Transparency Talk

Category: "Lessons Learned" (73 posts)

It’s Not You, It’s Me: Breaking Up With Your Organization’s Inequitable Funding Practices
March 21, 2018

Erika Grace “E.G.” Nelson is a Community Health and Health Equity Program Manager at the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. E.G. recently led the Center through an equity scan of its Request for Proposal (RFP) policies and procedures.

Erika Nelson photo“It’s not you; it’s me” is possibly the most cliché break-up excuse, but for many funders, it really is their own policies and procedures that undermine their ability to find community soulmates. Perhaps you have had conversations with community members who have said that they found out about your funding opportunity too late, were too busy to apply, or, worse yet, were rejected even though their project sounds like a great fit based on the conversation you are currently having with them. The reality is that funders typically enact policies that are convenient for themselves, as opposed to what makes sense for grantseekers, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) fall by the wayside of expediency. As a result, organizations with the most social and fiscal capital have the best shot at receiving awards.

Have you ever taken the time to think about how your funding portfolio might look differently if your RFP process was designed to be more equitable and inclusive? We recently completed an equity scan, and here is a bit about how this reflection has led to changes in our RFP process.

“Funders typically enact policies that are convenient for themselves, as opposed to what makes sense for grantseekers.”

At the Center for Prevention, our goal is to improve the health of all Minnesotans by tackling the leading causes of preventable disease and death – commercial tobacco use, physical inactivity, and unhealthy eating. While Minnesota has one of the best overall health rankings in the nation, we see huge gaps in health outcomes when considering factors such as race, income, and area of residence.

We also know that communities are aware of what they need to be healthy, but organizations established by and for marginalized communities tend to face greater barriers than well-resourced, mainstream organizations in getting what they need. We wanted to remove as many barriers from our application process as possible so that we could find and support more community-based and culturally-tailored approaches to addressing health needs. To begin identifying these barriers, our team reflected on challenges identified by communities we work with and walked through our application process from beginning to end using an equity lens. As a result, we have implemented several systemic changes to move towards our vision of a truly equitable process.

Bringing the Funding Opportunities to the Community

BCBS_Center_Prevention_vert_blueWe began our journey by thinking about funding opportunities. Before an organization can even apply for funding, it needs to know that an opportunity exists. Through community conversations, we learned that many organizations were unfamiliar with our resources and work. We recommended that project teams develop a tailored outreach plan for each funding opportunity, with specific outreach to organizations or sectors we considered to be key stakeholders or who had been markedly absent in previous rounds. Moving forward, we also have a goal of literally meeting folks where they are at – town halls, cultural events, on social media – to share our work and funding opportunities.

As a result, here are some ways we shifted how we engage with community organizations through our RFP process:

  • Time. Once applicants find out about an opportunity, they need to apply, which takes some time. We learned that some potential applicants prioritized other opportunities because they didn’t have the staff capacity to apply for multiple opportunities concurrently. The easiest solution to this problem was to give applicants more time, so we extended our open application period. In our case, we went from no set minimum to at least six weeks.
  • Assistance. We also wanted to make sure that applicants could make informed decisions about how to prioritize staff time, so we opened up new channels for discussing funding opportunities. We made sure that every application had a designated point person for answering questions from the public, and even piloted some creative ways to interact with the community in advance of the submitted application, such as an “office hours” hotline where anyone could call in and ask questions. The number of inquiries was manageable and allowed applicants to receive guidance on whether their projects were a good match before they invested time in applying. Follow-up survey data showed that this strategy paid off because applicants reported that they understood our funding objectives and that the time they invested in applying was appropriate for the potential award.
  • Accessibility. We are also working towards using more accessible language to articulate the merits of a viable proposal. We now run a readability test on all RFP language before publication, with the goal of using language that is no higher than an eighth grade reading level. Such tests have helped us remove jargon, and improve comprehension by professionals outside of public health as well as by non-native English speakers.

Leveling the Playing Field of Community Relationships

Our team also considered the role relationships play in evaluating proposals. We approached equity from two angles. We set limits on which and when “outside information”— knowledge we have about a project that didn’t come from the application—can be shared during proposal review. We also started reaching out to new applicants to discuss their work more deeply. Our familiarity with mainstream organizations and those we have previously funded can influence how we evaluate an application, and in some cases lead to an unfair advantage for groups that already have many advantages.  So these limits on “outside information” were put in place to level the playing field, as well as to begin to strengthen relationships with organizations that were new to us. These conversations helped us to fill in gaps in our understanding that we may unconsciously fill in for organizations we are already familiar with.

“We now run a readability test on all RFP language before publication…to remove jargon, and improve comprehension.”

Transparent Evaluation Processes

We felt transparency in our decision-making process could only improve the quality of proposals. One way we have done this is by making scoring rubrics available to applicants. We also began providing tailored feedback to each declined applicant on how the proposal could have been stronger in hopes that it will improve future submissions. Though we have yet to determine what impact this will have in the future, we can say that applicants have been appreciative and found this feedback to be useful.

Hope and More Work to Be Done

While we don’t yet have much data to analyze post-implementation, we have noticed a few positive outcomes. We have seen a great increase in applications from greater Minnesota in particular, demonstrating that our targeted outreach is increasingly effective. Our funding awards to projects by and for people of color have also doubled in one of two opportunities we have analyzed since implementation. Despite this progress, we continue to wrestle with how to develop scoring tools that better reflect our values. 

The above are just some examples of how we have begun to identify and address equity barriers in our process that may be helpful for others. If your foundation is considering something similar, here are some things we learned from our experience that may be helpful for you.

