Transparency Talk

Category: "Human Resources" (9 posts)

Katrina Ten Years Later: Philanthropy’s Reflections and Lessons Learned
September 3, 2015

(Melissa Moy is the special projects associate for Glasspockets and Janet Camarena is the director of transparency initiatives.)

Although Hurricane Katrina is one of the most devastating and catastrophic events this country has faced, the disaster inspired heroic acts of courage, banded neighbors and communities together, and served to shine a bright spotlight on how philanthropy and our collective capacity to give, can generate hope and promise during even our bleakest hour.  

According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, at $108 billion, it is the nation’s most costly natural disaster and one of the most deadly hurricanes with more than 1,800 lost lives. 

Hurricane Katrina also left a unique and indelible mark on philanthropy, with Giving USA estimating that $6.5 billion came from the private sector in just the two years following the disaster.  However, given the enormous impacts on community health, shelter, jobs and the economy, philanthropy and government had an unprecedented challenge in addressing the great and urgent needs of New Orleans and the surrounding areas in Katrina’s aftermath. 

Anniversaries offer a natural opportunity for reflection and remembrance.

Since anniversaries offer a natural opportunity for reflection and remembrance, the last few weeks have provided a number of articles, reports, and programs that open up the work in new ways, showing both transparency around data and lessons learned, as well as pointing to potential ways forward with continuing challenges. Below is a round-up of the various resources that have recently been produced related to helping us better understand and learn from our field’s continuing efforts to render aid, hope, and ultimately change for the better:

  • ULGNOlogoNew coalitions and opportunities arose in the areas of education reform; economic development and entrepreneurship; criminal justice reform; and housing recovery.  With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, New Orleans has released a resilience strategy.
  • The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), which focuses on “the when, where and how of informed disaster giving,” recently released an assessment of how and where foundations are spending their dollars.  Members of the CDP also shared their perspectives on lessons learned and discussed how some organizations were transparent about their failures. For example, the American Red Cross admitted to their failure when fraud occurred while providing financial assistance.
  • Katrina10LogoFoundations and organizations also report disparities, including racial and economic impacts. For example, a report from the Urban League of New Orleans finds that recovery efforts have disproportionately benefited white residents, and that many African American residents who left the region after the disaster, have not returned.
  • For an examination of Katrina’s significance to our national struggle with race and class, our own PhilanTopic’s Mitch Naufft’s recent blog, “When the Past is Never Gone,” is a must read.
  • Overall, philanthropic organizations can inform and promote their goals and results through innovative storytelling.  Katrina 10 – a group of nationwide foundations and corporations – is one such entity that is sharing recovery data.

Data and infographics, particularly through the use of social media, provide foundations and others, a unique opportunity to report on events on the ground as well as how, where and who receives funding.  Additionally, foundations can tell unique stories with data and infographics, and expand opportunities for transparency.

People often say that time heals all wounds; the recurring theme from the resources might instead lead us to believe that though it does heal some wounds, the passing of time also creates new and unexpected wounds.  As a result, the best way to truly heal may be to increase our collective understanding of what is working and what isn’t.

--Melissa Moy & Janet Camarena

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

Board Compensation in Grantmaking Foundations: Reasonable and Necessary?
February 19, 2013

Mark Hager is associate professor of nonprofit studies in the School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University. He teaches a graduate course in philanthropy each spring semester.

Hager_100Tradition dictates that board members work for free in most quarters of the nonprofit sector, but that isn’t necessarily true for grantmaking foundations, especially independent ones. In a new paper (open access available until late March) published in Public Integrity, the ethics journal sponsored by the American Society for Public Administration, Elizabeth Boris and I consider the question of what varieties of grantmaking foundations compensate their board members for governance duties. It reboots and reframes an earlier analysis conducted by the Urban Institute, the Foundation Center, and GuideStar.

