Transparency Talk

Category: "Public Policy" (9 posts)

How Philanthropic Is the Trump Cabinet?
January 11, 2017

(Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center.)

Here are the facts, decide for yourself. That may sound like a radical proposition in what some–after a bitter election season dominated by spin, lies and fake news–are calling a "post-truth world," but it is what we do at Foundation Center. In releasing "Eye on the Trump Cabinet" as the newest feature of Foundation Center's Glasspockets website, our goal is track the charitable giving related to Cabinet nominees and their nonprofit Board service.

Explore Eye on the Trump Cabinet

Eye on the Trump Cabinet shows that, taken as a whole, the Cabinet nominees are by no means strangers to philanthropy.

There has been a lot of speculation among philanthropic foundations about what the new Administration might mean for the sector. Will lower tax rates reduce charitable giving? If government retreats from social programs will foundations be expected to take up the slack? Will new regulations be introduced to somehow influence the kinds of priorities foundations support? At the extremes I have heard people assert: "these people (the new Administration) don't know anything about philanthropy," and fielded a question from a Danish reporter who wanted to know if the controversy over the Clinton and Trump foundations would lead to the end of transparency in the sector. But what do the data tell us?

Explore Eye on the Trump Cabinet

"Eye on the Trump Cabinet" shows that, taken as a whole, the Cabinet nominees are by no means strangers to philanthropy. Between them, they are related to 25 different foundations. By "related" we mean foundations run by cabinet nominees or family members, in addition to ones in which they might have been affiliated or served as Board members. To learn more about those foundations, click on the links to their profiles in Foundation Directory Online and their 990 tax returns to learn about their operating expenses, specific grants and investments. Similarly, the data show that Cabinet nominees have served on the boards of nearly 50 nonprofit organizations focusing on education, veterans' affairs, health, and children, to mention a few.

Explore Eye on the Trump Cabinet

Through this lens, perhaps most notable among the Cabinet nominees is Betsy DeVos, someone who comes from a strong family tradition of philanthropy and has a significant foundation (the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation) together with her husband. Moreover, until recently, she served as Board Chair for the Philanthropy Roundtable, a membership organization of foundations and donors that is a critical part of the infrastructure that upholds institutional philanthropy. Among the core beliefs of the Roundtable are that philanthropic freedom is essential to a free society and that voluntary private action offers solutions for many of society's most pressing challenges.

Explore Eye on the Trump Cabinet

Foundations and nonprofits cannot (and should not) take the place of government primarily because their resources, while significant, are dwarfed by federal and state budgets in addition to those of the business sector. On the contrary, their limited resources are valuable precisely because it is their non-profit, independent status that gives them the freedom to innovate, take risks, support controversial causes, stick with tough challenges for the long term, and provide core support to critical societal institutions.

Explore Eye on the Trump Cabinet

The relationship between government and the philanthropic sector can be one of collaboration, disagreement, or both, but it has been part of the fabric of American democracy for more than 100 years. Foundation Center, itself a nonprofit, was born in 1956 out of McCarthy-era hearings accusing foundations of supporting un-American activities. The sector's response was to create Foundation Center as a trusted public information service that could prove it had nothing to hide. We believe that transparency will, in the long run, always prove its value. How philanthropic is the new Administration? Explore Eye on the Trump Cabinet, come to your own conclusions, wait, watch, and, above all, participate.

-- Brad Smith

'Dark Money' Expected to Set 2016 Records
January 18, 2016

(This post first appeared in Philanthropy News Digest.)

The amount of so-called dark money, contributions to nonprofits and other tax-exempt entities that are not required to disclose their donors, backing various presidential campaigns in 2016 is expected to exceed the more than $300 million contributed during the 2012 presidential election cycle, the New York Times reports.

The troubling lack of transparency, the Times notes, is being driven by political advocacy groups that exploit a loophole in the tax code that allows them to avoid disclosing their donors while holding on to their tax-exempt status. Many of those organizations court special interest groups and wealthy donors who crave the influence that political contributions can buy but spurn any public accountability implied by those contributions. For example, almost 20 percent of the television ads touting the positions of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) have been financed by dark money, the Center for Responsive Politics reports, with most of that coming from the nonprofit Conservative Solutions Project.

