Transparency Talk

Category: "Leadership" (17 posts)

Giving and Telling for Good: Creating a Culture of Corporate Philanthropy
May 31, 2018

Debbie Johnson is author of Give for Good: A How-to-Guide for Business Giving.

2x3Debbie IMG 008Establishing and promoting a corporate giving program or charitable program within a small business may seem like a daunting task that you worry may be a distraction from the day-to-day demands of growing your business. However, it turns out that giving and talking about it can actually help your business. For example, the youngest generations now entering the workforce especially love giving back so now is a great time to focus on creating a culture of philanthropy in your business. Generation Y and Generation Z workers aren’t likely to let their employers NOT have a culture of philanthropy so why not be proactive and integrate it into the fabric of your business now? These five steps will support you in building the culture you want:

1. Engage employees

Actively create opportunities for your staff to participate in philanthropy.

  • Devise group projects where staff can volunteer together
  • Match-make employees to board positions that coincide with their interests and career goals while also benefiting the company
  • Encourage employees to volunteer according to their personal passions, offering a certain amount of paid time off for them to give back
  • Give each employee ‘philanthropy dollars’ for them to donate to an organization or organizations of their choosing.

Austin-based signage company BuildASign’s philanthropic mission is to positively impact the communities of their customers, so they strongly encourage their employees to get involved in giving back. After receiving a signage donation request from the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society for their walk named “Light the Night,” instead of just answering the request right away, both organizations took the time to get to know one another’s culture and to understand what it would take to build a successful, long-term relationship. That simple request became a full-fledged effort including not only discounted product (signage) but also employee engagement through matching donations. A total of 50 employees personally volunteered in the walk itself and BuildASign additionally held employee poker tournaments to raise money for the walk. The experience provided the ability for fun and team-building among participating employees while also advancing the goal of making a positive difference in the community—a classic win-win. The employees now look forward to doing it every year.

2. Make it personal

Inspiring your employees to serve is a great place to start. If they do it once, they will likely come back for more.

  • Create opportunities for employees to tell their stories about their volunteer and philanthropy experiences to others and the impact it had on their lives. This inspiration can then serve to encourage other employees and make it easier for others to see themselves as a potential volunteer.
  • Given how motivational these stories can be, encourage employees to share these stories at town hall meetings, in company newsletters, during group meetings and best yet, by posting photos and videos.

Silicon Labs does a great job of encouraging their employees to give back including offering paid time off (PTO) to make it really easy, and the employees enjoy sharing about the difference they are making. See these examples of how their employees share their adventures in giving back on their internal social media platform.

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3. Talk about it

Your company should regularly communicate what it is doing to support the community. It lets your employees know that it’s a priority and your customers and community know it is integral to the company’s brand.

  • Send media releases
  • Provide updates at staff meetings
  • Post stories and videos on your website
  • Share your areas of focus with your customers and vendors and encourage them to participate.

Red Fan Communications provides a good model for sharing its stories across multiple platforms, including social media, e-newsletters, and during speaking engagements. One particularly good example is when president and founder, Kathleen Lucente was invited to appear on We Are Austin, a local CBS’ TV program, to talk about Red Fan’s philanthropy in Austin because of the growing awareness around the company’s community support and she reflected about how giving back is “baked into their DNA,” reinforcing that philanthropy is core to the company’s values and culture.

4. Model it

As with most initiatives, they are most successful when supported from the top of the organization.

  • Share the leadership vision for the company’s philanthropy
  • Have company leaders model philanthropic behavior
  • Have leaders share why philanthropy and community engagement are important to them.

2Bobby Jenkins, president of ABC Home and Commercial Services, epitomizes philanthropic leadership. Not only does he participate in the many events and philanthropy-oriented activities his company sponsors but he and his two brothers created “Brothers Bike”, a 3,500 mile cross country ride from Seattle to New York City to raise funds and awareness for two charities near and dear to the family. As notable as the bike ride became, perhaps even more important is Bobby’s visibility in the local community where he is out front leading his team’s participation in myriad community and philanthropic efforts.

5. Celebrate it

Celebrating giving back lets your staff know that the organization is serious about its philanthropy.

  • Provide acknowledgement and awards to employees who exemplify giving back
  • Hold parties or happy hours at the end of a group project
  • Provide company t-shirts that highlight a specific volunteer event for the employees who participate.

1Salesforce, the San Francisco-based cloud computing company, is a great example of a corporation that gives back while also lifting up employees as positive examples for others to emulate. Its hub offices have large framed photos of employees volunteering all around the world.  These pictures are obtained from “Aloha Ambassadors,” employees who are passionate about their culture. These ambassadors plan volunteer events and then get points for taking pictures and posting them in Chatter, Salesforce’s internal collaboration tool. The points can be used for prizes such as Salesforce t-shirts and hoodies. What a great way to visually show the company’s culture of giving back!

