Transparency Talk

Category: "Openness" (77 posts)

Getting Practical About Open Licensing
January 11, 2018

Kristy Tsadick is Deputy General Counsel and Heath Wickline is a Communications Officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, where they created an Open Licensing Toolkit for the foundation’s staff and its grantees in 2015. This post is part of the Glasspockets’ #OpenForGood series in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight. The series explores new 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.

Kristy_Tsadick photo
Kristy Tsadick
Heath_Wickline photo
Heath Wickline

Some of the biggest barriers to open licensing—an alternative to traditional copyright that encourages sharing of intellectual property with few or no restrictions—are practical ones. What rights are authors really giving others when they openly license their work? How do authors decide on the right Creative Commons license for their work? And having decided to openly license what they’ve created, how do authors actually let others know about their decision?

The Hewlett Foundation, where we both work, has a long history of supporting openness and transparency, and when Larry Kramer joined the foundation as president in 2012, he decided to make a renewal of that commitment a key part of his tenure. In 2015, that renewed commitment resulted in a decision to extend our support for open licensing to require it on works created using grant funds, underlining our belief that if grants are made to support the public good then the knowledge they generate should also be considered a public good.

To successfully implement this idea, we knew we would have to offer some concrete guidance to our program staff and grantees on both what we were asking of them and how to do it. We also knew we wanted to create a policy that would offer our grantees flexibility to comply with it in ways that made sense for their organizations. Both ideas are embodied in the Open Licensing Toolkit for Staff that we developed.

The kit is structured to help the foundation’s program staff decide to which grants the new rule applies, introduce open licensing to grantees, and help clarify what an open license on written works will mean for them. It uses FAQs, a “decision tree,” template emails and other documents to walk through the process. There is even a guide to marking works with a Creative Commons license to make clear what information is needed along with the copyright notice. And while the kit was designed with Hewlett Foundation staff in mind, we also wanted it to be useful for grantees and others interested in expanding their understanding and use of open licenses—so, of course, the toolkit itself carries a broad Creative Commons license.

Hewlett_toolkitIn thinking about which of our grants would be in scope for open licensing, we realized early on that general operating support is incompatible with the policy because those funds are given “with no strings attached.” Beyond even this broad exemption, we wanted to allow plenty of space for grantees to select licenses or request an exemption where they felt open licenses could do harm to them financially. It’s been gratifying to see how grantees have recognized the spirit of the new policy, and how infrequently they’ve requested exemptions—so much so that we stopped tracking those requests about a year after instituting the new policy. In one area where we did often see requests for exemptions—in grants to performing arts organizations, where the “work” is often a performance and selling tickets to it or recordings of it central to a grantee’s business model—we recently decided to change our standard grant agreements to recognize the need for this exemption.

Our goal in adopting the new policy was to show others what open licensing could mean for them—the way it can help spread knowledge and increase the impact of philanthropic resources. In that, we’ve been extremely successful, as other organizations have built on our toolkit, and our policy, to encourage open licensing in their own work. The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), for example, based its implementation guide for its own transparency policy on our toolkit, and the U.S. Department of State included a link to it in its Federal Open Licensing Playbook to encourage open licensing across all federal agencies. And because we included a Creative Commons license on the kit to be #OpenForGood, other organizations—including yours—are free to use and build on our work, too.

Hardly anyone would argue against getting more impact for the same dollars or having their ideas adopted and shared by more people. But real-world implementation details get in the way. Our experience with our Open Licensing Toolkit shows that a practical, flexible approach to open licensing helped extend our impact in ways we never could have imagined.

--Kristy Tsadick and Heath Wickline

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.

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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

Transparency and Philanthropy - An Oxymoron in India? Not Anymore.
December 13, 2017

Sumitra Mishra is the executive director of Mobile Creches, a leading organization in India that works for the right to early childhood development for marginalized children. Its work spans from grassroots interventions to policy advocacy at the national level. She serves on the management team of Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace (PSJP). Chandrika Sahai is the coordinator of PSJP.

Sumitra Mishra  India has traditionally been a philanthropic culture with giving ingrained in all of its major religions, a part of everyday life. However, both formal and informal giving in India have mainly been private matters, the choice of cause and the method of giving have mostly been motivated by the givers’ desire to do good and feel good. Often, past giving was opaque in its reasons and strategies. Traditionally perceived with distrust, the general public has remained skeptical about NGOs and activism in India, and giving for social change has been marginal. While the latest report, Philanthropy in India (published by Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace in association with Alliance, WINGS and the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy, and Ashoka University) validates this picture, it also points to new trends that hold a promising future in which these trends are reversed. These trends make a case for openness and greater public engagement as key ingredients to finding solutions to complex social problems that continue to plague India. 

