Transparency Talk

Category: "Human Rights" (15 posts)

Transparency Talk Welcomes Arcus Foundation to Glasspockets
March 29, 2017

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.) 

Arcus foundation logoWe are pleased to welcome Arcus Foundation to our community of foundations that have publicly commited to working transparently. By taking and sharing the “Who Has Glass Pockets?” (WHGP) self-assessment, Arcus is contributing to a growing collection of profiles that serve as a knowledge bank and transparency benchmarking mechanism.

Arcus, with its offices in New York and Cambridge, United Kingdom, advocates for global human rights and conservation movements: “Together, we learn from each other and take bold risks on groundbreaking ideas that drive progress toward a future of respect and dignity for all.”

“We strive to apply a high level of transparency in our operations and in our relationships with grantees, partners and other stakeholders.’”

This month, Arcus became the 87th foundation to join WHGP.  As a way of welcoming Arcus to the Glasspockets community, we’d like to highlight some of the ways in which this foundation openly shares its environmental and social justice work.

First, Arcus has pledged a rare commitment to openness in its transparency statement that is part of the website’s introduction to Arcus’ work.

The foundation uses its website to explain its grantmaking process,  shares expectations for grantees, and offers a searchable grantee map and database.  A short video invites and informs prospective grant applicants.

Other ways that Arcus lives up to its transparency statement is by opening up its knowledge via  grantee impact stories, reports, and a foundation blog.  Additionally, the foundation discloses more than a decade of its financial information

Enjoy exploring the work that Arcus is doing for social justice and the environment.  Perhaps it will inspire your foundation to become #88!  Does your foundation have glass pockets?  Find out

 --Melissa Moy

Why the Olympics and Other Major Sporting Events Usually Increase Inequality in the Host City
August 16, 2016

(Stefan Norgaard is Stanford University Tom Ford Fellow in Philanthropy at Ford Foundation. This post first ran in Ford Foundation’s Equals Change blog.)

Stefannorgaard_linkedinAll eyes are on Rio de Janeiro as it hosts the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. While everyone watches and roots for the athletes from their countries to win gold, few will realize that the ones really losing out are residents of Rio from low-income and working class communities.

This is because the development model for major international sporting events—like the Olympics and the World Cup as well as countless national sporting leagues like the NFL—rarely benefits all residents of the cities where the games are held. For example, even though the city of Rio promoted the Olympics to residents by arguing that hosting the games would increase tourism and lead to major urban infrastructure improvements, the likely result will be billons in losses.

In fact, thousands of low-income Brazilians have already been displaced in order to build infrastructure for the games that will largely only benefit wealthy communities. In addition, several contracting companies for the Olympics now face corruption allegations. What was seen as an opportunity to democratize development in Rio has instead become an opportunity for city officials to justify actions that would otherwise never be tolerated—like human rights abuses, forced evictions, and hiding poor people and neighborhoods away from view.

Olympic Rio Police Salary Protest

Sporting Events and Inequality

These challenges are not unique to Rio or the Olympics. During the preparations for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, FIFA—the governing body for international soccer—discouraged local authorities from upgrading an existing soccer stadium in a working-class neighborhood of Cape Town. The local government had wanted to modernize this stadium and invest in infrastructure in its surrounding neighborhood because it would help reduce inequality in the city. Instead, FIFA forcibly urged and got local authorities to agree to build a new World Cup stadium in a wealthier section of the city.

“The Olympics in Rio...human rights abuses, forced evictions, and hiding poor people and neighborhoods away from view.”

In Cleveland, owners of the Quicken Loans Arena—home of the NBA’s Cavaliers—requested a 50/50 public-private funding split for the arena’s construction amid critical financing concerns for the healthcare system, justice system, and other government agencies in the country surrounding Cleveland.

And across the United States, the Federal Communications Commission’s “Nixon Rule” allows NFL franchise owners to black out games from being locally televised if high-priced tickets do not sell out even though the stadiums where these football games are played are often built with taxpayer money. As a result, it can sometimes be nearly impossible for city residents to watch their home teams play in person or on TV.

Public spending for large sporting events is often justified through an economic development model that says investing in the infrastructure, marketing, and preparations for these events will benefit everyone. But time and time again, we see that with large sporting events, only a select few—usually wealthier and more privileged members of the community—benefit at the expense of everyone else.

An Equitable Development Model for Sporting Events

Cities and communities do not have to displace their working class residents to build sports stadiums and venues. They don’t have to funnel public funding away from public goods or only build infrastructure in wealthy areas in the name of economic development. Instead, cities can adopt an equitable development model for urban planning, which ensures that all city residents have a chance to benefit from major sporting events.

Olympic Rio ProtestWhat would such an approach look like? For starters, there should be a push for the Olympics and other major sporting event bids to more centrally take into consideration the impact of these events on low-income communities and the general public. These international bodies should allow and empower civil society groups to comment on Olympic development plans at an early stage.

