Transparency Talk

Category: "Promising Practices" (55 posts)

Eye On: Giving Pledger George Lucas
December 18, 2015

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

George Lucas PhotoThe Force may not necessarily guide George Lucas’s philanthropic interests but it certainly has helped fund and spur his efforts to elevate education, arts and film, and healthcare and human services.

Lucas has leveraged his wealth from the enormously popular Star Wars franchise – he directed, produced, and wrote the first three movies in the series – into a series of philanthropic investments, many of them focused on education. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh installment in the Star Wars saga, launches today.  Although Lucas only served as a creative consultant for the J.J. Abrams-helmed film, his fingerprints on the long-awaited blockbuster are evident and ticket sales for its opening weekend are likely to set records.

George Lucas:

  • Film director, writer, and producer
  • Best known for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises
  • Founder of Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic, and Pixar
  • Modesto, California native
  • Founded the George Lucas Family Foundation in 2005 ($1.1 billion in assets)
  • Personal net worth estimated at more than $5.3 billion

Building a Legacy

Over the decades, the epic intergalactic tales of clashing Jedi and Sith in “a galaxy far, far away” have achieved cult status and, thanks to a licensing and merchandising empire running the gamut from T-shirts, toys, and books to gaming and other collectibles, earned Lucas a devoted multi-generational  following – and a sizable fortune.

Lucas has used that fortune to support various organization and initiatives in the areas of education, art and culture, and civic and human services. He’s even building and endowing his own museum in Chicago, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, that will be dedicated to storytelling and the evolution of the moving image. 

At one point, Lucas had considered San Francisco’s Crissy Field, historically the “front door” of the Presidio (now Golden Gate National Recreation Area), as a museum site. Negotiations with the Presidio Trust broke down, and Lucas eventually decided to build the museum in Chicago, where his wife, Mellody Hobson, was born. 

 

“Our education system (is) little better than an assembly line, with producing diplomas as its only goal.”

Slated to open in 2018, the museum will be built on vacant lots between Soldier Field and McCormick Place, near the city’s famous lakefront Museum Campus (home to the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and Adler Planetarium), and will house a portion of Lucas’s personal collection, which is valued at $1 billion.

Lucas, 71, amassed the bulk of his $5.3 billion fortune when he sold his film and television production company Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Company in 2012 for a reported $4.05 billion.

The original home of the Star Wars franchise, the legendary company also produced the popular Indiana Jones franchise (on which Lucas partnered with his friend Steven Spielberg) and was where the acclaimed animated film studio Pixar, producer of mega-hits such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Cars got its start as Graphix Group, a Lucasfilm computer division.

Early Life and Career

Lucas graduated in 1967 from the University of Southern California, where he often hung out with a young Stephen Spielberg, then a film student at nearby California State University, Long Beach.

After returning to USC as a graduate film student, Lucas had some early success with a short film and, in 1969, was one of the cameramen on Gimme Shelter, the award-winning Rolling Stones concert film by Albert and David Maysles. He then co-founded his own studio, American Zoetrope, in 1971 with up-and-coming filmmaker Frances Ford Coppola. His first feature film for the studio (an adaptation of his earlier short film) flopped, and eventually Lucas decided to go out on his own. In 1973, he founded Lucasfilm and directed American Graffiti (1973). Inspired by Lucas's teen years growing up in Modesto, California, the film featured a young Richard Dreyfus, Ron Howard, and Harrison Ford. The film received rave reviews and five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. 

Lucas’s subsequent projects would include Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).  In the 1980s, he primarily served as a producer or executive producer on other people’s films, including Body Heat (1981), Labyrinth (1986), and the animated film The Land Before Time (1988). He then teamed up with Spielberg for the Indiana Jones trilogy, reuniting with Harrison Ford (who had starred as Han Solo in Star Wars and played the title role in the Indiana Jones movies). Although he didn't write the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Lucas returned to direct The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005).

Philanthropic Efforts – Prioritizing Education Reform

Although Lucas has been relatively quiet about what inspires his philanthropy, he has articulated why he selected education as his chief giving priority. After Lucas and Hobson were among the first people to sign on to Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates’ Giving Pledge campaign, Lucas, wrote in his Giving Pledge letter: “It’s scary to think of our education system as little better than an assembly line with producing diplomas as its only goal. Once I had the means to effect change in this arena, it became my passion to do so — to promote active, life-long learning.”

“We need to promote critical thinking and emotional intelligence,” he added. “We need to focus on building an education system that promotes different types of learning, different types of development, and different types of assessment. We have an opportunity and an obligation to prepare our children for the real world, for dealing with others in practical, project-based environments.”