The biggest dark money spenders in this cycle, however, have been the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, a D.C.-based nonprofit organization that operates under the umbrella of the American Crossroads "super" PAC, which was co-founded by longtime Republican strategist Karl Rove. While the Federal Election Committee could force such organizations, with their heavy involvement in political campaigns, to register as political action committees, the commission hasn't shown any inclination to do so. Indeed, with Congress having effectively quashed, in the ominubus spending bill it passed at year-end, near-term efforts by the Internal Revenue Service to regulate these groups until after the 2016 election cycle and the FEC content to sit on the sidelines, the Justice Department is seen as the only federal agency that might attempt to shed some light on their activities.

Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21 and a longtime advocate of campaign finance reform, has asked the Justice Department to do just that, with an emphasis on political activities associated with Rubio's campaign. "Secret money is the formula for corruption," Wertheimer told the Times. "It's the influence buyer's dream."

Albert R. Hunt. "'Dark' Funds May Bode Ill in 2016 Election." New York Times 01/03/2016

A Case for Better (Self-Imposed) Transparency Standards for Foundations
December 29, 2015

(Rick Cohen is the National Correspondent for Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) and the editor of NPQ's Cohen Report. Prior to joining NPQ, Rick was executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, vice president of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and vice president of the Enterprise Foundation. A version of this blog appeared in NPQ.)

Editor's Note: As the year draws to a close, it is natural to remember and reflect on those whom we have lost.  Last month, philanthropy lost one of its strongest voices for change with the passing of Rick Cohen. A prolific writer, Cohen was known for encouraging philanthropy to extend its reach to marginalized and underserved communities. Seeing the weaknesses of a closed door culture, Cohen also frequently wrote and spoke about the need for greater foundation transparency and the potential for improving philanthropic practice by increasing stakeholder participation and influence. In honor of Cohen, Transparency Talk is closing out 2015 by revisiting a two-part post Cohen authored for Transparency Talk in 2012 on the case for enhanced foundation transparency, and his recommendations for improved transparency standards.

Photo_74078_landscape_650x433Rather than simply arguing for more or less transparency, a better strategy is to consider the public purposes that might be served by better, proactive standards of disclosure. I suggest the following: 

  1. A better story: Spruill’s charge to the sector is still the ultimate reason, to explain what organized philanthropy is and does, but it is so much more credible when it emerges from the analysis of independent analysts and the public. The glossy annual reports whose cost of writing, design, and printing exceeds many nonprofits’ budgets are not persuasive. They look more and more like corporate advertisements. If philanthropy has a strong story to tell, it should be one that can be told by independent observers examining the data.
  2. Civic engagement: Foundations themselves are relatively unified, regardless of their political leanings, in favor of increased civic engagement, not just in the public arena of government, but in the engagement with communities, in the overall pursuit of community and societal betterment. If foundations are part of a sectoral commitment for advancing the public good, one means is to make more foundation information available, to make citizens and policy makers better “consumers” of foundation products, just as foundations want to help citizens be better consumers and participants in the processes of government and business. 
  3. Foundations in public policy: Increasingly, foundations have been moving into the public policy arena, not simply through their grantmaking, but their direct participation. Foundations partner with government at various levels, notably a recent spate of foundation engagements with the federal government in programs such as the Social Innovation Fund at the Corporation for National and Community Service and the “Race to the Top” in the Department of Education. In some cities, notably Detroit, where local government has taken a turn toward the dysfunctional, foundations are developing and running programs that in some ways are taking the place of the public sector. As foundations become direct players in the public arena, not simply supporting nonprofits to do so, foundations should be increasing the transparency the public needs about their operations.
  4. Increased accountability: At this time, there is a parallel debate going on about increasing the transparency of government data. Virginia Senator Mark Warner has introduced the DATA Act which would create standardized formats for reporting and publication of government spending data. The Act, as the Sunlight Foundation commented, “could help eliminate much government waste, fraud, and abuse, and make spending oversight much easier.” Better, expanded, standardized data makes oversight easier, it’s that logical.  But so much of the data reported in 990s is not particularly standardized and, when it comes to data on foundation investments, virtually uninterpretable.  That isn’t a reason to drop the data requirement.  It is to improve the reporting and formatting of data so that the public—and oversight agencies—can figure out what it contains. 
  5. Abuse of 501(c) confidentiality:  The nation faces an explosion of organizations—and money—seeking the 501(c) confidentiality for the only purpose of keeping the identities of the players pulling the levers of the political system secret.  Television commentator Dylan Ratigan suggests that “our political system has become an auction in which the highest bidder wins,” but the identities of the bidders are increasingly under wraps.  In other arenas, public agencies such as municipal governments and state universities are creating affiliated nonprofits and foundations with a purpose of reducing or removing a slice of their operations from public scrutiny and oversight.  If this nation is going to pursue greater freedom of information, we will, as Senator Warner suggests, need to have better mechanisms with which to “follow the money.” ( We have to better follow foundation moneys, too. 