Integrating philanthropy into your company culture will not only foster momentum for giving back but will also attract and retain employees who share the value of generosity. Tom Kochan of MIT’s Sloan School of Management says that taking the time and energy to foster a culture of philanthropy in your business will pay off financially and strategically resulting in employees whose values align with your company’s, making them ultimately happier and more loyal. What a great win-win for the company, your employees and the community!

--Debbie Johnson

Practicing Transparency for Discovery and Learning
May 22, 2017

Richard Russell Resize Photo

At The Russell Family Foundation, we appreciate tools that help make the invisible more visible. This pursuit of transparency is a family trait that stems from our experience in the financial services industry, where we invented stock indexes that more truly reflect the market. The Frank Russell Company earned a reputation for quality research, long-term thinking and general excellence. We do our best to carry on in that tradition at the foundation.

In particular, we seek to communicate and practice our core values, such as lifelong learning and the importance of relationships. During the past 20 years, these touchstones have served us well.

Richard Woo Photo

Today, we’re relying on them even more as we prepare for a period of significant transition, which involves new roles for family members, changes to leadership and staff positions, and evolving our core programs. What’s different now, however, is that we are employing new tools to guide us.

Legacy Communications Toolkit

For us, transparency is as much about discovery as disclosure. That’s because the discovery process is how we determine: (1) what we know, (2) what we don’t know, (3) where we stand, and (4) what boundaries, if any, exist for a specific topic. Discovery can be a humbling and inspiring experience. Sometimes it exposes our blind spots; other times it reveals important new opportunities. Nevertheless, learning is the payoff for investing in transparency and discovery.

In 2016, we took steps to re-affirm our founding principles, in order to set the stage for the next 20 years of operations. We identified the need for additional frameworks to help guide us through important issues such as leadership succession and grant strategy. From those efforts, we’ve bundled together all the useful pieces, which we call our Legacy Communications Toolkit (it's a work in progress).

Over the past couple of years, we have developed some new components. One centerpiece is our three-dimensional chessboard, which we introduced in our last blog post. It is a useful tool for initiating and clarifying conversation about important issues that might otherwise be difficult to surface. The chessboard can be used to visualize and understand the complex layers of communications and expectations associated with foundation life – like how transparent we need to be when revising our grant strategy, or how we understand a family member who doesn’t want to participate.

Case in point: In a family foundation, tensions can arise when trustees hold competing or conflicting opinions and worldviews. If not handled sensitively, principled conversations among peers can become deeply personal, causing individuals to briefly lose sight of the organizational mission and the goal of serving the public trust. One such discussion arose among our trustees in 2016; at issue was the scope of themes that should be eligible for funding. The intentional and purposeful conversation among family trustees about this matter was facilitated by a skilled and trusted organizational consultant outside the foundation. With that assistance, the trustees clarified the boundaries between personal, familial, organizational and public goals – and eventually settled on a decision that balanced the greatest number of interests especially that of serving the foundation’s public mission. This exercise in more transparent communication among trustees and consensus decision-making was essentially the laboratory that gave rise to the three-dimensional chessboard.

Can you imagine applying the three-dimensional chessboard to a crucial conversation waiting to happen at a foundation near you?

Another dynamic tool we rely on is a graphic timeline of the foundation’s history. It is a 20-foot mural, on display in our office that highlights important moments from our beginnings in 1999 to the present day. The timeline is filled with photos, charts, and quotations, with more being added as time passes. This visual history does more than remind us of the past; it helps us appreciate the context of defining moments. Those moments (as well as the details of our history) constitute our collective narrative. We are continually exploring and discovering the appropriate balance between transparency, family privacy and a public trust.

TRFF visual-timeline

The Russell Family Foundation uses its timeline as a teaching tool.  Source: The Russell Family Foundation

To date, the timeline has proven to be an invaluable teaching tool, especially for younger family members who wish to take active roles in the foundation, or newcomers to our enterprise who want to know how we got here. It stimulates conversation and questions, and it has helped us onboard new community board members and staff by giving them a vivid sense of our history and mission. Grantees and community visitors are often intrigued by the informal imagery captured on the story wall, which invites their curiosity, discussion and ultimately a deeper relationship with our work.

Imagining the Future Together

The elements of our Legacy Communications Toolkit emphasize storytelling in its many forms: visual, narrative, historical, data-driven, and more. Storytelling activates our imaginations so we can see the changes we’ve accomplished or wish to make going forward. This process also helps us envision what level of transparency is required.

