Transparency Talk

Eye On: Sylvan Adams
September 30, 2015

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

Generosity has become a family legacy for the son of a Holocaust survivor.

Sylvan-adams-150Sylvan and Margaret Adams joined the Giving Pledge last week, whereby individuals pledge to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime.   Sylvan Adams is president and CEO of the Quebec-based real estate firm Iberville Developments.

“From my parents’ example, it was natural for me to continue the family tradition of trying to do some good in the world around me,” Sylvan Adams said in the couple’s Giving Pledge letter.  

Adams, 56, learned about philanthropy from his parents, Marcel and the late Annie Adams. 

After surviving three years in a Nazi labor camp in his native Romania, Marcel Adams fought in the Israeli War of Independence before moving to Quebec City in 1951.  He earned a living as a tanner until an investment in a housing project yielded a 70% return.  He founded Iberville Developments in 1958. 

Over the years, Marcel Adams built the family real estate empire in Quebec.  Marcel Adams made Forbes Magazine’s Billionaires list in 2013 and 2014.  Today, the family owns and manages 100 properties that span 8 million square feet and feature shopping centers, offices, industrial properties and residences.

Sylvan Adams

  • Quebec City, Canada, native
  • President and CEO of Quebec-based Iberville Developments
  • Trustee, Jewish General Hospital Foundation in Quebec
  • Award-winning competitive bicycle racer
  • Net worth is approximately $1 Billion

Sylvan Adams, who holds an MBA from the University of Toronto, said that his parents taught him about philanthropy and giving.  “My parents were generous givers early on, when they didn’t have great means,” he said.

The family’s donations escalated as their business and wealth grew.  In 1986, the family launched the Marcel and Annie Adams Institute for Business management Information Systems at Tel Aviv University.

Father and son both serve as Board trustees for the Jewish General Hospital Foundation, which supports the Jewish General Hospital, a 637-bed McGill University teaching hospital in Quebec.

It was natural for me to continue the family tradition of trying to do some good in the world.

The family is notoriously private, especially the media-shy, 95-year-old Marcel Adams.  Sylvan Adams and his British-born wife, Margaret, have been married for 30 years and live in Westmount, an affluent suburb of Montreal. 

With assets of nearly $11 million, the Sylvan Adams Family Foundation made two grants totaling nearly $1.2 million in 2014 to promote Jewish culture. The foundation gave $1 million to the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal and $194,232 to The Canadian Committee for the Tel Aviv Foundation to promote Jewish culture, education and programs.

So why would such a private philanthropist take such a public pledge like the Giving Pledge? Sylvan Adams said he is inspired and motivated by the competitive nature of the Giving Pledge.

“The Giving Pledge is inspiring successful men and women to engage in what I would call ‘competitive’ philanthropy,” Sylvan Adams said.  “Directing the same competitive instincts that these driven people employed to achieve the pinnacle of financial and social success, the Giving Pledge is encouraging us to outdo one another in giving our wealth away.  Brilliant!!!”

The real estate magnate said he wants the family tradition of philanthropy to be a “generational project,” so that his children and future grandchildren work to “improve things around us, in appreciation of our good fortune.”

--Melissa Moy

Eye On: Sara Blakely
September 24, 2015

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

Sara_Blakely YellowSara Blakely’s desire to help female entrepreneurs and empower women and girls is rooted in her belief of “paying it forward.”

Through her philanthropic endeavors via the Sara Blakely Foundation, the Spanx Inc. founder is positively shaping the lives of women.  Bill Gates personally invited Blakely to join the Giving Pledge, whereby wealthy individuals have pledged to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime. 

Blakely’s mentor and friend, Virgin Group tycoon Richard Branson – the first British Giving Pledger – made his pledge in February 2013, and Blakely followed suit in May 2013, demonstrating the multiplier effect that being open about one’s philanthropy can have.