In the paper, we point to several interesting examples, including a very large foundation’s generous policy of trustee compensation spelled out in its organizing documents, another with seven-figure annual compensation paid to a bank to act as a very part time “institutional trustee,” and another that underwent IRS investigation for eye-popping compensation that essentially amounted to trustees looting a charitable trust. These cases aren’t typical, but they are part of the big picture of how work gets done in grantmaking foundations and how much insiders gets paid to do it. In more typical cases, foundations might have justifiable reasons to compensate board members, including to ensure representation from beneficiary populations or to extend health insurance benefits to family founders. It’s the extreme cases, however, that threaten to color all of philanthropy.

Compensation for governance duties is perfectly legal, so long as it falls under the IRS’ broad standard of “reasonable and necessary.” The practice is pretty rare in community foundations, partly due to the fact that they rely so heavily on public contributions and are therefore subject to public scrutiny. It also appears to be fairly rare in corporate foundations, but that may largely be due to the fact that many corporate foundation trustees get paid as corporate executives, making their compensation invisible on the foundation side. About one in five independent foundations, however, appear to report compensation of their board members for governance duties, as reported on Form 990-PF. 

The practice is always concentrated in larger foundations. Of the 10,000 largest U.S. foundations that are the subject of the study, more than half compensate no one, including any staff. Most foundations are small and get their work done by family volunteers. Foundations that compensate staff members are more likely to compensate their board members. However, for the typical foundation, board compensation levels are imminently reasonable. The median individual board member compensation in independent foundations is only about $8,000. That’s not an indication of a rampant problem.

However, a few bad apples always threaten to spoil the bunch. The median may be $8,000, but the mean was $15,700 due to a number of well-compensated apples. When a board member’s one-year compensation reaches $200,000 (this happens), or a bank trustee is compensated $1,000,000 to spend a few hours a month managing investments (noted above), or aggregate board compensation in a given foundation exceeds its grants in a given year (this happens too), we might rightly ask whether compensation has exceeded what is “reasonable and necessary” for governing the foundation’s mission. Also, $1,000 here and $100,000 there adds up to real money, to the tune of more than $100,000,000 paid out to foundation board members in a given year. People hear that and start asking why that money isn’t being allocated to community nonprofits instead.

Who is going to check to see if board compensation is reasonable and necessary? For many organizations in the nonprofit sector, the general public is the first regulator. Service providers and advocates, especially those that rely on public contributions, reign in compensation and overhead costs due to public pressure. This is not the case with independent foundations, however, since they are not beholden to public contributions. Since the general public has no skin in the private foundation game, that public tends to ignore them.

A second regulator candidate, then, is government. Certainly, the IRS can prosecute private foundations that exceed the vague “reasonable and necessary” standard. Thing is, they don’t, at least not very often. For one thing, identification of board member compensation is very difficult on Form 990-PF.  For 2008, the IRS revamped Form 990 for public charities so that compensated individuals are identified as board members or employees. No similar revamp happened to Form 990-PF, where administrative and governance duties are conflated. Picking out board members working on governance duties is tricky; board compensation must be inferred from titles or numbers of hours worked, if reported. So, board compensation is not always obvious on the federal form. Even when unreasonable or unnecessary compensation appears evident, the IRS is often unwilling to take on community elites with deep pockets.

The third regulator, maybe, is private foundation executives and board members themselves. That’s one of the ideas underlying Glasspockets: private foundations will regulate themselves when practices are transparent. Private foundations certainly do not need to eradicate the practice of compensating board members for governance duties. However, when outliers cause observers (like me) to raise their eyebrows, the whole field can get painted as out-of-touch with community needs. Maybe Glasspockets can plant a stake in the ground on this issue to encourage foundation leaders themselves to openly disclose this information as a best practice. Voluntary and widespread disclosure of board member compensation, venues for discussion, and bright lights on questionable practices can help stem criticism of compensation that is “reasonable and necessary” for carrying out the exempt purposes of grantmaking foundations. 

Everyone benefits when somebody, somehow, enforces the “reasonable and necessary” standard. Grantmaking foundations will keep better faith with their local communities. Regulators will be able to concentrate on more worthy offenses. Nonprofits will benefit from resources that are otherwise diverted into trustee pockets. Win, win, win.

