Transparency Talk

Category: "Grantmaking" (91 posts)

California Foundation Data—Now Available At-a-Glance
September 27, 2016

Did you know…

  • California is home to 7,755 foundations that collectively give more than $7 billion?
  • In the last 10 years, giving by California foundations has increased by 90% and assets have increased by 70%?
  • Education, Health, and Environment & Animal Welfare are the top funding priorities favored by California foundations?
  • Statewide, across all regions, Children & Youth is the top population group supported by California foundations?

CA blog image 200x200v2-01The longer I work at Foundation Center, the more I realize how difficult it is for those of us in the social sector to understand the ecosystems in which we work.  Grantmakers and nonprofits evolve their areas of focus, public reporting of current activities takes longer than it should, and keeping up with the latest information takes time.  As a result, all of us, from those with innovative solutions but little experience with fundraising, to those with years of experience who are convinced we are always working with the usual suspects, all at some point realize we could use some current, authoritative data to inform strategies and decisions.

Not surprisingly, the most frequent questions we get from grantseekers and grantmakers alike relate to getting a lay of the overall philanthropic landscape and responding to queries about who are the top funders in a particular field or region, or where a particular foundation ranks in the big scheme of things. 

Thanks to support from The James Irvine Foundation, researching these kinds of key statistics for California institutional philanthropy just got a lot easier with the launch of Foundation Center’s new California Foundation Stats dashboard, which is a free, online tool that allows anyone to access hundreds of charts and tables on the size, scope, and giving priorities of California foundations, as well as giving to California-based recipients by those outside California, lists of top funders by region and issue area, and also includes access to nearly 900 research reports about California-based initiatives, sortable by regional focus. Data about trends in funding specific support strategies and population groups is also included.

California Foundation Stats provides statewide data, as well as regional data tables for nine different regions: Bay Area, Central Coast, Central Valley, Inland Empire, Los Angeles, North Coast, Orange County, Sierra Range, and South Coast and Border.

An exciting aspect of these data tables is that as Foundation Center receives updated grants information from grantmakers as part of the “Get on the Map” campaign effort or as a result of newly available 990 forms, the dashboard will be a living data set that changes to reflect up-to-date information about giving priorities and giving to the state or regions.

Everyone from grantmakers, grantseekers, to academics, advocates and journalists will find the dashboard to be a useful tool to support their work, and one which they will want to bookmark to come back to as the data changes.  The highlighted facts shared at the top of the blog are just an example of the data you can uncover by taking some time with this new tool.  

--Janet Camarena

YouthGiving.org: Opening Up the Power of Youth as Grantmakers
September 7, 2016

(Sarah Bahn is a former Foundation Center knowledge services fellow. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in peace and justice studies at Tufts University. A version of this blog first ran on the GrantSpace blog.)

SarahbahnWhen I enrolled in the “Experimenting with Philanthropy” course at my college, I had the opportunity to work with a board of my peers to distribute $10,000 to local nonprofits. After so many years of being a dedicated supporter of the nonprofit sector—from childhood bake sale fundraising to volunteering at homeless shelters and completing summer internships—I finally felt like I was playing a real, powerful role in the social sector. I only wish I had known to get involved with grantmaking sooner.

Engaging youth in grantmaking increases their agency and leadership skills while also bringing much needed fresh perspective to the field. After the course, I became passionate about the need for young people, even children and teens, to act as real leaders in philanthropy.

BREAKING NEWS: They already are! When I started interning at Foundation Center this summer, I dove in to help with the launch of YouthGiving.org, a website that gathers and shares information about the youth giving movement so that young changemakers, and the adults who support them, can access amazing tools for youth grantmaking, like:

  • A funding map tracking youth-driven grants around the world
  • A program directory with over 800 youth grantmaking programs
  • Hundreds of resources about engaging youth in philanthropy
  • News about the movement, upcoming events, blog posts from experts, and LOTS MORE!

If this information had been easily accessible in this way when I was younger, I would have known that there are at least 14 youth grantmaking programs where I grew up (Washington state), 35 in Massachusetts where I attend school, and hundreds more around the world! It turns out that there are A LOT of people who are also passionate about young people being leaders in the social sector. Check out the Program Directory to find youth giving programs where you live.

“ Youth grantmaking is not just a cute group of kiddos running a lemonade stand for charity, although that's great, too!”

Thanks to YouthGiving.org making this philanthropic movement more transparent, the whole world can now see that there are tons of young people who are making real, tangible change in their communities. In fact, youth have made more than $14 million in grants since 2001 (check out grants data on the Funding Map) -- youth grantmaking is not just a cute group of kiddos running a lemonade stand for charity, although that's great, too!

YouthGiving.org connects members of the youth giving movement, elevates the stories of incredible young leaders, and  serves to make the field of grantmaking more inclusive as more young people can now see themselves as active leaders in philanthropy.  By expanding knowledge and collaboration about youth giving, more young people can access grantmaking opportunities and those who do will see the impact their peers are making across the globe. 

Transparency for the youth giving movement is critical because it illuminates the ways in which young people have been raising their voices to move the needle on the issues they care about. As this resource gains traction, I hope that other young people like me will know that they’re not alone in thinking that youth deserve a space at the grantmaking table.

-- Sarah Bahn

Eye On Sports Philanthropy: Serena Williams Courts Equity in Education
August 31, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)

Serena Bio PhotoSerena Williams dominates the tennis court but few may know about her philanthropic efforts that target social justice issues.  

As one of the world’s greatest tennis players, Williams tied Stefi Graf’s record earlier this year with 22 Grand Slam singles titles.  Among active male and female players, Williams holds the most major singles, doubles and mixed double titles with a record 38 major titles: 22 in singles, 14 in women’s doubles and two in mixed doubles. 