It is important to note that major sporting event planning and the Olympic bidding process often start years before construction even occurs. So in theory there should be plenty of opportunities to engage with civil society and broader communities on proposed development plans. However, the Olympics has a compressed and frenzied bidding process that prevents broad citizen involvement and long-term planning. And once a bid is awarded to a host city, planners rarely want any input that would derail their already-approved plans.

While the Olympic host cities have generally not had a strong track record of creating long-term social and economic benefits for everyone, there are some instances where host cities have intended to do good for the broader community. For example, the 2012 London Olympic Games included a proposal to turn the Olympic Village into 6,000 units of affordable housing. Unfortunately, development for the games also led to widespread evictions. Urban regeneration schemes for Canary Wharf and elsewhere in East London—where the games were mostly centered—have led to intense gentrification post-Olympics. And while the London Olympic Planning Committee had good intentions, the results have been quite uneven.

In hosting the 1992 Olympic Games, the city of Barcelona leveraged the opportunity to develop a comprehensive urban renewal plan that helped create new jobs and transform the city’s deteriorating infrastructure by building a new airport and telecommunications network and improving the sewage system.

Philanthropy’s Role in Promoting Equitable Development

What can philanthropy do to ensure to equitable development models for major large sporting events and arenas benefit everyone? Here are some possible courses of action:

  • Lift up untold stories of injustice. For example, Ford’s investigative journalism grantees, such as Agencia Publica, are working to find cases of injustice related to the Rio Olympics and tell them to a broader public. They recently launched a project on the recent militarization of the Rio police in advance of the games.
  • Convene organizations and make civil society connections. What is happening in Brazil is far from unique and philanthropy can connect grassroots and civil society organizations in Rio with organizations in Cape Town, Athens, Qatar, the United States, and elsewhere. Groups can share common stories, brainstorm potential solutions, and consider new global development models for the Olympics, World Cup, other major sporting events, and domestic sporting leagues. 
  • Build community capacity to engage in urban development policies and debates. Community organizations such as the Observatório de Favelas in Brazil and the Sports Fan Coalition in the United States need critical capacity to build local power and to counter prevailing assertions that major sporting events always leave lasting social and economic benefits for everyone. The Ford Foundation’s commitment to building institutions and networks seeks to support and grow social justice institutions—which often outlive any one battle or campaign—to do just this.

Major sporting events can ignite a city’s spirit and civic capacity, can lead to a sense of citywide pride, and can certainly help to increase tourism and economic stimulus. But major sporting events and projects only benefit everyone when they are deliberately designed to do so. If we change the approach to development, large sporting events like the Olympics can reduce, rather than drive, inequality.

--Stefan Norgaard

2016 Olympic Games: What Rio Doesn’t Want the World to See
August 9, 2016

(Leticia Osorio is a program officer at Ford Foundation. This post first ran in Ford Foundation’s Equals Change blog.)

Leticia_osorio_0142cWith the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro under way, it is clear the Olympic legacy already falls short of its initial promises to the city.

 Rio is still dealing with inadequate and unfinished infrastructure projects and overinflated costs, on top of the economic and political instability facing Brazil. These unfilled promises mimic the disorganization and corruption from the 2014 World Cup in Rio.

Both games brought promises of meaningful transformations for Rio’s citizens, but instead ended up violating human rights, increasing public debt, and concentrating expensive infrastructure mostly in developed neighborhoods.

Six million people live in the city of Rio de Janeiro, and one in four of them are poor residents living in slums called favelas. In preparing for the World Cup and Olympics, the city government announced a comprehensive development plan that they called the social legacy plan. The favelas have long been starved of investment in public infrastructure, so the prospect of new developments and upgrades was exciting. Instead, the plan only further segregated poor residents.

In Providencia, Rio’s oldest slum, the main project was the construction of a $20 million cable car. While developers promised the cable car would connect residents to jobs, in reality 30 percent of residents were threatened with forced evictions to make way for the project. Not only was the community unaware of the project beforehand, but it also had no input in the draft planning or approval processes.


 The damaging effects of the Olympics on Rio’s poor residents

Widespread threats of forced removals of citizens from their neighborhoods for development projects related to major sporting events in Rio have been controversial. The Popular Committee on the World Cup and the Olympics— a civil society network comprising social movements, NGOs, research centers and universities— estimates that from 2009 to 2015, 22,059 families were forcibly uprooted from their homes for development projects related to these events.

 Agencia Publica, an investigative journalism outlet and a Ford Foundation grantee, told the stories of 100 evicted families, providing them a voice through one of the largest multimedia investigations related to the Olympics. According to Agencia Publica's co-director Natalia Viana, these firsthand stories provide “concrete evidence of serious human rights violations, of the right to housing, to freedom of movement, to information and even freedom of expression.”