A good example of this approach is how we are currently updating one of our longest standing environmental programs, which focuses on the waters of Puget Sound.

After a decade of investment and hundreds of grants employing a wide variety of tactics, we took stock of our impact on Puget Sound protection and restoration. We reviewed our grant history, studied the most recent literature, interviewed regional thought leaders, and drew upon the relationships with our longtime grantees. The effort was illuminating – making the invisible more visible. Despite all that had been accomplished over the years, we recognized that our efforts were a mile wide and an inch deep.

Visualizing our impact in this way gave us the motivation to develop a new approach. We knew from past projects that there was an appetite for alignment among nonprofits. We also realized that our broad network of individual grantees gave us credibility to encourage greater collaboration within the field. We put these pieces together to create the Puget Sound Collective, an informal group of nonprofits and funders who desire a more coordinated regional vision and strategy for Puget Sound recovery.

Our partners joined the Puget Sound Collective for the possibility of making greater impact and doing more together. But, naturally, they want to know where their peers are coming from, how specific goals will be set, and how decisions will be made. In other words, they expect transparency. We knew going in that openness and candor would be the table stakes for this new forum. However, bringing people together to work across differences (organizations, missions, geographies, genders, race, class, etc.) requires transparency in all directions. That takes time; it takes deep, trusting relationships.

The experience has reinforced how important it is for the foundation to practice transparent behavior. We are building the road alongside our partners as we walk it. We need to be honest when we can only see as far down the road as they can. We need to be clear in our intention for grantees to set the agenda – to offer support without control – because relationships like this move at the speed of trust.

At a time when the country is experiencing deep divides and uncertainty, family foundations can reassure their constituents by demonstrating a commitment to transparency about their story and the essentials behind the work they do. However, they should also bear in mind the Goldilocks Principle – “not too hot, not too cold, but just right.” They need to find the best fit for their organization because the benefits of transparency are measured in degrees.

We hope our methods, experiments, and discoveries serve as useful references. Mahalo to those who commented on the first blog post. To everyone reading this installment, please share your thoughts, counterpoints or questions.

--Richard Russell and Richard Woo

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

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Melissa Moy

Eye On: Marc and Lynne Benioff
July 7, 2016

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

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

From Critic to Converted

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Benioff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building His Fortune

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power Couple Philanthropy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salesforce Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Justice Supporter

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

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

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

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

--Melissa Moy

Innovation Trends: The Influence of Transparency Across Multiple Sectors
February 25, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)

A thoughtful and recently released report from Weber Shandwick –“Innovation Trends: Always-On Transparency” – investigates how transparency and openness can be implemented into organizations across corporate, social and public sectors.

Leader voices include Howard Schulz, Starbucks Chairman and CEO; Paul Polman, Unilever CEO; Jean Case, Case Foundation CEO; and Brad Smith, Foundation Center CEO.

AO_social_TC-1 and 3
Rather than view transparency and openness as an administrative burden, leaders among corporations, foundations, nonprofits and government share the realization that working in a more open way can accelerate effectiveness in unexpected ways. 

One organization is embracing failure and encouraging others to be open about what is not working.  As part of its “Be Fearless Campaign,” Case Foundation shares lessons learned on its website.  The foundation encourages organizations to “fail forward” and work through challenges by solving the right problem, being a collaborator and leading through uncertainty, and remaining humble to acknowledge learning opportunities and feedback. 

Transparency and openness can accelerate effectiveness in unexpected ways.

For “a clear theory of change” and transparency across nonprofits and foundations, Case advised that organizations must disclose legal status and financial accountability as well as evaluate effectiveness using rigorous social and environmental metrics.

At Foundation Center, Smith suggests foundations can take three critical actions to foster openness and partnership: innovate together, listen more and share early and often.  Foundations have the unique opportunity as funders and experts to “set the tone for collaboration among their grantees” and incorporate their perspectives into program design, measurement and evaluation.

The report summarizes what transparency looks like across sectors:

  • Corporate: Lead and engage audiences to create shared value
  • Social: Live and foster a culture of shared accountability and impact
  • Public: Empower an informed and active populace

The report also summarizes common roadblocks to transparency across sectors.   According to the report, a lack of understanding of where to begin and how to move forward are the most common barriers to transparency.

To help address these barriers, the report offers an insightful five-step roadmap that provides concrete steps, or “a starting point for organizations across sectors to align their practices with best-in-class transparency efforts.”