Now the Olympian philanthropist is focused on winning the U.S. Open title after an unexpected upset at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where she had hoped to defend her 2012 gold medal victory in London.  Williams and her older sister Venus Williams also lost the first round in doubles – another upset because the duo had a 15-0 Olympic record and three gold medals in doubles.

Serena Game - Slate
Source: Slate

 Breaking Barriers

The Williams sisters grew up in Compton, CA, where poverty and gang violence is common.  Their father Richard Williams coached the young girls at some of the city’s roughest public parks where gang members hung around the courts. 

“I’m a black woman, and I’m in a sport that wasn’t really meant for black people.”

The Williams family eventually moved to Florida in search of better training opportunities for the girls.  In 1992, Richard Williams shared his hopes that his girls would one day win at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon and inspire other Compton children and gang members that “they could do it.”

The sisters have broken barriers as female, African American athletes from a poor community who have exceled in a sport that is not known for its diversity.  White athletes, especially men, typically have more recognition, money and star power.  Additionally, sports like tennis and golf are often perceived as exclusive due to the cost of equipment, court and tee fees.  This financial disparity is consistently identified as a significant barrier that impedes multicultural players from getting into the sport, according to the United States Tennis Association.

Powerful and Personal Philanthropy

Off the court, the 34-year-old tennis star has focused her philanthropy on equal access to education and helping individuals and communities impacted by violence. 

Serena & Students - StandingAn opportunity arose when she first visited Africa in 2006 as part of a UNICEF health campaign, and in 2011, Williams became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.  Over the years, she has participated in multiple education initiatives that build schools in Africa and improve global education opportunities for disadvantaged children. 

The Michigan native has supported several UNICEF campaigns, including the World’s Largest Lesson, an initiative launched in 2015 to teach children in more than 100 countries about the Sustainable Development Goals; the 1 in 11 campaign that focuses on extending educational opportunities to marginalized children since 1 out of 11 children globally are not in school; and the Schools for Africa program, which raises awareness about UNICEF’s mission to provide quality education for the most vulnerable children. 

Through the Serena Williams Fund (SWF), Williams has also partnered with Hewlett Packard to build a school in Kenya as well other local organizations in Africa to open schools in Uganda, Zimbabwe and Jamaica.

Williams has made it a priority to fight for equity in education. “Now, sometimes in Africa they send only the boys to school,” Williams wrote in her Wired guest editorial. “So we had a strict rule that our schools had to be at least 40 percent girls. It was impossible to get 50-50 boys to girls, and we really had to fight for 60-40. But we got it… And hopefully my next school will be 50-50.”

Serena Kids Group Photo Africa
SWF also gives education grants to Serena Williams Scholars through a partnership with Beyond the Burroughs National Scholarship Fund, which gives scholarships to students “who have the drive to succeed but even with loans and other grants still fall short of reaching their dream to attend college.”

Another SWF priority – and perhaps the most personal one – is supporting victims and families of gun violence through The Caliber Foundation.  Williams has a personal stake in ending senseless violence since it is a “cause close to her heart.”  In 2003, Williams’ older half-sister Yetunde Price was shot and killed in Los Angeles.

Making Her Mark

Williams was the Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year.  She was #55 on Forbes Magazine’s Power Women list in 2010.  In 2016, Forbes named her #40 on its World’s Highest-Paid Athletes list with $8.9 million salary/winnings and $20 million in endorsements, up from #47 in 2015.  For the last 12 months, she has also been the world’s highest-paid female athlete.  Over her career, she has earned $78 million.

Serena Wired COVER PhotoThe elite athlete continues to be a trailblazer.  In Wired Magazine, Williams shared her hopes for seeing “more women and people of different colors and nationalities” in sports as well as the Silicon Valley.  She added, “I’m a black woman, and I’m in a sport that wasn’t really meant for black people.”

Beyond philanthropy, Williams is leveraging this celebrity and influence to address issues she cares about.  She has spoken out against racism and pay disparity for minority athletes, and along with other African American athletes, she has vocally supported the Black Lives Matter movement. 

For Williams, philanthropy is personal.  She is focused on giving back in ways that address the inequities she experienced first-hand.  If her passion for philanthropy is anything like her focused drive and talent in tennis, she will leave a great footprint and an even better blueprint for future generations.

--Melissa Moy

Eye on Golden Philanthropy: Michael Phelps Expands the Pool of Future Olympians
August 11, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Olympians and their philanthropy, visit Glasspockets’ Going for Gold.)

Michael Phelps Rio PHOTOIf recent history is any indication, Olympic veteran Michael Phelps will make a huge splash at the Olympic Games in Rio. 

As the most decorated Olympian in history, Phelps debuted as the U.S. flag bearer in this Summer Olympics’s Parade of Nations during the Opening Ceremony. 

In the last few days, he earned gold medals in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay, 200m butterfly, 4x200m freestyle relay and 200m individual medley.  He now has a record 22 gold medals, with a total of 26 Olympic medals.  Not bad for a “retiree.”  Phelps famously retired after the 2012 Olympics in London, and returned to the sport in 2014.

Michael Phelps NBC News
Source: NBC News

Phelps, 31, has earned numerous accolades over the years: Sports Illustrateds 2008 Sportsman of the Year; Swimming World Magazine’s World Swimmer of the Year Award, seven times; American Swimmer of the Year Award, 10 times; and the FINA Swimmer of the Year in 2012. 

The Maryland native’s performance at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing was phenomenal.  For tying Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals and ultimately setting a new record of eight gold medals, Phelps earned a $1 million bonus from his longtime sponsor Speedo. He used his bonus to start the Michael Phelps Foundation, which focuses on promoting healthy, active lives, especially for children, primarily by expanding opportunities for participation in the sport of swimming.