  • Leadership & Promising Practices. As with any new process implementation, support from leadership is critical. If you are met with resistance, keep in mind that funders typically want to emulate best and promising practices in philanthropy, and sharing what other funders are doing around diversity, equity, and inclusion can be highly motivating.
  • Checks & Balances. It is also important to keep in mind that old habits die hard. It is not necessarily because team members are resistant to change, but simply need to get into the routine of doing things differently. For that reason, be sure that you build in checks and balances along the way to ensure that all who touch your RFP process have the opportunity to identify pain points along the way while also upholding equity commitments.
  • No One Size Fits All. Keep in mind that there is not one model that will work for everyone, and much in the same way, not all the communities you serve will be pleased with the changes you make. So, keep asking for and responding to feedback from community and know that correcting mistakes is part of improvement and part of ensuring our processes continue to be ones that facilitate, rather than undermine, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

--Erika Grace “E.G.” Nelson

New on Glasspockets: Open Knowledge Feature Added to Glasspockets Profiles
March 19, 2018

Janet Camarena is director of foundation transparency iniatives at Foundation Center

Janet Camarena photoWho has glass pockets when it comes to knowledge? Answering this question using our Glasspockets profiles just became a lot easier, thanks to a new feature we’ve added to emphasize the importance of creating a culture of shared learning in philanthropy. Beginning today, Glasspockets profiles are featuring a tie-in with our ongoing #OpenForGood campaign, designed to encourage open knowledge sharing by foundations.

All Glasspockets profiles now have a dedicated space to feature the knowledge that each foundation has contributed to IssueLab, which is a free, open repository that currently provides searchable access to nearly 24,000 knowledge documents. Currently, 67 of the 93 profiles on Glasspockets showcase recently shared reports on IssueLab.

"Sharing your knowledge via open repositories is openness that is good for you and good for the field."

This window on shared knowledge is a dynamic feed generated from our IssueLab database, so if you have published evaluations or other publications to share that are not showing up in your profile, simply go to IssueLab to upload these documents, or contact our Glasspockets team for assistance. And if your foundation invested specifically in monitoring and evaluating results, you can share those evaluations in our new IssueLab: Results. To acknowledge your efforts for sharing your recent evaluations, your foundation will receive an #OpenforGood badge to display on your website and on your Glasspockets profile to signal your commitment to creating a community of shared learning.

Though not a formal part of the transparency assessment, the #OpenForGood feature makes profile users aware of the kinds of learning that are available from participating foundations. Besides linking to the two most recent reports, a shortcut is also provided linking the user to a landing page of all of that foundation’s available knowledge documents.

OFG Everyone Learns GroupSince Glasspockets began, the transparency self-assessment has tracked whether foundations make available a central landing page of knowledge on their own websites, and that will continue to be included moving forward. So what’s the difference here? Opening up your knowledge on your own website is great for people who already know about your institution and visit your website, but it doesn’t really help to spread that knowledge to peers and practitioners unaware of your work. The fragmentation of knowledge across thousands of websites doesn’t do much to accelerate progress as a field—but that’s where open repositories like IssueLab come in.

Open repositories have several things going for them that truly live up to the idea of being #OpenForGood. First of all, any report you make available on IssueLab becomes machine-readable, so it can more easily be used and built upon by others doing similar work. Secondly, once a resource has been added to IssueLab, it becomes part of the sector’s collective intelligence, feeding through an open protocol system, which integrates with systems like WorldCat in 10,000+ public libraries, which means students, academics, journalists, and the general public can easily find the knowledge you’ve generated and shared, even if they’ve never heard of IssueLab, Foundation Center, or your organization. Once in the system, your knowledge resources can also be issued something called a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), so you can track access and use of that knowledge in an ongoing way.

The easiest way to think of it is that sharing your knowledge via open repositories is openness that is good for you and good for the field. So how about it? What will you #OpenForGood?

--Janet Camarena

Through a Glass a Little Less Darkly: Looking Back, Looking Forward 2017-2018
January 17, 2018

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

Janet Camarena PhotoIn the spirit of Glasspockets, before we completely erase the past and close the books on 2017, we wanted to identify the highlights of the year from a transparency perspective. Here are last year’s moments and trends that made me think that transparency and openness are not just catching on, but starting to lead to a more permanent culture of transparency, which may signal continued progress in 2018:

E_SDG_Logo_UN Emblem-02#10 - SDGs Catch On: The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. 2017 saw foundations increasingly aligning their funding with the SDGs, and some even using it as a shared language across philanthropy and across sectors to signal areas of common interest, and measure shared progress. As foundation strategies become increasingly specialized and strategic, explaining the objectives and the nuances can become a jargon-laden minefield that can make it difficult and time consuming for those on the outside to fully understand the intended goal of a new program or initiative. The simplicity of the SDG iconography cuts through the jargon so foundation website visitors can quickly identify alignment with the goals or not, and then more easily determine whether they should devote time to reading further. The SDG framework also provides a clear visual framework to display grants and outcomes data in a way that is meaningful beyond the four walls of the foundation, and some started taking advantage of this in 2017 to help explain the reach of their work. The GHR Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Tableau Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation each offer inspiring examples of how the SDGs can be used to increase philanthropic transparency, and ultimately understanding of the public good generated from their activities.

Amanda Flores-Witte Photo# 9 - Pain Points See the Light of Day: I noticed a greater willingness among grantmakers to publish reports and blogs not just to enumerate the successes, or business as usual activities, but to also candidly open up about the struggles and pain points along the way. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but some particularly inspired me:

  • A great example comes to us from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s storytelling series on Medium about its adventures in public arts funding. Given the project challenges, Mandy Flores-Witte shared on Transparency Talk that a trusted colleague advised them against opening up about the challenges they encountered, but they saw what could be gained by telling the story from various stakeholder perspectives, and as a result, ended up also producing a great example of why philanthropy needs more storytellers. (Yes, I know I’m cheating a bit here because this is from a 2016 series, but it’s so good that I’m including it anyway!)
  • In terms of formal publications, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation published a very detailed report analyzing the impact of a large-scale, multi-year and multi-sector initiative designed to end and prevent chronic homelessness. Among the report’s findings was the fact that homelessness actually increased during the grant period. At a less learning-focused foundation, this might have been enough to quash its publication.
  • Hanh Cao Yu photoThe California Endowment’s (TCE) chief learning officer, Hanh Cao Yu, lived up to her title by enumerating TCE’s mistakes in a Transparency Talk blog about the pain points the foundation encountered on the road to a health policy systems change.

