Transparency Talk

Category: "Goals" (2 posts)

Trend to Watch: Using SDGs to Improve Foundation Transparency
September 19, 2017

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

Janet Camarena PhotoAs Foundation Center's director of transparency initiatives, one of the most interesting parts of my job is having the opportunity to play "transparency scout," regularly reviewing foundation websites for signs of openness in what is too often a closed universe. Some of this scouting leads to lifting up practices that can be examples for others on our Transparency Talk blog, sometimes it leads to a new transparency indicator on our assessment framework, and sometimes we just file it internally as a "trend to watch. "

Today, it's a combination of all three; we are using this blog post to announce the launch of a new, "Trend to Watch" indicator that signals an emerging practice: the use of the Sustainable Development Goals to improve how foundations open up their work to the world.

Sustainable Development GoalsThe 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. There are a total of 17 goals, such as ending poverty, zero hunger, reduced inequalities, and climate action. Written deliberately broad to serve as a collective playbook that governments and private sector alike can use, they can also serve as a much needed shared language across philanthropy and across sectors to signal areas of common interest, and measure shared progress.

And let's face it, as foundation strategies become increasingly specialized and strategic, explaining the objectives and the nuances can become a jargon-laden minefield that can make it difficult and time consuming for those on the outside to fully understand the intended goal of a new program or initiative. The simplicity of the SDG iconography cuts through the jargon so foundation website visitors can quickly identify alignment with the goals or not, and then more easily determine whether they should devote time to reading further. The SDG framework also provides a clear visual framework to display grants and outcomes data in a way that is meaningful beyond the four walls of the foundation.

Let's take a look at how some foundation websites are using the SDGs to more clearly explain their work:

Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF)

One of my favorite examples is from a simple chart the Silicon Valley Community Foundation shared on its blog, because it specifically opens up the work of its donor-advised funds using the SDGs. Donor-advised funds are typically not the most transparent vehicles, so using the SDGs as a framework to tally how SVCF's donor-advised funds are making an impact is particularly clever, refreshing, and offers a new window into a fast-growth area of philanthropy.

A quick glance at the chart reveals that quality education, good health and well-being, and sustainable cities and communities are the most common priorities among Silicon Valley donors.

GHR Foundation

A good example of how the SDGs can be used as a shared language to explain the intended impact of a grant portfolio is from GHR Foundation in Minnesota. I also like this example because it shows how the SDGs can be effectively used in both global and domestic grant portfolios. GHR uses the SDG iconography across all of its portfolios, as sidebars on the pages that describe foundation strategies. GHR's "Children in Families" is a core foundation grantmaking strategy that addresses children and families in need on a global scale. The portfolio name is a broad one, but by including the SDG iconography, web visitors can quickly understand that GHR is using this program area to address poverty, hunger, as well as lead to outcomes tied to health and well-being:

GHR is also able to use the SDG framework to create similar understanding of its domestic work. Below is an example from its Catholic Schools program serving the Twin Cities:

Through the visual cues the icons provide, I can quickly determine that in addition to aligning with the quality education goal, that this part of GHR's portfolio also addresses hunger and economically disadvantaged populations through its education grantmaking. This could also signal that the grantmaker interprets education broadly and supports the provision of wrap-around services to address the needs of low-income children as a holistic way of addressing the achievement gap. That's a lot of information conveyed with three small icons!

Tableau Foundation

The most sophisticated example comes to us from the tech and corporate grantmaking worlds--the Tableau Foundation. Tableau makes data visualization software, so using technology as a means to improve transparency is a core approach, and they are using their own grantmaking as an example of how you can use data to tell a compelling visual story. Through the interactive "Living Annual Report" on its website, Tableau regularly updates its grantmaking tallies and grantee data so web visitors have near real-time information. One of the tabs on the report reveals the SDG indicators, providing a quick snapshot of how Tableau's grantmaking, software donations, and corporate volunteering align with the SDGs.

As you mouse over any bar on the left, near real-time data appears, tallying how much of Tableau's funding has gone to support each goal. The interactive bar chart on the right lists Tableau's grantees, and visitors can quickly see the grantee list in the context of the SDGs as well as know the specific scale of its grantmaking to each recipient.