Building the Sport by Increasing Access to Swimming

In his letter on the foundation website, Phelps described his commitment to help youth enjoy safe swimming and healthy living.  “Swimming provided the opportunity to stay healthy while I learned about hard work, determination, and setting goals,” he said.

It may be surprising to some that as a boy, Phelps said he feared the water and didn’t like getting his face wet. “But because I had someone to encourage me, who understood the importance of water safety, I developed a comfort level for the water,” Phelps said. “The more time I spent in the water, the stronger I became, and my passion for the sport grew.”

In 2014, the Michael Phelps Foundation gave away $425,146 in grants, according to its Form 990.  The foundation aims to level the playing field for youth and athletes in underserved communities.

Im-program

Named after Phelps’ signature event, the individual medley, the IM program is promoted in U.S. cities where access to swimming is limited.  The IM program offers water-safety courses, recreational pool activities, and swim training, as well as health and wellness education.  To emphasize the need for such programs, the Phelps Foundation website cites the statistic that youth drowning rates in ethnically-diverse communities are two to three times higher than the national average.

Since 2010, the IM program has reached over 15,000 youth through the Boys & Girls Club of America and Special Olympics. In 2014, the Michael Phelps Foundation delivered the IM program to 35 Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide. 

“The Michael Phelps Foundation is creating a more inclusive sport with expanded opportunities for youth and athletes of all backgrounds."

To help talented athletes in financial need, Phelps’ foundation partnered with the Level Field Fund to create a grant program for swimmers. The Michael Phelps Foundation wants to “fund talent and fuel dreams for the next generation of Olympic heroes.”

“Losing talented athletes because of a lack of financial means is troubling,” Phelps said. “We support the Level Field Fund because we are big believers that every athlete should have the chance to pursue their dreams to their full potential.”

Olympian Katie Meili is one of the talented athletes who received a Level Field Fund Swimming Grant – which pays for expenses such as travel, coaching, training and event fees.   She won a bronze medal in the 100m breaststroke in Rio.  Thanks to the swim grant, Alex Meyer successfully competed in a 21k open water race in Poland and brought home prize money that covered two months of his living expenses.

Phelps also leverages his celebrity to help local charities.  Through Caps for a Cause, Phelps provides signed swim caps so that nonprofit organizations can raise funds at their respective silent auctions and fundraisers. 

Future Plans

Boomer PhelpsThe Olympics is just the icing on the cake for Phelps.  Phelps and his fiancée, Nicole Johnson, welcomed their first child Boomer Robert Phelps earlier this year.  Phelps said he enjoys family life and regularly posts adorable Instagram photos.

The future continues to be golden for Phelps, who is expected to compete in additional swim events this week.  He also can’t seem to leave the pool, and he has hinted that he may continue competitive swimming after Rio.

Watching Phelps score his 21st gold medal – and counting! – this week, it’s clear we are watching history in the making.  And his engagement in philanthropy shows that in and out of the pool, Phelps is one to watch. 

We are rooting for more victories in Rio!  And we’re looking forward to witnessing how he channels his talent, determination, and passion for swimming into creating a more inclusive sport with expanded opportunities for youth and athletes of all backgrounds.

--Melissa Moy

Flooding the Locks: Philanthropy’s Knowledge Conduits
August 3, 2016

 Panama Canal Authority Photo 3

(Adriana Jimenez is grants manager at the Surdna Foundation and also serves on the board of directors of the Grants Managers Network.  She is a regular Transparency Talk contributor and discusses issues pertaining to transparency, data, and grants management.)

Adriana ImageThe Panama Canal expansion project opened last June following several delays and controversies. It was a risky bet with promising outcomes.

While the expansion aimed to improve global trade by doubling the canal’s capacity, it now runs the risk of failure from faulty design. The project was wrought with conflicts of interest, imprecise data, and dubious processes; its stakeholders consider critiques of the canal “unpatriotic,” reluctant to learn from mistakes.

Uniquely positioned to embrace risk, foundations should tread outside their comfort zone to achieve large-scale, systemic change; but they should also learn from the Panama Canal’s massive gamble. When making big bets, transparency, data-informed decisions, accountability, and clarity of process lead to better outcomes. “Success” means having honest conversations about what’s working and what’s not, rather than aiming for perfection.

As foundations move to take on more risk — including increased knowledge-sharing and openness, advocacy funding, financial risk, and impact investing — they will need to operate with greater transparency and accountability. Their staffing functions will evolve to support them in this process. The field of grants management is already shifting in this direction. At many organizations, grants managers are pushing for increased innovation, transparency, collaboration, and improved systems that will lead to more impact.

“Uniquely positioned to embrace risk, foundations should tread outside their comfort zone to achieve large-scale, systemic change.”

From Data Processing to Knowledge Management

Grants management is changing from a process and compliance role to one that focuses on data analysis, information sharing, and knowledge management. According to the 2016 Grants Managers Network Salary & Jobs Survey, grants managers now spend approximately 25% of their time on functions of information/knowledge, evaluation, and strategy (with an additional 14% on data management), and only 10% on compliance and 11% on administrative support.

This evolution has occurred naturally as grants managers work with larger amounts of data, fueled by increasingly powerful technological platforms and processing power. Within this change, we are moving up the ladder on the Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom Pyramid from merely processing data, to helping foundations analyze it and convert it into valuable, meaningful information and knowledge. As grants managers, we now play a key role in strategy by facilitating smarter, data-informed grantmaking.