Chandrika Sahai PhotoRetail Giving

First, there is the rise of ”retail giving” or individual giving by ordinary citizens, which is bringing middle class individuals, especially young people, into the fold of philanthropy because of their desire to be a part of the solution. They give, not because they have excess wealth to distribute; rather they are driven to do something that can make a change. This trend is supported by use of technology platforms that makes it easier for givers and their circle of friends to get closer to change on the ground. More and more people from diverse backgrounds are engaged in the process and it leads to greater impact than just raising funds.

Last month, to mark India’s Children’s Day, Child Right and You (CRY) ran a #happychildhood campaign on social media with videos of CRY donors and supporters sharing their favorite childhood memories. The campaign was not a direct call for donations. Instead, it tapped the innate empathy in people – the desire to recreate similar experiences for others, motivating them to give because they care. Another example is the DaanUtsav, which started in 2009 as Joy of Giving Week, and has become a tremendous success, engaging 6 to 7 million people today in the act of giving. These examples show how retail giving is democratizing the process of giving, opening up avenues for raising awareness and leveraging the power of these large, networked platforms to mobilize and scale individual agency for social change.  

The Rise of Progressive Philanthropists

Philanthropy-in-India-Front-cover-724x1024Second, the report points to bold steps in giving by progressive individual philanthropists investing large sums of money in structural reforms in the areas of health, education, water and sanitation. Most significantly, there is now a consortium of philanthropists visibly supportive of independent media. This comes at a time when independent media is under attack in the country, indicated, not least by the recent murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh. By publicly investing in independent media, philanthropists with voices of influence such as Azim Premji and Rohini Nilekani are giving not just their dollars, but adding their power and influence to the cause as well, demonstrating the important role transparency has to play in making a difference.   “In India a few people are emerging who are willing to put their money into such things – but it’s a slow burn,” says Rohini Nilekani, who along with her husband recently signed the Giving Pledge, committing to give away the majority of their wealth, at least $1.7 billion to philanthropy.

Furthermore, the report cites the emergence of a number of agencies in India like GuideStar India, Credibility Alliance, CAF India, and GiveIndia that are leading the NGO accrediting process to bridge the gap between NGOs and philanthropists – individuals, corporate, HNIs, foundations. What is most interesting in this push for transparency? It is based on a model where NGOs are pushing for accountability from within, by voluntarily seeking this accreditation.

Citizen-Led Movements

Third, until now, citizen philanthropy-led, social movements have been unrecognized in their push to keep social change movements open, democratic, accountable and issue based. The report draws attention to self-funded activist movements, notably the Right to Information Campaign, the Right to Work movement that succeeded on the strength of public support and not institutional philanthropy. This trend signals that philanthropy is least effective in aiding social change when it plays into unequal power relationships between givers and receivers. It is most effective when it is like a baton passed to wider communities who take center stage in exemplifying how giving, motivating and direct action can push systemic changes. Despite increasing pressure on civil society now leading to shrinking spaces for communicating dissent against inequities and injustice, the report notes how many civil society organizations in every district and town of the country “have been able to mobilize and support citizens to claim access to their rights and to organize self-help efforts.”

These developments in India give a new meaning to transparency in philanthropy. They shift the focus away from compliance to the role of philanthropy and the methods used by it, and places agency and power of the people center stage in this conversation. While the report points to this culture shift, it also points to areas for improvement, particularly the need for donor education.  Perhaps the agenda for donor education in India is best summed up by Pushpa Sundar in her book published earlier this year, Giving with a Thousand Hands: The Changing Face of Indian Philanthropy.  She writes, “Philanthropy orientation has to change from ‘giving back’ to solving social problems.”

People are giving because they want to solve social problems through their own participation. It is time for them to get their due and for the field of institutional philanthropy to recognize that the real drivers of change are people.

--Sumitra Mishra and Chandrika Sahai

Glasspockets Find: How Will Millennial Philanthropists Influence Openness and Innovation in Giving?
December 6, 2017

BNP Paribas Philanthropy ReportGiving is a family legacy for some philanthropists. How will millennials – known for creating new norms when it comes to openness and innovation in everyday life – approach and redefine their roles in family foundations and shape the next generation’s giving mindset?

An insightful report published earlier this year, Passing the Torch: Next Generation Philanthropists, commissioned by BNP Paribas Wealth Management examines the motivations, actions and mindsets of millennial philanthropists involved in their family foundations as they seek to balance the expectations of multi-generational family giving with their desire for innovation in philanthropy.

Such innovative practices include new investment strategies, such as impact investing and ways to measure social impact, and international collaboration. The report findings were based on interviews with affluent interviews and relevant experts.

Millennial philanthropists desire to make a positive impact on society. “Millennials especially are pushing the boundaries of traditional philanthropy with a stronger collaborative spirit and a greater use of impact investing or social entrepreneurship and co-funding opportunities,” Sofia Merlo, co-CEO at BNP Paribas Wealth Management, said in a statement.