Let’s face it that there is no discernible Congressional appetite for playing with the laws and regulations facing foundations right now.  Since foundations are overseen by the Internal Revenue Service—and in some measure by a number of states that have provided at least a semblance of staffing and support for charity oversight functions usually in their AG offices, though state attention only sporadically ever nears private foundations—not much is going to happen. 

If there is more money for the Internal Revenue Service, it is logically going to go to expanding its capacity for dealing with its new responsibilities under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, not for oversight and enforcement activities regarding charities.  In general, there’s no money to be made by the IRS for chasing nonprofits and foundations, and like a sports agent looking for a contract, the IRS wants to be shown the money that it can generate through stepped up enforcement. 

Moreover, the IRS is not generally among the more popular of federal agencies.  The outcry against Maine Governor Paul LePage’s denunciation of the IRS as new Gestapo caused him to apologize to Jews, but not to IRS agents who might have been offended, and few in Congress stepped to the plate to defend the IRS.  Ways and Means Committee hearings into IRS operations have been held,  prompted in part by the complaints of Tea Party groups believing that their applications for 501(c)(4) social welfare status were being subjected to politically motivated IRS reviews. 

--Rick Cohen

Philanthropic Dollars Also Shape Electoral Outcomes: Here’s How…
October 28, 2015

(David Callahan is founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy. Previously, he was a senior fellow at DemosThis is the fifth in a series of 10 posts about U.S. democracy and civil society that will be featured on PhilanTopic in the run-up to Election Day, and beyond. This post first ran in PhilanTopic.) 

Callahan Headshot%2c 1With another presidential campaign season under way, we’re again hearing a lot about the mega donors and Super PACs that fuel modern politics. But this isn’t the only stream of money that influences how elections unfold in the U.S.; philanthropic dollars also play a key role, with foundations supporting a range of activities that affect how our democracy functions and what happens at the polls.

Understanding the flow of these grants isn’t just helpful for nonprofits hoping to get a piece of the pie. It’s also super useful for journalists or others keen to see how foundations — which, by law must be nonpartisan — are deploying funds in ways that can sway electoral outcomes.

Let’s take the area of voter education, registration, and turnout as an example. It’s no secret that who turns out to vote, and where, can make a big difference in determining which candidates win on Election Day. If more African Americans turn out in swing states like Florida or North Carolina, for instance, that’s good news for Democrats. If the electorate tilts toward older and white voters, Republicans stand to gain.

Campaigns and Super PACs spend mightily to shape who votes. But what have foundations been doing? Well, Foundation Center’s newly launched Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool offers some answers to that question.

Consider the state of Florida, a fiercely contested battleground in both presidential and off-year elections. Drilling into the data, where grantmaking can be easily segmented by the populations served, we find that five funders have given over a half million dollars in grants in recent years to seven groups that work with “ethnic and racial groups” on voter education, registration, and turnout. For example, the Florida New Majority Education Fund pulled in $200,000 in grant money from the Marguerite Casey Foundation and the Proteus Fund in 2012 and 2013. Casey has described this group as working to “increase the voting and political power of marginalized and excluded constituencies toward an inclusive, equitable, and just Florida.” Historically, these constituencies have supported Democrats at election time.

Other Florida groups that have received money for voting work, according to the database, include the Farmworker Association of Florida and Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast.