GMNsalarysurveycover-768x994Like the locks of a canal, grants managers ensure that the right data flows out of our organizations at the right time. We are on the frontlines of providing data and information for external surveys; 990 tax returns; mapping tools; annual reports; foundation websites and searchable public databases; etc. We may also participate in collaborative efforts such as the Foundation Center’s e-Reporting and hGrant, or help implement the principles of IssueLab’s Open Knowlege (for example, by appropriately coding and tagging data, and linking our grants management systems with open repositories for knowledge-sharing, analysis and learning; or by adding open-licensing requirements to our grant contracts). The data and information we deliver allows foundations to deepen impact through collaboration with the field.

Supporting Instinct: Data-Driven Grantmaking Policies

Grants managers can also help foundations set internal policies and procedures that are driven by data, not just habit or inertia. For example, statistics showing a low percentage of grants to new organizations might trigger a change in a funder’s letter of inquiry process to promote more openness through Requests for Proposals (RFPs). Other data might be used to assuage fear of change or generate internal buy-in at the board and/or staff levels. In many cases such data supports — not contradicts — staff and boards’ instinct for change, and leads to increased openness and trust by demonstrating that policy decisions are not arbitrary.

“‘Success’ means having honest conversations about what’s working and what’s not, rather than aiming for perfection.”

At the Surdna Foundation, three years of grantmaking data were used to show that transitioning a portion of the grants approval process from quarterly board approvals to monthly delegated grant approvals would streamline operations, liberate time for “bigger-picture” learning, and benefit grantees by eliminating five weeks from the proposal review process.

In 2014, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation internally reviewed ten years of grantmaking data and discovered a drop in the average duration of its overall grants. To offset this trend, the Foundation’s grants management team used this data point to advocate with their board for the creation of a “Duration Fund” that would renew Hewlett’s commitment to multi-year support, reduce grantee uncertainty, and lessen administrative burdens. Likewise, statistics showing a lower-than-expected percentage of general operating support grants triggered a conversation around increasing unrestricted support --- when used appropriately to advance strategy --- in accordance with the Foundation’s values. Since embarking on its initial ten-year review, Hewlett’s grants management team has been spearheading the assessment of its grantmaking data each year to identify areas for foundation-wide policy improvements.

Tracking Diversity Data

Grants managers are playing a key role in the movement to increase transparency around diversity in philanthropy. By collecting demographic data (including race, ethnicity and gender) about the staff and board composition of their grantees, foundations can hold themselves accountable to values of diversity, equity and inclusion in their grantmaking portfolios, and make progress towards mission and goals.

Trends tweetC 1024x512Many grants managers are leading the process of collecting, structuring, and sharing this aggregate data (often based on D5 Coalition principles) with organizations such as GuideStar and Foundation Center, bringing greater transparency and understanding of diversity in foundation giving. Diversity data can also help funders track how organizations and fields evolve over time, and contribute to the broader body of public information about trends among nonprofits.   

Glasspockets includes Diversity Policies and Diversity Data indicators in its Transparency Trends tool. According to these indicators, 46% of participating foundations make their diversity policies publically available, and 7% share information on the demographics of their own staff and boards (The James Irvine Foundation, for instance, includes this information as an infographic on its annual report).

Legal and Financial Compliance: Pushing the Boundaries of Risk

Transitioning to a more strategic, knowledge management-based role has helped grants managers keep sight of the end goal of their compliance functions, i.e., to create greater impact. Contrary to the perception of compliance as a “risk-averse” function, many grants managers are using the due diligence process to maximize their foundations’ boldest efforts, pushing for greater risk-taking and transparency. In this context, our role is to assess, communicate, and document risk --- not avoid it --- to help foundations make informed decisions about potential rewards and trade-offs.  This shift has occurred as grants managers are increasingly included in strategic conversations “upstream” with program staff and senior leadership.

Advocacy funding is one example. Due to common fears and misconceptions around 501(c)3 lobbying limitations (and certain funders’ hesitation to support these expenses), grantseekers sometimes conceal activities linked to the dreaded “L” word in their proposals.  Foundations should encourage the opposite. With a nuanced understanding of the rules of nonprofit lobbying and advocacy funding, grants managers can foster honesty and openness with applicants about their proposed activities, clarify legal limitations, and encourage lobbying where appropriate as a critical tool towards achieving positive systemic change.

Throughout the due diligence process, grants managers can also advise grantees and program staff on financial issues, and lead constructive discussions with grantseekers to build trust and set expectations from the onset.

Rather than reducing organizations to a set of ratios or denying funding based on numbers, we can advise on alternate ways to structure a grant to provide greater impact (such as providing a capacity-building grant or using a fiscal sponsor). Many of these scenarios require creativity and flexibility to make the grant viable despite all obstacles; some funding may also be riskier in nature (such as exercising expenditure responsibility in countries opposed to civil society, or supporting new entities with no financial track record), but nonetheless more effective.

CEP-Investing-and-Social-ImpactImpact Investments: The Riskiest Bet

The move toward impact investments has arguably been one of philanthropy’s biggest bets as foundations struggle to maintain the balance between purpose and perpetuity (or timely spend-down). According to the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s 2015 Investing and Social Impact report, 41% of foundations now engage in impact investing (including Mission-Related Investments and Program-Related Investments), and another 6% plan to do so in the future. This shift has substantial implications for the staffing of foundations, and some are tapping into the skills of grants management to fill the gaps.

In particular, grants managers are playing a key role in the due diligence process for Program-Related Investments (PRIs), transferring our knowledge and skills from the financial compliance processes. We are also building out systems to track and monitor loan repayments and reporting. Through these functions we act as a bridge between finance and programs, contributing towards organizational learning and mission.