In 2015, the nation’s 75.4 million millennials surpassed the number of 74.9 million baby boomers. This generation, which grew up with technology at their fingertips, is known for bucking the status quo, supporting social justice work, and its preference to connect, network and share through social media.

Millennials are opening up their family foundations’ philanthropic work through social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. Survey respondents suggested Facebook is more commonly used because it does not require as much frequent messaging as Twitter.

The report identified unique characteristics of millennial philanthropists:

  • Millennials favor supporting entrepreneurship and are willing to support for-profit organizations as a “sustainable option to achieve their philanthropic ambitions.” Emerging sectors of interest to millennials for social entrepreneurship include financial technologies, educational technologies, renewable energy, and food and agriculture.
  • Millennials are more global in their causes and giving than baby boomers. Millennials prefer to “replicate successes across many places whereas the older (generation) is focused on a single region.”
  • Millennials want to give now to advance change rather than waiting to give later.
  • Millennials use social media differently than baby boomers. Through social media, they find grantees, donors, partners or opportunities to learn.
  • Millennials favor collaboration through local and global networks, whether it’s a search for new ideas and best practices or partners for co-investments and co-funding.

The report also found millennials involved in family foundations are not tied to legacy. Although they approach philanthropy with consideration for the philanthropic traditions of their families and generations before, millennials are “eager to forge a new path, fully using all the tools and resources at their disposal.”

Millennials are willing to strike out on their own philanthropically. When they find that their philanthropic goals do not align with the family foundations, millennials “set up their own foundations or funds to achieve their philanthropic goals.” And for those who champion a more open philanthropic sector, it’s reassuring that the report findings show millennial philanthropists are living up to their reputation and using technology to open up their work and scale their networks.

--Melissa Moy

No Pain, No Gain: The Reality of Improving Grant Descriptions
November 8, 2017

Gretchen Schackel is Grants Manager of the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation in Portland, Oregon.

This post is part of a Transparency Talk series, presented in partnership with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, examining the importance of the 990-PF, the informational tax form that foundations must annually file. The series explores the implications of the open 990; how journalists and researchers use the 990-PF to understand philanthropy; and its role, limitations, and potential as a communications tool.

Join us at a session about the Open 990-PF in partnership with Southern California Grantmakers. Learn more or register here.                                   

Gretchen Schackel - Miller photoYou know those blog posts that describe adopting a best practice?  The ones that make it sound so easy and tempting that you try it, only to be let down because you discover that either you are doing something terribly wrong, or it is a lot harder than the author made it sound because they left out all of the pain points? Well, don’t worry—this is not one of those posts! In fact, I will start off with the pain points so you can go in eyes wide open, if like me, you end up on a quest to improve your foundation’s grant descriptions.  

This post is a sequel to another Transparency Talk article that recently featured our foundation’s executive director, detailing lessons learned about why improving grants data is important to the foundation, as well as to the sector as a whole. That article ended with a brief snapshot of some “before and after” grant descriptions, showing how we are working to improve the way we tell the story of each grant, so I’m picking up here where that left off to share an honest, behind-the-scenes look at what it took to get from the before to the after.

“Capturing critical details when writing accurate and complete grant descriptions aids your efforts on the 990-PF form.”

Pain Relievers

As the grants manager, it’s my job to put the right processes in place so we can capture critical details when writing grant descriptions to ensure that they are accurate and complete, and well….actually descriptive (AKA “Purpose of grant of contribution” on form 990-PF). This fall marks my 11-year anniversary at the Miller Foundation and one thing that has remained constant throughout my tenure is what a pain writing good grant descriptions can be if you don’t know where to begin. So, I’m sharing my playbook below, because the communities we are serving, and how we are serving them, deserve to be described and celebrated. I’ve learned some tips and work-arounds along the way that I’ll share as I inventory the various obstacles you might encounter

Pain Point #1:

Lean Staffing. We are a staff of four people: Executive Director, Program Officer, Grants Manager, and Administrative Assistant. We don’t publish an annual report; we have just started using social media, and just completed a website redesign. This makes all of us part-time communications staff. I wouldn’t describe this as a best practice, but it’s the reality at many foundations.  

Pain Reliever #1:

Grant Descriptions Can Serve Many Purposes. As mentioned above, the editorial process involved in prepping text for public consumption can be labor intensive, particularly in organizations without a communications department. Grant descriptions, which represent the substance of our work, turn out to be handy for small organizations like ours because they can serve many purposes. They are used for our minutes, our website, our 990-PF, and for our eReport to Foundation Center for its searchable databases. We don’t have time to write different grant descriptions for each specific use. So, we write one grant description that we can use in multiple platforms and situations.