Even before he became a Giving Pledger in 2010, the Modesto native had regularly given large gifts to his alma mater, the University of Southern California, including one of his largest gifts, $175 million, to support initiatives at the film school. In October, Variety reported that $10 million of that gift will be used to provide financial support to African American and Hispanic students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Over the years, Lucas also launched half a dozen foundations, most of which are aimed at enhancing education via the development of innovative teaching models and the dissemination of best practices. The largest of these are the George Lucas Family Foundation and the George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF). 

GLEF works in conjunction with Lucas’ online think tank and operating foundation, Edutopia, to share and promote educational innovations, including cooperative and project learning; mentorship; parental involvement; and technological advances.  As an operating foundation, Edutopia runs its own programs and does not engage in grantmaking.

“Our goal has been to showcase bold successes and inspire others to further increase the appetite for education,” Lucas said of GLEF and Edutopia. “Our hope is that administrators, teachers, and parents will see the power of these collective efforts and join the fight for wider reforms.”  

“It became my passion…to promote active, life-long learning.”

According to 2013 tax returns, the George Lucas Foundation distributed nearly $18.6 million to 161 organizations in the United States, including nonprofits in California, New York, and Washington, D.C.  Although several of the recipients are based in Los Angeles, the majority are located in Northern California, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Lucas’s former companies are based.

The largest foundation gifts - $5.9 million, $2.8 million, two gifts of $2.1 million and $1.4 million - were all given to support USC’s Phase III expansion of the School of Cinematic Arts.  The foundation also awarded general support grants of $525,000 and $11,600 to GLEF; $250,000 to the Film Foundation – Los Angeles; $200,000 to the Film Foundation – New York; $100,000 to the Center for the Education of the Infant Deaf in Berkeley, California; and $25,000 to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C.

Also in 2013, dozens of San Francisco-based education, arts and health and human services organizations received smaller grants and donations, ranging from $500 up to $25,000, including the San Francisco AIDS Fund/Breast Cancer Emergency Fund’s Trivia Night Fundraiser ($25,000) and the San Francisco Film Society ($25,000). 

In addition, the IRS returns reveal that the foundation has approved $135.5 million in future payments.  The largest portion of that, $100 million, will bolster the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. 

Other large future gifts include $25 million to the University of Chicago; $9 million to USC to endow three new faculty chairs in the cinematic arts; and $1 million to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art. 

Lucas’ smaller foundations: the AEL, JWL and KRL foundations (likely named for his oldest children) each distributed a modest $20,000.

What’s next for the brilliant filmmaker, entrepreneur, and philanthropist?  As Lucas himself puts it: “As humans, our greatest tool for survival is our ability to think and to adapt — as educators, storytellers, and communicators our responsibility is to continue to do so.”  

We look forward to the convergence of Lucas’s passion for storytelling and philanthropy, and we look forward to learning more about his expanding philanthropic interests.

--Melissa Moy

#77: Transparency Talk Welcomes the VNA Foundation to Glasspockets
October 14, 2015

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.  For more information, visit Foundation Center’s Who Has Glasspockets, and learn about VNA Foundation and the other foundations.)

Vna-foundationIn late September, the VNA Foundation joined our growing collection of “Who Has Glass Pockets?” (WHGP) profiles, which serve as both an assessment tool and a demonstration of a foundation’s commitment to transparency.  VNA became the 77th foundation to join WHGP. 

We thought it would be helpful to use our Transparency Talk blog as a way to introduce our audience to the newest foundation participant, and point out some of the interesting ways in which this Chicago-based foundation that supports healthcare for the underserved is employing innovative methods in how they communicate grantmaking and open up the work of philanthropy.

VNA Foundation, established in 1890 as the Visiting Nurse Association of Chicago, supports nonprofit organizations offering home- and community-based health care to the medically underserved.

About its Glasspockets participation, VNA states on its website: “We believe that foundations need to understand the value of transparency, be more open and clear in our communications, and highlight how the philanthropic sector partners with its grantees to serve the public good.”

"We believe that foundations need to understand the value of transparency, (and) be more open and clear in our communications."

The grantmaking process, from what a successful proposal looks like to what to expect when a funder says they want to meet with you, is often shrouded in mystery—but not at VNA.  The website features an informative prospective grantee area that not only shares the grantmaking process but reaches a high bar in transparency by sharing complete grant applications of successful proposals in addition to providing helpful insights into the foundation’s grantmaking process and its expectations from a site visit.  VNA also has an open invitation for grantees to highlight their work via the VNA Foundation’s YouTube channel.

VNA also shares contextual and historical information about its current and past special initiatives, and includes links to 14 years of its annual reports, an unusually comprehensive report collection.    