-Mark Hager

The Archives of U.S. Foundations: an Endangered Species, Part 2
January 14, 2013

John E. Craig, Jr., is Executive Vice President & COO of The Commonwealth Fund. He recently presented at a Philanthropy New York event on Why Archives Matter, which was the subject of an earlier blog post here.

Craig_100In an earlier blog, I reported the findings of The Commonwealth Fund’s December 2012 survey of foundations’ current archiving practices. It is of considerable concern that no more than 20 percent of even large foundations (those with assets of $240 million or more) maintain archives, given the importance of historical records to researchers and helping to assure accountability and good management in the sector.

A review of the literature, the survey findings, and conversations with leading archivists and foundation officers suggest ways in which the state of archiving in the foundation sector could be improved:

1. The number of foundations currently maintaining archives is far fewer than it should be, and foundation boards and executives should give more attention to the issue than they do now. Audit and compliance committees of foundation boards should ensure that at least the short-term records-retentions policy required by Sarbanes-Oxley is developed and enforced, and should take an active role in seeing that the question of archiving important records is addressed at the board level.

2. Chief executive officers of foundations should see one of their responsibilities as assessing the foundation’s need for archives and, if the decision is affirmative, delegating clear responsibility for their development and maintenance.

3. Boards and managements should see that resources are set aside as needed to achieve archiving objectives. The 2012 survey reveals that most foundations will find that maintaining archives, if done efficiently, is not a major expense.

4. Every foundation should have a stated archiving policy—even if it is “none”—to ensure that the question has been addressed. Policies should specify what records are to be preserved, the archiving model to be pursued (in-house vs. outsourced), access guidelines and restrictions, and guidelines for paper and electronic preservation. Archiving policies should ensure that the intensity of the archiving effort varies with the potential value of materials to users. The policy should be reviewed every five years to ensure that it keeps up with advances in information storage technology.

5. Archives are a "glasspockets" issue, and the Council on Foundations should be encouraged to include maintenance of archives among its best-practice guidelines for foundations above some minimum endowment size.

6. Outsourcing the archiving function to an external archive center is a viable option that many foundations, including multi-billion dollar ones, should consider. The choice of external center, however, must be made with care, and performance monitored regularly. Important questions include the following: do the foundations or other organizations that are currently donating archival records to the external center share similar objectives and expectations; does the external center have other significant collections that provide a valuable context for the foundation's archive; can the center meet the foundation’s expectations regarding the speed with which records are processed, provided with online finding aids, and opened to researchers; does the archival institution have the capacity to manage the long-term preservation of digital records and to provide access to them?

7. Many foundations, especially small and newer ones, may find that their archiving objectives going forward can be met with cloud-based content management systems (now spreading throughout the foundation community) that can be adapted in various ways for use by external researchers.

8. Two-thirds of larger foundations were established after 1989, but youth should be no excuse for postponing the question of whether to archive or not. Indeed, young foundations are in the enviable position of being on the ground floor on the technology front, often starting out with state-of-the art information systems in which virtually all of their records have always been kept digitally. Under these circumstances, archives are almost a natural byproduct of a good information system, with minimal marginal cost.

9. Spend-down foundations are prone to establish archives, but they often confront the issue only as the date of their sunset becomes imminent. Ideally, the question should be addressed early in their life.

10. Information technology staff of foundations should have as one of their major responsibilities the development of systems within the foundation that advance archiving objectives. They should work closely with the external archive center, when the foundation uses one, to coordinate and promote IT initiatives.

11. An affinity group of foundation officers with responsibility for archives (both in-house and outsourced) would greatly advance the spread of best practices in the sector. Foundations without archives reported in the 2012 survey that if there were a foundation-led group developing archiving standards and guidelines and providing information on consultants and experienced-based advice on technical issues, they would be better equipped to activate nascent plans for establishing archives.