In her Giving Pledge letter, Blakely described her gratitude for being a woman in America when millions of women around the world are “not dealt the same deck of cards upon their birth.” She added, “Simply because of their gender, they are not given the same chance I had to create my own success and follow my dreams. It is for those women that I make this pledge.”

Sara Blakely:

  • Successful entrepreneur and owner of Atlanta-based Spanx Inc.
  • In 2012, Forbes Magazine named her the youngest self-made female billionaire
  • TIME Magazine’s The World’s 100 Most Influential People 2012 list
  • Clearwater, Fla., native
  • Minority owner of the Atlanta Hawks
  • Personal net worth is over $1 billion

At 44, Blakely has a number of “firsts” under her belt – including the youngest woman in the world to become a self-made billionaire and the first self-made female billionaire Giving Pledger.

I pledge to invest in women because I believe it offers one of the greatest returns on investment.

Through her Atlanta-based foundation, Blakely invests her woman’s shapewear fortune into philanthropic initiatives that focus on women and girls, from entrepreneurship and education to addressing homelessness.

The foundation gave $613,520 to 30 organizations in 2013. Significant grant awards made through the foundation in that year show a variety of philanthropic interests including: $100,000 to V-Day to stop violence against women; $100,000 to the Focus Foundation to help children and families with X & Y Variations, Dyslexia, and/or Developmental Dyspraxia reach their potential; $65,520 to help women survivors of war, poverty and injustice; $50,000 to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to help preserve marine life in her hometown of Clearwater, Fla.; and $40,000 to Girls on the Run of Atlanta to empower young girls, grades 3 to 8, through a youth development and running program.

“I pledge to invest in women because I believe it offers one of the greatest returns on investment,” Blakely said in her Giving Pledge letter. “While many of the world's natural resources are being depleted, one is waiting to be unleashed — women.” Using her fortune to invest in start-up female entrepreneurs must be very satisfying for Blakely, having been one herself not that long ago.

The Florida State University graduate developed the idea for Spanx while getting ready for a party. Blakely didn’t have the right undergarment to wear under her slacks. She cut the feet off of her control top pantyhose and liked the slimming effect.

With great tenacity, the Florida saleswoman researched the undergarment business and even wrote her own patent to save money. Facing skeptical hosiery mill owners in a male-dominated field, Blakely eventually convinced one mill owner to manufacture her products.

Blakely credits her big break to Oprah Winfrey, who named Spanx one of her “favorite things” in 2000. The next year, she sold 8,000 units on home shopping network QVC in the first six minutes.

Blakely’s commitment to “paying it forward” informs Spanx corporate philanthropy, which prioritizes giving female entrepreneurs assistance through its Leg Up program. Blakely notes that every woman can benefit from a “leg up,” or assistance from other women. The unique program offers female business owners the opportunity to promote their products to Spanx customers via the catalog, website and Social Media.

In 2015, Spanx selected two innovative Leg Up businesses, the Akola Project and Sseko Designs.

The Akola Project empowers Ugandan women in extreme poverty by providing a livelihood developing handcrafted jewelry; 100% of the profits are reinvested into the community.

Sseko Designs is a fashion company that employs impoverished Ugandan women and supports their education; 100% of the company’s employees are currently pursuing their university degrees or are graduates.

The entrepreneur’s passion around women’s issues is also expressed in the Spanx company mission, “to help women feel great about themselves and their potential.”

“Since I was a little girl I have always known I would help women,” Blakely said. “I have been setting aside profits since the start of Spanx with the goal that when the time comes I will have an amazing opportunity to help women in an even bigger way.”

--Melissa Moy

Last Call for Glasspockets Survey Feedback
September 16, 2015

Do you have a moment to help us make Glasspockets better? We are about to close our feedback period for a short survey to assess ways to improve Foundation Center’s Glasspockets web site, services, and social media presence. We invite you to contribute to our thinking around new directions for our work, and how we can improve our web site and social media engagement to better engage and inform our audiences toward the goal of encouraging greater foundation transparency.