Roadmap highlights:

  1. Integrate – Embed transparency and accountability throughout the organizational culture
  2. Listen – Create feedback loops to invite internal and external stakeholder perspectives
  3. Measure – Align indicators and analytics processes to continuously track outcomes and impact
  4. Learn – Surface examples of challenges and successes to document what works and fix what doesn’t
  5. Lead – Curate a rich multi-channel dialogue about progress and impact to share the transparency journey with key stakeholders.

Another helpful feature is a template that details how to visualize and act on concrete next steps.  The graph points to four key areas: research and reporting; thought leadership; storytelling and campaigns; and events and convenings.

For example, the firm advises how leaders should act in the area of thought leadership. 

  • With employees: “Empower employees to contribute to thought leadership with their own perspectives and impact examples.”
  • With consumers: “Position thought leadership as the authentic voice of the organization, leveraging diverse spokespeople.”
  • With shareholders and boards: “Leverage board member and shareholder expertise and perspectives to inform thought leadership and help co-create op-eds and think pieces.”

The leader lessons and transparency plan provide a unique framework and may help remove some of the guess work and uncertainty out of what organizations should explore and where change can occur.

How can your organization “fail forward” and cultivate a culture of transparency, openness and dialogue?  Where can you start today?

--Melissa Moy

Eye On: Giving Pledger & Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg
February 9, 2016

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

Sheryl Sandberg photoThis Bay Area philanthropist is passionate about gender equity and continues to “lean in” for women.

Sheryl Sandberg’s education and professional experience have helped cultivate her philanthropic interest in empowering women, global health and poverty, and the environment.

Through a recent public filing, we learned that the Facebook Chief Operating Officer, 43, has donated $31 million worth of Facebook shares to the Sheryl Sandberg Philanthropy Fund, a donor-advised fund at Fidelity Charitable.

Based on Sandberg’s giving interests, the majority of this latest gift will likely support women’s empowerment, particularly Sandberg’s own initiative, Lean In, and the Lean In Foundation, which are both committed to “empower[ing] all women to achieve their ambitions.” 

Spurred by the success of Sandberg’s bestselling, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, the Lean In Foundation seeks to inspire and support women through its online community, free expert lectures, and local peers groups called Lean In Circles.

Sheryl Sandberg:

  • Facebook Chief Operating Officer since 2008
  • Became first female board member at Facebook in 2012
  • Author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
  • Founder of Leanin.org
  • 2015 Forbes Magazine rankings: #16 America’s Richest Self-Made Woman; #8 The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women; #1741 Billionaires
  • TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2013 and 2012
  • Board member: Walt Disney Company, Women for Women International, the Center for Global Development, and V-Day
  • Resides in Menlo Park, California
  • Personal net worth is $1.3 billion

Professional Path to Philanthropy

While studying economics as an undergraduate at Harvard University, she met her mentor and thesis adviser Larry Summers.  She graduated with honors in 1991, the same year that Summers became chief economist at the World Bank.  As Summers’ research assistant for two years at the World Bank, Sandberg worked on various health projects in India, including Hansen’s Disease, AIDS and blindness.  

After earning her MBA at Harvard, Sandberg again teamed up with Summers, who was now Deputy Treasury Secretary under President Clinton.  As Summer’s chief of staff, Sandberg focused on debt forgiveness in developing countries; she continued in her role when he became Treasury Secretary. 

In 2001, Sandberg joined Google, where she helped develop the tech company’s philanthropic work, while heading its advertising and sales operations. 

“We wanted to do things that matter, not that were easy…We wanted to innovate, and we wanted to be disruptive,” Sandberg said of Google’s business and philanthropic principles during an annual gathering of philanthropists. 

Sandberg expanded Google’s giving principles so that it extended outside typical philanthropic boundaries, where charity generally stays within communities.  By focusing on worldwide issues – such as global health and poverty and climate change – Google’s philanthropic work could have a greater impact.

“We wanted to do things that matter, not that were easy…”

Since 2008, Sandberg has been a tremendous force at Facebook, where she helped the tech company scale its operations and expand globally.  By 2012, Facebook made its initial public stock offering, and Sandberg became the first woman on the company’s board of directors.

In addition to overseeing sales and business development, marketing and communications, Sandberg also expanded Facebook’s philanthropy.  Under her leadership, Facebook also highlighted organ donation; the addition of the status button helped spike the number of organ donor registrations.

Philanthropic Work

With her strong background in global issues, economics and philanthropy, it’s not surprising to see the evolution of Sandberg’s philanthropic philosophy.

Sandberg and her late husband, David Goldberg, founder and CEO of SurveyMonkey, joined the Giving Pledge in 2014.  Like Giving Pledge movement leaders Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the couple pledged to donate the majority of their wealth during their lifetime.