12. Most importantly, consideration should be given to development of archive cooperatives by a consortia of foundations with common interests and archiving objectives. It is doubtful that existing archive centers have the capacity to take on large numbers of new foundation clients. Given the enormous number of foundations, interregional differences, and frequent commonality of interests at the regional level, multiple foundation archive coops might well be easier to launch and operate than a single national one. If the concept were to be judged promising, it could be piloted and capitalized by a few very large foundations in an “early adopter region”—with spread of the model to other regions to follow, if justified by the experience of the pilot.

In giving inadequate attention to the preservation of its historical records, the foundation sector is shortchanging historians and researchers of public policy, social movements, and important institutions and individuals who made a difference in their time. Above all, foundations are shortchanging themselves, by not ensuring that records exist for learning from experience and demonstrating their worth to society.

--John E. Craig, Jr.

Transatlantic Exchange: A German Foundation's Social Media Journey, Part Two
May 10, 2012

(Anja Adler, a former communication manager for German foundation Stiftung Mercator, is now writing her PhD on the political importance of online communication and social media and works as freelancing social media strategist for the foundation. She has a M.A. degree in Communication and North American Studies from Free University Berlin.)

Anja Adler

Last time, I blogged about my recent journey to the US to learn about how US grantmakers are incorporating social media networks into their philanthropic efforts to identify models that might be useful for the German-based Stiftung Mercator, where I work. One of the questions I started with was whether social media leadership should be left to communications, or if programs should take up the responsibility? A recurring theme, and a possible answer that emerged throughout my journey, was the importance of cultivating internal social media champions.

Social media networks are fast-paced; organizational change isn't. As Case Foundation's Be Fearless initiative perfectly portrays, social media is just one measure among many towards a more tolerant and open learning culture. It is difficult for an organization to change everything at once. Additionally, every foundation needs to find its own way. But talking to Asia Society, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Knight Foundation, Open Society Foundations and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, I heard repeating ideas. No question, CEO and leadership support are central to the successful change of a foundation's communication culture. As Eric Cade Schoenborgn, Community Manger at Knight Foundation, perfectly put it, "We are our CEO." Robert Wood Johnson's Risa Lavizzo-Mourey (@Risalavizzo), Knight's Alberto Ibargüen (@Ibarguen) or Gates' Jeff Raikes (@jeffraikes), for example, are all active opinion leaders on Twitter. Additionally, they informally reward staff's social media engagement through praise and attention and formally by allocating resources or including it in staff performance assessments.

Click on the blue tags to see location details. Hint: Double click the map to zoom in and see all locations in New York.

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Even though leadership support is a premise, social media cannot be installed top-down. When it comes to online, two-way communication, each and every member on staff needs to learn how to use these new channels and experience the added value themselves. Here the idea of "social media champions" comes in handy. Instead of "converting" all employees at once, this approach suggests building a coalition of the willing. All of the above mentioned foundations worked with pilot projects, starting with a handful of staff members and helped them become "social media champions." The chosen volunteers received training sessions and were supported by internal or external consultants to work on strategies relevant to their projects and needs.

For Mercator, this approach seems ideal. Giving interviews and speeches, my colleagues are already ambassadors of the foundation. By starting with only a few people, this strategy also formulates smarter goals. It help to keep costs and resources in check by offering training only when it is needed. With this strategy we could make sure that social media is only used when it supports our strategic work. And as a benefit the "social media champions" then spread the word about their social media success, be it the call of a journalist in response to a blog story, the tweeted feedback of a project partner, or the proposal for an online challenge by target audience not reached before. What more can you ask for?

I would be interested in hearing if other foundations have experience with this approach. Also let me know with whom I should visit on my next trip? Please also give me your suggestions or social media links I should see below.

At Mercator, we know we are just at the beginning of our social media journey and my travels in the U.S. have given me a guard railing. Hopefully this first tour was just the beginning of a continuing exchange because we are definitely looking forward to the ride.

RWJF: Thoughts on Putting the Social in Social Networking
March 12, 2012

(Erin Kelly is the social media manager at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Follow her on Twitter.)

