Transparency Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about the Civil Marriage Collaborative, visit www.proteusfund.org/cmc.

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

--Noli Vega

From Strength to Greater Strength: How Capacity-Building Grants Elevate Organization
July 1, 2015

(Chip Edelsberg, Ph.D., is executive director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which seeks to foster compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews in the United States. This post was originally featured on the GrantCraft blog.)

Chip-Edelsberg_headshotIn the Foundation's ongoing efforts to identify and analyze best grantmaking strategies, we have seen grantees achieve outcomes that both strengthen organizational capacity and position organizations for future growth. By virtue of grantees' strong performance, the Foundation is gaining experience as a capacity-building funder.

Before I share examples of successes, it is helpful to understand what a capacity-building grant actually is designed to do. The term itself is somewhat general and may refer to different types of grants, depending on the context and situation of the potential grantee.

Regardless of an organization's size, age, target audience, and goals within the arena of Jewish education, capacity-building grants can be a catalyst for improved performance and major growth.

Capacity building, broadly defined in a report by TCC Group, refers to "activities that strengthen nonprofits so that they can better achieve their mission." Organizations in various stages potentially can benefit from differentiated, targeted capacity-building support.

For our purposes, the Foundation sees that regardless of an organization's size, age, target audience, and goals within the arena of Jewish education, capacity-building grants can be a catalyst for improved performance and major growth.

Hillel, for example, is 101 years old. The Foundation awarded Hillel a capacity-building grant in 2014 that built on the success of its Senior Jewish Educators/Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative. The 2014 grant award included funding for the development of a comprehensive business plan as well as funding for efforts that are part of Hillel's three pillars for future growth of the organization-Excellence on Campus: Supporting and Measuring Quality; Excellence in Recruiting and Developing Talent; and Excellence in Resource Development.

JJFdnlogoUnder the leadership of CEO Eric Fingerhut and with support of Hillel's Board of Directors, Hillel is taking decisive steps to grow from a $90 million per year organization to a sustainable $200 million per year organization. The Jim Joseph Foundation's recent grant is assisting Hillel to determine if this aspirational future is achievable and to enable the organization to chart a path toward desirable growth.

Moishe House, an organization much younger than Hillel, has been in existence for just nine years. Yet it already has exhibited rapid growth, and it has positively influenced the lives of tens of thousands of young Jewish adults across the United States and internationally. Moishe House is poised, potentially, to accelerate its growth and to reach ambitious milestones in part because a group of foundations joined together to help Moishe House design and implement a Strategic Growth Plan. The development of that plan was funded significantly by the Jim Joseph Foundation after a 2011 external evaluation of Moishe House demonstrated that the organization had developed an effective, affordable, and scalable approach to executing on its mission.

Smart funding, tailored to an individual organization's life stage, capacity-building readiness, and demonstrated commitment to maximizing organizational effectiveness and field impact, creates exciting philanthropic opportunity.

In both these cases, Hillel and Moishe House conducted careful strategic planning that was core to their capacity building. The Jim Joseph Foundation believes dedicating resources for this type of planning is an effective way for the Foundation to support nonprofit capacity building.

The Jim Joseph Foundation also has seen that capacity-building grants can help to advance an entire field. The clearest example is the emerging field of Israel education, which has been rapidly developed by the iCenter during the last five years. Through a series of grants, the iCenter's capacity has grown-evidenced, for example, in its remarkable network of expert educators and skilled staff who work with major organizations and educational institutions across the country to advance Israel education.

Recently, I attended a Taglit Fellows training seminar for the second cohort accepted into this exciting project generously funded by the Maimonides Fund. The iCenter, in partnership with Taglit-Birthright Israel, designed the seminar, bringing together experts in Jewish education to train and support nearly 100 Taglit Fellows (for just one cohort) who will staff Taglit-Birthright Israel trips serving in a pre-trip, trip, and post-trip role to augment participants' Birthright Israel experience. A Fellow and leaders of the program shared their thoughts here, indicative of the deep impact and broad reach the iCenter now enjoys.

Obviously, we have much to learn still about capacity-building grants. Professionally, I agree with the sentiments in the article "Beyond the Veneer of Strategic Philanthropy," that "in order to reach and sustain social impact, philanthropists need to assign greater value to grantees' capacity to implement programs; encourage ongoing learning and adaptation as work unfolds; and support a foundation of organizational and operational structures, processes, and capabilities that ultimately turn vision into change on the ground."