Additionally, VNA provides a unique and interactive infographic that discloses a great variety of grantmaking information in a very user-friendly format.  In the infographic, VNA openly shares geographic and financial information, as well as diversity data about its grantmaking in Chicago, from the city to the suburbs. 

Infographic data highlights include:

  • Grant overview & total grantmaking
  • Grant demographics by population, gender and ethnicity
  • Types of medical services and service settings among grantees
  • Types of grant support

Additionally, VNA’s infographic details what its grantees have learned, which may be helpful for other service organizations wanting to build on the work, while also providing other healthcare funders and grantees with helpful knowledge about their shared field.  For example, one grantee shared new and unforeseen challenges in light of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion.  Although the expansion has provided more people with insurance, the number of clinics and providers has not grown to meet the demand.

Does your foundation have glass pockets?  Please take our "Who Has Glass Pockets" assessment.  Your foundation could be #78!

--Melissa Moy

5 Questions for Judy M. Miller, Vice President and Director, Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize
October 8, 2015

(At $2 million, the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize is the world’s largest humanitarian award and is presented to organizations judged to have made extraordinary contributions to alleviating human suffering. Judy M. Miller oversees all aspects of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, from the nomination and evaluation process to the final selection of recipients by an independent international panel of jurors.)

Judy Miller profile
Transparency Talk: Anniversaries are often a moment when foundations reflect on the past and open up around lessons learned from their work, and then share that knowledge and that body of work in new ways publicly. It seems like Hilton is undergoing one of those kinds of moments now, both with the 20th anniversary of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, and also with your leadership transition.  Can you talk about how those milestones have contributed to taking stock of the Humanitarian Prize and informing new directions, such as the new Coalition?

Judy Miller: Just like in any other field, practice and experience make us better at our jobs, and input from our partners helps us to be more effective. As we embarked upon the 20th year of awarding the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, we looked to our Laureates to see how the Prize had shaped their paths – what doors it opened and how it enabled them to grow. The 19 past prize recipients are some of the most effective and prestigious humanitarian organizations in the world, and what we found when talking with them was that this group had become quite a formidable, yet informal network. On their own, they started partnering with each other as they learned about each other through our annual Hilton Prize events.  Soon it became clear that beyond just one or two of their organizations, they saw that even very disparate organizations could join forces to leverage their work and maximize the use of their resources. 

So it became clear that there was tremendous value in further developing the network that our laureates had formed, as strengthening those bonds could only magnify our collective efforts to alleviate human suffering.  At the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, we are always reflecting on how we can amplify the impact of our work. The 20th anniversary of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize was certainly an impetus for more of that reflection.

TT: The Hilton Humanitarian Prize awards an organization rather than an individual.  Can you explain the strategy behind that choice? Prizes are typically designed to recognize specific leaders, so this seems somewhat unique.

JM: This was purposeful.  Since most individual prizes are recognizing the past accomplishments of the recipient, by selecting organizations, we wanted to identify those that were already doing great work, but utilize the Prize to increase their exposure so that they could attract support to innovate and expand even more.  By focusing on organizations rather than individuals, we can actually contribute to building their capacity, and with the unrestricted Prize money they can test new ideas to improve the quality of their services. We’ve seen tangible results from this approach. For example, BRAC, our 2008 Hilton Humanitarian Prize Laureate, used their grant money to expand their anti-poverty program into South Sudan, where they have built a microfinance operation and continue to work on small enterprise development.  In just the past seven years, BRAC has reached an estimated 50,000 people in South Sudan who were in desperate need of help. This is the kind of impact we want the Hilton Humanitarian Prize to have, and we have watched our Prize Laureates accomplish this and more as they’ve grown through the years. While there are certainly individuals working in this field of humanitarian work who deserve recognition, the Hilton Prize is meant to facilitate and improve, as well as recognize excellent humanitarian work.

Hilton Humanitarian Prize 20 Vertical (1)TT: Prize philanthropy is often, by design, shrouded in secrecy—from the selection process to the jury.  Your website actually lists its current and past jury members.  Can you talk about why you made the choice to be transparent about these behind the scenes elements of the Prize?

JM: We are very proud of the panel of independent, international jurors who are at the top of their respective fields and meet in person each year to deliberate on selecting the prize recipient.  They take their role very seriously.  While the selection process itself remains discrete, we do not feel the need to hide the people who are making the final decisions. In fact, we take pride in their distinguished credentials and know that the individual Laureates selected feel honored that this prestigious group had selected them.   Our current panel includes a Nobel Prize-winning economist, a former Prime Minister of Norway who also led the World Health Organization, one of the most prominent philanthropists in Africa who focuses on education, and a former leader of UNICEF. Previous jurors held equally distinguished credentials.                                                                                                                                       

TT: Your recent announcement to create a network or Coalition of your Humanitarian Prize winners seems a great way to extend the value of the Prize beyond the monetary and profile-raising value, since it’s a way for organizations to build peer networks that contribute to shared learning.  Can you speak to some of these aspects and your hopes for how this group of organizations will learn from one another, and how you are supporting them to best enable them to live up to that potential? 