Fifty days before the opening of the Olympics, the governor of Rio declared a state of financial emergency and asked for federal support to avoid a collapse in public security, health, education, transportation, and environmental management.

The cost of the Rio Olympics is estimated to be more than $10 billion and that does not include all of the tax exemptions, public loans, and fiscal incentives that have not been disclosed. The government gave special legal exemptions to developers, allowing them to circumvent planning and urban laws, restrict civil liberties, waive mandatory environmental analyses, ban local and informal businesses, and criminalize public protests.

“ More than 90 percent of the 900 families in the low-income community of Vila Autodromo were forcibly relocated to make way for the Olympic Park.”

The NGO Justiça Global, another Ford partner, produced a video series of four episodes telling how such measures are felt disproportionately by those who are already not well protected, such as those with insecure housing, informal jobs, or already suffering from marginalization and discrimination.

For example, more than 90 percent of the 900 families living in the low-income community of Vila Autodromo were forcibly relocated to make way for the Olympic Park, even though most of them held land concessions titles granted by the state. Although compensation and nearby alternative housing was offered, many families resisted leaving, prompting violent clashes with police. The residents felt they were excluded and disturbed by the games for the capital interests of wealthy developers.

In reaction to the negative impacts related to these infrastructure projects, Rio’s government has responded by blocking access to information and reducing transparency. The organization Article 19, another Ford grantee, put in 39 Freedom of Information requests on the impact of the construction of the Transolimpica bus rapid transit system on the lives of the families whose homes are in the way of the new bus system. But only one was fully answered. It was impossible to find out information on the final route of the bus system, although hundreds of families had already been forcibly displaced.

Additionally, more than 2,500 people killed by the police in Rio since 2009, as reported by Ford grantee Amnesty International. In the month of May alone, 40 people were killed by police officers on duty in the city and 84 across the state. The communities most affected by this violence are those living in slums located around the main access routes to and from the international airport and competition arenas.

Involving communities to ensure shared benefits

While cities agree to host major sporting events based on the premise that the resulting development and legacy will benefit everyone, wealthy developers are usually the ones that get all of the gains at the expense of residents, especially those who are poor and marginalized. So what is happening in Rio is not a new story.

What is new is that communities in Rio are starting to push back. A robust civil society network came together to monitor and collect information on development processes, expenditures, and rights violations. It helped residents speak out against harmful development plans and get compensation for those being displaced. The network submitted reports to international organizations, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and various United Nations mechanisms. Communities became the defenders of their own rights, and they sought the assistance of powerful institutions like the Public Defender’s Office and the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, leveraging alternative planning and national and international advocacy.

The alliances established between communities and relevant stakeholders were unfortunately not enough to reconfigure the existing power relationship between the city government and the residents. The laws that were passed to relax tender regulations and urbanistic controls did not ban forced evictions or set procedural safeguards, and there was no broad public debate over the nature of improvements needed.

Governments and public managers still need to learn how a city can stage world events successfully while also respecting the rights of the communities living in the path of infrastructure projects. Participatory development and stricter international regulation is a good place to start. Just like how government and business elites organize and lobby to host these games, we must help communities organize and defend their rights to ensure that they are truly benefitting from the development and investment associated with these games.

-- Leticia Osorio

Eye On: Chobani Founder Hamdi Ulukaya
November 18, 2015

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

Ulukaya_medium photoFamily and homeland helped shape this Kurdish American billionaire’s interest in global philanthropy and improving the plight of worldwide refugees impacted by war and poverty.

Chobani yogurt founder Hamdi Ulukaya said that his mother’s generosity toward those in need seeded an early interest in philanthropy.  Even the company name reflects his native Turkish roots.  Chobani is the Turkish word for “shepherd,” and Chobani has said that the moniker is an homage to the “spirit of giving farmers.”

“Growing up, I watched my mother give to those who needed and it came from the most amazing place in her heart,” Ulukaya said in his Giving Pledge letter, whereby individuals pledge to give away the majority of their wealth during their lifetime.  Upon joining the Giving Pledge in June 2015, he dedicated his Pledge commitment to his mother.

In addition to family, peer influence also played a part in Ulukaya’s decision to make a “public commitment” to help refugees.  In his letter, the New York resident praised Bill Gates and Warren Buffet for setting an example for global philanthropy.  Ulukaya is among 138 Giving Pledge participants in 16 countries.

“I hope that my commitment to the Giving Pledge will in turn inspire others to do the same,” Ulukaya said in his letter.