You can access the survey here until September 25th. We look forward to your feedback!

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

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

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

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

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

Anniversaries offer a natural opportunity for reflection and remembrance.

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

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

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

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

--Melissa Moy & Janet Camarena

Eye On: David Sainsbury
August 27, 2015

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

David Sainsbury describes his approach to philanthropy as “very simple” in his Giving Pledge letter, which also details his family’s giving philosophy.

David-Sainsbury-1“The approach of my wife, Susie, and I to philanthropy is very simple,” Sainsbury said. “We do not believe that spending any more money on ourselves or our family would add anything to our happiness. However, using it to support social progress we have found deeply fulfilling. We focus on a few areas which require investment and which we care about deeply, and seeing these projects develop and bring major benefits to people has been a life-enhancing experience.”  Sainsbury desires to strategically and proactively give away his wealth to the social causes he cares about.


David Sainsbury:

  • Former Chairman of J. Sainsbury plc
  • Labour Peer
  • British born U.K. resident
  • Former Minister of Science and Innovation
  • Became Lord Sainsbury of Turville in 1997
  • Became Chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 2011
  • Accepted the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Philanthropy on behalf of the Sainsbury Family in 2003
  • Net worth $ 1.1 billion    

For the second consecutive year, the Sainsbury family topped the 2015 Sunday Times Giving List which tracks the giving amounts of U.K. philanthropists.  The Sainsbury Family donated $314.2 million – or 40 percent of their wealth – to the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, 18 grant-making trusts.  Each trust has its own board of trustees, led by an active family member. 

Philanthropy is a family priority that has spanned four generations.  In 1869, Sainsbury’s great-grandparents opened a grocery store, Sainsbury’s, that would eventually become one of the U.K.’s largest supermarket chains.  Educated at Eton and Cambridge, Sainsbury joined the family business, J. Sainsbury plc.  He served in many capacities, including finance director, chairman and deputy chairman before stepping down from the board in 1998. 

Like much of his extended family, Sainsbury’s interests in philanthropy started at an early age when he set up the Gatsby Charitable Foundation in 1967, just four years after graduating from King’s College at the University of Cambridge. Over the years, Sainsbury has given the Gatsby Charitable Foundation more than $1.55 billion.  The foundation provides grants in the key priority areas of plant science, neuroscience, education, public policy, the arts and Africa.  

In his Giving Pledge letter, Sainsbury explained that investments in plant science and neuroscience have the best long-term potential for making a difference in the fields of food security and mental health.  Through the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, he gave more than $193 million to his alma mater, the University of Cambridge, one of the largest donations to a U.K university.  An M.B.A. graduate of the University of Columbia, Sainsbury prioritizes education.  The Gatsby makes education grants to various universities, including Stanford University, the University of Columbia and Harvard University.

Unlike his wealthy contemporaries who tend not to mix political and philanthropic interests, the 74-year-old father-of-three has been an active participant in British politics.  Sainsbury has been a major donor to The Labour Party for many years.  In 1997, he was elevated to the House of Lords as a Labour Peer, and he sits on the Labour benches as Lord Sainsbury of Turville.  Under Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sainsbury accepted the unremunerated post of Minister for Science and Technology.  His interests in politics and philanthropy share common ground with an emphasis on innovation, partnership and long-term strategy. 

Sainsbury advocates that charitable foundations should take risks that governments, in their role as guardians of the public money, may not.  He believes that taking risks, whether in education, international development, science or research, helps expedite the broader social and fiscal needs agenda.  In 2009, he set up the Institute for Government, a venture that seeks to “act as a catalyst for inspiring the best in government.”  Similarly, he created the Centre for Cities, a research organization that evaluates British cities’ economic growth and change and helps them to improve their performance. 