We hope to see this practice grow in 2018, and that when funders do issue such knowledge that they take the time to share it on an open repository like IssueLab, as part of our #OpenForGood campaign. This practice is a significant one because sharing this knowledge can save other practitioners and funders from repeating costly experimentation and prevents us all from working in the dark.

#8 - Foundation Transparency Movement Builds Globally: The need for greater foundation transparency is not unique to the United States. In fact, the majority of countries outside the United States lack the regulatory structure we have that requires foundation disclosures that we take for granted here, such as transparency about leadership, compensation, grantmaking activities, or even just to verify their very existence. In many regions, this has created urgency around voluntary transparency movements, and some picked up steam by creating their own transparency assessments. In 2017, Australia, Brazil, and New Zealand each launched movements designed to motivate institutional philanthropists to greater transparency. In the case of Australia, the foundations are approaching this from a storytelling lens. And national philanthropic associations in both Brazil and New Zealand, inspired by the “Who Has Glass Pockets?” assessment, developed self-assessments for their own members. Given the dearth of global philanthropic data, we predict more global associations will be emphasizing the importance of voluntary transparency in 2018.

Mac-1024x512-03#7 - Transparency Comes to Competition Philanthropy: While competitions are nothing new in philanthropy, transparency about the competition can often fall short. This was not the case with the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change, as they designed the competition with transparency in mind. The goal was to award $100 million to an organization aiming to make “real and measurable progress on a critical problem of our time.” In the end, after several rounds, the winner was announced at the end of 2017 as a joint effort between Sesame Workshop West and the International Rescue Committee to team up to serve the growing population of child refugees in the Syrian response region.

But an additional real winner in this example was also transparency. As is often the case with competition or even ordinary grant programs, the demand for worthy ideas far outstrips the supply of grant dollars. The potential solutions in the proposals are wasted since they usually do not see the light of day, and those agencies must then source new prospects, re-package those requests to other funders, or give up. In response to these realities, the MacArthur Foundation partnered with Foundation Center to bring greater visibility to those ideas, with three goals in mind: drive investment in proposals that merit it; facilitate collaboration and learning between organizations working on similar problems; and inspire funders and organizations working for change to do things differently. As a result, there is now an open database of solutions ready for others to learn from and support, the 100&Change Solutions Bank.

Relationships Matter Practices-1#6 - Transparency Recognized as Key to Effective Grantmaking: A common concern we often hear is that funders don’t want to just “do transparency for transparency’s sake”—they want to do it because it leads to better and more effective grantmaking. 2017 was notable in that several industry groups took up the charge and leveraged member and client experience to demonstrate how transparency leads to more effective philanthropy, which should help foundations justify spending time on transparency efforts in 2018. The National Center for Family Philanthropy featured webinars and a blog series to reinforce the idea that transparency is appropriate for family foundations too. In April, we were happy to see that transparency topped GuideStar’s list of practices philanthropy should adopt to overcome common challenges. And in November, the Center for Effective Philanthropy published Relationships Matter: Program Officers, Grantees, and the Keys to Success. And guess what? The report found that transparency is key to healthy grantee/grantmaker relationships and particularly well-suited to addressing the power imbalance inherent in the relationship. Now that the ROI question has been put to rest, we expect to see more foundations prioritizing transparency in 2018.

Reedyjenniferford-cropped#5 - No Moat Philanthropy: Listing transparency among a list of cultural values or stating that one’s institution is aiming to create a culture of openness is a good place to begin, but Jen Ford Reedy’s excellent blog series about the Bush Foundation’s efforts is a great reminder to the field not to start and stop with elegantly written values statements. The blog series shares detailed steps and strategies foundation leaders can use to move their foundation toward greater openness. Ford Reedy’s blog series also deserves attention because it offers the field helpful advice on how working more openly can serve to help the field become more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

Phil goals#4 - GrantAdvisor Breaks Through Insular Foundation Culture: Industries as diverse as restaurants, travel, retail, health, and even nonprofits have had the blessing and curse of receiving unfiltered user feedback via online review sites for many years now, so it’s hard to believe that until 2017 this was not the case for philanthropy. With the launch of in April, now foundations can view, for better or worse, what their stakeholders really think. Anyone can register to give feedback, and once a foundation receives more than five reviews their profile goes live on the site. Given the power dynamic, reviews are anonymous, and foundations are able to post responses. An engaging profile with emoji-symbols invites users to rate foundations on two principal metrics: the length of time it takes to complete a foundation’s application process, and a smiley/frowning face rating assessing what it’s like to work with the particular funder. So far, enough reviews have been submitted to provide 49 foundations with unfiltered feedback. And perhaps more importantly, more than 130 foundations have registered to receive alerts when feedback is posted, so it’s an encouraging sign that the field is listening. As more reviews get published, this will continue to scale in 2018, and it will be interesting to see the kinds of changes foundations make in response.