At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we are seeing that smart funding, tailored to an individual organization's life stage, capacity-building readiness, and demonstrated commitment to maximizing organizational effectiveness and field impact, creates exciting philanthropic opportunity.

-- Chip Edelsberg

Visualizing California Philanthropy Discussion now Available on Livestream
June 29, 2015

Recently we convened a variety of foundation leaders in our San Francisco office to discuss strategies to improve data for and about California philanthropy. During the program, Visualizing the Past, Present, and Future of California Philanthropy, president of Foundation Center, Brad Smith, moderated a discussion among representatives from a diverse array of California-based foundations: Pamela H. David, executive director of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund; Sara Davis, director of grants management at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; and Peter V. Long, Ph.D., president and CEO of Blue Shield of CA Foundation. The discussion focused on transparency, and how these foundations have adopted sharing, accountability, and openness into their giving practices. The funders also related how technology has impacted and enhanced their transparency practices-including the adoption of Foundation Center’s Reporting Commitment and Get on the Map campaign.

If you missed the session, or attended and would like to view it again, you can find it here. If you would like to Get on the Map, but are unsure how to do so, check out our how-to webinar.

Knowledge Sharing in the Social Sector: Leaders Open Up About Opening Up
June 22, 2015

(Maggie Lee is IssueLab Specialist at Foundation Center.)

Maggie lee closeSomething great happened in Boston two weeks ago. A group of dedicated folks from foundations and nonprofits gathered in a workshop session to discuss how we, as a sector, publish and share our knowledge. IssueLab, a service of Foundation Center, convened the meeting as part of our work to increase foundation effectiveness through open knowledge sharing. Rather than diving immediately into a conversation about how we should do this, we wanted to take a step back and look at the reasons why we publish in the first place. Two hours flew by as we discussed our work — and the obstacles that get in our way — in order to articulate a set of principles that can guide us moving forward.

Sharing knowledge amplifies impact - we can’t fund or consult with everyone, but by sharing research and lessons learned we can make our dollars go further.

To break the ice, the session leaders asked for quick, one-word responses to a few questions:  How would you describe your organization’s knowledge-sharing practices?  “Dusty.” What is the biggest obstacle that prevents organizations from engaging in open knowledge sharing? “Fear.” “Confusion.” “Lack of resources.”  (Okay, that’s three words, but the concept is so important!)

From there, we talked about why our own organizations publish formal materials, such as white papers, case studies, and evaluations. The ideas and questions that were raised in this short time point to just how integral knowledge production and sharing are to the goals of our organizations. People had a lot to say, which included:

  • Agreeing that sharing knowledge amplifies impact - we can’t fund or consult with everyone, but by sharing research and lessons learned we can make our dollars go further;
  • Reinforcing the need for spaces and places where everyone can contribute their evidence and insights; and,
  • Questioning whether we are biased towards formal knowledge and whether we can agree that decisions benefit from a broader and more informed context.

This workshop is not without precedent. In 2001, Open Society Foundations (then the Open Society Institute) convened a meeting in Budapest, which became known as the Budapest Open Access Initiative, in order to “accelerate progress in the international effort to make research articles in all academic fields freely available on the internet.” In doing so, they articulated a vision to guide their work: "Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge."

Now that’s a vision! With our Boston workshop, we sought to bring this spirit and this conversation to the social sector to ensure that more research and more voices are included in this common intellectual conversation.

By the end of this very productive session, we had drafted a starter list of principles. Here are just a few:

  • Social sector knowledge resources are produced with funds in the public trust, which gives us a unique responsibility to share them as a public good.
  • The social sector’s credibility relies on honesty and transparency.
  • We believe that new knowledge is built on existing knowledge and should be placed in context and attributed.
  • Do no harm. Do not waste scarce resources. Do not replicate mistakes.

This workshop was only the beginning of a conversation about open publishing. We’ll soon be creating a set of draft principles building on what was proposed at the workshop, as well as a vision statement based on these principles to be shared more widely with the sector. (We’ll keep you posted!) We hope everyone in the social sector who produces knowledge, shares knowledge, and uses knowledge will tune in, add their voices, and help shape the principles and vision to guide this important work.

--Maggie Lee

What Story Can Your Foundation Tell with Data?
June 15, 2015

(Stephanie Evergreen, PhD, is a data visualization and reporting specialist who loves to empower clients to tell their own stories. She writesblogsspeaks, and dreams about presenting data effectively.)