As a leader in the impact investment space, the Kresge Foundation was the first to develop a PRI module in Fluxx (now available to all Fluxx users) to better capture the nuances and complexities of PRIs.  The build out was led by the Foundation’s Program Operations and Information Management department (formerly known as its grants management department, but recently renamed to reflect the totality of its strategic functions).

Transferring PRIs into Kresge’s grants management system has made the Foundation’s processes more transparent, says Marcus McGrew, Director of Program Operations and Information Management: “All of the Foundation’s work that lived in people’s heads has now been consolidated into one data management platform.”

Transparency of PRIs and other impact investments will become increasingly critical as 990 tax returns are now available as machine-readable, open data, and as the line between endowment and program strategies continues to blur.

Like the philanthropic sector, success of the Panama Canal will depend on leaders’ humility and willingness to learn from failure. This will require implementing best practices to ensure the locks flow as intended. If transparency and accountability matter for the world’s greatest engineering feat, they matter for philanthropy.

--Adriana Jimenez

Get Open: Leaders Reflect on Glasspockets' Impact
July 27, 2016

Let Glasspockets help your foundation achieve greater heights. Sharing strategy, knowledge, processes, and best practices in philanthropy is better for everyone – from the grantmakers to grantees and the communities they serve.

But don't take our word for it...

In our new video, Glasspockets: Making the Case for Transparency, philanthropy leaders - including representatives from the Barr Foundation, Ford Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, among others - reflect on the positive impact that Glasspockets and working more openly has made on their work.

Get Open - join the "Glass Pockets" movement today!

Start with taking and sharing our "Who Has Glass Pockets?" transparency self-assessment.

-- Melissa Moy

Glasspockets Find: Exponent Philanthropy Video Series Encourages Transparency
July 14, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)

Embracing failure has the potential to maximize effective and impact in philanthropy.  This trend of self-reflection and sharing lessons learned among foundation and funder leaders is upping the ante on the need for transparency and opening up the work of grantmakers.

Exponent Philanthropy – a philanthropic membership organization representing approximately 2,300 foundations and funders – won a Fund for Shared Insight grant last year to produce a video series that shares wisdom and best practices in philanthropy. The videos will delve into how foundations can be more open about how they work, why and how they make their decisions, and the lessons they have learned – both good and bad.

This year, Explonent Philanthropy released a total of nine Philanthropy Lessons videos that highlight tips and best practices for funders, grantees and philanthropy work. 

Among the videos, the importance of transparency and the tricky topic of evaluation are explored.  How can funders and grantees communicate honestly with one another, and with the communities they serve?  How can impact and effectiveness be measured?  What criteria should be used? 

Several funders acknowledged the challenge in evaluating the effectiveness of grantees and the measures used.  One funder likened the overzealousness of foundation reports to “overjudginess,” where foundation expectations of grantees may be unfair.  Another funder said it’s OK for a grantee to fall short of their program objectives; instead, he expected grantees to be honest and explain the encountered challenges and barriers.

Miguel Milanes, vice president of Allegany Franciscan Ministries (also profiled on Glasspockets), described the importance of flexibility and listening, truly listening to grantees.

Milanes’ organization had given a $2,000 grant to help preserve Mexican American culture through traditional dance and requested a written report on the project outcomes.  Unable to speak or write in English, two grantee representatives gave a face-to-face report to Milanes and shared two binders full of photos and receipts documenting the project.

“It was more important than any report I’ve ever received,” Milanes said of the unorthodox grant report.  “That was a seminal moment.  It changed the way we did our grantmaking and our reporting.  We accept other types of reports and documents on the grants we make.”

Other foundation leaders raised questions about the how and why of evaluation.  Would pre-and post-test survey results really show the impact of helping a human trafficking survivor?  Is the requirement of sending an international fax report of every attendance list for an African HIV women’s program excessive and costly?

Exponent Philanthropy’s innovative project also invites website visitors and funders to share their lessons and personal stories on the website and also via social media using #MyPhilLesson. 

One website visitor, Lisa Tessarowicz of The CALM Foundation, shared how being “uncomfortable” and not having the answers actually helps foundations to think creatively, take more risks to “experiment more and think critically” about how money is given away.

We look forward to seeing more stories from funders, grantees and community at large.  It will interesting to see what grantmaking leaders glean from their experiences with grantees, and how they will apply these important lessons to improve philanthropy and elevate transparency.

--Melissa Moy

Eye On: Marc and Lynne Benioff
July 7, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Marc and Lynne Benioff, and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Benioff_photoTech billionaire Marc Benioff has a long track record as a philanthropist and as a thought leader who advocates for his corporate philanthropy peers to step up their giving.  Despite playing this kind of leadership role in philanthropy circles, it was unexpected to learn that Benioff and his wife Lynne Benioff had recently signed the Giving Pledge, a philanthropy movement started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet.

From Critic to Converted

Prior to signing the Giving Pledge, Benioff publicly expressed skepticism about the Giving Pledge and also whether fellow Pledger Mark Zuckerberg’s $1 billion gift to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) amounted to little more than a tax write-off.

Benioff, founder, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, pointed out that grants made from donor-advised funds, such as Zuckerberg’s SVCF donation, are hidden from view. He expressed concerns that the Facebook founder’s gift, however generous, might lack philanthropic impact due to a lack of transparency and accountability in how the money is used.

Regarding his initial skepticism of the Giving Pledge, Benioff had previously said, “But with no outline for immediate philanthropic work or any references to specific actionable projects, we all will have to wait to see what’s achieved—and the donors themselves may never see it.”

So why did the tech leader change his tune and support the Giving Pledge?  Perhaps it was the collaborative philanthropy effort and the time the Benioffs spent personally with Bill and Melinda Gates that swayed him. 