If you're inspired by these examples, but aren't sure how to begin connecting your portfolio to the Global Goals, you can use the SDG Indicator Wizard to help you get started. All you need to do is copy and paste your program descriptions or the descriptive language of a sample grant into the Wizard and its machine-learning tools let you know where your grantmaking lands on the SDG matrix. It's a lot of fun – and great place to start learning about the SDGs. And, because it transforms your program language into the relevant SDG goals, indicator, and targets, it may just provide a shortcut to that new strategy you were thinking of developing!

What more examples? The good news is we're also tracking SDGs as a transparency indicator at "Who Has Glasspockets?" You can view them all here. Is your foundation using the SDGs to help tell the story of your work? We're always on the lookout for new examples, so let us know and your foundation can be the next trend setter in our new Trend to Watch.

-- Janet Camarena

Eleanor Roosevelt and data post-2015
October 8, 2014

(Angela Hariche is the director of international data relations at the Foundation Center.)

140421-732Two weeks ago, I was down with the flu AND jetlagged so all I could manage to do in the evenings was get under a blanket and watch all 14 hours of “The Roosevelts” on PBS. I thought it was riveting and the timing of it was perfect. It has been a particularly busy time for us at the Foundation Center and there have been an inordinate amount of meetings and conferences around UN week. Happily, most of the people sharing a table with me at these events had also been watching “The Roosevelts”. We all admitted that it nice to discuss something else other than the grind during the lunches and coffee breaks for once!

So, it was no surprise when Kathy Calvin, President of the UN Foundation said at a recent Ford Foundation event last Thursday, “Channel your inner Eleanor Roosevelt Post-2015”. I think that was my best tweet all week. But what does that mean? Well, Eleanor certainly was a force. She was the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She was able to change things in the face of incredible resistance. Post-2015 is about what comes after the Millennium Development Goals which end in the year 2015.

The event brought together leaders from philanthropy, UN, business and civil society to talk about philanthropy and the role of the sector in the coming years. Brad Smith, President of the Foundation Center, and Helena Monteiro from Wings convened a session on the data revolution. The angle for this session was around the data and knowledge needed to a) get a better grip on what we know and don’t know about funding for global development goals, b) how to get an accurate picture of development progress, c) how to build standards and trust so working together isn’t so hard, d) how to climb the mountain of definitions when so many cultures (both organizational and geographic) name things differently, and e) how to remember that we are talking about people’s lives here and citizen empowerment is paramount to success. It was noted during the session that 10 years ago nobody would have wanted to attend a session on data!

So what came out of it?

It was no surprise when Kathy Calvin, President of the UN Foundation said at a recent Ford Foundation event last Thursday, “Channel your inner Eleanor Roosevelt Post-2015”. I think that was my best tweet all week.

Brad Smith noted that there are more than 86,000 foundations in the US with total assets of close to 800 billion dollars and 55 billion in giving. This is about equal to US Official Development Assistance. Philanthropic dollars matter not only in their volume but also in their flexibility. Brad also noted that this is one of the last sources of money that isn’t earmarked. However, if foundations are not forthcoming with their data, we will not be able to analyze the impact of the sector as a whole or on issues such as gender equality, education or any other. Foundations have to be more transparent if global progress is to be made.

To try to address the fact that we don’t have anywhere near an accurate picture of development progress, a data revolution has been called for. The Secretary General of the UN has assembled a group of people who will advise him on the coordination of the data revolution, on better use and analysis of data and the difficulties faced by under- resourced national statistics offices. Several in the room noted that the strengthening of local knowledge systems is incredibly important. If more research can come from the local context, it will be more useful and fewer people will get left behind in an aggregation process.

RooseveltsHelena Monteiro presented the Global Philanthropy Data Charter as a way to address the issues of trust and standards when working with data. As an example of a project that used the Data charter to guide them is the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG). Working together with Foundation Center, they came up with a standard definition of human rights grants, collected the data from foundations around the world, coded the grants and launched the website. Voila! Eleanor would be proud.

Finally, Danny Sriskandarajah of CIVICUS reminded us that storytelling, citizen voice and accountability will be key for post-2015 success. It was also noted that data is “development capital”. If development data is available to citizens, they will be able to make their own informed decisions better.

At Foundation Center we are working hard on a project with UNDP, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, The Conrad Hilton Foundation, Ford Foundation and Master Card Foundation to collect foundation data and knowledge on Post-2015 goals for a publically available web portal, which will launch in June of 2015. If you are interested in channeling your inner Eleanor Roosevelt and being a part of it, please contact me at int@foundationcenter.org.

--Angela Hariche

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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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