Hamdi Ulukaya:

  • Founder, Chairman and CEO of Chobani yogurt
  • Kurdish American entrepreneur and businessman
  • Ernst & Young’s 2013 World Entrepreneur of the Year
  • Founder of the Chobani Foundation, which focuses on youth and underserved communities, and entrepreneurs and small business owners
  • Founder of the  Tent Foundation, which provides direct aid to refugees and advocates for refugee rights and policies
  • Personal net worth is over $1 billion

Humanitarian Giving

The Giving Pledge marked Ulukaya’s public commitment to donate the majority of his personal wealth to helping refugees and finding a solution to this humanitarian crisis. 

Earlier this year, the 43-year-old launched the Tent Foundation to specifically provide direct aid, effect policy changes and develop strategies to help 50 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.  His foundation aims to collaborate with worldwide governments and organizations.

The magic and power of the American dream is something I believe should be available to everyone.

Since the early days of founding his Greek yogurt empire, Ulukaya has donated 10% of his profits to the Chobani Foundation, which focuses on access to food for youth and underserved communities, and supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners. 

In 2013, the Chobani Foundation distributed $624,920 to 17 organizations in the United States, Canada and England, according to the foundation’s 2013 990 Form, a form that certain federally tax-exempt organizations file with the IRS.  The largest gift of $285,630 helped establish the South Edmeston Community Center in Edmeston, New York, and the city that is also home of Chobani’s first yogurt factory.

Other gifts included $100,000 to the Canadian-based Global Enrichment Foundation, which supports leadership in Somalia through educational and community-based empowerment programs; $92,230 for the Halabja Community Playground Project, a London-based charity that built an adventure playground for children in Halabja, Northern Iraq; and $25,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Magic Valley in Twin Falls, Idaho.  The Idaho city boasts a Chobani factory, which opened in 2012 as the world’s largest yogurt factory.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

While studying English in New York in 1994, the Turkish immigrant became fascinated by the idea that “anyone can start something in America,” he said in his letter.  By 1997, Ulukaya enrolled in business courses at the State University of New York.

“The magic and power of the American dream is something I believe should be available to everyone—and is part of my hope for a modern Turkey and for entrepreneurs around the world,” Ulukaya said.

I believe that as people who have been blessed with opportunity in our own lives we must give hope to others.”

Growing up in a hardworking communal culture in Turkey, Hamdi Ulukaya used his background as a Kurdish dairy farmer to cultivate his entrepreneurial dream into a billion-dollar reality.  In 2002, he started a modest feta-cheese factory. 

In 2005, Ulukaya took a risk purchasing a defunct yogurt factory in upstate New York and launched Chobani.  In October 2007, he shipped his first Chobani yogurt order to a Long Island grocer. 

Relying on his entrepreneurial skills, the savvy Ulukaya negotiated with supermarket retailers to pay the slotting fees – the fee to place product on retailer shelves - over time and also in yogurt rather than cash.  He also relied on social media to promote Chobani.  Within five years, Chobani grew into a billion-dollar business.

In his Giving Pledge letter, Ulukaya pointed out the benefits that entrepreneurship has on impacting community change, including his own success.  His foundations provide local and global grants.

 “I believe that as people who have been blessed with opportunity in our own lives we must give hope to others,” Ulukaya said.

--Melissa Moy

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

Funding the Marriage Equality Movement: Lessons in Collaboration and Risk Taking
July 6, 2015

(As a communications associate at Foundation Center, Noli Vega helps to develop, implement, and monitor strategies to increase the organization’s visibility and communicate about its products and services effectively. She manages projects that strengthen both internal and external communications — in print, online, and in person. Noli has worked with a variety of nonprofits including the Inner Resilience Program at the Tides Center, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). She earned a B.A. in political science and women’s studies from Lehman College. This post was originally featured as a GrantCraft case study.)

NAV_web_180_180_s_c1The marriage equality movement in the United States has been fueled by the strategic and coordinated efforts of legal groups, advocacy organizations, and a small but active community of grantmakers. The historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2015, to extend marriage equality nationwide was preceded by a gradual legislative sea change and dramatic shift in public opinion. In 2001, a majority of Americans opposed the idea of allowing same-sex couples to marry. In 2015, polls showed a reversal of the numbers with 57 percent of Americans favoring marriage equality.

One of the key funders behind this shift was the Civil Marriage Collaborative (CMC), an initiative of the Proteus Fund that has partnered with individual donors and foundations to give roughly $2 million in grants each year since 2004 for a broad range of publicly visible education activities to advance marriage equality. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decision to uphold same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, it’s worth looking closer at how the CMC, as a funder collaborative, contributed to the success of the marriage equality movement. The CMC’s story also offers lessons about the role philanthropy can play in advocacy, and how funders can collaborate and take risks for greater impact in a movement.

The CMC sought to change the debate about marriage equality by funding a broad array of public education activities including research, message development, and state-level polling.