JM: Given today’s global challenges, often many issues are simply too large or complex for any single organization to handle, particularly in such areas as disaster response where collaboration in the field is essential for impact and efficiency.  We recognized the unique opportunity for our Laureates to join forces in the field because they already know and respect each others’ accomplishments, and each organization’s work is very diverse so they can address multiple areas of need.  Key to supporting their efforts was funding a Secretariat to be the backbone behind what the Laureates wanted to accomplish together.  Individual Laureate organizations do not have personnel to devote to the organizational or fiduciary role, which is needed.  As a unique collective force with common goals, we are confident their experiences will produce learning that will contribute to the entire humanitarian field.   

As for financial support of their combined work, the Foundation has dedicated $2 million to kick-start the implementation of two new, signature programs already identified by the Laureate Coalition to be priority issues.

First, the Hilton Prize Laureates Fellowship Program is a joint effort to train the next generation of humanitarian activists, selecting a group of graduate and undergraduate students to learn from the best nonprofit organizations around the world. Not only will this program draw the Laureates closer together by requiring cooperation in educating these young humanitarians, but it will also lay the foundation for a future in which these organizations and others are led by the program’s alumni, who will have a common base of knowledge and close personal relationships to these important causes. The Hilton Prize Coalition is as much about acting together as it is about learning together.  Tostan and Amref Health Africa piloted the first such initiative in Senegal and that collaboration is still ongoing.   

The second signature program that the Coalition is implementing this year is the Disaster Resiliency and Response project.  As a group, the Laureates Coalition is present in more than 150 countries.  At any time, perhaps 4-5 or even 8-10 Laureates could be active in a single country, making disaster response a key initiative for collaboration.  After the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake, some of our Laureates -- Operation Smile and Partners In Health -- collaborated to treat 380 trauma cases across the country.  Following the earthquake, Heifer International convened all 8 Laureate country directors working in Haiti and they developed an online detailed mapping of all programs to improve future collaboration.  This is the kind of cooperation that the Hilton Prize Coalition aims to replicate and improve with the new, formalized bonds.  Through the Disaster Resiliency and Response program, the laureates are creating a model for NGOs to cooperate in the aftermath of a disaster. In addition, the project will work with disaster-prone communities to build resilience, preparing them for when future disaster strikes. These are just some ways that the Hilton Foundation is helping to bring the combined resources of our Laureates to bear against the greatest humanitarian challenges we face.

Prize_Infographic_2015_finalTT: Prize philanthropy seems to be more popular today than it was when you started the Humanitarian Prize 20 years ago.  What advice do you have for other philanthropists who are considering starting a Prize about how to do it well? And how do you evaluate the effectiveness of Prize philanthropy?

JM: When we started there were only three prizes over $1 million—the Nobel, the Templeton and the Conrad Hilton.  Now not only has inflation increased the size of prizes, but the numbers of organizations are recognizing the value of prizes.  I have been called by several organizations thinking of starting a prize, and I encourage them.  One problem that we at the Hilton Foundation face in prize philanthropy is that of scope. Especially for an international prize, there are so many excellent organizations that positively impact the lives of countless people every day, but for the Hilton Humanitarian Prize to be as effective as possible, we can only award it to one organization each year. To address this, the Foundation tries to be as inclusive as possible in the process of selecting a recipient. Each year we receive hundreds of nominations, and our requirements for nominees are intentionally broad, just as the definition of “humanitarian” is very broad.  The only rules are that the nominator must have direct knowledge of the nominee’s work, the nominator cannot receive any payment from the nominee, and the nominator can’t be a family member of someone who works for the nominee.

These simple requirements allows for extremely worthwhile organizations that may not have the highest profiles to be considered for the Prize.  We want to make sure that the most worthy organizations receive our Prize, so we cast a wide net.  Since the nominations come from throughout the world, the Foundation also learns of organizations that we otherwise would not know; this is important since about half of our grantmaking is international in scope.  It is also gratifying to see the growth of our Laureate organizations over time.  When we awarded the first ever Humanitarian Prize to Operation Smile in 1996, they were only active in 12 countries and conducted one service mission per year.  Now, Operation Smile is active in 60 countries and will conduct close to 180 missions in 2015.  Each Laureate organization continues to demonstrate similar growth, validating the jury’s selections. 