The couple frequently advocated for gender equity and openly spoke about their support for shared earning/shared parenting marriage, whereby spouses equally share financial, family and parenting responsibilities.

Goldberg passed away in an accident in 2015.  In a heartfelt letter, Sandberg shared the importance of men leaning into their families.  Even in her grief, her passion for gender equity is evident, and she points to the benefits of gender equity for both men and women.

Sandberg has regularly leveraged her passion and influence to support causes she cares about.  In the Bay Area, Sandberg is co-chair of the Stand Up for Kids campaign, which supports the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

The Menlo Park resident sits on the board of directors for Women for Women International, which helps women survivors of war become self-sufficient through microloans and job training; Center for Global Development, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit thinktank focused on international development; and V-Day, a global movement dedicated to ending violence against women and girls.  Sandberg is also on the board of the Walt Disney Company.

In 2013, Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation gave $415,000, according to tax returns. The gifts included $250,000 to Women for Women International; $80,000 to Stanford University for the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research; $50,000 to V-Day; $25,000 to support the Open Field Foundation’s publication of “The Truth About a Woman’s Nation: Powerful, but Powerless”; and $10,000 seed money for the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, a gender-focused research-and-action organization.

Empowering Women

Sandberg’s engagement in gender equity issues dates back to her Harvard days when she co-founded Women in Economics and Government.  Today, she regularly speaks on gender inequities, from TED talks to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.  In 2015, Sandberg addressed U.S. Air Force Academy cadets on gender bias in the military.

In 2014, Sandberg and Lean In sponsored the Ban Bossy, a TV and social media advocacy campaign dedicated to banning the word “bossy” due to its perceived negative impact on young girls.  Celebrities including Beyonce, actress Jennifer Garner and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice contributed to the campaign’s video spots.

With her growing portfolio of philanthropic interests, from Lean In to her Fidelity fund, Sandberg is well positioned to be a major voice on gender and economic equality and the environment for years to come.

In the spirit of openness and transparency, it will be interesting to see if Sandberg, like her boss Mark Zuckerberg, will open up about the how and why of her philanthropy.  Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan recently launched the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative detailing the couple’s philanthropic plans.

Given Sandberg’s passion for global change and empowering women, we look forward to seeing her next philanthropic milestones and how she continues to inspire others.  

--Melissa Moy

The Need - and Appetite for - Enhanced Foundation Transparency
December 28, 2015

(The late Rick Cohen was the National Correspondent for Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) and the editor of NPQ's Cohen Report. Prior to joining NPQ, Rick was executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, vice president of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and vice president of the Enterprise Foundation. A version of this 2012 blog appeared in NPQ.)

Editor's Note: As the year draws to a close, it is natural to remember and reflect on those whom we have lost.  Last month, philanthropy lost one of its strongest voices for change with the passing of Rick Cohen. A prolific writer, Cohen was known for encouraging philanthropy to extend its reach to marginalized and underserved communities. Seeing the weaknesses of a closed door culture, Cohen also frequently wrote and spoke about the need for greater foundation transparency and the potential for improving philanthropic practice by increasing stakeholder participation and influence. In honor of Cohen, Transparency Talk is closing out 2015 by revisiting a two-part post Cohen authored for Transparency Talk in 2012 on the case for enhanced foundation transparency, and his recommendations for improved transparency standards.

Photo_74078_landscape_650x433It is nearly impossible to think about transparency in the world of philanthropy without putting philanthropy into a societal context. Philanthropy is not a world unto itself, but one that is engaged in extensive interactions with other sectors of the economy and society, particularly important in an era of increasingly crippled institutions and practices of democracy in the U.S.

The political context concerns the flows of secret moneys into the electoral process, obviously an activity prohibited to private and public foundations, but one that increasingly shapes the perspectives of the American public toward nonprofits—and, if they knew what foundations were beyond the television portrayals of philanthropoids as white glove socialites—foundations too. Secret money is the lifeblood of American political campaigns, perhaps brought to a level of self-parody when comedian Stephen Colbert points out that Karl Rove is giving anonymous political money to help keep political giving anonymous. The calls for breaking through the wall of secrecy in political spending are increasing, notably in the District and Appeals Court decisions in Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission

And so it is with foundations and the calls philanthropic leaders face for increased transparency. As Vikki Spruill, the new leader of the Council on Foundations, noted in what appears to be one of her first official communications to the Council’s membership, institutional philanthropy faces “its most critical moment…right now. At a time when our world faces a storm of converging challenges with dwindling resources, philanthropy’s positive impact remains a mystery to far too many…[W]e must seize the imperative to help society better understand philanthropy’s impact and contributions.”   