Pain Point #2:

Garbage In – Garbage Out. Data starts with the grantees, and I know from talking to them that they are often not well equipped with time or technology to collect good data. It’s not just about what questions are we asking but rather how are we helping our grantees understand what we need and help them get us the best data possible.

Pain Reliever #2:

You have to work with what you’ve got. And what we have is the information provided by the potential grantees in their applications.  Most of the information we need can be found in the “Brief summary of the grant request” question on the grant application. Rather than treat this as a test that potential grantees must either pass/fail, we provide detailed instructions of the kind of information we would like to see in the summary as part of our online application process. Taking the guesswork out of the application has improved the data quality we receive at the start of the grant. Our arts portfolio also requires that grantees participate in DataArts, which serves as a collective database that grantees only have to enter once and then all arts funders can access their data. Participating in field-building shortcuts like this is a great way to make the process more efficient for everyone.

Once you have the framework in place to get a good grant summary from your prospective grantees, however, your work is not yet done.  Often, important elements of the funded grant can change during board deliberations, so I find it essential to share the grant summary with our program staff before finalizing to ensure we are capturing the detail accurately.

Pain Point #3: Lack of an industry standard on what makes the perfect grant description.  There are probably as many ways to write a grant description as there are foundations, and reinventing wheels is a waste of our collective time, so I have long wished for a framework we could all agree to follow.

Pain Reliever #3: The Get on the Map Campaign.

We have learned a lot from Foundation Center’s Get on the Map campaign about the elements of a great grant description. The Get on the Map campaign is a partnership between United Philanthropy Forum and Foundation Center designed to improve philanthropic data, and includes a helpful framework that details the best way to share your data with Foundation Center and the public. What I immediately loved about it is how it reminded me of being that weird kid who loved to diagram sentences in junior high. But perhaps it’s not that strange since I know grants managers enjoy turning chaos into order. So, let's try to use sentence diagramming as a model for writing grant descriptions.

The Anatomy of a Good Grant Description

First, we’ll start with the four elements of a good grant description and assign each a color.

  • WHAT: What is the primary objective of the grant?
  • WHO:  Are there any specifically intended beneficiaries?
  • HOW: What are the primary strategies of the grant?
  • WHERE:  Where will the grant monies serve if beyond the recipient address?

Example #1:

We’ll start with an easy example. Program support grant descriptions often write themselves:

Brief summary of the grant request from application form:

“We are seeking support for Chicas Youth Development which serves over 500 Latina girls and their families in grades 3-12 in Washington County. Chicas launched in 2008 and has since grown to partner with three Washington County school districts and over 500 local families each year to offer after school programming, leadership, and community service opportunities for Latina youth and their families.”

Grant Description: to support the Chicas Youth Development program which serves 500 Latina girls in grades 3-12 located in Washington County.

That was pretty easy!! Particularly because of how we improved the clarity of what we ask for.

Example #2:

The grant below is also a project grant but the Brief summary of the grant request from the application is a little less straight forward:

“GRANTEE requests $AMOUNT to support the presentation of two new publications and four community readings featuring the writing of diverse voices: people who are experiencing homeless, immigrants and refugees living in our community, seniors living on a low income, LGBTQ folks, people living with a disability, and many others whose voices often live on the margins.  This project will bring together people to experience and explore art and will focus on those with the least access to do so.

Grant Description: To support community building through publication and public readings of works written by marginalized populations.

Example #3:

This grant is for both general operating support and a challenge grant. Tricky.

GRANTEE respectfully requests $AMOUNT over two years to support program growth as well as provide a matching challenge for individual donations as we continue to increase our sustainability through support from individual donors. If awarded, $AMOUNT would be put to general operating funds to support our continued program growth in all areas: traditional high school program, statewide initiative pilot program and our college program. The remaining $AMOUNT each year would serve as a matching challenge grant. In order to be eligible for the match, GRANTEE would have to raise $AMOUNT in new and increased individual donations each year of the grant period.

Okay Grant Description: To support program growth and provide a matching challenge for individual donations.

Good Grant Description: General operating funds to support program growth and a challenge grant to increase support from individual donors.

Better Grant Description: This grant was awarded in two parts: 1. General operating funds for mission related activities that provide intensive support to low-income high school juniors and seniors in Oregon. 2. A 1:1 challenge grant to increase support from individual donors.

The above description is a perfect example of why it’s important to read the proposal narrative as well as confer with program staff.

If you follow this process, I can’t promise it will be painless, but it will go a long way to relieving a lot of the pain points that come with grants management—particularly the grants management of today in which grants managers are at the crossroads of being data managers, information officers, and storytellers.  I have found making this journey is worth it. Because, after all, behind every grant lies a story waiting to be told and a community waiting to hear it. So, let’s get our stories straight!

--Gretchen Schackel

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.

Hawaii

 

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 www.wallacefoundation.org, 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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