Screenshot_Callahan_1

Moving to another swing state, North Carolina, we find a similar pattern: Nearly a half million dollars in grants have been made in recent years for voting work with racial and ethnic groups. The biggest recipient here was Democracy North Carolina, which has lately been at the forefront of efforts to defend voting rights amid a legislative push in that state to restrict the franchise in ways that research has found tends to reduce turnout among African Americans, Latinos, and young people.

Speaking of efforts to restrict the franchise, it’s important to note that not all grantmakers in the democracy space have sought to make voting more accessible by historically marginalized groups. Some have supported work to require voter identification at the polls and to roll back  measures such as early voting and same-day registration, which advocates have pressed for in many states as a way to expand and diversify the electorate.

In North Carolina, the John William Pope Foundation has long been known for its support of tougher voting rules that it says are needed to protect against voter fraud. What exactly has this entailed? The data shows 61 grants totaling more than $2.4 million by the foundation in North Carolina since 2011 that relate to democracy issues.

The Pope Foundation — controlled by Republican activist Art Pope — has been one of the top funders in the democracy space in recent years in North Carolina. But two other funders have given more: the Triad Foundation and the Open Society Foundations. Other big funders of democracy work in the state include the Z. Smith Reynolds and Ford foundations.

There are a lot more examples we could dig into to illustrate how funders are shaping voting work at the state level in ways that can and do affect electoral outcomes. All this grantmaking is officially nonpartisan and perfectly legal, but little of it is actually impartial.

And herein lies an important truth about how money influences America’s democracy. Yes, there is a vast and swollen river of cash flowing into political campaigns. But another, separate tributary of philanthropic money related to elections has also been growing. In fact, Foundation Center reports that funders have made grants totaling nearly $300 million since 2011 specifically for work in support of campaigns, elections, and voting.

That amount is nothing compared to the more than $6 billion that political contributors gave in the 2012 election cycle alone. But it’s still serious money that deserves close scrutiny.

 --David Callahan 

Can We Expect Transparency from Grantmaking Foundations?
October 6, 2014

(Kandyce Fernandez is an assistant professor of public administration in the College of Public Policy at The University of Texas at San Antonio, and Mark Hager is associate professor of philanthropic studies in the School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University.)

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Kandyce Fernandez

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Mark Hager

The proposition that grantmaking foundations should be more transparent carries with it the underlying assumption that grantmaking foundations are not as transparent as we might like them to be.  In a recent paper published in Public Administration Quarterly, we argue that many of us do not expect transparency from foundations since we think of them as private institutions, like a private company.  We also argue that our transparency expectations and the behavior of foundations themselves might change if this prevailing presumption of private-ness were to change.

The Dominant View of Foundations

So, are grantmaking foundations private or public?  This is a complicated question, and it’s the one we spend most of the paper discussing.  An important point is that there’s a dominant, prevailing, what we call a ‘hegemonic’ view that since grantmaking foundations are not agents of government (and therefore ‘public agencies’), they are private and therefore can act in a way that that is shielded from public scrutiny and participation.  This holds for both independent and corporate foundations, and even community foundations are not expected to act in a fully public way.

As a consequence, the general public has little expectation for any level of engagement with foundations in their community.  Grantees are grudgingly content with a one-way flow of information and strategic decision-making about how philanthropic resources are distributed in communities.  The media asks few questions about what role foundations might play in regional development.  And, perhaps most importantly, foundations themselves use the hegemonic view of privacy to justify closing themselves off from the communities where they reside.

What would change if we all understood foundations to be public rather than private institutions?  Turns out that there’s ample reason to think of them as public.

Competing Perspectives: A Political, Economic, and Social Context

We argue that many of us do not expect transparency from foundations since we think of them as private institutions, like a private company.

For example, consider what we call the political context of grantmaking foundations.  The political context distinguishes between efforts that serve the collective interest rather than the interests of individual or narrower groups in society.  To the extent that grantmaking foundations assert multiple perspectives of the public interest, or provide resources to other nonprofits that do so, they serve in a largely public role as they utilize private resources for various public benefits.  Their public role is further underlined when grantmaking foundations address those things government may not be able to do and where market actors choose not to engage.  In these cases, foundations reflect a public role as they focus on other groups, interests, and issues.