Erin Kelly

As my colleague Steve Downs indicated in a January post here on Transparency Talk, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is "a couple of years into our journey and we reap the benefits of being more open and engaged every day." How serendipitous that as I started to draft an outline for this post, I stumbled upon "The Promise of Social Media" on Forbes, where the authors surmise, "Based on our extensive field research--we believe social media is likely to be one of the most significant forces reshaping management and business over the next decade and more." Here's my perspective on how one philanthropy is navigating this vast ocean and a few early observations from these efforts in the pursuit of making new things possible.

Roll Up Your Sleeves and Participate

Philanthropy can embrace this networked age to work collectively to reach our shared goals.

Many of us (staff at RWJF) are engaged on social media platforms sharing research and insights into the areas we work, revealing the results of grantmaking and evaluations, and touting the efforts of our grantees and partners. Steve affirmed this last month, as "a fundamental part of any RWJF staff member's job [is] to remain up to date with the latest developments in the field." Web 2.0, the introduction of social tools, has offered us greater opportunity for two-way lines of communication and engagement. When I want to gather intel, I share an update on my LinkedIn wall, or post a status update on Google+ or Facebook, soliciting input on my half-baked idea or venting the latest dilemma stumping me. When the Vice President of Research and Evaluation wants to learn what research really resonated with the public, without an internal bias, he invited "the people formerly known as the audience" to RWJF's web site to vote and comment. (words in quotation taken from @chiefmaven's visit to the Foundation in October 2011.

What have we learned? Set aside time to practice using the platforms to demonstrate the value of such efforts first-hand. "It sounds really simple," Steve says, "but it's very hard to know what social media really means until you do it. Conducting small, focused online experiments allow staff to learn about the potential for social media within their work." Staff members are encouraged to tweet during "learning sessions." These sessions have been part of our DNA for a long time; outside experts are invited to speak at the Foundation to share a dialogue with staff about a subject matter related to our mission. Our physical walls no longer hold back wisdom; at the same time this helps serve as a wading pool to help us, particularly new staff, build more confidence in these tools and mindset.

Be Vocal; Encourage Others to Join In

The Vulnerable Populations Portfolio was just beginning to investigate the area of trauma. Instead of approaching this through more traditional avenues, such as commissioning a scan, Program Officer Kristin Schubert hosted an online discussion to gain a better understanding of how different stakeholders viewed chronic trauma, particularly its impact on healthy development among adolescents. The program work is still being developed, but the discussion forum affirmed for Schubert that various audiences were thinking about and approaching trauma very differently and that no one at present is approaching trauma in a holistic way. While this effort provided an opportunity for RWJF staff and current grantees that work within adolescent systems to uncover real-time research, models and practice in the field, it also facilitated a network weaving opportunity for anyone involved in the issue to connect with peer-experts in youth neuroscience research.

What have we learned? To do our work better--e.g. develop strong, impactful programs--we need to be honest about what we know and what we don't know about a new area of interest. And when soliciting the input of others, it is critically important to be as specific as possible in the requests for engagement. Be clear about the information you are seeking and what you want others to contribute, so everyone involved walks away more knowledgeable and you attain the goal you set out to accomplish.

Don't Reinvent the Wheel

Senior Program Officer, Mike Painter, wondered: Could we provide a social networking site (SNS) for a group of thought leaders working to improve health care across the country--patients, consumers, physicians, policy-makers, employers, health plan leaders, anyone with a genuine interest in improving the quality of care--to have open, honest discussions on a range of quality related topics? In the past, Painter has relied upon being a member of an existing listserv, which may seem limiting and constrictive given the environment we engage in today 24/7 with seemingly limitless platforms that offer farther reaching networking tools. From an original invite to leaders within the Aligning Forces for Quality initiative, the group has welcomed more and more people with similar goals and interests. The collective now has access to new perspectives and ideas, a treasure trove of experts and expertise to learn from, and a means to collaborate with one another. Almost one year in, Transformation has Begun is still going strong with more than 600 members on Facebook.