In the couple’s Giving Pledge letter, the Benioffs said they worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch University of California San Francisco’s California Preterm Birth Initiative. The Benioffs said they were “thrilled to see the impact of the Giving Pledge through the leadership of Bill & Melinda Gates” over the last six years.

Joining the Giving Pledge was also the Benioffs’ opportunity to “reaffirm our commitment to the health and education of our children, pledging to dedicate the majority of our wealth to philanthropy.”  Perhaps Benioff, who in recent years had been actively building philanthropy movements of his own, grew to recognize the potential for scale such movements bring.

Marc Benioff:

  • Founder of Salesforce
  • Forbes’ Most Innovative Companies: #2 in 2015 (#1, 2011-2014)
  • Fortune’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders: #37 in 2016
  • 13% owner of Fitbit
  • Personal net worth: $4.2 bilion

Architect of 1/1/1: “Pay as You Go” Model

Salesforce is a leading enterprise cloud computing company, which allows clients to access their software and data over the Internet instead of installing it on computers.  Since Salesforce’s establishment in 1999, Benioff has pioneered an innovative way to build the Salesforce empire while also supporting local communities.

Benioff is a fan of strategic giving and a “pay as you go” model.  He urges his wealthy peers to give away money as they make it and not “pay at the end,” which had been one of his reservations about the Giving Pledge.  In his Salesforce blog, he noted how Buffet will give 99% of his wealth in the last 10 years of his life.

“There’s no reason why your business, your personal philanthropy and your corporate philanthropy can’t be integrated,” Benioff said in his blog.

The Salesforce approach to philanthropy, which Benioff pioneered, is referred to as the 1/1/1 model that facilitates the “pay as you go” approach, in which a company gives to the communities it serves 1% of its equity, 1% of its employee hours and 1% donated product.  The 1/1/1 model has influenced how Google and hundreds of corporations give to the community.

Building His Fortune

At 15, Benioff founded Liberty Software, and created games for Atari.  Epyx published several of his computer games.  By the age of 16, he began earning royalties of $1,500 a month.

Benioff went on to get his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Southern California in 1986.  While at USC, Benioff interned at apple. Benioff later described how Apple and its co-founder Steve Jobs inspired him, writing in “Beyond the Cloud,” his bestselling memoir: "That summer, I discovered it was possible for an entrepreneur to encourage revolutionary ideas.”

Before creating Salesforce, Benioff worked under Larry Ellison at Oracle Corporation, another Bay Area-based tech giant.

During his 13 years at Oracle, Benioff held numerous executive positions in sales, marketing and product development.  At age 23, Oracle named him Rookie of the Year, and three years later, he became the company’s youngest vice-president.

Benioff would eventually launch his multi-billion company from small, start-up roots in a San Francisco apartment in 1999.

In 2016, Benioff made Fortune Magazine’s 50 World’s Greatest Leaders list.  Salesforce has regularly topped many of Forbes Magazine’s lists, including Best Place to Work, World’s Most Innovative Company and World’s Most Admired Company.

Power Couple Philanthropy

The Benioffs have been longtime donors to the UCSF Medical Center.

Marc Benioff has also used his influence to catalyze local giving by rallying Bay Area corporations to fight local poverty with SF Gives. The group urges pioneering and influential Bay Area companies to give locally because one in five Bay Area residents lives in poverty.

At the time SF Gives launched, Benioff made personal calls to ask local CEOs to join SF Gives.  Participating companies include Google, Levi’s, LinkedIn, Zynga, Box, Jawbone, PopSugar and Dropbox.

Lynne Benioff, a marketing professional, is also a passionate philanthropist.  In 2011, the San Francisco Business Times honored her as a fundraising Health Care Hero. 

She serves on numerous boards as a trustee for the Presidio Trust; University of California San Francisco Foundation, where she chairs the marketing committee; UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland; Children’s Hospital & Research Center Foundation; and Common Sense Media.

Lynne Benioff’s motivation partially stems from her own hospitalization when she experienced late-stage complications in her pregnancy in 2009.  During her month-long stay at UCSF Medical Center, Benioff witnessed the challenges of other patients and families.  Since then, Lynne Benioff has been an advocate for higher health care standards, especially for children.

Following this experience, the Benioffs changed their philanthropic focus to health care for children.  Most of their personal philanthropy is for UCSF with a $250 million gift to build UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland. 

Salesforce Foundation

In addition to the Benioffs’ personal giving, the Salesforce Foundation has a large philanthropic footprint. 

With Benioff’s 1/1/1 model, the foundation focuses giving on 1) technology – offering donated and discounted technologies to nonprofits and higher education; 2) people – encouraging employee engagement, whereby employees have up to seven days off per year to volunteer and can participate in company volunteer efforts; and 3) resources – provide grants in education and Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) programs.

The foundation has given $14 million to the San Francisco Unified School District to advance STEM education.

In 2014, the San Francisco-based Salesforce Foundation gave $19.5 million in grants and scholarships to organizations and individuals in the United States and overseas, according to federal tax returns

Significant grant awards that year included: $5 million to the San Francisco Foundation for public and societal benefit; $1.6 million to the UCSF Foundation for higher education; $1 million to Tipping Point, which supports SF Gives; $988,000 to Code.Org, a Seattle-based group that promotes education; $750,000 to Catholic Charities in San Francisco for human services.  

The foundation also gave numerous awards, from $100,000 to $300,000, to organizations that supported health, higher education and K-12 education.

Social Justice Supporter

Given Marc Benioff’s passion for philanthropy and his comfort level in using his influence to change the status quo, it’s no surprise that he has taken stands for social justice on a national front.  For example, Benioff urged South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from its state capitol.  He supported President Obama’s Equal Pay Measure, which would require large companies to disclose employee compensation broken down by gender, ethnicity, and race.  At Salesforce he conducted a compensation analysis and then budgeted $3 million in 2015 to increase wages for 1,000 female Salesforce employees to close the wage gap between men and women.  