It is a frequent refrain from foundation leaders, the admonition that foundations have to do a better job at telling their story. But that isn’t transparency. At best, it is managed transparency, telling the story that foundations want public policy decision-makers, the general public, and their specific stakeholders to hear and understand. Transparency, however, is not managed through public relations firms. Can you imagine if the Federal Elections Commission were only to make available the information it thought would tell the story of its “positive impact?” For as miserable and partisanly hamstrung as the FEC is today, the story telling wouldn’t be worth the physical effort of a computer click on “download.”

Transparency empowers the users, the recipients of information, to hold powerful agencies of government, well-heeled donors to political campaigns, and institutions without direct levers of official accountability to the public somewhat more accountable. When you stage manage transparency, it simply isn’t. Of course that doesn’t mean simply opening the doors of foundations and inviting the public to rifle through file cabinets, but it does mean trying to find ways of making essential information more accessible and reviewable by outsiders. 

How Public Should Private Philanthropy Be?

In the foundation world, the debate du jour is how public private philanthropy is, that is, to what extent the tax exempt dollars of private foundations should be considered in some ways open to public scrutiny. It is an argument that ultimately boxes everyone into a corner. The philanthropic impulse occurs with a donor willing to put some of his or her excess capital to work for what is hoped to contribute to the public good. But in this nation, that occurs with the benefit of the charitable deduction, applicable to the small scale donations of this nation’s generous working people and to the much larger donations of affluent people who create foundations. 

OK, so the funds aren’t quite public dollars—aggrieved constituents cannot ask foundations for administrative redress, they cannot vote foundation trustees out of office, and in all but an incredibility limited number of cases do they even find themselves with standing to litigate a foundation’s grant decisions. And they aren’t quite fully private dollars, else they would be taxed and their managers wouldn’t be filing 990PFs, following IRC rules for executive compensation and self-dealing, or fretting whether President Obama’s annual call for capping itemized deductions including the charitable deduction will depress charitable giving and philanthropic grantmaking.

The Dichotomous Nature of Foundations

Even in their quasi-public identities, foundations have feet planted in two worlds or two cultures, one the private world of a donor, the other a public world of resources afforded a special status by the American public and its elected representatives. It shows in foundations’ postures toward transparency. 

In recent history, the advent of the 990 is one example. Commissions on the future shape and substance of philanthropy have all included encomiums of one sort or another in favor of increased transparency, but statements and actions can sometimes differ. Prior to enactment of the Taxpayer Bill, many foundation leaders were opposed to the liberalization of public access to 990s, and when the law was passed, foundation leaders attempted to find ways of divorcing 990PFs from the public access the law required to nonprofits’ 990s and then worked to delay the applicability of the law to foundations.    

In practice, a similar dichotomous identity occurs, best exemplified by the foundations’ crisis response to the California legislation that would have required a handful of large foundations to simply report on their grantmaking to nonprofits headed by people of color, not make more grants for communities of color, and report on their own staff and board demographics. Foundations fought the bill, known popularly as AB624, tooth and nail, though many of the same foundations are strong supporters of the racial disclosures required of banks in the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, have supported nonprofits demanding similar disclosures of utility companies in front of the state’s Public Utilities Commission, and fought strenuously against California’s Proposition 54 initiative which would have generally banned the state from collecting race and ethnicity data. 

Another dimension of foundations’ split thinking on transparency is in their relationship with “stakeholders.” This is more than just a fancied up description of grant recipients whose opinions on how well they are treated by foundation program officers are now solicited de rigeur. Stakeholders are different than insiders such as donors, board members, and staff. The Denver Foundation describes “external stakeholders” as “people who are impacted by your work as clients/constituents, community partners, and others.” Lauren Tulp of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation suggested grantees, community residents, and external experts as potential stakeholders. In some foundation examples, stakeholders have been recruited to participate in foundation grantmaking processes, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and some of the health conversion foundations.

This is now common parlance in the foundation world. Stakeholders with a “vested interest” in the foundation’s work merit inclusion in efforts to assess what the foundation is and should be delivering for various communities with what impact. The concept of stakeholders is common in foundation circles—except when it comes to discussions of transparency, when the circle for inclusion becomes distinctly narrower. Foundations have to come to grips with whether the notion of stakeholders is real or simply a rhetorical device meant to convey a transitory sense of inclusivity.

--Rick Cohen

 

#FailEpic Continued
August 19, 2015

(Chris Cardona is program officer for philanthropy at the Ford Foundation. This post first ran in The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy.”