What have we learned? Find ways to meaningfully engage in existing communities or networks. The right platform may not be the one you build. We tried this when the group launched--we built the platform--but the interaction was not as high as anticipated. Once the space moved to a SNS people were already engaged in (Facebook), membership and engagement catapulted. Also, ensure you have clear terms of use, including general etiquette guidelines, from the beginning. According to a recent PEW Internet report, 85 percent of SNS-using adults say people are mostly kind, but nearly 50 percent have witnessed mean or cruel behavior by others at least occasionally. Offer concrete etiquette guidelines to foster a pleasant and supportive SNS experience.

Be Ready and Willing to Learn

Before letting go of the notion that the platform had to be ours, the Foundation enabled comments on RWJF.org. The Foundation welcomes comments on every piece of content posted, such as press releases, issue briefs, evaluations, and videos. Getting ready for this required significant internal coordination to ensure we had representation from all areas of our operations and a robust framework for moderation. While we were ready (and eager) for a sizable number of comments, it seems that the opportunity for commenting may not be as natural on our site when compared to the more conversational nature of blogging.

What have we learned? Do not assume that a new behavior or means of interaction--e.g. public commenting on your material--will be accepted by your audience. People may not turn out or may be less willing to jump in to offer public comments on an academic article or other published works. While the Foundation was ready for action, the website averages one to two comments a week.

Bundle Your ROI Stories

As Lucy Bernholz and Jim Canales point out in this insightful post, knowing what constituents are focused on or discussing at a given moment is vital to our work. We are no longer limited to having a discussion with those in the room; anyone holding a tablet or smart phone is now part of the conversation. The Foundation is excited to witness the next big, bold breakthrough bound to transpire when multidiscipline thought leaders and unconventional perspectives mingle in the large community.

If you ask staff who lived the activities summarized above, using social technologies has had an overall positive impact on the way we work allowing us to surface a variety of ideas, gain valuable input into team strategies and help disseminate knowledge. Most importantly, these experiences have reinforced the notion that philanthropy can embrace this networked age to work collectively to reach our shared goals. We still have a ways to go. As a learning organization ever focused on assessing impact, we are still tinkering with how to evaluate these investments in social networking.

Do any of these lessons ring true for your organization? Do you see social media reshaping your work? Share your story of how new ways of communicating, convening, or collaborating have galvanized your organization in the comments below.

-- Erin Kelly

Glasspockets Find: Beyond the Grant Dollars, Hewlett Foundation Explains Tools Available to Support Grantees
January 17, 2012

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

As we continue to showcase examples of foundations' transparency, Paul Brest, retiring president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, provides a nice window into the thinking behind the foundation's work. Grants aren't the only way the foundation seeks to solve social and environmental problems. In Beyond the Grant Dollars, his opening essay of the recently released 2010 Annual Report, Brest pulls back the curtain to explain the added value of the program staff in magnifying and maximizing impact.

He writes, "The Beyond the Grant Dollars project has two primary objectives:

  • To improve the Foundation staff's and Board's decisions about the mix of strategies and the allocation of financial and human resources that can best achieve our goals.
  • To determine the skills, experience, and other qualities we should look for in new staff members and ways to improve the development of Foundation program staff."

Brest does a fine job detailing a number of ways that funders like the Hewlett Foundation employ staff to get the biggest bang for the buck, all the while trying to keep their eyes on the prize. With solid examples from the foundation's own experience as a highly engaged philanthropist, he thoughtfully presents the rationale for the various tactics mobilized for mission achievement. And, as in the best instances of lessons learned, he does not only discuss successes. In his own words, "potentially high returns also involves a significant risk of failure."

Finally, Brest mentions the desire to capture the substantive knowledge that program staff acquire in their fields and in their various activities and disseminate it for internal use as well as externally "when it has the potential to inform nonprofit organizations, foundations, and others."

View the President's Statement and the full Annual Report, or see past Annual Reports dating back to 1966.

-- Mark Foley

Glasspockets Find: Transparent Leadership Change
September 20, 2011

California Wellness FoundationBecause foundations are institutions, it is often difficult to feel connected to the people behind the institutional walls, or "in the know" about internal changes that may affect those outside the foundation. But each and every one of them is composed of a group of individuals passionately working together -- at least in theory -- toward a common purpose, and each of these individuals is connected to networks outside the foundation that add value at the personal, organizational, and sector level.

