some questions have already been submitted from Lucy Bernholz, Ben Hecht and Jillian York and others.  But in my view, the really important thing about the Un-Survey is that it is not only for thought leaders or a select few.  We are all being invited to be thought partners of the Ford Foundation.  What kind of transparency do you want to see on the Ford Foundation’s redesigned site?  Go ahead and ask. Maybe we will discover the path to an Un-Grant Application in the process!

-- Janet Camarena

Glasspockets Find: Foundation Center CEO Speaks Out On Knowledge Management
March 24, 2014

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

Rebecca Herman PhotoLike it or not, we live in a data-obsessed era. It can feel like we are swimming in a sea of data. Are we being swamped by data, or are we harnessing these currents to propel us along toward our objectives? Your foundation probably already gathers significant amounts of information about your programs, your grantees and your fields of interest. As foundations move toward greater transparency, it is worth considering how this data could serve a larger purpose outside of the foundation. And then this leads to the more difficult task of figuring out which internal data could be a meaningful contribution to the field.

"If philanthropy really wants to be strategic, harnessing data to purpose needs to be job number one."

Earlier this month, in the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, Foundation Center president Brad Smith wrote about Developing a Culture of Knowledge Management.

In the SSIR, Smith argues that foundations need to learn how to manage and share information in order for philanthropy to be strategic. This may require creating a new mindset, in which data becomes "knowledge assets," and establishing new internal incentive systems for managing data effectively.

Smith also points out a number of common pitfalls in how foundations use data:

  • An over-reliance on personal networks and verbal communication to gather information about grantees and grant applicants
  • Potentially valuable contextual data lives inside foundations as static information
  • Foundations can become so obsessed with impact that they outsource data collection and proof to their grantees

Read the complete blog post on the Stanford Social Innovation Review website to learn about the importance of knowledge management and the three types of data foundations need.

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: The Weingart Foundation Lays Out Its Assumptions and Its Grant Plan
March 3, 2014

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

Herman-150Everyone has assumptions about charitable giving and philanthropy, but we usually don't spell out what those assumptions are. We may have devoted months to researching what nonprofits need most, and we may have spent hours deliberating where to focus our efforts--and where is that information to be found? In a foundation's private files? Not anymore.

Weingart Foundation logoThe Weingart Foundation starts planning its annual grantmaking by laying out its assumptions. This public document reads like a kind of "state of the union" from one funder's perspective, informed by grantee feedback, research, conversations with colleagues and analysis of grant applications. In the President's Message, Fred Ali describes the observations and challenges in the field that led to the Weingart Foundation's grant planning assumptions, such as:

"The failure of private and, in particular, government funders to adequately support administrative and fundraising costs undermines nonprofit effectiveness and sustainability."

Providing support for administrative costs and infrastructure versus program expenses is undoubtedly a hot-button topic in philanthropy, and it is one The Weingart Foundation addresses head-on in their FY2014 Grant Plan Assumptions:

"When combined with strong leadership and management, providing unrestricted, multi-year core operating support is one of the most effective ways to build nonprofit organizational capacity. Core Support grants provide the 'working capital' nonprofits need to sustain and improve their operations, and necessary infrastructure."

What kind of conversations are you having internally about funding administrative expenses? What might your colleagues learn from your assumptions? To start a dialogue about how to share such information publicly, check out the Why Transparency section of Glasspockets, and our new guide, Opening Up: Desmystifying Funder Transparency, created by GrantCraft in collaboration with Glasspockets.

SoundcloudThe Weingart Foundation is one of the case studies that is featured in the guide, and you can hear Belen Vargas, vice president of programs, speak about the foundation's reasons for sharing information about their grantmaking process in one of GrantCraft's new Transparency Chat podcasts.

When you find other great examples of foundations sharing their planning processes, share them with us at: glasspockets@foundationcenter.org

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: 2014 Gates Annual Letter
January 29, 2014

(Mark Foley is Associates Program manager at the Foundation Center’s Washington, DC, office.)

BillGatesphoto“By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been. People are living longer, healthier lives. Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient. You might think that such striking progress would be widely celebrated, but in fact, Melinda and I are struck by how many people think the world is getting worse. The belief that the world can’t solve extreme poverty and disease isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful. That’s why in this year’s letter we take apart some of the myths that slow down the work. The next time you hear these myths, we hope you will do the same.”

-- Bill Gates, from the 2014 Gates Annual Letter, 3 Myths that Block Progress for the Poor

We all have those days when a generous dose of optimism can improve our outlook and make us feel that change for the better is possible. This is the just the kind of boost I received after reading the 2014 Annual Letter from Bill and Melinda Gates.

The challenge of this year’s letter is to break down 3 Myths that Block Progress for the Poor:

  • Myth One: Poor countries are doomed to stay poor
  • Myth Two: Foreign aid is a big waste
  • Myth Three: Saving lives leads to overpopulation
“Above all, I hope we can stop discussing whether aid works and spend more time talking about how it can work better.”

Bill and Melinda Gates take on each of these myths and provide a convincing set of arguments to debunk them. Their point is not to sugarcoat the hard work that still must be done, step by incremental step, but to dispel the harmful, self-perpetuating, effects of these myths as impediments to progress. They challenge the stereotypes that too many of us hold when we think—if we think—about global poverty. Bill Gates wants to remove, as much as possible, the general sense of despair that many use as an excuse not to act at all: “Above all, I hope we can stop discussing whether aid works and spend more time talking about how it can work better.”

The Gates Annual Letter is addressed to civil society as a whole—particularly in the “high-income” countries—and explicitly sets out to change the conversation on foreign aid. By being transparent about challenges the Gates Foundation is facing in broadening support for foreign aid, the Annual Letter aims to make their goals and motivations clear, while inspiring others to join their cause. Bill and Melinda Gates’ openness to acknowledge preconceptions about foreign aid also invites more people into the conversation, rather than creating a silo of people who already agree with the Foundation’s approach to improving global health and development.

As one might expect from Gates, the letter is presented in an interactive, engaging format, full of videos, graphics and survey questions that draw you in and encourage you to respond positively. Go on and give it a look—and share your thoughts and comments with your Glasspockets community.

-- Mark Foley

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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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