In many ways, Lord Sainsbury’s public life reflects his philanthropic interests, from government to education and the arts, including his post as Chancellor of University of Cambridge since 2011. He continues to engage in public policy as evidenced in his 2013 book, Progressive Capitalism, an effort to stimulate conversations on politics and the economy.  

--Caroline Broadhurst

#FailEpic Continued
August 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Chris Cardona

Glasspockets Find: Open Philanthropy Project Forms New Partnership with Instagram Co-Founder
August 13, 2015

On a quest to “do as much good as possible with giving,” an innovative philanthropy project has attracted a new co-funding partnership with Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and Lovestagram founder Kaitlyn Trigger. 

Mike Krieger and Kaitlyn Trigger 140x140
Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and Lovestagram founder Kaitlyn Trigger

Krieger and his fiancee Trigger, who are committed to giving away “a lot of our wealth during the course of our lifetime,” are partnering with the Open Philanthropy Project (OPP) to maximize funders’ giving impact by developing innovative ways to identify and evaluate giving opportunities, and develop effective grantmaking strategies and approaches.  The OPP is a joint collaboration between nonprofit GiveWell and Good Ventures, a philanthropic foundation founded by Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook and Asana, and his wife, Cari Tuna.

“We believe it’s a highly efficient way to learn, plus it allows us to help fund important causes sooner than we could on our own,” Trigger said in a GiveWell statement. The couple have committed $750,000 to OPP over the next two years; 90% of the donation is earmarked for OPP-recommended grants, and 10% will support GiveWell’s OPP-related operations.

As part of its work as a Fund for Shared Insight grantee, OPP has published best practices and lessons learned for philanthropists in a series of blog posts.  The collaborators’ commitment to knowledge sharing, rigorous analytical thinking and transparency have spurred the exploration of thoughtful questions and issues for philanthropists, such as the role of a funder; how a funder selects focus areas and hires program staff; and how to make and evaluate grants.  

 Highlights of OPP’s blog posts include:

  • The role of the funder – active versus passive – and determining the amount of influence funders should have with grantees and partner organizations;
  • Should funding be restricted?  If yes, how and when?
  • How to identify important or underfunded issues;
  • How to choose and determine the number of focus areas to support;
  • Selecting and providing oversight for program staff;
  • Cultivating the relationship between funders and grantees; and
  • Developing criteria for evaluation and impact of grants.


Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna
Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna

The OPP also actively researches smart giving approaches by identifying how philanthropy can help in the areas of global health and development; policy advocacy; scientific research; and reducing global catastrophic risks.  The project’s research targets issues and approaches that are “important, tractable and relatively uncrowded.”  For example, within scientific philanthropy, the OPP is exploring the identification of important and neglected goals, systemic issues in fields other than life sciences, and building scientific advisory capacity.

OPP and Good Ventures’ commitment to transparency inspired Krieger and Trigger to enter the partnership.  This collaboration clearly demonstrates how working openly has the power to influence greater giving among peers.  

For a philanthropic foundation established only five years ago, it is quite remarkable how Good Ventures has opened up its processes and thinking through its blog and web features, which include open notes on all of its meetings with charitable organizations.  Although foundations are often criticized for pretending they have all the answers, it is refreshing to see how this young foundation is using transparency and web savvy to invite open discussion around questions with no easy answers, and ultimately inspire their peers to greater philanthropic participation and openness.

--Melissa Moy

“Glass Skulls”: The Next Era of Transparent Philanthropy
August 11, 2015

(Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen is a Lecturer in Business Strategy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Founder and President of the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation, Founder and Board Chairman of Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund. She is also author of the New York Times Bestseller, Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World.” Find her on Twitter @LAAF.)

200px-Laura_Arrillaga-AndreessenIn recent decades, philanthropic funding has been driving remarkable social impact whether by seeding new organizations, scaling proven ideas, or providing essential capital for the development of innovative models such as microfinance, social impact bonds, and impact investing. Despite these notable successes, however, the philanthropic sector is failing to perform in a critical area, one that’s needed to take overall philanthropic impact to the next level: providing transparency around decision-making processes.