990-PF graphic#3 - Open Data & Open 990-PFs Set the Stage for Change: Open, machine-readable 990-PFs actually became a reality in 2016, but 2017 represented the first full year of their availability and allowed some interesting experimentation to take place. For the uninitiated, though the IRS 990 and 990-PFs have always been public documents, they weren’t made digitally available as open data until April 2016 when the IRS started making digitally available all electronically filed 990 and 990-PF documents. Since the data is now not only open, but digital and machine-readable, this means that anyone from journalists to researchers to activists can aggregate this data and make comparisons, correlations, and judgments about philanthropy at lightning speed, all without any input from foundations. Throughout 2017, agencies like Foundation Center, GuideStar, and academic research institutions that use data from the 990s to analyze the field experimented with the usability of the data for new analytic tools. Here at Foundation Center, we prototyped investment transparency and financial benchmarking tools, while others also experimented with using the new treasure trove of open data in innovative ways. For example, a start-up company called Foundation Financial Research is compiling 990-PF benchmarking data on foundation endowment investment performance. Though there are technical glitches to be worked out, it is likely that over time the data will become more reliable and comprehensive leading to more such comparative tools. A recorded webinar by Digital Impact reviewed the challenges and opportunities of this new age of open philanthropic data, and a webinar and blog series on Transparency Talk outlines specific considerations for private foundations.

Paradise Papers graphic
Source: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

#2 - Paradise Leaked: I should preface this one by saying that Glasspockets remains committed to advocating for voluntary transparency and the inclusion of this particular item should not be taken to mean that we are shifting to advocating forced entry! The “Paradise Papers” refers to a set of 13.4 million financial documents, originating from the Bermuda-based law firm Appleby, detailing investments held in offshore accounts often in paradise-like locales. Leaked to German reporters from Süddeutsche Zeitung, who then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the documents name more than 120,000 people and companies, including many prominent individuals ranging from the likes of Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II, to celebrities like Madonna and Bono, and to government officials like U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The “Paradise Papers” also include offshore financial holdings of philanthropists like Open Society Foundations founder, George Soros and Simons Foundation founder, Jim Simons. You can read more here about that. But in terms of our work at Glasspockets, the headline to this story is not that high-net worth individuals hold large sums of money in offshore bank accounts—that is really old news. But coming on the heels of the Equifax leaks, which exposed vulnerabilities in one of the nation’s largest credit data reporting agencies and could impact upwards of 143 million American households, the subsequent Paradise Paper leaks further demonstrated that there is no longer any impenetrable fortress for our financial data. Couple these vulnerabilities with the interest in the activities of high-net worth individuals, and you have a perfect storm of motive and opportunity.

So, the take away here is not to live under the false sense of security that data systems can be reinforced and your offshore accounts are safe from prying eyes. Rather, assume that at some point, this will all be disclosed, so why not be proactive and explain long term philanthropic aims? There are valid reasons why donors establish funds and foundations outside of the United States, such as funding projects in countries where it doesn’t have diplomatic relations or for long-range planning so payout rates don’t force rash decisions. If these challenges, visions and strategies are not explained, others can fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. Many foundations have a history section of their website; the new era of leaks suggests that it may be time to add a future directions section. 2018 will likely bring more massive data breaches and leaks—are you ready?

Open Democracy Infographic1_tw#1 - Foundations Take a Stand: Traditionally, foundations are more comfortable writing checks to support others to take the microphone rather than using their institutional voice to speak out. 2017 saw a departure from this practice with many foundations finding their voice as a result of the current political climate. Funder groups banded together to issue open letters, CEOs blogged and foundation staff tweeted to reinforce commitment to issues or population groups that were in the political line of fire. Here at Foundation Center, we continued to improve our open, nonpartisan web portal that explores philanthropy’s role in U.S. democracy. Given the response of foundations in 2017, I’m betting we will see support for movement building of all Communications-network-logo-1-1persuasions grow this year. And speaking of speaking out, given this trend of foundations taking a stand, the Communications Network’s recent conference focused on just this topic and they have crafted some helpful tips on how to navigate institutional communications about politically charged issues of the day.

So, what am I missing?  The drawback of a list like this is that inevitably something that should be included gets left off.  And we want to continue to use this space to highlight emerging trends and excellent examples of transparency at work in philanthropy, so please share any thoughts, self-promotion, or suggestions below.  We have a whole year of blog content ahead of us to fill and welcome audience input.  Happy 2018!

-- Janet Camarena

New IssueLab Infographic Delves into Foundation Evaluation Practices
January 3, 2018

Evaluation_look_1101[1]More than half of funders are sharing evaluation results. How are they doing it, and how can other foundations learn from these lessons?

A detailed IssueLab infographic reveals how foundations are conducting evaluations, what they’re evaluating and whether they publicly shared what they learned. The findings are based on a 2017 Foundation Center survey of U.S. foundations.

In the last five years, 42% of foundations have conducted and/or commissioned an evaluation. Among the types of foundations more likely to do so are larger funders, as well as community foundations, of which 64% reported a commissioned evaluation in the last five years.

Other key findings:

  • 55% of foundations share what they are learning (Are you?)
  • Only 36% of foundations look at what other funders are sharing
  • 28% of foundations evaluate themselves as a whole
  • 51% of foundations evaluate individual grants

Most surprising and disappointing is how few foundations report using the knowledge that is shared by others. In a field that is not known for sharing, it’s likely most foundation staff don’t think the data is out there or searchable and retrievable in a user-friendly way. To solve this problem, IssueLab developed a new IssueLab:Results tool that easily allows anyone to seek and find foundation evaluations. You can now easily learn from your colleagues.

This IssueLab infographic is part of Foundation Center’s ongoing efforts to champion greater foundation transparency.. This year, Foundation Center launched the related #OpenForGood campaign, which encourages foundations to openly share their knowledge and learn from one another. Hint-Hint: adopting open knowledge practices could be an excellent New Year’s resolution for your foundation! How will your foundation be #OpenForGood?

--Melissa Moy

Open Solutions: MacArthur Foundation Opens Up Knowledge from Its $100 Million Competition
December 22, 2017

MacArthur Foundation is opening up its work, its grantmaking process, and perhaps most importantly — its submissions — through the 100&Change competition.