An economic context also gives some credence to the view that foundations are public actors.  The economic context considers whether benefits are distributed to the broader citizenry or to a narrower, specific group with special interests.  While governmental benefits are said to serve the median interests within society, grantmaking foundations serve groups outside the median.  In fact, this is one source of frequent praise: foundations can serve narrower, contested, or controversial groups, whereas government may lack the inclination to do so.  Whereas independent foundations might tend to focus attention on narrower causes identified by a single donor, community foundations are increasingly more public because they are established to purposely seek out diverse donors and diverse causes.   

As foundations work both strategically and intentionally to impact lasting change, they cultivate a more public role in society.

Thirdly, we argue that social context provides a basis for viewing foundations as public actors.  This context focuses on whether or not the work has consequences beyond those involved.  Where decisions and activities will or are intended to impact a specific policy or issues, the work is said to be instrumental.  On the other hand, where decisions and activities are meant to be supportive rather than impacting change, the work is considered expressive.  To the extent that foundation activities strive for greater, longer-lasting instrumental impact on an issue or cause, we argue that they are more public than those that address issues with more immediate, short-term objectives. In other words, With the right marketing, the public, grantees, media, and foundations themselves might be led to recognize a greater degree of public-ness among grantmaking foundations.

Private Institutions with Public Expectations

Political, economic, and social contexts provide independent reasons why we might consider grantmaking foundations to be public institutions rather than private, challenging the dominant view.  The nature of their accountability, the type of work, the extent of their reach, and their interest in impacting change or supporting issues renders them more public than private in some cases, and at minimum quasi-public institutions with a substantive public role.  With the right marketing, the public, grantees, media, and foundations themselves might be led to recognize a greater degree of public-ness among grantmaking foundations.

The consequence, we believe, would be that people both inside and outside foundations would act differently.  The public and grantees would see foundations as partners rather than private edifaces.  The media would both expect and receive the kind of transparency from foundations that they need to make sense of the role that foundations play and the value they bring to communities.  And, most tellingly, foundations would embrace a more open, participatory, and engaged role in social change efforts.

-- Kandyce Fernandez and Mark Hager

Glasspockets Find: Blue Shield of California Foundation shares Health Care research through live webcast
November 5, 2013

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

Herman-100Foundations produce reports and issue briefs every day—and we love them for it. However, not everyone has the time or inclination to read every worthwhile report that funders work so hard to produce. Some foundations take it upon themselves to find new and proactive ways to share their new-found knowledge with stakeholders, colleagues, practitioners and policymakers who can effect change in the field.

The Blue Shield of California Foundation hosted an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on October 23 to discuss findings and issues raised in its latest report on a timely topic, “Building Better Health Care for Low-Income Californians,” which was developed as part of its Strengthening the Safety Net program.

The foundation’s event at the National Press Club featured a panel discussion with experts in health care delivery, community health centers and health law and policy. Guests who could not attend in person could watch the event online through live webcast, and the program concluded with a question-and-answer session that was open to those attending virtually or in person. The recorded webcast is now available online:

Watch the video»

One particularly memorable moment was when an attendee asked the panelists what kind of research on health care policy they would like to see undertaken in the future. One panelist, Dr. Ron Yee, chief medical officer of the National Association of Community Health Centers, said he would like to understand how co-pays and deductibles will affect low-income patients accessing the health care system, which was also a question raised by an audience member. Dr. Yee commented, “I know from the front line, how my patients handle their money, the little money they have… Even a $10 co-pay is a big deal for my patients.” 

“You know we’re getting serious when we’re talking about money."

Peter Long, president & CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation remarked, “You know we’re getting serious when we’re talking about money. You know it’s not a theoretical conversation anymore, when people are talking about payment, and about what it looks like, and the end outcomes.… To me that’s very successful, in a progression of a conversation, when we’re starting to get to a point where you take human aspiration and needs, their real experience, and then what the heck do we do with them.”

Another panelist, Dr. Kavita Patel of the Brookings Institution, noted in closing, “I’m very excited to see this study escape the traditional research/beltway/policymaker circles. It is one of the few studies that has this generalizability for regular viewing audiences. What’s wonderful about that is…that movement will often precede policy changes or the public sector doing something.”