Under the leadership of Brad Smith, Foundation Center has developed a powerful concept that could help move the sector towards a new era of transparency. By asking philanthropic institutions the question: “Does Your Foundation Have Glass Pockets?” the Foundation Center is helping organizations to peel back the layers that obscure everything from the value of their total assets and their list of board directors, to their grantmaking strategies. In short, the Glasspockets initiative is championing philanthropic transparency and empowering organizations to communicate openly.

From Glasspockets to Glass Skulls

With a keen sense of the need for greater philanthropic accountability, I plan to build on the important work of Brad Smith and Janet Camarena by taking the Glasspockets concept even further. In philanthropy, the notion of accountability must extend beyond transparency around decisions on what we choose to fund. True transparency goes much further by revealing the processes we use to think through our grantmaking decisions. Essentially, it’s providing a window into the very brain of the foundation. I call this having a “glass skull.”

For foundations, creating this window is no easy undertaking. It involves discussing openly and honestly how they arrived at the decision to say “yes.” And, more importantly, it means grappling publicly with the reasons behind the decision to say “no,” however much foundations would like to celebrate any organization that is acting with good intent to create social value.

The reality, however, is that the magnitude of the social problems we face today demands investments far exceeding the financial resources of the sector as a whole. If we act alone and fail to share our intellectual and human resources, we will never be able to deliver the solutions needed.

This means the onus is on us, as individuals and institutions, not only to direct our funds to the most efficient and effective organizations, but also to share with other philanthropists what we are learning along the way and how this shapes the choices we make. It means operating with both glass pockets and glass skulls. And it’s a strategy I aspire to put at the heart of my work when I launch the Marc and Laura Andreessen Foundation in the coming years.

Opening the Doors to Knowledge

In pushing for greater knowledge sharing and transparency, I believe we can prevent the constant and inefficient reinvention of the philanthropic wheel and avoid forcing other stewards of charitable funding to waste their valuable time and intellects on research, analysis and assessment that has already been carried out by others. Additionally, we can help inform where other funders—both institutional and individual alike—do and do not invest their social change dollars.

Cari Tuna, the visionary co-founder and head of Good Ventures, uses radical transparency in all aspects of the foundation’s operations by publicly sharing what the team has learned from its grantmaking and research processes. While in the past philanthropists often spent countless hours studying social issues and crafting foundation processes and ideas, Good Ventures—through an innovative partnership with charity evaluator GiveWell—has created the Open Philanthropy Project.

The Open Philanthropy Project works to select promising focus areas for large-scale philanthropy. It then makes grants and discusses publicly the process, the results and the challenges it has faced in managing these grants. The idea is not only to give more effectively, but also to increase the quality of information available to others about how to give effectively. 

At LAAF (the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation), our mission is to add to this knowledge pool.

Through ProjectU, an online hub of philanthropy education resources, and Giving 2.0: The MOOC, a free online course, the idea is to empower all givers to be effective philanthropists. We do this by providing them with the background knowledge and skills they need not only to have an impact through their own giving activities, but also to help others increase their impact.

The good news is that extraordinary opportunities exist for all of us to advance transparency in philanthropy. Moreover, a number of pioneering organizations are leading the charge. First, Foundation Center and its Glasspockets initiative have done much to draw attention to the importance of transparency in the philanthropic sector. And in recent months, others have been working to make knowledge sharing a philanthropic norm. These include the Hewlett Foundation, which has been discussing its transparency journey via its blog Work in Progress, and the Knight Foundation, which is establishing best practices for funding transparent academic research.

So What Next?

This progress is exciting, but it is merely the tip of the transparency iceberg. We are at the beginning of a new stage in philanthropy where, through online and digital technology, the tools required to share institutional knowledge are at our fingertips.