StephevergreenI’m a self-proclaimed data nerd. Maybe you are too. I love how numbers can help us track progress on foundation initiatives. But the hard truth is that most of us data nerds aren’t the strongest at figuring out how to tell a larger story with our data, especially in ways that others can understand. Transparency begins with a greater, internal understanding of our data. Before foundations share their data with their beneficiaries and the public, they need to be able to fully understand and clearly communicate their numbers among themselves and with their stakeholders. Here I’ll give you two examples of how strengthening the story using data visualization strategies helped foundations accomplish their philanthropic goals.

The Power of the Dashboard

What’s 530 minus 600? Ok, that one was probably easy, but keep it in your head while you subtract 810 from 1,975 and 45% from 93% while engaging in a rich discussion with other foundation board members and staff. That’s a lot to track!

And that’s why I worked with Walton Family Foundation to add simple visualizations to their education dashboard. They already displayed current performance on several metrics with the 5-year goals listed as well. But the way they were displaying the data, well… it wasn’t very clear. So I worked with them to clean it up and make it clearer so anyone could understand it, not just foundation staff. I suggested we swap out all tables for graphs, but Karen at Walton said “Uh, no the board really wants to see all the raw numbers.” Inside my head I said “Suuuuuuure they do” and out of my mouth I said, “No problem, let’s keep them all in there and dashboard this thing.” Here is the redesign:

  WaltonGraphic

Karen and her team showed this dashboard to their board, who saw it as a real improvement. In late 2014 we have been dashboarding even more. So, good for me and my business but let’s talk about what happened inside the Walton Family Foundation.

"Data visualization helps us tell a story about the foundation’s impact and leads to improved decision-making across the organization.”

The culture changed. Karen recently told me that the drive toward better design “really impacted everyone at Walton Family Foundation.” She went on to say, “Dipping our toe in the waters of better data visualization with the dashboards has set off a chain reaction. Our entire organization is really poised to improve how we present information to our Board and publicly. Data visualization helps us tell a story about the foundation’s impact and leads to improved decision-making across the organization.”

And *that’s* the kind of difference that can be made by presenting data effectively.

Check out the full dashboard (all fake, example data) to see the other visuals we added and to hear more about the impacts this redesign had on their foundation work.

Adjust the Image

Welborn Baptist Foundation was eager to tell the data stories from their Community Health Survey… in a way that was easily interpretable. Rather than a traditional stacked bar chart—which only tells a small fraction of the data story—we used a new graph type: a diverging stacked bar. These are perfect for showing data that split around some mid point. Here it is yes/no. This works even better on Strongly Disagree-Strongly Agree and other response sets that diverge.

  WelbornGraphic

The trouble with this same data in traditional stacked bar graphs is that the reader can’t easily compare all the positive responses, for example, because they don’t share a common axis. With a diverging bar chart, the shared axis is in the middle, making it easier for the reader to comprehend. And yes, you can make it in Excel. Be sure to check out the full report from Welborn for more diverging stacked bar examples and other powerful data stories.

Increasing the intentional display of your data can seriously maximize your story and provide a bigger picture for your stakeholders to interpret.

 --Stephanie Evergreen

Participate in the 2015 Glasspockets User Survey
June 11, 2015

Do you have a moment to help us make Glasspockets better? We are conducting a short survey to assess ways to improve Foundation Center’s Glasspockets web site, services, and social media presence. As a Glasspockets community member, 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. We look forward to your feedback. 

Awareness of self, partners, and field essential to building organization and sector capacity
June 8, 2015

(Eliza Smith is the special projects associate for Glasspockets at Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

ElizaIn an open session held at Foundation Center in San Francisco on April 29, we explored two exciting tools to help those in the social sector get smarter about building organizational and sector capacity—through awareness. As we explored Foundation Center’s data visualization tool, Foundation Maps Professional 2.0, and the GrantCraft guide, Supporting Grantee Capacity: Strengthening Effectiveness Together, a theme emerged: leaders are at their most strategic and are empowered to build capacity when they have a strong awareness of themselves, their partners, and the field.

Awareness is pretty much the name of our game here at Foundation Center. We collect, analyze, and distribute data about philanthropy, providing various audiences—from foundations to budding nonprofits to established grants managers—a firm understanding of what’s going on in the social sector. Foundation Maps Professional 2.0 is kind of like Foundation Center’s version of Google Maps, with social sector-relevant overlays and filters. If you’ve ever wondered who is funding what and where, Foundation Maps has answers for you.