I appreciate the lively response to my last post asking why it’s so difficult to talk about failure in philanthropy. Commenters brought up important points, including that it can be difficult to decide when failure has actually happened – when do you know to throw in the towel? – and that it’s not just admitting failure but learning from it that generates insight and improvement.

Chris CardonaI would also note an incisive piece in Nonprofit Quarterly assessing the failure of the social impact bond designed to reduce juvenile recidivism on Rikers Island. Cohen and Zelnick rightly point out that what is being hailed as a partial success – that because the program did not hit its targets, taxpayers did not have to pay for it – masks a more complex reality. Recidivism was not reduced (no upside there), and taxpayer dollars were tapped in the form of in-kind time by city officials. This example reinforces one of the points made by a commenter on my original post: what counts as failure depends on who’s doing the telling, and when.

I see two strands of conversation worth pursuing, given the interest my original post has generated as part of an overall mini-trend toward more reckoning with failure in philanthropy.

One is to explore what it looks like to have candid conversations between funders and nonprofits about real issues of execution and responsibility (on all sides!) in a context beyond the one-on-one grant relationship. I come to this with an instinct that a more public version of such conversations would be salutary, but also deep wariness about doing it in a way that’s constructive instead of harmful.

  • Are there stages by which such conversations evolve? Do you need to start with self-reflection, then within your own organization, then within a trusted network of peers, then more publicly? That’s an awful lot of steps.
  • Perhaps the best starting place is not talking about failure within a particular grant relationship, but in the context of a topic of shared interest in which the participants don’t have a direct stake. One can imagine a study group dedicated to reviewing examples of initiatives that have failed, and seeking to generate and apply insight from them – with an audience of funders and nonprofits who aren’t part of that field. Might that be a less threatening way to get started?
  • Because trying to have a conversation within a field about what worked and what didn’t is incredibly difficult. I think about the “four pillars” strategy in the immigration reform movement, which national funders and nonprofits developed together after a failed attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2006-07. They analyzed why they lost and how they could overcome those disadvantages, and then moved resources and effort toward filling those gaps. What makes cases like that possible? Where else does this happen?

The other strand of conversation worth pursuing is to ask what it looks like within an organization, and specifically a foundation, to be open to acknowledging, learning from, and acting on failure. What values and motivations need to be in place? Who are the change agents and culture bearers? How do incentives need to change? Are there particular structures or systems that make it easier to learn from and act on failure? What do a higher risk tolerance and a culture of inquiry look like in practice? I feel like we know a lot about this in the field, but the threads of conversation aren’t necessarily organized.

  • Part of the challenge is, who owns failure within the institution? In other words, who’s responsible for identifying it, naming it, lifting it up, creating a safe space in which to discuss it, making sure meaning is derived, and then following through on application of that insight? Those responsibilities fall across a number of function – evaluation, HR, programs, senior leadership, board. What role should be the steward or the shepherd ensuring that those functions are integrated in pursuit of mining improvement from failure, and what resources or tools does that person or team need?

Thanks again to all have engaged on this topic, and to the organizations that have begun hosting conversations among funders about being more open about failure. Do the strands of conversation I suggest above seem relevant, and worth pursuing? What kinds of spaces could we create for more authentic funder-nonprofit dialogue? And how can we get clearer about the organizational culture needed to support openness about failure?

--Chris Cardona

Eye on: Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim
July 30, 2015

(Caroline Broadhurst is deputy chief executive officer at The Rank Foundation and through the Clore Social Leadership Programme was a visiting fellow at the Foundation Center. This is part of her series about the motivations of U.K. donors who have signed the Giving Pledge. For more about Dr. Ibrahim and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Mohammed Ibrahim“Lucky” is how Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim describes himself when recounting his journey from his Nubian upbringing in Sudan to his work as an international philanthropist and entrepreneur.  Dr. Ibrahim grew up in an African community, but has lived most of his adult life in Britain with his wife Hania, a retired radiologist for the National Health Service.  Always one to work hard, Dr. Ibrahim attributes his good fortune to being in the right place at the right time, and the encouragement he received from his parents to excel academically.  Dr. Ibrahim received a Ph.D. in Mobile Communications from Birmingham University in the north of England and worked within the telecommunications sector for several years before leading the telecommunications company, Cellnet (now O2).  The business had gone where others had feared to tread, and by bringing the mobile phone industry to the African continent, made its 100 shareholders millionaires overnight.