The 100&Change Solutions competition funds a single proposal that “promises real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time.” MacArthur welcomed proposals from any field or problem area.

Throughout this competition, MacArthur committed to be open and transparent about its grantmaking process. Examples of how this openness played out during the competition include:

100&Change LogoEarlier this week, these processes culminated with MacArthur Foundation’s announcement that Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are joint winners of the $100 million grant. The other three finalists each received a $15 million grant.

The two organizations will work collaboratively to implement an early childhood development intervention “designed to address the ‘toxic stress’ experienced by children in the Syrian response region—Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria,” the foundation said in a statement. “The project will improve children's learning outcomes today and their intellectual and emotional development over the long term.” 

The foundation felt compelled to support what will be the “largest early childhood prevention program ever created in a humanitarian setting.” Due to the scale of this project, there is potential for this project to improve and impact how refugee children are treated and cared for globally. Additionally, project leaders are hopeful this program will encourage a redirection of existing humanitarian aid and provide a working model for local government support.

In terms of scale, through the media component of customized educational content and a new local version of Sesame Street via television, mobile phones, digital platforms and direct services, an estimated 9.4 million young children will be reached. Home visits will be reinforced with digital content, and the project will connect trained local outreach and community health workers to reach 800,000 caregivers, and an estimated 1.5 million children will receive direct services in homes and child development centers.

The 100&Change competition also served as a force for innovation in MacArthur’s grantmaking practices and processes, and one MacArthur program officer said it helped the foundation evaluate and reflect on its own processes. For example, the foundation acknowledged that the eight semi-finalists and their proposals were atypical grant applications that would not normally be funded through its committed funding areas of: over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, increasing financial capital for the social sector; supporting journalism; and funding proposals in its headquarters city of Chicago.

The competition, launched in 2016, marks another step in MacArthur’s commitment to opening up its work in the field of philanthropy. Through a partnership with Foundation Center, more than 1,900 grant applications for the 100&Change competition will be available through a portal, 100&Change Solutions Bank.

The solutions bank encourages opportunities for organizations and funders to learn from one another, and promotes the production and sharing of knowledge. Aware that the competition generated numerous and worthwhile solutions to global issues, MacArthur was hopeful that publicly sharing the solutions represented by the nearly 2,000 proposal submissions would benefit other funders interested in exploring and funding worthy proposals. This could potentially minimize applicants from spending more time cultivating new donors and tailoring proposals to prospective funders.

A common criticism of competition philanthropy is that it’s a lot of work for the vast majority of applicants when there are thousands of applicants and only one or a handful of prize winners. MacArthur’s solutions bank approach has the potential to make this effort worthwhile since many can learn from the proposed solutions, and potentially find new collaborative partners, funders and donors.

Similarly, MacArthur’s commitment to Glasspockets’ transparency principles, and more recently, joining the #OpenForGood campaign to affirm its ongoing commitment to openly sharing its knowledge are among the ways that the foundation is working to go beyond the transaction and maximize all of its assets.

--Melissa Moy

In the Know: #OpenForGood Staff Pick December 2017
December 20, 2017

Gabriela Fitz is director of knowledge management initiatives at Foundation Center.

This post is part of the Glasspockets #OpenForGood series in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight. The series explores new research and tools, promising practices, and inspiring examples showing how some foundations are opening up the knowledge that they are learning for the benefit of the larger philanthropic sector. Contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #OpenForGood.

Gabi Fitz photo

As the #OpenForGood campaign builds steam, and we continue to add to our IssueLab Results repository of more than 400 documents containing lessons learned and evaluative data, our team will regularly shine the spotlight on new and noteworthy examples of the knowledge that is available to help us work smarter, together. This current pick comes to us from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Read last month's staff pick here.

Staff Pick: Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

Evaluation of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Chronic Homelessness Initiative: 2016 Evaluation Report, Phase I

Download the Report

Quick Summary

2016 Hilton Foundation Report

In 2011, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation partnered with Abt Associates Inc. to conduct an evaluation of the Hilton Foundation’s Chronic Homelessness Initiative, with the goal of answering an overarching question: Is the Chronic Homelessness Initiative an effective strategy to end and prevent chronic homelessness in Los Angeles County?

Answering that question has not been so easy. And it bears mentioning that this is not one of those reports that strives to prove a certain model is working, but instead provides a suitably complicated picture of an issue that will be an ongoing, multi-agency struggle.  A combination of economic conditions, insufficient and shrinking availability of affordable housing, and an unmet need for mental health and supportive services actually resulted in an increase in homeless people living in Los Angeles County during the time period under study. The numbers even suggest that Los Angeles was further from ending chronic homelessness than ever before. But the story is a bit more complicated than that.

In this final evaluation report on the community’s progress over five years, (January 2011 through December 2015), Abt Associates Inc. found that the collaborative system that had been developed during the first phase of the initiative actually represented a kind of turning point for the County to address chronic homelessness, which was needed more than ever by the end of 2015.

Field of Practice

  • Housing and Homelessness

What kinds of knowledge does this report up?

This report goes beyond evaluating a single effort or initiative to look at the larger collaborative system of funding bodies and stakeholders involved in solving a problem like chronic homelessness. We often hear that no foundation can solve problems single-handedly, so it’s refreshing to see a report framework that takes this reality into account by not just attempting to isolate the foundation-funded part of the work. The initiative’s strategy focused on a systemic approach that included goals, such as the leveraging of public funds, demonstrated action by elected and public officials, and increased capacity among developers and providers to provide permanent and supporting housing effectively, alongside the actual construction of thousands of housing units. By adopting this same systemic lens, the evaluation itself provides valuable insight into not just the issue of chronic homelessness in Los Angeles County, but also into how we might think about and evaluate programs and initiatives that are similarly collaborative or interdependent by design.