Benioff has also leveraged the economic power of his company to impact social justice issues. For example, Benioff threatened to pull Salesforce.com business from Indiana and Georgia related to legislation that could potentially discriminate against LGBT people.

In 2015, Benioff led a business-world boycott against Indiana’s religious freedom law, which would have allowed businesses to potentially refuse service to LGBT customers for religious reasons.  He also protested Georgia legislation that would give faith-based organizations the option to deny people services based on a “sincerely held religious belief” relating to marriage.  

In a relatively short time, the Benioffs have established quite a robust public track record as both philanthropists and philanthropy influencers.  And unlike many of their tech peers, much of their giving and activism is done in the public eye, which makes it easier for us all to understand their philanthropic point of view and see what’s next for one of the newest Giving Pledgers. 

--Melissa Moy

Walking the Talk on Foundation Openness: Behind the Scenes in the Making of an RFP
April 19, 2016

(Chris Cardona is program officer for philanthropy at the Ford Foundation.)

Chris Cardona Photo

When the latest Star Wars movie came out on DVD, Disney made a big deal about its inclusion of deleted scenes. Director J.J. Abrams announced the deleted scenes on social media and mentioned them in magazine interviews.

While we haven’t just directed a billion-dollar-grossing movie, the Fund for Shared Insight (“Shared Insight”) is taking a page from Abrams’ playbook and offering the following commentary on our own deleted scenes. In our case, they’re from our recently published request for proposals for projects that advance foundation openness.

Come take a look behind the scenes of how a philanthropic initiative evolves….

"Compared to what nonprofits do on the front lines, foundations talking about failure is not particularly courageous."

Shared Insight is a funder collaborative working to improve philanthropy by increasing foundation openness – i.e. sharing our goals, strategies and failures; listening and engaging in dialogue with others; acting on what we hear; and, sharing what we have learned.  We made our first round of grants in 2014, and have been learning a lot alongside the grantees with whom we’re privileged to work. And as my colleague Melinda Tuan wrote about on the CEP blog, one of the things we’ve learned from our evaluation partners at ORS Impact, who are looking at the impact of our grants as well as that of our own collaboration, is that we’re not making as much progress as we’d hoped on foundation openness. (To download the full report, please see Fund for Shared Insight: Theory of Change Progress and Lessons.)

In an effort to do better, we sought the advice of our philanthropy infrastructure colleagues and had a number of productive conversations among members of the collaborative. Based on those discussions, we developed a draft request for proposals (RFP), and decided that we should model the behavior we hope other funders will adopt by publishing the draft online, and inviting anyone to comment.

If you compare the draft and the final version, they’re pretty different.

So what changed, and why did we take certain things out in response to feedback?

We were honored to receive 18 pages worth (!) of feedback on the draft request for proposals. Here’s what we took away from the comments:

  • Don’t impose a framework where it doesn’t belong. At the core of the draft RFP was a three-part model distinguishing among “closed organizations,” which don’t practice any openness; “fundamental openness,” in which foundations broadcast information in a one-way manner; and “courageous openness,” in which they engage in two-way dialogue with outside parties. This framework went through much iteration in our internal discussions. Somewhere there’s a PowerPoint slide with an image of a mountain, with “courageous” at the summit, “fundamental” at the basecamp near the foot of the mountain, and “closed” in a cave underneath the mountain. We talked about it as a spiral. We talked about multiple points of entry. Gosh, foundation folks sure do love our frameworks. But this one just didn’t work. No matter how we tried to frame it, people told us, it’s not a spectrum. All three levels are valid and have their benefits, and all three require changes in practices and/or culture. So, we dropped the idea of a spectrum with judgments about more or less desirable kinds of openness.
  • “Courageous” we’re not. That specific label was VERY unpopular. We were inspired by one of our colleagues who used that term to describe (we thought) things like foundations talking openly about failure. Yet that very person wrote to us to say that we’d gotten it wrong! Compared to what nonprofits do on the front lines, and what the people we seek to help face in their daily lives, foundations talking about failure is not particularly courageous. Whatever risk a funder might face in engaging in dialogue about what works and what doesn’t pales compared to the risks our partners and beneficiaries take all the time. So we dropped that label.
  • Listen to the sounds of silence. Our category of “closed foundation” didn’t take into account funders that deliberately remain anonymous for personal or ethical reasons. Anonymous giving is a tradition with deep cultural and faith-based roots, and is very different than the case we had in mind, of a foundation just neglecting to share information it has ready at hand. So we dropped “closed foundation” as a category or point of contrast, and focused instead on the positive or affirmative elements of openness that we seek to foster.
  • Don’t assume you have control over your message. This is the flip side of anonymity. One commenter pointed out that because of the increasingly public nature of foundation tax returns (known as 990-PFs), which are starting to become machine-readable, foundations do not have the luxury of remaining anonymous. As this commenter observed, soon, two kids in a garage in Ohio could be able to write a program that searches machine-readable 990-PFs and produces analyses of giving patterns. Another commenter made a related point; we shouldn’t assume that foundations have control over their communications and information, because in an increasingly social-media-saturated and surveilled world, they don’t. To assume that a base level of openness is a choice may not turn out to be true. This is another reason we dropped the “closed foundation” as a point of contrast.
  • What will it take to make this real? Finally, we heard from commenters who asked about the implications of foundation openness for decision-making. Under the kinds of practices we’re encouraging, will foundations retain control over decision-making about resources? In “courageous” openness, how much decision-making power are you giving stakeholders? While it only came from a couple of people, this was a particularly interesting piece of feedback, because it gets to a core issue in foundation openness: the desire for control, and the fear of giving it up. Foundation openness does usually mean real change in organizational practices and culture. That’s not something we took out in response to feedback; if anything, we’re doubling down on that notion. We are betting it will take real commitment by CEOs and boards to change their culture and become more open.