Prior to the Supreme Court decision, federal law defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. By 2004, marriage equality had gained traction with key legislative wins, including the approval of civil unions in Vermont, which granted same-sex couples some, but not all, of the legal benefits of marriage, and a landmark victory in Massachusetts that made it the first state in the U.S. to uphold the right of LGBT couples to marry. But it was also a year of setbacks for the movement, as a series of same-sex marriage bans were passed in 13 states. According to the CMC’s director, Paul A. Di Donato, it was around this time that some grantmakers began to realize that achieving a critical mass of support for marriage equality would require greater engagement by philanthropy, not just a few relationships between individual foundations and big national players. With that in mind, a group of funders, including the Gill Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Overbrook Foundation, and the Proteus Fund as a convener, came together around the idea that pooling financial resources and sharing collective knowledge could lead to broader change. They agreed to test the waters as a funder collaborative for a few years to observe whether same-sex marriage would continue to gain traction. In 2007, when Paul joined the CMC, same-sex marriage was still at the top of the LGBT agenda, and the collaborative’s members were still deeply committed to supporting public education activities advancing this agenda.


From the outset, the collaborative focused on a state-based funding strategy that aligned with the overarching vision of the national campaign. CMC reasoned that “success at the state level is essential to build a national movement for a definitive victory at the federal level.” Paul and the CMC also recognized that there was a need to fund organizations operating at the state level because other grantmakers had made an assumption that funding national organizations would result in larger impact. To keep a pulse on emerging priorities in different states, the CMC formed connections with a range of influential partners, including organizations such as Freedom to Marry, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Lambda Legal. Paul explains that relationship building was an intentional part of the CMC’s strategy. “We always maintained very close working relationships and true partnerships with key national leaders, other movement organizations, and our grantees in the states to make sure we were operating as an integrated team.”

Drawing on the knowledge of its network, the CMC sought to change the debate about marriage equality and shift opinions by funding a broad array of public education activities including research, message development, and state-level polling (both baseline and post-public education polling in order to demonstrate cause and effect). Once the most effective messages had been identified, they could be deployed by grantees through field tactics like coalition building, community outreach, and other forms of advocacy. The collaborative understood that all of these activities had to happen concurrently — “firing on all cylinders,” as Paul puts it — in order to build the momentum needed to change polling numbers, which was one measure of success.

As a funder collaborative, the CMC has modeled how strategic partnerships and collaboration in philanthropy for advocacy can achieve significant results.

The CMC made it a priority to learn from both the successes and failures of the initiatives it funded. By striving to understand why particular activities worked or why setbacks occurred, the collaborative could invest the appropriate resources in helping grantees fine-tune the next iteration of their work. Of course, it can be challenging to fund in an environment that is constantly changing, in which it may not be possible to achieve consistently successful results. But Paul is confident that some of the CMC’s biggest successes resulted directly from its openness to taking risks after major setbacks such as the passage of Proposition 8 in California in 2008 or the loss of marriage equality in Maine during a 2009 ballot initiative. “I can honestly say that we were risk takers. When there was a big loss in the field where we had been funding the public education component, we doubled down. We were willing to make bets on people and tactics and strategies that were evolving as they went along.” After the loss in Maine, the CMC continued — and even ramped up — its funding in order to help local grantees like EqualityMaine analyze the problem, understand how to address it, and implement a new plan. When the question of same-sex marriage reappeared on the ballot in 2012 in Maine and three other states, it passed.

The CMC’s willingness to take risks enabled it to be responsive to emerging opportunities and challenges. These strengths stem in part from the nature of a funder collaborative structure, which, in CMC’s case, yielded strategic benefits, including:

  • Convening power: The collaborative was a catalyst for bringing key stakeholders together in order to achieve an integrated overarching strategy. At annual meetings, funder members met for shared learning and agenda-setting discussions with movement leaders; national nonprofit partners; experts in field organizing, polling, and communications; and grantees. The CMC used its convening power to effectively build trust with its grantees and partners, and to gather the knowledge it needed to engage in sophisticated and strategic grantmaking. By the end of these meetings, Paul observes, “the ball had been moved forward in terms of a deeper understanding of issues and getting people on the same page.”
  • Amplified impact: Coordinating with a breadth of organizations had a positive ripple effect that extended the reach of the CMC’s funding and influence. Other grantmakers in the field trusted what the collaborative was doing and followed its lead. According to Paul, it wasn’t uncommon for nonprofits on the ground to seek grants from the CMC before pursuing other funders because “it became a good housekeeping seal of approval to have a CMC grant.” While the collaborative was responsible for investing $20 million in public education activities over 11 years, Paul estimates that it had a direct impact on securing and directing another $10 to $15 million.
  • Knowledge for philanthropy: The CMC commissioned several internal evaluations to examine how public education activities have fit into and impacted the broader movement. These included case studies of the 2011 marriage equality victory in New York State and an evaluation of 2012 ballot box wins in Maine, Minnesota, Washington, and Maryland. Learnings were shared with the CMC’s network of grantmakers as tools for understanding marriage equality funding and shaping public education grants in other issue areas.