When Dr. Ibrahim sold the business in 2005 he shifted his focus to philanthropy.  Proudly African, he wanted to influence transparency in governance.  He set up the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2006 “to focus on the critical importance of leadership and governance in Africa.” The foundation has two key projects: the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which ranks the performance of individual governments in terms of safety, rule of law, economic opportunity and human development (Mauritius  currently holds the top spot with 81.7%); the second is the Ibrahim Prize, which celebrates and awards strong leadership among former African presidents and heads of state. The Prize is expected to exceed the value of the Nobel Prize, with an initial award of $5 million, plus $200,000 annually for life to the former president or head of state who demonstrates outstanding leadership qualities. In 2014, Namibia’s president, Hifikepunye Pohamba, won the prize.

In addition to the Index and the Prize, the Mo Ibraham Foundation hosts the Ibrahim Forum, a space to share the thought leadership agenda on African issues; the Forum also offers fellowships to the younger generation. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation is not a grantmaking body. Dr. Ibrahim’s daughter, Hadeel Ibrahim, is the founding Executive Director, and works alongside an impressive advisory board, which includes former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson

Known to the media as “Africa’s Bill Gates,” Dr. Ibrahim is now focusing on the transformation of Africa’s fortunes, based on good governance and leadership, rather than good luck.

--Caroline Broadhurst

Leadership and the Lessons of Change
April 21, 2014

(Grant Coates is President and CEO of The Miles Foundation, a Fort Worth-based foundation seeking to foster a thriving local community through innovative investments in education, economic opportunity, and leadership development. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's GrantCraft blog.)

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” - W. Edwards Deming

Grant_Coates_headshotI love this quote, because it reflects the necessity of change to stay relevant, but also our inherent reluctance to take that step forward. At The Miles Foundation this past year, we’ve certainly pushed ourselves to implement changes we believe will help propel us forward and build stronger partnerships – even when it has felt a little uncomfortable.

The great part of change, though, is what you learn through the process of transformation. With our first-ever Annual Report, a fresh website and new grantee stories published (along with an inaugural social media presence), our intentional focus on transparency and connectivity has been an exciting and informative journey.

One of the areas in which we have concentrated much of our efforts and gained significant insight is our grantee selection process – a key focus area noted in the GrantCraft and Glasspockets guide “Opening Up: Demystifying Funder Transparency.”

What we received through the exercise of revising our grantee selection process – in addition to a more efficient, effective, and transparent approach – was a welcome revelation about the important role of leadership in our grantee partnerships.

This discovery began as we examined each of our grantee selection phases, so that we could clearly delineate (for our grantee candidates and ourselves) the specific evaluative criteria for each. Our three distinct phases included:

  • An on-site evaluation, which allows us to see, feel, and touch the grantee organization – observing how it functions on a daily basis, experiencing what the environment is like, and interacting one-on-one with its staff members;
  • A letter of interest, which enables us to efficiently sort through initial grant inquiries based on a set number of criteria, and select those that fit with our mission and funding profiles; and
  • A full application evaluation, which prompts us to ask detailed questions about the organization, its proposed program, and how it will measure success, to determine whether the grantee is an ideal partnership candidate.

For each of these selection phases, we identified qualification criteria, and ensured that certain evaluative factors carried more weight than others. Heavily weighted criteria, such as a nonprofit’s track record of achievement, an innovative program idea, or a well-designed plan could influence our likelihood of funding a particular program.

But we quickly began to see that one critical factor continued to rise above the rest. We found that effective leadership was the one element that was consistently present in successful programs, and thus, we concluded, would be one of the most significant indicators of a program’s potential for success and therefore our likelihood of funding.

It is easy to assume that every successful organization has it, but leadership often is what separates the “good” from the “great.”

Leadership is somewhat of an obvious success metric, but it’s hard to quantify, outside of past performance and experience. It is easy to assume that every successful organization has it, but leadership often is what separates the “good” from the “great.” The presence of powerful leadership is almost tangible – it’s a spirit that employees exude, a confidence that the organization embodies, and an impact that’s measurable – true leadership is, in short, a game-changer in the grantee selection process.

What can leadership do? It can drive a program agenda, inspire better results, and maintain accountability to a standard of excellence. Surely, we have seen that without strong leadership at the executive or management levels, even the best-laid plans can be thwarted. And so, leadership is now one of the key criteria we use when evaluating our potential partners.

Perhaps this discovery should not have been as much of a surprise. At The Miles Foundation, we believe in the power of leadership, as it’s one of our three core funding profiles. And as we move forward, our emphasis on leadership, both in our funding and our grantee selection process, will undoubtedly continue to grow.

Regardless, this past year has taught us that change is a good thing. For The Miles Foundation, we’ll embrace our continued path of transformation and discovery, with the hope that each revelation along the way will help guide us, and make us stronger, for the future.

-- Grant Coates

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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