We evaluate the effectiveness of the Prize through the success of our Laureates, all of whom are constantly expanding and thriving. Many of them credit some of their growth to the Hilton Humanitarian Prize.  As long as we are helping our Laureates to make peoples’ lives better, we are fulfilling our purpose.

--Janet Camarena

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

Gripes and Grievances: How An Applicant and Grantee “Complaint” Policy Improves Relationships
April 14, 2014

(Rebecca H. Donham is senior program officer at the MetroWest Health Foundation, an independent health philanthropy addressing the unmet health needs of the 25-town MetroWest region of Massachusetts.)

Rebecca Donham headshotThe MetroWest Health Foundation was created from the sale of a community asset – a two-campus suburban hospital.  As such, we feel a tremendous responsibility to the residents of the 25 towns we serve.  We’ve been entrusted with funds and seek to invest them wisely, both in terms of revenue generation as well as the grant distribution side.

We also embrace best practices. As a health funder, we understand there are programs and interventions that are evidence based, and therefore known to work. Since our founding 15 years ago, we’ve worked to encourage applicants to embrace best practices.

We welcome potential applicants and community members to meet with staff at any time, either before or after grant decisions. Our board meetings are even open to the public, including free dinner!

There are best practices for funders in terms of transparency and we have incorporated those into our work. We have a searchable grant database that allows anyone to see all the grants we’ve made and for what purposes. We post our financials, board and committee members, performance dashboards, strategic plans and other information on our website. We welcome potential applicants and community members to meet with staff at any time, either before or after grant decisions. Our board meetings are even open to the public, including free dinner!

Given the organization’s historical commitment to transparency, it makes sense that in 2007 the foundation’s board of trustees adopted a policy for handling complaints by applicants and grantees. The trustees viewed it as a way of walking the walk and fostering good community relations. The policy makes clear that grant and scholarship decisions are final and not subject to appeal, but that if there are complaints about the foundation’s grant process or work, we have a formal procedure to address them.

We post this policy on our website (http://www.mwhealth.org/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Public/Key_Policies/Complaints.pdf), along with ones addressing conflicts of interest, compensation, whistle blowing, site visits and sustainability. The last two go even further than what Glasspockets recommends and they speak to our strong commitment to transparency. Foundations can be seen as secretive and arbitrary, and we frequently are praised for being so up-front about how we do our work.

The foundation recently completed its third iteration of the Grantee Perception Report, the results of which (not surprisingly) are published on our web site. I think it is no coincidence that the foundation was rated higher than 90% of foundations in terms of our relationship with grantees. The results were similar in terms of how fairly grantees felt we treated them (>92%) and how comfortable they felt approaching us if a problem arose (>97%).

I would argue that there is zero downside to having a complaint policy. We’ve never had a complaint filed and having the policy publicly available on our website sends a message to the community that we care about fairness and transparency. Some might think this means grantee complaint and response mechanisms are not worth the investment, but quite to the contrary we find it supports and complements our organizational culture that prizes treating everyone respectfully and professionally. Maybe it’s because we’re a health funder, but we think it holds true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

-- Rebecca H. Donham

Aid Transparency Data is Growing (and Being Ranked!)
October 31, 2013

(Yinebon Iniya is manager of international data relations at the Foundation Center.)

Iniya-100In almost every corner of the philanthropic world, transparency appears to be the buzzword these days.  Foundations and donors often talk about their efforts to more strategically catalyze change and make an impact, however, while they have great stories to share, the quantifiable outcomes of their efforts are difficult to fully measure and further, in many cases, best practices that may potentially help others become more effective are not shared at all.

So what’s happening in the world of government aid, where there has also been a lot of transparency talk, especially around the looming Millennium Development Goals?

If you were at the Opening Up Aid: Better Data, Better Use forum at the Brookings Institute last week, then you already realize that aid transparency can be summed up in a four letter word.

IATI.

International Aid Transparency Initiative
IATI stands for the International Aid Transparency Initiative, a bold undertaking that is in its fifth year and continues to push efforts to publish open data in a standard that allows government agencies to tell their story.

The forum was about promoting the progress that has been made during IATI’s five-year period and to display the 2013 Aid Transparency Index (ATI), an online index launched jointly by Oxfam America and Publish What You Fund that measures aid transparency from some of the world’s leading aid agencies in the form of a ranking system that demonstrates which organizations are most and least transparent.