As a funder collaborative, the CMC has modeled how strategic partnerships and collaboration in philanthropy for advocacy can achieve significant results. Following the marriage equality ruling, Paul sees a vital, ongoing role for funders in breaking through other barriers that marriage equality alone will not overcome including discriminatory practices in housing, education, the criminal justice system, and employment. “There’s a robust agenda out there that needs work, and that work can’t happen unless it has money. Until all levels of government are doing everything they can to fight discrimination in all those other areas, the policy job isn’t done.”

For more information about the Civil Marriage Collaborative, visit

To learn more about funder collaboratives, read our GrantCraft guide.

--Noli Vega

Transparency and accountability: two sides of the same coin
January 14, 2015

(Dharmendra Kanani is a fellow and policy director at the European Foundation Centre. This post was originally published as a letter to the editor in Alliance Magazine in response to Jo Andrews' article.)

DKananiTransparency is often in the eye of the beholder. Grantees and applicants want to know the criteria for funding; NGOs want to understand the sources of funding; interested members of the public want to know why something got funded or not. Transparency is the flip side of accountability, of the same coin of trust, the guiding force as well as the central emotional force that affects so much public and private activity.

What does this mean for funders? Like any public or private body, foundations are subject to the demand to demonstrate trustworthiness. Being open about why you fund something, and the basis on which you fund it, is important. The systems and processes you set out to achieve this should be a core matter for the foundation, rather than a formula based on standards set by others. The approach a foundation takes to being transparent and accountable communicates a lot about how it sees itself and its relationship with the communities it serves.

Making a lot of data public may assuage the desire to be transparent, but does it actually amount to anything in terms of improving trust, or a better understanding of how decisions are made, or the strategic intent of a foundation, or even how people and communities might engage with a funder?

There will be occasions when there are legitimate reasons for not sharing publicly the nature of a foundation’s income and its investment practices. Similarly, publicizing the activity being funded by foundations – funding in certain countries or certain causes that might be deemed controversial by governments – might at times do more harm than good. Therein lies the dilemma for some foundations.

The notion of glass pockets is important but it has to be balanced with authenticity of purpose. Making a lot of data public may assuage the desire to be transparent, but does it actually amount to anything in terms of improving trust, or a better understanding of how decisions are made, or the strategic intent of a foundation, or even how people and communities might engage with a funder?

Sometimes, we go full tilt into responding to a trend without taking time to be clear about the why and how. It pays to be thoughtful on this issue as it will improve trust. Most people can sniff out gesture from authentic engagement.

A development that puts transparency on to a different level is the digital revolution. Everything is public in the 21st century. Digital communities will know or find a way of knowing. Foundations and independent funders should embrace this challenge. In the next ten years, the foundation world will become as transparent as any other aspect of life. It’s best not to sleepwalk into this emerging reality.

-- Dharmendra Kanani

A Pragmatic Approach to Transparency
January 7, 2015

(Fran Perrin is the founder and director of The Indigo Trust, and a founding member of 360givingThis post was originally published as a letter to the editor in Alliance Magazine in response to Jo Andrews' article.)

FranPerrin‘Transparency for funders is a helpful idea, but it’s not a panacea. If private foundations and grantmakers think it is, then their attempts to bring a measure of sunlight to a sector shrouded in mist are likely to fail or, much worse, do damage.’

We welcome Jo Andrew’s article ‘When is transparency a really bad idea?’ as an important contribution to the debate on transparency, open data and philanthropy.

Jo lists some obvious cases: for example, transparency is a bad idea when it subverts your basic grantmaking purpose. We can all agree with that. In fact, we can add other examples from outside the human rights field. For example, it wouldn’t be appropriate to publish the details of a grant if it referred to the location of a vulnerable women’s shelter. In the vast majority of cases, though, transparency can offer many benefits to grantmakers and those whose lives we aim to improve. We should be careful not to generalize from exceptions.

In the vast majority of cases, though, transparency can offer many benefits to grantmakers and those whose lives we aim to improve. We should be careful not to generalize from exceptions.

Grantmaking in the UK remains astonishingly opaque – for funders and grantseekers alike. Not knowing who funds what creates huge inefficiencies that affect how well we can work to distribute funds; and how grantseekers apply for them. Lack of information makes it harder for those starting out as philanthropists or trying to fund in new areas.

Our own work on the 360giving open funding initiative (while in its very early stages) encourages a pragmatic, needs-led approach to transparency about grantmaking. We provide funders with an easy way to publish their grant data for others to re-use. We would never, ever suggest that people publish grant information that could reasonably be foreseen to undermine their grantmaking purpose. As grantmakers we know that funders need to make an informed choice about which of their grants they publish, and 360giving has deliberately not pursued a regulatory-led approach so as to enable these decisions to be taken with care by funders.