On the Blue Shield of California Foundation’s web page for “Building Better Health Care for Low-Income Californians” you can find the PowerPoint presentation from the event and an executive summary of its October 2013 research report. You can also download the entire report and find other issue briefs and research on health care in the foundation’s extensive publications section.

To gain audiences and knowledge beyond each individual funder’s own connections, we encourage all foundations to post their research, reports, white papers and case studies on the Foundation Center’s IssueLab website, which aims to gather, index and share the collective intelligence of the social sector. For those interested in health care policy, be sure to delve into IssueLab’s new special collection of research on the Affordable Care Act.

-- Rebecca Herman

The Archives of U.S. Foundations: an Endangered Species, Part 2
January 14, 2013

John E. Craig, Jr., is Executive Vice President & COO of The Commonwealth Fund. He recently presented at a Philanthropy New York event on Why Archives Matter, which was the subject of an earlier blog post here.

Craig_100In an earlier blog, I reported the findings of The Commonwealth Fund’s December 2012 survey of foundations’ current archiving practices. It is of considerable concern that no more than 20 percent of even large foundations (those with assets of $240 million or more) maintain archives, given the importance of historical records to researchers and helping to assure accountability and good management in the sector.

A review of the literature, the survey findings, and conversations with leading archivists and foundation officers suggest ways in which the state of archiving in the foundation sector could be improved:

1. The number of foundations currently maintaining archives is far fewer than it should be, and foundation boards and executives should give more attention to the issue than they do now. Audit and compliance committees of foundation boards should ensure that at least the short-term records-retentions policy required by Sarbanes-Oxley is developed and enforced, and should take an active role in seeing that the question of archiving important records is addressed at the board level.

2. Chief executive officers of foundations should see one of their responsibilities as assessing the foundation’s need for archives and, if the decision is affirmative, delegating clear responsibility for their development and maintenance.

3. Boards and managements should see that resources are set aside as needed to achieve archiving objectives. The 2012 survey reveals that most foundations will find that maintaining archives, if done efficiently, is not a major expense.

4. Every foundation should have a stated archiving policy—even if it is “none”—to ensure that the question has been addressed. Policies should specify what records are to be preserved, the archiving model to be pursued (in-house vs. outsourced), access guidelines and restrictions, and guidelines for paper and electronic preservation. Archiving policies should ensure that the intensity of the archiving effort varies with the potential value of materials to users. The policy should be reviewed every five years to ensure that it keeps up with advances in information storage technology.

5. Archives are a "glasspockets" issue, and the Council on Foundations should be encouraged to include maintenance of archives among its best-practice guidelines for foundations above some minimum endowment size.

6. Outsourcing the archiving function to an external archive center is a viable option that many foundations, including multi-billion dollar ones, should consider. The choice of external center, however, must be made with care, and performance monitored regularly. Important questions include the following: do the foundations or other organizations that are currently donating archival records to the external center share similar objectives and expectations; does the external center have other significant collections that provide a valuable context for the foundation's archive; can the center meet the foundation’s expectations regarding the speed with which records are processed, provided with online finding aids, and opened to researchers; does the archival institution have the capacity to manage the long-term preservation of digital records and to provide access to them?

7. Many foundations, especially small and newer ones, may find that their archiving objectives going forward can be met with cloud-based content management systems (now spreading throughout the foundation community) that can be adapted in various ways for use by external researchers.

8. Two-thirds of larger foundations were established after 1989, but youth should be no excuse for postponing the question of whether to archive or not. Indeed, young foundations are in the enviable position of being on the ground floor on the technology front, often starting out with state-of-the art information systems in which virtually all of their records have always been kept digitally. Under these circumstances, archives are almost a natural byproduct of a good information system, with minimal marginal cost.

9. Spend-down foundations are prone to establish archives, but they often confront the issue only as the date of their sunset becomes imminent. Ideally, the question should be addressed early in their life.

10. Information technology staff of foundations should have as one of their major responsibilities the development of systems within the foundation that advance archiving objectives. They should work closely with the external archive center, when the foundation uses one, to coordinate and promote IT initiatives.