What makes it stand out?

This report is notable for two reasons. First is the evaluators’ willingness and ability to genuinely grapple with the discouraging fact that homelessness had gone up during the time of the initiative, as well as the foundation’s willingness to share this knowledge by publishing and sharing it. All too often, reports that don’t cast foundation strategies in the best possible light don’t see the light of day at all. Sadly, it is that kind of “sweeping under the rug” of knowledge that keeps us all in the dark. The second notable thing about this report is its design. The combination of a summary “dashboard” with easily digestible infographics about both the process of the evaluation and its findings, and a clear summary analysis for each strategic goal, makes this evaluation stand out from the crowd.

Key Quote

“From our vantage point, the Foundation’s investment in Systems Change was its most important contribution to the community’s effort to end chronic homelessness during Phase I of the Initiative. But that does not mean the Foundation’s investments in programs and knowledge dissemination did not make significant contributions. We believe it is the interplay of the three that yielded the greatest dividend.”

--Gabriela Fitz

Glasspockets Find: GuideStar’s Good Practices for Foundations Leads with Transparency and Openness
November 15, 2017

Earlier this year, GuideStar released an informative report, "A Guide to Good Practices in Foundation Operations” that offers tips to eliminate foundation inefficiencies and increase open and responsive grantmaking. The report title emphasizes that a one-size-fits-all “best practices” approach is not appropriate given the unique nature of foundations; it also cautions that this can foster a “one-size-fits-one” culture that creates great inefficiencies for grantseeking organizations, and for the sector as a whole.

At Glasspockets, we are happy to see that transparency topped GuideStar’s list of practices philanthropy should adopt to overcome these challenges.

Download the Report.

In addition to transparency, GuideStar’s good foundation practices cover a range of topics including communications, power dynamics, constituency relations, diversity, and due diligence. Specifically, the report recommends the following tips to eliminate inefficiencies and maximize social sector impact:

  1. Be Transparent to the Public
  2. Be Rigorous—But Remain Respectful of Your Applicants
  3. Be Responsive to Your Constituents
  4. Be Proactive about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

“We believe that foundations of all shapes and sizes can apply these practices. We also believe that civic society will be much more efficient, stronger, and more effective if all foundations adopt them,” the report states.

Foundation-good-practices-report coverBe Transparent to the Public

Transparency not only benefits grantseekers and the public, but it also benefits grantmakers. GuideStar shared that grantmakers who are open and transparent are more likely to pursue excellence, and be more responsive to their constituents and public criticism. Another benefit: “The act of transparency can force an organization to be clear about its goals and strategy.” 

GuideStar also highlights how foundations can learn from their peers and develop benchmarks through the Glasspockets’ Transparency Trends tool, which helps foundations compare its transparency practices with others and create a customized report with recommendations.

Be Rigorous—But Remain Respectful of Your Applicants

GuideStar suggests foundations can determine the “health of a grantseeker” by: verifying its eligibility to accept grants; confirming that the nonprofit’s proposal aligns with the grantmaker’s mission; and checking on the grant applicant’s role in the community and the field. However, GuideStar cautions foundations about making unreasonable and overly stringent demands such as requesting redundant information or unnecessary documentation that could potentially impede nonprofits from fulfilling their missions. For example, a foundation could gain information on a grantseeker’s legal status, its impact, and its financial health due to the availability of outside products or check the foundation's current records before requesting that information from the nonprofit.

Be Responsive to Your Constituents

Funders should not overlook the use of staff expertise to inform new directions. For example, staff feedback mechanisms should be in place so that their experience and observations can inform foundation’ strategies and missions. GuideStar encourages funders to use an in-house or third-party survey to gather “staff perceptions of their relationships with managers, whether staffers believe they are empowered to do their jobs, and their perceptions of organizational culture.” GuideStar also states that beneficiary feedback mechanisms represent an under-used but effective means of informing foundation strategy.

Be Proactive about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Funders’ efforts to address diversity, equity and inclusion should be internalized and synthesized as a “keystone value for an organization” and not due to “ad hoc efforts or in response to public campaigns.” GuideStar emphasizes that diversity is essential to maximizing a foundation’s impact on social good because it “encourages innovation, energizes organizations, and widens perspectives.” Diversity should be reflected in the staff from the Board of Directors to line staff.

Moving Forward

In light of change and uncertainty in society, GuideStar notes that foundations continue to play an important role in influencing and empowering change in the social sector. With GuideStar’s insightful and practical suggestions to address inefficiencies and implement good practices, foundations have opportunities to create internal changes that can have long-lasting impact inside and outside of foundation walls. What good practices is your foundation currently implementing, and which good practices will you aim for?

--Melissa Moy

In the Know: #OpenForGood Staff Pick
November 1, 2017

Gabriela Fitz is director of knowledge management initiatives at Foundation Center.

This post is part of the Glasspockets #OpenForGood series in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight. The series explores new research and tools, promising practices, and inspiring examples showing how some foundations are opening up the knowledge that they are learning for the benefit of the larger philanthropic sector. Contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #OpenForGood.

Gabi Fitz photo

As the #OpenForGood campaign builds steam, and we continue to add to our IssueLab Results repository of more than 400 documents containing lessons learned and evaluative data, our team will regularly shine the spotlight on new and noteworthy examples of the knowledge that is available to help us work smarter, together. This current pick comes to us from the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation.

Staff Pick: Native Arts & Cultures Foundation

Progressing Issues of Social Importance Through the Work of Indigenous Artists: A Social Impact Evaluation of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation's Pilot Community Inspiration Program

Download the Report

Quick Summary

NACF Report

Impact measurement is a challenge for all kinds of organizations, and arts and culture organizations in particular often struggle with how to quantify the impact they are making. How does one measure the social impact of an epic spoken word poem, or of a large-scale, temporary art installation, or of performance art? The same is true of measuring the impact of social change efforts--how can these be measured in the short term given the usual pace of change? This report provides a good example of how to overcome both of these struggles.