In the grantee-grantmaker relationship, the foundation is king… at least, that’s how it has been. But the folks at Packard are working hard to rectify this power imbalance and create a level playing field for foundations and their beneficiaries. How? It’s all about awareness.

Recently, my sister-in-law asked me if I knew about environmental funders in the Bay Area. Her friend is moving to Oakland and wants to work with an organization that combats climate change. I’ve lived and fundraised in the Bay Area for almost a decade, but I was drawing a blank. So I used Foundation Maps  and quickly came back to my sister-in-law with a long list of environmentally engaged local grantees and funders. Maybe her friend will gravitate towards a foundation on the list, or maybe, after discovering which organizations those funders support, she’ll want to apply to a nonprofit. By the time she gets here, she’ll have a greater awareness of this subsection of Bay Area philanthropy and can wow her interviewers with her knowledge of the field. More importantly, though, once she lands a job at a Bay Area environmental organization, she can use this knowledge to fuel her projects, creating further connections in the field.

At our event, we didn’t spend the whole afternoon geeking out about data. Jen Bokoff went on to talk about the evaluation and power dynamic angles of capacity building grants with Jamaica Maxwell, an organizational effectiveness program officer at the Packard Foundation. Jamaica is well aware of the power she has, holding the proverbial purse strings. Often, she told us, grantees will hang onto her words, taking her most casual suggestions as orders. Once, she recommended a book to a grantee; the following Friday, he had bought the book and was going to read it and report back to her on the most noteworthy chapters. Jamaica wasn’t asking for a book report—she was just making an off-hand recommendation. But in the grantee-grantmaker relationship, the foundation is king… at least, that’s how it has been.

Listening doesn’t just help grantmakers tweak their budgets or understand evaluation results better, it improves the whole grant process. By establishing trust with grantees, grantmakers can push their beneficiaries to get more out of their grants. And grantees can feel more comfortable providing much-needed feedback to their funders.

But the folks at Packard are working hard to rectify this power imbalance and create a level playing field for foundations and their beneficiaries. How? It’s all about awareness. Packard requires all program officers to cultivate a deeper understanding of the profound power they have when they’re working with grantees. Foundation leadership asks program officers to turn the tables. Why not let the grantees talk?

Jamaica said that, for her, learning to listen to her grantees was integral to her work at Packard, and not just during formal, scheduled meetings and site visits. Jamaica said that some of the best grantee–foundation relationship building happens outside the office. She suggested program officers break down power structures by joining grantees on their lunch breaks and at their staff get-togethers (yes, even happy hours!).

Listening doesn’t just help grantmakers tweak their budgets or understand evaluation results better, it improves the whole grant process. By establishing trust with grantees, grantmakers can push their beneficiaries to get more out of their grants. And grantees can feel more comfortable providing much-needed feedback to their funders. Promoting awareness—of the grantee–grantmaker dynamic and of the grantee’s needs—can increase impact sector-wide.

Which brings up an important question: What role do you think awareness plays in the philanthropy sector? For us, it’s all about smarter grantmaking and increased accountability. 

--Eliza Smith

The Clinton Foundation Reveals Its Donors: Should You?
June 1, 2015

(Steven Lawrence is the director of research at Foundation Center.)

[Steven Lawrence]A fundraising foundation has two world famous founders, a global network of generous donors, and a track record of grantmaking success. One of the founders plans to run for higher office, and the foundation makes the decision to be highly transparent about its donor base to ensure that there can be no suspicion of undue influence on the potential candidate. End of story.

Unless your founders happen to be Bill and Hillary Clinton.

In this marketplace, an organization’s major donors and the amounts they’ve contributed may be considered akin to a “trade secret.”

Over the past several weeks, Foundation Center has been approached by numerous reporters asking—in some cases literally—“There’s smoke, right? What about a fire?” Our response has been an immediate “No” followed by an explanation as to why the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation in fact represents a model of transparency when compared to other grantmaking public charities. (Unlike private foundations endowed by a single donor or donor family—think Ford Foundation—grantmaking public charities like the Clinton Foundation sustain their work by raising funds from a variety of donors.)

So, let’s start with why a fundraising organization might not want to share information on its donors—especially its largest donors. The answer: competition. While public benefit organizations are focused on serving the needs of their constituents, they need to raise money to do so and indirectly compete with one another for support. In this marketplace, an organization’s major donors and the amounts they’ve contributed may be considered akin to a “trade secret.”