The ATI is a colorful chart that displays the name of the donor and their score. Clicking on the chart brings up the donor profile information and its relevance to IATI. There is specific detail about the scoring, which contains data about what the donor has made available and its score there as well. Users can filter their searches by organization size, type, or initiative. This is all available online, and can be accessed by anyone for free.

Information published on a quarterly basis in extensible markup language (XML) format, is machine-readable and according to David Hall-Matthews, Managing Director of Publish What You Fund, the best format because it is the ”only format that is both comparable and accessible.”

Hall-Matthews, who gave a rousing address about the importance and push for agencies to become more transparent, talked about a data revolution, clearly excited about the potential and commitment many of the groups are making to publish useful data on aid activities.

And the Highest Ranking Aid Transparency Agency is…
He also had the pleasure of announcing the top ranked agency so far, which happens to be the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. based foreign aid agency that since 2004, has been providing assistance in the fight against global poverty. According to Publish What You Fund, which ranked 67 donor organizations, MCC, scored 88.9% overall, narrowly beating organizations like GAVI Alliance, Department for International Development, and United Nations Development Program which also scored high marks. The scoring was based on organizations that are providing “large amounts of accessible, timely, comparable, and comprehensive information about their aid”.

This information is useful to people like Hector Corrales, Director of International Cooperation at the Republic of Honduras’ Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, who made a compelling case when he talked about mutual accountability; a coming together of donors and countries, and the need for the data to be published quarterly so that it could create a friendly competition among the agencies while also reminding them about the areas that need to be improved.

Honduras, an active member of IATI, recently launched an aid management platform, which contains information on all aid activity, including government data. Mr. Corrales praised IATI for its efforts while indicating it was imperative for the “long term transformation of development actors in the field”. After all, in order to be really effective and impactful, having good, searchable, timely, comprehensive data is not only important, it’s vital. He was pleased to announce that Honduras is committed to IATI and its standard.

Aid Transparency Advice and Best Practices
There was also a panel on transparency that featured a list of high-profile aid agencies that are involved in everything from capacity building, development planning, economic growth, political reform to budget and policy. The panel, moderated by Tessie San Martin, President and CEO of Plan USA, included Caroline Anstey, Managing Director of World Bank; Tony Pipa, Deputy Assistant for the U.S. Agency for International Development; Robert Goldberg, Director, Office of U.S. and Foreign Assistance Resources, U.S. Department of State; the aforementioned Hector Corrales; and Sheila Herrling, V.P., Department of Policy and Evaluation, Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Herrling, who was thrilled that MCC climbed from a 9th place ranking to the top of the standings shared how they were able to accomplish the feat along with some best practices;

  1. Declare that you’re going to be transparent and have the political will to be able to overcome fear because you have to be willing to answer questions about your own data and that takes time.
  2. MCC uses data to make decisions on everything so the realization they could not access their own data, coupled with a push from external audiences asking for better data made their decision to publish better information an easy one.
  3. The learning that can be made possible by the volume of data that can be shared in the information space is an important element.

Most of the guests on the panel shared their best practice of having a good group of technical and policy teams working together and agreed that political will and the hunger to see transparency of aid data improve are all important aspects of keeping this movement alive and growing.

To sum this all up in the words of the Senior Fellow of Brookings and the introductory speaker, George Ingram, “This is a small but important element in the data revolution.”

--Yinebon Iniya

Family Philanthropy and Social Media: A Conversation with Kate Wolford, President of The McKnight Foundation
September 26, 2013

Kate Wolford (@KateWolford) became president of The McKnight Foundation (@McKnightFdn) in 2006. This blog is re-posted with permission from the August 2013 edition of Family Giving News, the monthly email newsletter of the National Center for Family Philanthropy.

Social-media-for-public-relations1

We don’t see a lot of foundation executives on Twitter. So, let’s hear a bit more about your own experience with social media – how did you first get started?

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The biggest value to me personally is in what I follow: a mixture of topics directly relevant to our work, as well as others that help broaden my horizon.

The first thing to make clear is that I am not an expert on social media! The McKnight Foundation has been getting its feet wet on Facebook and Twitter for a year or so, and recently launched a blog. We’ve also been experimenting with Yammer as an in-house tool for sharing knowledge. I registered my personal Twitter account about eight months ago. I was an early adopter, so I could better support our institutional communications strategy. My plan was to simply “lurk and learn” on Twitter, following others so I could better understand how our foundation and grantees were using social media to increase our reach and impact. Now I tweet as well, and more and more McKnight staff are using social media.

What are three things you hope to gain from social media?

The biggest value to me personally is in what I follow: a mixture of topics directly relevant to our work, as well as others that help broaden my horizon. I see articles that I would probably never see otherwise—or at least not in such a timely manner.