11. An affinity group of foundation officers with responsibility for archives (both in-house and outsourced) would greatly advance the spread of best practices in the sector. Foundations without archives reported in the 2012 survey that if there were a foundation-led group developing archiving standards and guidelines and providing information on consultants and experienced-based advice on technical issues, they would be better equipped to activate nascent plans for establishing archives.

12. Most importantly, consideration should be given to development of archive cooperatives by a consortia of foundations with common interests and archiving objectives. It is doubtful that existing archive centers have the capacity to take on large numbers of new foundation clients. Given the enormous number of foundations, interregional differences, and frequent commonality of interests at the regional level, multiple foundation archive coops might well be easier to launch and operate than a single national one. If the concept were to be judged promising, it could be piloted and capitalized by a few very large foundations in an “early adopter region”—with spread of the model to other regions to follow, if justified by the experience of the pilot.

In giving inadequate attention to the preservation of its historical records, the foundation sector is shortchanging historians and researchers of public policy, social movements, and important institutions and individuals who made a difference in their time. Above all, foundations are shortchanging themselves, by not ensuring that records exist for learning from experience and demonstrating their worth to society.

--John E. Craig, Jr.

For Impact’s Sake: The Need for Transparency on Diversity & Equity in Philanthropy
November 7, 2012

(Kelly Brown is Director of the D5 Coalition, a five-year, effort to advance philanthropy’s diversity, equity and inclusiveness.)

Brown-100Philanthropy exists for the common good, and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion helps us live up to that value. In particular, thinking about equity in our grantmaking helps ensure that we are having the greatest impact on the issues identified in our unique missions—by targeting resources to the people in our constituencies with the greatest need.

But to really maximize our impact and hold ourselves accountable to our values, our constituencies, and each other, we also have to track who benefits from our grantmaking and be transparent about the results. If we can do that successfully, we can: 1) better understand whom we are reaching and whom we are missing—and adjust strategies accordingly; 2) leverage public policy or public dollars to fill gaps or create synergy; and 3) connect our work to the work of other foundations that focus on common issues or common consistencies.

As a field, we have a dual problem with both collecting and sharing data on diversity and equity.

Realizing that kind of success, though, is a real challenge. As a field, we have a dual problem with both collecting and sharing data on diversity and equity. Foundations measure internal diversity and the impact of their grantmaking in many different ways—or not at all. And the foundations that do collect this kind of data share it to varying degrees—or not at all. These challenges make it difficult to assess the year-over-year progress of individual foundations, or to draw comparisons among foundations, or between philanthropy and the public sector.  

So what do we do about it? We have to establish a uniform data collection and reporting system, and encourage the whole field to use it. We’re excited by the renewed energy in the field to take on this challenge—the Reporting Commitment is a great recent example.

A key goal of D5 is to improve data collection and transparency as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Last month, we helped convene 15 leaders on this topic in philanthropy and academia to discuss a pilot project to pioneer a collection and reporting system. As this promising work continues—and expands—we will be able to share more information about how to participate.  

In the meantime, the field also has to do the research to figure out what policies and practices are, in fact, the most effective at fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s hard for us to call on foundations to track and be transparent about diversity and equity when we can’t say in the same breath: And if you aren’t happy with where you stand, here are the most effective steps you can take to address it.

To help on that front, D5 just commissioned three organizations to conduct research that will help identify the most effective policies and tools philanthropic leaders can draw upon to help drive meaningful change and also lay the groundwork for gathering the data needed to help track the field’s progress. For more information about the Insights on Diversity research, check out the press release here.

Being transparent about diversity and equity can be intimidating. But I hope the need for it will increasingly be viewed as a pathway to impact—not as an onerous task that could result in scolding if a foundation is behind where it would like to be. This is an opportunity to learn from each other, to find ways to better work together to serve common constituencies, and to better meet the needs of an increasingly diverse world.

--Kelly Brown

A Case for Better (Self-Imposed) Transparency Standards for Foundations
August 22, 2012

(Rick Cohen is the National Correspondent for Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) and the editor of NPQ's Cohen Report. Prior to joining NPQ, Rick was executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, vice president of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and vice president of the Enterprise Foundation. This entry continues from Monday's post. A version of this blog appeared in NPQ.)