In 2014, the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation (NACF) launched a new initiative, the Community Inspiration Program (CIP), which is rooted in the understanding that arts and cultures projects have an important role to play in motivating community engagement and supporting social change.

This 2017 report considers the social impacts of the 2014 CIP projects—what effects did they have on communities and on the issues, conversations, and connections that are critical in those communities? Its secondary purpose is to provide the NACF with ideas for how to improve its grantmaking in support of arts for community change.

Field(s) of Practice

  • Arts and Culture
  • Native and Indigenous Communities
  • Social Change
  • Community Engagement

This report opens up knowledge about the pilot phases of a new initiative whose intended impacts, community inspiration and social change, are vital but difficult concepts to operationalize and measure. The evaluation provides valuable insight into how foundations can encourage the inclusion of indigenous perspectives and truths not only in the design of their programs but also in the evaluation of those same programs.

What makes it stand out?

Several key aspects make this report noteworthy. First, this evaluation comprises a unique combination of more traditional methods and data with what the authors call an "aesthetic-appreciative" evaluation lens, which accounts for a set of dimensions associated with aesthetic projects such as "disruption," "stickiness," and "communal meaning," providing a more holistic analysis of the projects. Further, because the evaluation was focused on Native-artist led projects, it relied on the guidance of indigenous research strategies. Intentionality around developing strategies and principles for stakeholder-inclusion make this a noteworthy and useful framework for others, regardless of whether Native communities are the focus of your evaluation.

Key Quote

"Even a multiplicity of evaluation measures may not 'truly' tell the story of social impact if, for evaluators, effects are unobservable (for example, they occur at a point in the future that is beyond the evaluation's timeframe), unpredictable (so that evaluators don't know where to look for impact), or illegible (evaluators cannot understand that they are seeing the effects of a project)."

--Gabriela Fitz

Open Access to Foundation Knowledge
October 25, 2017

This post is part of the Glasspockets #OpenForGood series in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight. This post also appears in Medium. The series explores new research and tools, promising practices, and inspiring examples showing how some foundations are opening up the knowledge that they are learning for the benefit of the larger philanthropic sector. Contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #OpenForGood.

Lisa Brooks Photo
Lisa Brooks

Foundations have a lot of reasons to share knowledge. They produce knowledge themselves. They hire others to research and author works that help with internal strategy development and evaluation of internal strategies, programs, and projects. And they make grants that assist others in gaining insight into social issues — be it through original research, evaluation work, or other work aimed at creating a better understanding of issues so that we can all pursue better solutions to social problems. In almost all aspects of foundation work, knowledge is an outcome.

While openly sharing this knowledge is uneven across the social sector, we do see more and more foundations starting to explore open access to the knowledge assets they make possible. Many foundations are sharing more intentionally through their websites, external clearinghouses, and other online destinations. And more foundations are suggesting — sometimes requiring — that their grantees openly share knowledge that was produced with grant dollars.

Lacey Althouse Photo
Lacey Althouse

Some foundations are even becoming open access champions. For example, the Hewlett Foundation has authored a terrifically helpful free toolkit that provides an in-depth how-to aimed at moving foundation and grantee intellectual property licensing practices away from “all rights reserved” copyrights and toward “some rights reserved” open licenses. (Full disclosure: IssueLab is included in the toolkit as one solution for long term knowledge preservation and sharing.) (“Hewlett Foundation Open Licensing Toolkit for Staff”)

For those who are already 100% open it’s easy to forget that, when first starting out, learning about open access can be daunting. For those who are trying to open up, like most things, getting there is a series of steps. One step is understanding how licensing can work for, or against, openness. Hewlett’s toolkit is a wonderful primer for understanding this. IssueLab also offers some ways to dig into other areas of openness. Check out Share the Wealth for tips.



However it is that foundations find their way to providing open access to the knowledge they make possible, we applaud and support it! In the spirit of International Open Access Week’s theme, “Open in order to….,” here’s what a few leading foundations have to say about the topic of openness in the social sector.

James Irvine Foundation 
Find on IssueLab.

“We have a responsibility to share our knowledge. There’s been a lot of money that gets put into capturing and generating knowledge and we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves.”

-Kim Ammann Howard, Director of Impact Assessment and Learning

Hewlett Foundation
Find on IssueLab.

“Our purpose for existing is to help make the world a better place. One way we can do that is to try things, learn, and then share what we have learned. That seems obvious. What is not obvious is the opposite: not sharing. So the question shouldn’t be why share; it should be why not share.”

-Larry Kramer, President

Hawaii Community Foundation
Find on IssueLab.

“Openness and transparency is one element of holding ourselves accountable to the public — to the communities we’re either in or serving. To me, it’s a necessary part of our accountability and I don’t think it should necessarily be an option.

-Tom Kelly, Vice President of Knowledge, Evaluation and Learning

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Find on IssueLab.

“Why do we want to share these things? …One, because it’s great to share what we’re learning, what’s worked, what hasn’t, what impact has been made so that others can learn from the work that our grantees are doing so that they can either not reinvent the wheel, gain insights from it or learn from where we’ve gone wrong… I think it helps to build the field overall since we’re sharing what we’re learning.”

-Bernadette Sangalang, Program Officer

The Rockefeller Foundation
Find on IssueLab

“To ensure that we hold ourselves to this high bar, The Rockefeller Foundation pre-commits itself to sharing the results of its evaluations — well before the results are even known.”

-Veronica Olazabal, Shawna Hoffman, and Nadia Asgaraly
(Read more on why the Rockefeller Foundation is open for good.)