Opacity and secrecy make it hard for those doing the right thing to argue and defend their position. It was striking that, when the government made policy noises about changing the tax status of donations to charities, the sector could not easily point to a comprehensive body of evidence of its good work.

There are sometimes good reasons not to be wholly transparent, but if we generalize from exceptions we can miss the opportunity to help inform grantmaking and improve impact for the whole sector.

The Indigo Trust publish all their grants both on their blog and in an open data format. They have withheld information about a grant which concerned anti-corruption activists in a developing country where transparency could have jeopardized their lives. They handled this by publishing the fact that a grant of ‘x’ amount had been made, but detail wasn’t being published for security reasons. When the situation changed, with the permission of the grantee they published the full information, and were encouraged to blog about the project by the grantee.

There are sometimes good reasons not to be wholly transparent, but if we generalize from exceptions we can miss the opportunity to help inform grantmaking and improve impact for the whole sector. Is transparency a panacea for funders? Absolutely not – but it can improve our decision making. Could more information really make our decisions any worse?

Signed by:

Fran Perrin  Indigo Trust, founding member of 360giving

William Perrin  TalkaboutLocal, Indigo Trust

Alice Casey  NESTA

Ed Anderton  Nominet Trust

Tim Davies  Practical Participation

When Is Transparency a Really Good Idea?
December 23, 2014

(Brad Smith is the president of Foundation CenterThis post was originally published as a letter to the editor in Alliance Magazine in response to Jo Andrews' article.)

Brad SmithWhen it comes to philanthropy, the answer to this question is a simple one: almost always. This may seem to put me at odds with Jo Andrews’ well-reasoned argument against transparency in all circumstances, but it doesn’t.

Jo is not really talking about philanthropy writ large, but rather a small group of funders with which she has had the privilege to work directly or collaboratively through her leadership of Ariadne (European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights). In her sphere she has indeed been a data warrior. But her sphere is specific and modestly sized: the funders she works with number in the low hundreds, whereas there are over 200,000 public benefit foundations in the US and Europe alone.

Jo rightly points to foundations’ unique independence as precisely what makes them so appropriate for supporting high-risk activities dealing with human rights. But the reality is that the vast majority of funders do not get anywhere near these issues.

The reality is that the vast majority of work done by funders, be it through grants or operating programmes, is in areas that are rarely controversial. In the US, where Foundation Center has access to comprehensive and detailed data on the grants of all foundations – thanks to regulatory oversight that requires baseline transparency – we know that more than 60 per cent of all foundation philanthropy goes to health and education. Survey data from other parts of the world shows similar priorities. Jo rightly points to foundations’ unique independence as precisely what makes them so appropriate for supporting high-risk activities dealing with human rights. But the reality is that the vast majority of funders do not get anywhere near these issues.

I couldn’t agree more that funders who do take risks have a responsibility to minimize potential danger for their grantee partners. This principle is embodied in the Global Philanthropy Data Charter, developed by the Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support (WINGS), which states: ‘Data should be public in principle, but clear policies and procedures should be implemented to ensure an adequate balance between openness and privacy and security.’ This can be easily accomplished by making the recipient of a grant, or even the donor if necessary, appear as ‘anonymous’. But even among funders who do work on human rights issues, many of their grants are not particularly controversial. The Sigrid Rausing Trust sees no need to make its £9.6 million support for Human Rights Watch anonymous. Why should it?

So while I agree with Jo on many of her core points, I am worried that, much like the Hungarian government that she criticizes for using ‘left-leaning’ NGOs as an excuse for a blanket crackdown on foreign funding, foundations will too easily use the exception to justify the rule. Too many times I have heard funders talk about their work being so sensitive that data about it cannot be shared, when in fact the vast majority of their work is not sensitive at all.

While I agree with Jo on many of her core points, I am worried that... foundations will too easily use the exception to justify the rule. Too many times I have heard funders talk about their work being so sensitive that data about it cannot be shared, when in fact the vast majority of their work is not sensitive at all.

As president of Foundation Center – an organization created by foundations that saw transparency as the best way to respond to McCarthy-era hearings accusing them of supporting communism – I believe in the concept very deeply. Transparency is entirely appropriate for organizations that receive some kind of tax benefit in exchange for providing public benefit. It is a valuable means of informing the public while also supporting foundation collaboration and sharing the kind of knowledge and lessons learned that alone can make funding more effective in the future.

As I write, I am also plagued by the nagging feeling that we may be caught up in yesterday’s debate. In an era of Big Data, in which governments either abuse or struggle to protect citizens’ information while those same citizens open up their lives on mobile phones and through Facebook, secrets of any kind are getting harder to hold. The idea that a foundation could fund something that no one would know about seems increasingly unrealistic in our digital world – and perhaps a bit dangerous.