For The McKnight Foundation, my goal is even greater transparency and awareness about how we are using private funds to pursue public good. It is an avenue to share research, as well as promising and proven ideas with a broader network both within and beyond philanthropy.

Social media—like every tool—can be used for good or ill. More than a goal, my dream is to use it in ways that support a powerful global movement for social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

Why should a family foundation use social media?

Social media can be an additional useful way to engage with current or potential grantees, stakeholders, and the general public. It’s not a substitute for strong individual relationships and deep dialogue between foundations and grantees. Foundations still need a one-stop organizational website through which grantseekers can find clear information on the foundation’s mission, goals, strategies, what it will or won’t fund, its application process, etc.

Taking advantage of as many communications tools as we can use well and cost effectively can enhance our transparency, accessibility, and ability to share knowledge and perspectives in our fields of interest.

A Center for Effective Philanthropy survey in 2012 found that only about 16% of grantees followed the social media streams of their funders. I suspect this number will grow quickly as both nonprofits and foundations move from early experiments in usage, evaluating feedback and ramping up in areas that seem most productive for building their networks and advancing their goals. We’re also increasingly reaching out to important program stakeholders beyond our grantees, and social media is one way to reach those broader audiences.

The real power of social media is the opportunity to go beyond just one-way communication to a more engaged dialogue. Unlike newsletters or press releases, social media is—well, it’s social! For many family foundations (and foundations in general), that may push the boundaries of their comfort zone. Social media puts real-time information, learning and perspectives out to a potentially very broad audience. That, in turn, may invite new levels of scrutiny, critique, and interaction.

I think it is important to enter with the mindset that you will get feedback that covers the spectrum from positive to negative, and from polite to nasty. Embrace that, and focus on how the input can also broaden your perspectives, sharpen your thinking, and increase your effectiveness and impact.

What kind of rules and practices do you follow?

In general, I think about how all my communications, whether in a community conversation or a blog or a tweet might reflect on the foundation and its reputation.

While “all tweets are my own,” I do not tweet anything that I would not want associated with our foundation. I know others who more freely mix the personal and professional—in that case, I think it would be important to be transparent with your board of directors about that choice.

I limit my time on social media to 30 minutes per day, and sometimes I don’t get to it all. On my best days, I uncover 3-5 articles that I read or tag for my next plane ride, and I share something that will be of interest to my followers.

I see some foundation leaders focusing mainly on topics relevant to the philanthropic sectors while others cover a number of topic areas. I think each person has to “find their own voice.” I lean toward the eclectic side of the spectrum — I follow and tweet on topics ranging from governance to climate change to education to Minnesota.

Should the foundation executive engage if the foundation already has a social media presence?

There are a number of factors to consider, including size and staffing structure. In small foundations where the executive already has many hats, it may simply not make sense nor be practical to maintain a separate Twitter or blog presence. The executive can still have a presence—authoring blogs or being quoted on the foundation sites.

Another key consideration is board expectations around the level of visibility of its lead staff person, and whether or not he/she should have a voice that may be distinct in substance or tone from that of the foundation.

Final thoughts?

I’d encourage foundations to use any communications tools that help them reach and engage their own key audiences in useful ways. Within that, just like any tool, social media probably isn’t a great fit for everyone.

So as we explore social media’s pros and cons at McKnight, we are paying close attention to how our philanthropic colleagues are using it to the best effect. We’re forging our own unique path as we go, which I think is very important, but we’re also keeping our eyes out for model practices and practitioners around the country. For readers interested in digging deeper, I’d point you to nonprofit social media guru Beth Kanter, The Communications Network’s resource-rich website for nonprofit and foundation communications pros, and terrific sector blogs like COF’s RE:Philanthropy, Foundation Center’s PhilanTopic, and the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

And there is no shame and very little to lose in lurking first, like I did, just to see if social media seems like a good fit before diving in!

-- Kate Wolford

(For a list of additional Twitter feeds to get started, see this Ask the Center feature on Family Giving News.)

Glasspockets Find: MacArthur Foundation Videos Illuminate Program Strategies
September 18, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

We all can't be experts in every field—but we can communicate in ways that makes our intentions clear. Let's say you hear that a foundation is interested in the same issue your work is addressing: girls' education. But girls' education could refer to subsidizing pre-kindergarten in the U.S., awarding college scholarships for young African women, researching improved STEM education, or any number of other programs. The trick to understanding a foundation's goals is to get down to the specifics, without getting lost in a morass of jargon or hours of research.