Of course, organizations lacking former President Clinton as chief fundraiser may feel less confident about the impact of making this type of information public. But the Clinton Foundation should be commended for its donor transparency, particularly in a field in which anonymous giving is often the norm.

Does it have to be this way? Clearly, the Clinton Foundation believes that its work will not come to a halt because its donors have been voluntarily made public. And the high profile of some of these donors may well encourage their well-heeled peers to also consider supporting the foundation. Of course, organizations lacking former President Clinton as chief fundraiser may feel less confident about the impact of making this type of information public. But the Clinton Foundation should be commended for its donor transparency, particularly in a field in which anonymous giving is often the norm.

And this leads to another question: why do some donors choose anonymity? It’s important to consider in any discussion of disclosing donors that not every donor wants to be recognized for their generosity. Some donors may have personal or religious beliefs that announcing their gifts is a form of unseemly self-aggrandizement. Others may come from cultural contexts where announcing donations is considered distasteful. And some donors live in countries where any show of wealth, including their generosity to others, could increase the threat of kidnapping and harm for themselves and their families.

These valid concerns notwithstanding, the digital age is bringing ever more voluntary and involuntary transparency to all aspects of our lives. Public benefit organizations and their donors would be well served by considering how they can be models of transparency who take the lead in telling their own stories, rather than having them told by others. The Clinton Foundation may be on to something. 

--Steven Lawrence

Funder's Forum: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
May 26, 2015

(Funder's Forum interviews of foundation leaders by Foundation Center staff are featured in our monthly E-Updates for Grantmakers newsletter. These interviews enable funders to exchange ideas and connect with their peers to increase their effectiveness. If you are interested in learning more about Funder's Forum, please contact R. Nancy Albilal at (212) 807-3624, or rna@foundationcenter.org.)

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation honors the commitment to philanthropy and ethos established by its founders through its work in education, global development and population, conservation and energy, performing arts, philanthropy, and more. Foundation Center's Vice President for Development, Nancy Albilal, asked Larry Kramer, the foundation's president:

QuestionWhat contributed to your decision to make transparency a priority at Hewlett, and what results has your increased openness produced?

To other funders who ask why they should be transparent, my response is: Why shouldn't you be?

“Having come from outside philanthropy, my first task was to learn. That proved difficult when I discovered how hard it was to find information, even about my own organization. I couldn't find what I was looking for on the Hewlett site, or on most other foundations' websites for that matter. It was while following up to understand why this was so difficult that I first realized how transparency was an issue. I had come to Hewlett from academia, a world in which transparency is taken for granted, so I was surprised to discover it was even a question, much less something that needed a lot of emphasis.

Wfhflogo“I approached it by issuing a challenge to the staff. "Start by assuming that we are going to make 100 percent of everything we do publicly available," I said. "Now go back through and tell me if there are good reasons not to disclose something. If so, we'll consider holding it back. But otherwise, we should share."

I approached transparency by issuing a challenge to the staff. "Start by assuming that we are going to make 100 percent of everything we do publicly available," I said. "Tell me if there are good reasons not to disclose something. If so, we'll consider holding it back. But otherwise, we should share."

“It's important to note that Hewlett never had a practice of withholding information; we always provided anything we were asked for. We simply had not been proactive about it and so didn't have procedures in place to ensure that everything possible would be made available publicly. A lot of work produced for internal use — things like the grant descriptions we prepare for the board, or memoranda and summaries explaining our programs, or evaluations of strategies — were not as a rule being made public. Occasionally, either because someone asked or because we really wanted to raise awareness regarding a particular issue, we would share something. For the most part, however, we just weren't reaching out. Now we are.

“The reasons to do so are obvious. Both potential grantees and other funders need to know what we're doing so they can build on our successes and learn from our failures. To the extent one deems it important to collaborate — and I deem it very important — people need to know what we are doing (and vice versa) so we can find each other. Finally, and this is more unique to the foundation world, the fact that we are formally unaccountable makes it imperative to share what we are doing and invite people who may be affected by it to tell us what they think.

“It sounds simple, but making an organization transparent is actually pretty complicated, and our effort is still a work in progress. Identifying what to make public turned out to be the easy part. The next step is to create processes to make that happen, which is harder than you think. And after that, we still need to build a website that enables people easily to find what we're sharing. There is already a lot more on our website than in the past, but we have a lot of work still to do to make sure everything is fully accessible.

“We have also extended the general notion of openness to our grantees. When we support a project that results in the creation of some kind of work or data, we're requiring that, as a condition of the grant, the material be open-licensed and made easily available on a public website whenever possible.