Open letter from Gary L. Yates It is, therefore, admirable when someone like Gary L. Yates, president and CEO of The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF) for nearly 20 years, shares his intention to retire well in advance of the event with both his internal and external audiences via an open letter on the foundation’s web site. This letter goes beyond simply announcing the leadership change; Yates' message also discusses the implications this transition will have on the foundation's grantmaking program -- addressing head-on the questions in which grantees and other stakeholders have a vested interest. Change is inevitable, but made easier when preparations can be implemented based on foreknowledge. With a transparent change in leadership, TCWF is reassuring its various audiences. And in doing so, Yates reminds us that human relationships really are at the center of philanthropy.

-- Mark Foley

Integrating a Network Mindset into Grantmaking: Part 2
March 1, 2011

Beth Kanter is the author of Beth's Blog, one of the longest running and most popular blogs for nonprofits, and co-author of the highly acclaimed book, The Networked Nonprofit, published by J. Wiley in 2010.

This is the second of a two-part blog post that explores "network weaving" skills. In Part 1, we looked at how grantmakers can incorporate these activities into daily practice. This second post explores how to use social networking tools to visualize your network, examines why changing our practice is so hard, and looks at how grantmakers can overcome the challenge.

Beth Kanter

Visualize your network. An important technique is to visualize your network. Steve Waddell, in talking about the value of mapping networks for systemic change, asserts that maps are most useful as tools to generate discussion about "what is," "what can be," and "what needs to change." Looking at your network map while thinking of gaps can be an insightful step.

Mapping Your LinkedIn Network

Recently LinkedIn created this free social network analysis mapping tool that lets you see your LinkedIn network and better understand relationships between you and your network. The most powerful feature of the map is that allows you to peer into your network, notice connections, and to remind yourself of people you know but may not have thought about in years.

As an exercise, we used the mapping to visualize our networks and ask these questions:

  • What patterns do you see?
  • What surprises you?
  • What might you do differently with your network?

I learned a lot by browsing through the visual network. My network is dense because I'm connected to a lot of well-connected people. What surprised me most about my map was how densely connected the nonprofit technology field was. Viewing my whole network in this visual format helped me remember people who I haven't been in touch with and their knowledge.

Using the map with a specific question about a gap is far more valuable exercise. I make a lot of referrals and I tend to get in ruts, but using the LinkedIn map as a spark to think of new people was useful.

Why Is It So Hard?

During the discussion, we all agreed that incorporating network weaving tasks into daily work requires conscious effort, especially if these activities are not called out specifically in a staff performance plan. One grantmaker shared that they have indicators around growing their professional network and have begun to celebrate staff members using social networking tools to do so. For example, a staff person recently received special recognition for reaching over 1,000 followers on Twitter.

There are a few personal and organizational challenges:

Information Overload: The issue is about being able to shift between connectedness and solitude. Once we are able to do this in discrete ways, we can avoid the feeling of anxiety that might come from being confronted with a lot of unstructured information.

Time Consuming: Learning new skills does take time to develop a habit, and then it becomes less time consuming because you don't have to think about the skill so much. Stephen Covey says it takes 23 days to make habit. One way to start is to focus on a new network weaving skill each month. Write it down on a sticky note, put it on your computer, and try to use that skill once a day.

Steep Learning Curve: Learning curves become steep when we try to take on too much at once. Try to break down the task. Also, having a peer group or a colleague who is learning the skill with you helps with motivation.

Few Incentives: How many of you have "network weaving" as a formal part of our jobs? Network weaving tasks are not typically linked to KPI, or even the informal on the job learning techniques that are such an important part of network weaving.

Internal Systems: Several grantmakers mentioned that their systems for sharing information internally—information that isn't necessarily confidential—cause them to do "double duty" if they want to share with the field.

How have you put a network mindset into practice? What online tools have you used? What are the barriers and how have you overcome them?

— Beth Kanter

About Transparency Talk

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