The MacArthur Foundation is experimenting with using video to explain their program strategies, including Investing in Girl's Secondary Education in Developing Countries. In this four-minute video we are given an explanation of the program goals, why the foundation has chosen to concentrate on this specific need, and the larger global initiatives that tie in to their program strategy:

Watch the video»

A strength of video as a communications tool is that the visuals illustrate the foundation’s values, bringing their program goals to life. Another virtue is that the delivery of the information is usually a personal narration told in straightforward language. We all have read our share of foundation strategy documents that seem written only for specialists. On camera, people are less likely to speak in academic lingo—making it is easier for the program staff to convey their passion for the issue, and thus easier for those on the outside to see and understand what is going on inside foundation portfolios.

In this MacArthur Foundation video, Jorgen Thomsen, Director of the Conservation & Sustainable Development program, explains what excites him about their current strategy and how it builds on and diverges from previous areas of focus:

Watch the video»

Which foundations have excelled at producing videos that illuminate their specific program goals? Let us know at glasspockets@foundationcenter.org.

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: Learn Foundation Law Pools Resources to Offer Legal Training to Private Foundations
September 3, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

Remember all those group projects in school that were supposed to help us work together as a team? The main lesson we learned from the process was that group assignments are never easy. In the grown-up world of philanthropy, “collaboration,” “resource-sharing,” and “knowledge-building” are buzzwords that frequently show up in our benchmarks for success. Foundations often ask nonprofits if they can pool resources and share information with their colleagues, and we all know this can be just as difficult as when we were teenagers.

GrantCraft Advocacy GuideThankfully, there are online tools to facilitate both collaboration and transparency, thereby increasing our efficiency and reducing duplication of effort. Wouldn’t you like to know if someone else has already tackled any complex issues your organization is facing? The Learn Foundation Law website is an example of teamwork by a group of foundations who have created training materials on legal issues in the field of philanthropy. The legal staff at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation created Learn Foundation Law in 2010 as an online instructional resource, so that any foundation can jump-start their legal education.

The website is also a wonderful instance of foundations being more open about seldom-discussed issues in philanthropy. Course topics include legal rules for private foundations on advocacy, lobbying, and anti-bribery/anti-corruption. You can find a commentary on the content of Learn Foundation Law’s online training materials on the blog of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

For more information about advocacy funding in particular, check out this guide on GrantCraft, the Foundation Center’s own online resource and knowledge center for grantmakers. There is even a GrantCraft guide about funder collaboratives! At Glasspockets, we advocate for transparency in philanthropy, and we see one of the benefits of greater openness is to make it easier for the field as a whole to earn an A+ in collaboration.

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Shares its Strategy and Lessons Learned for Vulnerable Populations Program
August 13, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

To foundations it may seem that, however much information they share, it is never enough. Online annual reports, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds—where will it end? While nonprofits may have the sense that foundations are never sharing the information that they really need to make informed decisions. At Glasspockets, we are interested in learning what kind of information-sharing is beneficial to fostering good relationships between funders and grantees. In May, The Center for Effective Philanthropy released a fascinating report that gets to the heart of this delicate matter: Foundation Transparency: What Nonprofits Want. It reminds me of a more practically-minded version of relationship counseling books. (Foundations are from Mars and Nonprofits are from Venus?)

The CEP’s report is based on a survey of 138 nonprofit leaders, representing organizations with budgets ranging from $100,000 to $60 million. Among the findings, the ones that came to mind recently in relation to one foundation’s experimentation with new media are:

  • 88% of nonprofits surveyed are looking for foundations to share more lessons learned; and
  • 80% want more clarity about how foundations select their grantees.

I was reminded of this report’s call for greater transparency around these kinds of data elements as I viewed the new videos that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) just released on its site. The videos illustrate how new media might serve to provide this kind of window on foundation work. As an example of foundation transparency in their selection and decision-making process, RWJF also has shared its strategy for generating large-scale social change through its Vulnerable Populations programs, to help create understanding around how a national foundation selects a regional model to replicate across the country. RWJF created videos about its work with grantees Playworks and The Green House Project to explain the foundation’s long-term goals and five-stage strategy of investing in innovative models that can be tested, refined, and applied on a wide scale.

Watch the video»

The RWJF web site also features related articles, “Scaling Visionary Solutions to Improve the Health of Vulnerable Populations: The Case of the Green House Project” and “Playworks: Scaling a Great Idea,” which include lessons learned from working with each of these grantees. My favorite takeaway is from Playworks CEO and Founder Jill Vialet, who shares this lesson from scaling the program nationally: “Communications is part of every solution.”

Watch the video»

The sentiment also applies to our question of building good relationships between foundations and nonprofits. Now that we know “What Nonprofits What” in terms of foundation transparency, communications can be part of the solution, rather than a point of frustration.

--Rebecca Herman

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About Transparency Talk

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

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