However, harnessing technology is only part of what’s needed. Now we must break down the organizational and cultural barriers that prevent transparency from spreading rapidly. For some, this means overcoming fear. Moving towards full transparency can be an intimidating prospect. Many of us are happy to share our successes but are uncomfortable exposing our mistakes, vulnerabilities and outright failures.

Yet the potential benefits of doing so are tremendous. By increasing transparency and knowledge sharing, we can ensure that every philanthropist, even those relatively new to the process of giving, can increase their effectiveness immediately. We can also make it easier for any philanthropist—whether institutional or individual; whether giving time, money, expertise or networks—to experience the joy and satisfaction that meaningful giving brings (meaningful giving means when you understand specifically how your investment translates into social good).

So how do you get started on this journey? I encourage you to explore my Stanford GSB case studies (including a new case profiling Cari Tuna and Good Ventures) along with other philanthropic resources, all of which are available online and free of charge at ProjectU (made possible through both LAAF and the incredible generosity of Stanford Graduate School of Business for making my philanthropy case studies available for free). This growing body of research (currently at 28 cases with another eight currently underway) presents analysis of foundations of all sizes, geographies and focus areas whose strategies, operating principles and grantmaking practice are examples of philanthropic best practice.

The case portfolio includes detailed content on foundation transparency, measurement and evaluation, corporate philanthropy, effective use of technology, investment and grantmaking strategy, and more. These cases provide the frameworks, tools, and examples to help institutions to strengthen their knowledge and to support anyone who is embarking on the journey towards becoming a transparent philanthropist— both glass pocket and glass skull.

Eye On: Chris Hohn
August 6, 2015

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

Hohn-150Among the many different models of fundraising and grantmaking, The Children's Investment Fund and its counterpart Children's Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), stand out in terms of scale and reach. In 2003, Chris Hohn created an innovative model for The Children's Investment Fund in which investors pay a fee to the Foundation, incrementally, depending on the Fund's performance. Fast-forward a dozen years, and CIFF has endowed assets over $4 billion. While Mr. Hohn uses his skills from the investing world, CEO Michael Anderson manages the Foundation on a day-to-day basis. The foundation's mission is to transform the lives of poor and vulnerable children in developing countries in the areas of children and mothers' health and nutrition; children's education, deworming and welfare; and climate change.

Chris Hohn:

  • Successful hedge-fund manager
  • British-born U.K. resident
  • Father of four children, including triplets
  • Co-founder of Children's Investment Fund Foundation
  • Personal net worth is over $1 billion

Mr. Hohn and his former wife, Jamie Cooper, are co-founders of CIFF, and both serve on its Board of Trustees. Both are generous philanthropists. Ms. Cooper was ranked #3 and Mr. Hohn was ranked #7 among British givers, according to the 2015 Sunday Times Giving List, which identified top givers and the percentage of wealth they give away. The same list, co-sponsored by the Charities Aid Foundation, also ranked CIFF as #5 in assets among British charities. In 2014, Mr. Hohn was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) for his service to philanthropy and international development.

Mr. Hohn attended Southampton University in England and moved to Boston to complete his MBA at Harvard University as a Baker Scholar. According to Active Philanthropy, Ms. Cooper recalled that her former husband was first inspired to explore philanthropy when he visited the Philippines early in his career and was shocked at the plight of children who lived in extreme poverty. This experience may have spurred Mr. Hohn to direct CIFF's ambitious aim "to demonstrably improve the lives of children living in poverty in developing countries by achieving large scale and sustainable impact." Much of the London-based organization's work takes place in Africa and South Asia, with strategic priorities focused on nutrition, child survival, educational achievement and more recently, climate change. CIFF works in partnership with governments, policy-makers and NGOs to address global issues. In 2014, CIFF awarded $122.2 million in grant awards.

-- Caroline Broadhurst

Eye on: Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim
July 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

--Caroline Broadhurst

About Transparency Talk

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