Occasionally, either because someone asked or because we really wanted to raise awareness regarding a particular issue, we would share something. For the most part, however, we just weren't reaching out. Now we are.

“Already, some of the information we've shared has produced reactions. We recently wrote about our reasons for ending a strategy called the Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative (NMI), which in turn generated a quite productive public debate. NMI was intended to help donors give more effectively by providing information about which nonprofits were performing well and which were not, thus creating a competitive marketplace for funding. Unfortunately, it didn't work as we had hoped. Our grantees — all high performing organizations themselves — did exactly what we asked, but donors did not respond as we had hoped and assumed. The ensuing public debate drew a lot of attention to the general question of how to encourage donors to base their giving on the effectiveness of the organizations they're supporting. At some point, members of the staff commented wryly about how this increased transparency stuff was time-consuming. I replied that we need to view this as part of our regular work: it's time well spent to better convey our message and what we're learning.

“To other funders who ask why they should be transparent, my response is: Why shouldn't you be? It can't be that you're afraid of criticism because, first, you're unaccountable, and, second, criticism is often useful. Not always, of course, but you'll never know unless and until you invite it. Take care not to unfairly hurt others while being transparent, of course, but once you've done that, there's no reason not to share.”

--Nancy Albilal

Transparency Tips: Foundation By-Laws, In-Laws, and Outlaws
May 20, 2015

(Mary Gregory is vice president and director of program at Pacific Foundation Services, a San Francisco Bay Area-based company that provides customized and strategic management services to private foundations.)

Mary-Gregory-150As a philanthropic advisor who has a portfolio of six family foundations, I have become a great fan of foundation by-laws, and in particular, of well written by-laws.  So I was particularly pleased to discover that by-laws are included on Glasspockets, since they tend to be either misunderstood or only considered at the founding stage and then forgotten. 

So, what are by-laws and why do they matter?  They are the basic operating instructions for any nonprofit organization including all foundations.  By-laws define an organization and how it does its business: who may serve on the board (for instance, are in-laws eligible or only descendants?), how many people sit on the board and their terms of service, what officers need to be elected and how often and what their roles are.  By-laws can tell you when and how members of the board can be removed (“outlaws”?). They specify how decisions are made, and they even inform trustees about how they can change the by-laws in the future.

Recently the president of one of our client foundations said to me, “We want to change our by-laws to adapt to new leadership by the next generation. What should we include?”

But, true to the old saying, “You’ve seen one foundation, you’ve seen ONE foundation,” there can be many varieties of by-laws.  I work for a small company that manages 23 family foundations, and recently the president of one of our client foundations said to me, “We want to change our by-laws to adapt to new leadership by the next generation. What should we include?” I was able to send them straight to Glasspockets to view the sample by-laws that are available through the “Who Has Glass Pockets?” feature.  I suggested that foundations that have smaller asset sizes might be the best place to look, since those would likely be family foundations and not independent foundations, and thus more relevant to the vision these trustees have for their own small family foundation.  And I knew that the information that the trustees would find on Glasspockets had been freely placed there by foundations willing to share their experience and their ideas (including three of the six foundations with which I work directly).

Whether you are creating a first set of by-laws for a new foundation, or you are re-visiting by-laws to reflect current circumstances, looking at examples may help you think about aspects of stewarding a foundation that you haven’t considered before:

  • Should trustees be compensated?
  • What standing committees should there be?
  • Can decisions be made without a meeting, and if so, how?
  • What are the duties of each officer?
  • What happens in the future if a successive generation wants to partition the foundation?
  • When and where should the annual meeting be held?
True to the old saying, “You’ve seen one foundation, you’ve seen ONE foundation,” there can be many varieties of by-laws.

Some by-laws are more detailed than others, so although you can learn a great deal from examples that relate to other foundations, it is always a good idea to have a lawyer look at your by-laws in order to make sure that they are complete.  Once you have your by-laws (and it is a good idea to read them every year to make sure that they still seem relevant to the current trustees), consider adding them to the growing knowledge base on Glasspockets.  Although by-laws may communicate some of the priorities of a family, they are not personal documents, and your example may help other foundations in the future. 

Foundations often think that they need to be highly original, but I would urge you to use your imagination for developing new ways to collaborate to solve social problems, not for creating new phrasing of by-laws. Use Glasspockets as the great resource it is, and contribute your information to Glasspockets to make it even more useful.

--Mary Gregory

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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