Cohen_100Rather than simply arguing for more or less transparency, a better strategy is to consider the public purposes that might be served by better, proactive standards of disclosure. I suggest the following: 

  1. A better story: Spruill’s charge to the sector is still the ultimate reason, to explain what organized philanthropy is and does, but it is so much more credible when it emerges from the analysis of independent analysts and the public. The glossy annual reports whose cost of writing, design, and printing exceeds many nonprofits’ budgets are not persuasive. They look more and more like corporate advertisements. If philanthropy has a strong story to tell, it should be one that can be told by independent observers examining the data.
  2. Civic engagement: Foundations themselves are relatively unified, regardless of their political leanings, in favor of increased civic engagement, not just in the public arena of government, but in the engagement with communities, in the overall pursuit of community and societal betterment. If foundations are part of a sectoral commitment for advancing the public good, one means is to make more foundation information available, to make citizens and policy makers better “consumers” of foundation products, just as foundations want to help citizens be better consumers and participants in the processes of government and business. 
  3. Foundations in public policy: Increasingly, foundations have been moving into the public policy arena, not simply through their grantmaking, but their direct participation. Foundations partner with government at various levels, notably a recent spate of foundation engagements with the federal government in programs such as the Social Innovation Fund at the Corporation for National and Community Service and the “Race to the Top” in the Department of Education. In some cities, notably Detroit, where local government has taken a turn toward the dysfunctional, foundations are developing and running programs that in some ways are taking the place of the public sector. As foundations become direct players in the public arena, not simply supporting nonprofits to do so, foundations should be increasing the transparency the public needs about their operations.
  4. Increased accountability: At this time, there is a parallel debate going on about increasing the transparency of government data. Virginia Senator Mark Warner has introduced the DATA Act which would create standardized formats for reporting and publication of government spending data. The Act, as the Sunlight Foundation commented, “could help eliminate much government waste, fraud, and abuse, and make spending oversight much easier.” Better, expanded, standardized data makes oversight easier, it’s that logical.  But so much of the data reported in 990s is not particularly standardized and, when it comes to data on foundation investments, virtually uninterpretable.  That isn’t a reason to drop the data requirement.  It is to improve the reporting and formatting of data so that the public—and oversight agencies—can figure out what it contains. 
  5. Abuse of 501(c) confidentiality:  The nation faces an explosion of organizations—and money—seeking the 501(c) confidentiality for the only purpose of keeping the identities of the players pulling the levers of the political system secret.  Television commentator Dylan Ratigan suggests that “our political system has become an auction in which the highest bidder wins,” but the identities of the bidders are increasingly under wraps.  In other arenas, public agencies such as municipal governments and state universities are creating affiliated nonprofits and foundations with a purpose of reducing or removing a slice of their operations from public scrutiny and oversight.  If this nation is going to pursue greater freedom of information, we will, as Senator Warner suggests, need to have better mechanisms with which to “follow the money.” ( We have to better follow foundation moneys, too. 

Let’s face it that there is no discernible Congressional appetite for playing with the laws and regulations facing foundations right now.  Since foundations are overseen by the Internal Revenue Service—and in some measure by a number of states that have provided at least a semblance of staffing and support for charity oversight functions usually in their AG offices, though state attention only sporadically ever nears private foundations—not much is going to happen.  If there is more money for the Internal Revenue Service, it is logically going to go to expanding its capacity for dealing with its new responsibilities under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, not for oversight and enforcement activities regarding charities.  In general, there’s no money to be made by the IRS for chasing nonprofits and foundations, and like a sports agent looking for a contract, the IRS wants to be shown the money that it can generate through stepped up enforcement. 

Moreover, the IRS is not generally among the more popular of federal agencies.  The outcry against Maine Governor Paul LePage’s denunciation of the IRS as new Gestapo caused him to apologize to Jews, but not to IRS agents who might have been offended, and few in Congress stepped to the plate to defend the IRS.  Ways and Means Committee hearings into IRS operations have been held,  prompted in part by the complaints of Tea Party groups believing that their applications for 501(c)(4) social welfare status were being subjected to politically motivated IRS reviews. 

--Rick Cohen

About Transparency Talk

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