Transparency is inevitable. Being wise and proactive about how philanthropy uses its information is imperative; believing that we can continue to fly beneath the radar is impractical.

-- Brad Smith

The U.N. Millennium Development Goals: How the Social Sector, Government and Civil Society can Effectively Collaborate on Global Development
October 10, 2013

(Emily Keller is an editorial associate in the Corporate Philanthropy department at the Foundation Center.)


As the 2015 deadline for achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) nears, philanthropic leaders convened at the Ford Foundation on September 27 to discuss methods for effectively collaborating with the social sector, government, and private sector to ensure their work leads to substantive long-term change. Panelists discussed the significance of transparency and accountability in achieving the MDGs.

A lot of the problems we want to solve can’t be easily solved by one sector. Foundations are very nimble and can take risks that governments can’t.

The MDGs, created in 2000, consist of eight goals to fight poverty, hunger, and disease, empower women, protect maternal health and children, and ensure environmental sustainability across the globe. Targets include cutting poverty in half, stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, and providing universal primary education. Governments have been tasked with setting and implementing the MDGs, but philanthropy plays a significant role in supporting these processes and helping to shape the post-2015 international development agenda spearheaded by the U.N. That effort has yielded the collection of input from 1.5 million people and counting through a program called A Million Voices: The World We Want.

In his opening remarks, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker praised the United Nations Development Programme for being increasingly inclusive and collaborative in these processes, and he reminded the audience of the philanthropy sector’s unique ability to act independently in addressing social justice and inequality. Walker quoted a friend of his in saying, “You occupy a unique and privileged perch in society, but you don’t use it enough.”

Speakers on the opening panel focused on the importance of seeking participation from under-represented groups, data sharing, and communication between foundations as some of the key ways that philanthropy can support accountability and transparency.

Alexandra Garita, executive coordinator of Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice (RESURJ), and Theo Sowa, chair of the African Grantmakers Network and chief executive officer of the African Women’s Development Fund, called for bringing unheard voices into the conversations about the post-2015 international development agenda.

Garita cited a new U.N. report, “Advancing Regional Recommendations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda: A Consultation with Civil Society,” which calls for accountability and the participation of disenfranchised people in all aspects of policy-making. “I think what philanthropy can really contribute is investing in participation…It would be really great if philanthropy could invest in regional networks of social justice organizations,” Garita said.

Sowa said, “There are still large numbers of people who are excluded from the MDG process. The U.N. has tried to reach people but it’s the usual suspects and large NGOs who are given a voice. We need to be active and proactive in reaching the people who aren’t being reached. I think that there’s still time to do that and there’s a role philanthropy can play in that.”

Panelists at the subsequent breakout session, “Fostering Stakeholder Participation for Transparency and Accountability in Governance Processes,” provided detailed advice to foundation leaders seeking to support the MDGs, including:

Data Sharing and Sector-Wide Communication
Erik Lundsgaarde, senior researcher at the German Development Institute, noted the importance of transparency about “where foundation funding goes and what it’s used for,” and said, “Foundations vary a lot in the information they provide. Going forward, there should be more attention to the usability of funding data and more disaggregation of funding data, especially at the country level.”

Steven Lawrence, director of research at the Foundation Center, said foundations benefit by sharing information about their work in specific issues areas for comparison with other funders. Lawrence also noted the importance of lowering transaction costs to enhance the availability of data.

Direct Funding for Accountability and Transparency
Another way to support this work is to fund programs like the Better Than Cash Alliance, a multi-sector effort to facilitate the market shift from cash to electronic payments globally to increase the inclusion of the poor in the formal financial sector and reduce theft by corrupt employers and governments. Frank DeGiovanni, director of financial assets at the Ford Foundation, said the program is intended to increase transparency through the creation of electronic records while reducing the cost of disbursing benefits for governments. Lundsgaarde said that while foundations deal with accountability issues frequently, funding for governance programs is relatively small compared with more popular issues such as health care.

Develop Cross-Sector Partnerships
DeGiovanni recommended using principles of comparative advantage in establishing programs and partnerships. “A lot of the problems we want to solve can’t be easily solved by one sector. Foundations are very nimble and can take risks that governments can’t. There are inherent advantages to each group. Look for comparative advantages,” DeGiovanni said.

Support Grassroots and Advocacy Organizations
Dr. Wiebe Boer, chief executive officer at The Tony Elumelu Foundation in Nigeria said corporations and foundations that support programs in other continents should look to the organizations on the ground for guidance on how to invest there. “I think we need to start changing who’s telling who how to do things the right way,” he said.

Supporting the MDGs is a complex endeavor since it involves bringing the corporate, government, civil society, and philanthropy sectors together to address issues that have inherent overlap—such as poverty, health care, employment, and climate change. What do you think philanthropy should do to facilitate accountability and transparency in support of the MDGs? Please leave your comments below.

-- Emily Keller

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