If you are a foundation ready to make open access the norm as part of your impact operations, here’s how you can become an open knowledge organization today.

IssueLab believes that social sector knowledge is a public good that is meant to be freely accessible to all. We collect and share the sector’s knowledge assets and we support the social sector’s adoption of open knowledge practices. Visit our collection of ~23,000 open access resources. While you’re there, add your knowledge — it takes minutes and costs nothing. Find out what we’re open in order to do here. IssueLab is a service of Foundation Center.

--Lisa Brooks and Lacey Althouse

How "Going Public" Improves Evaluations
October 17, 2017

Edward Pauly is director of research and evaluation at The Wallace Foundation. This post is part of the Glasspockets #OpenForGood series in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight. The series explores new research and tools, promising practices, and inspiring examples showing how some foundations are opening up the knowledge that they are learning for the benefit of the larger philanthropic sector. Contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #OpenForGood.

ED_finalAs foundations strive to be #OpenForGood and share key lessons from their grantees' work, a frequent question that arises is how foundations can balance the value of openness with concerns about potential risks.

Concerns about risk are particularly charged when it comes to evaluations. Those concerns include: possible reputational damage to grantees from a critical or less-than-positive evaluation; internal foundation staff disagreements with evaluators about the accomplishments and challenges of grantees they know well; and evaluators’ delays and complicated interpretations.

It therefore may seem counterintuitive to embrace – as The Wallace Foundation has – the idea of making evaluations public and distributing them widely. And one of the key reasons may be surprising: To get better and more useful evaluations.

The Wallace Foundation has found that high-quality evaluations – by which we mean independent, commissioned research that tackles questions that are important to the field – are often a powerful tool for improving policy and practice. We have also found that evaluations are notably improved in quality and utility by being publicly distributed.

Incentives for High Quality

A key reason is that the incentives of a public report for the author are aligned with quality in several ways:

  • Evaluation research teams know that when their reports are public and widely distributed, they will be closely scrutinized and their reputation is on the line. Therefore, they do their highest quality work when it’s public.  In our experience, non-public reports are more likely than public reports to be weak in data use, loose in their analysis, and even a bit sloppy in their writing.  It is also noteworthy that some of the best evaluation teams insist on publishing their reports.
  • Evaluators also recognize that they benefit from the visibility of their public reports because visibility brings them more research opportunities – but only if their work is excellent, accessible and useful.
  • We see evaluators perk up when they focus on the audience their reports will reach. Gathering data and writing for a broad audience of practitioners and policymakers incentivizes evaluators to seek out and carefully consider the concerns of the audience: What information does the audience need in order to judge the value of the project being evaluated? What evidence will the intended audience find useful? How should the evaluation report be written so it will be accessible to the audience?

Making evaluations public is a classic case of a virtuous circle: public scrutiny creates incentives for high quality, accessibility and utility; high quality reports lead to expanded, engaged audiences – and the circle turns again, as large audiences use evaluation lessons to strengthen their own work, and demand more high-quality evaluations. To achieve these benefits, it’s obviously essential for grantmakers to communicate upfront and thoroughly with grantees about the goals of a public evaluation report -- goals of sharing lessons that can benefit the entire field, presented in a way that avoids any hint of punitive or harsh messaging.

“What is it that you don’t know, that if you knew it, would enable you to make important progress in your own work?”

Asking the Right Questions

A key difference between evaluations commissioned for internal use and evaluations designed to produce public reports for a broad audience lies in the questions they ask. Of course, for any evaluation or applied research project, a crucial precursor to success is getting the questions right. In many cases, internally-focused evaluations quite reasonably ask questions about the lessons for the foundation as a grantmaker. Evaluations for a broad audience of practitioners and policymakers, including the grantees themselves, typically ask a broader set of questions, often emphasizing lessons for the field on how an innovative program can be successfully implemented, what outcomes are likely, and what policies are likely to be supportive.

In shaping these efforts at Wallace as part of the overall design of initiatives, we have found that one of the most valuable initial steps is to ask field leaders: What is it that you don’t know, that if you knew it, would enable you to make important progress in your own work? This kind of listening can help a foundation get the questions right for an evaluation whose findings will be valued, and used, by field leaders and practitioners.

Knowledge at Work

For example, school district leaders interested in Wallace-supported “principal pipelines” that could help ensure a reliable supply of effective principals, wanted to know the costs of starting such pipelines and maintaining them over time. The result was a widely-used RAND report that we commissioned, “What It Takes to Operate and Maintain Principal Pipelines: Costs and Other Resources.” RAND found that costs are less than one half of 1% of districts’ expenditures; the report also explained what drives costs, and provided a very practical checklist of the components of a pipeline that readers can customize and adapt to meet their local needs.

Other examples that show how high-quality public evaluations can help grantees and the field include:

Being #OpenForGood does not happen overnight, and managing an evaluation planned for wide public distribution isn’t easy. The challenges start with getting the question right – and then selecting a high-performing evaluation team; allocating adequate resources for the evaluation; connecting the evaluators with grantees and obtaining relevant data; managing the inevitable and unpredictable bumps in the road; reviewing the draft report for accuracy and tone; allowing time for grantees to fact-check it; and preparing with grantees and the research team for the public release. Difficulties, like rocks on a path, crop up in each stage in the journey. Wallace has encountered all of these difficulties, and we don’t always navigate them successfully. (Delays are a persistent issue for us.)

Since we believe that the knowledge we produce is a public good, it follows that the payoff of publishing useful evaluation reports is worth it. Interest from the field is evidenced by 750,000 downloads last year from, and a highly engaged public discourse about what works, what doesn’t, why, and how – rather than the silence that often greets many internally-focused evaluations.

--Edward Pauly

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About Transparency Talk

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

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

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