The upshot of this feedback is we’ve produced an RFP that we hope is more streamlined, more straightforward, and more direct. We added several more examples of the types of projects we’re interested in funding, and we made our definition of openness much simpler, without a framework. The process of gathering the feedback was tremendously informative, and we deeply appreciate all those who contributed their time and wisdom to this effort. We hope the result was worth it – and that in the end, we’re able to fund even better projects that advance foundation openness.

Apparently, a feature of the new Star Wars DVD is that if you already have a toy of the robot* BB-8, it can react to what’s playing on the screen. While we can’t promise anything as cute or compelling as that, we hope you’ve enjoyed this peek behind the scenes of how a philanthropic initiative evolves. We look forward to the projects that will result, and to the impact that they’ll generate.

*Yes, I know it’s technically a droid!

--Chris Cardona

Blind Spots No More: Introducing Transparency Trends
April 13, 2016

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

Janet Camarena

There are some lessons you learn that you never forget. "Mirror, signal, blind spot," is thankfully one of those lessons for me, dating all the way back to driver's ed when I was equal parts excited and horrified that someone was handing me the keys to a moving vehicle. I still recall the teacher emphasizing how important it is when changing lanes to first check the mirror for what is behind you; signal to let others know you are entering/exiting a lane; and then to check your blind spot, assuming there is someone invisible to you that only looking over your shoulder and out the window will reveal.

"The new Transparency Trends tool helps foundations benchmark openness."

So, is our new Glasspockets' Transparency Trends a mirror, a signal, or a viewer for revealing blind spots a foundation may be creating? It actually serves all of these purposes. Transparency Trends, created with support from the Barr Foundation, aggregates the data we have collected from all foundations that have taken and publicly shared their "Who Has Glass Pockets?" self-assessment transparency profiles, and allows the user to interact and display the data in a variety of ways.

The default view displays data about all 77 participating foundations, and users can perform a number of helpful transparency benchmarking activities with the tool, including:

  • Learn which transparency elements are most and least commonly shared online;
  • Access lists of which participating foundations share each transparency indicator;
  • Access statistics about the sharing frequency of each transparency element;
  • Compare a specific foundation to a select peer group by region/asset/foundation type; and
  • Download a customized report detailing suggested improvements for a particular foundation.

Some interesting facts quickly reveal both strengths and blind spots:

Searchable Grants Performance Assessment
  • Nearly two-thirds of participating foundations provide searchable grants via their websites;
  • 87% of participating foundations provide key staff biographies;
  • Fewer than half of participating foundations post a Code of Conduct online;
  • Despite all of the talk about impact, only 22% of participating foundations share foundation performance assessments via their websites; and
  • Only 31% of participating foundations use their websites to collect grantee feedback.

The more I explore Transparency Trends, the more excited I became about the "Mirror, signal, blind spot" rule of the road as a metaphor for the importance of philanthropic transparency. After all when you are handed the keys to a foundation, it's great if someone also hands you some institutional memory so you can have a view of the road travelled so far and what has been learned so you can actually get somewhere rather than driving in circles.

And since there are likely others who are travelling a similar path, the notion of signaling to the world what direction you are going resonates as well, since you might get there faster (and more efficiently) via a pooled or shared ride approach, or by at least sharing your road maps and shortcuts.

And finally, are you and the others on the road actually creating blind spots that prevent those around you from knowing you exist and building on your shared efforts? From Transparency Trends, you can see that fewer than half of participating foundations have a Knowledge Center that shares the lessons they are learning, and only 12% have open licensing policies that make it clear how to build on the knowledge the foundations funds and produces.

Knowledge Center Open Licensing

As fun as it is to explore the data on the pinwheel display, don't miss the opportunity to download a customized report. Since the reports are particularly helpful as a mechanism to surface both the transparency blind spots and strengths a particular foundation might have, Transparency Trends is accessible to any foundation, whether or not they have previously participated in Glasspockets.

So, if you have not submitted a profile to Glasspockets, you can still explore and extract helpful information from the tool by completing a short questionnaire about your existing transparency practices. The questionnaire will not be shared without your permission, but it will allow you to view your foundation as compared to others in our database.

Customized ReportA customized report from Transparency Trends

Our hope is these reports will serve to encourage greater foundation transparency by quickly surfacing data that identifies areas in which a foundation is behind its peers in regards to specific transparency indicators. And for those foundations that have already participated, you get a shortcut to your customized report since you will skip the questionnaire and go directly to a report to reveal your strengths and weaknesses, or areas where you may inadvertently be creating blind spots.

And speaking of blind spots, I have been thankful for the "Mirror, signal, blind spot" mantra many times when it has literally saved my life. I can recall several occasions when I've ritually check the blind spot, convinced it was empty, and only because I did the over-the-shoulder check did I avoid a collision. I'm reminded of this particular lesson at the launch of Transparency Trends because perhaps philanthropy needs a way to do the over-the-shoulder check as well. By visualizing both philanthropy's strengths and weaknesses when it comes to greater openness, we can collectively work toward a future with fewer blind spots, more awareness of those around us, and a clear view of what we have learned from the road travelled so far.

Explore Transparency Trends and let me know what you think.

-- Janet Camarena

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

    If you are interested in being a
    guest contributor, contact:
    glasspockets@foundationcenter.org

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