Transparency Talk

Category: "Research" (35 posts)

Building the Social Sector's Collective Brain Trust: Redesigned IssueLab Launched
June 23, 2016

(Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.)

Janet Camarena

Recently when I was helping my son cultivate his ant farm, I learned that a lone ant is a dead ant.  Ants are the ultimate collective, working in teams, and by doing so, they accomplish amazing feats that no lone ant alone could do. 

Do Ants Know Something Foundations Don’t?

As you may know from unwelcome encounters in your home, ants tend to move very effectively by moving in swarms.  They operate with what scientists call a “collective brain” or “swarm intelligence” that helps them share knowledge, move quickly over great distances, build bridges and highways, organize, and make collective decisions that accomplish tasks that they couldn’t do alone. 

"IssueLab’s relaunched website has almost 20,000 knowledge resources, covering 38 different issue areas, from 7,000+ organizations around the world."

Philanthropy by contrast is increasingly fragmented, with individual foundations developing and often holding lessons learned, strategic direction, and operating plans close to their vests. Yet, like ants, they are often trying to move proverbial mountains and accomplish goals that a single institution can’t do alone. So, is there something we can learn from the insect world, much like how observing bird flight informed and inspired the development of aircraft?  Can we observe insects to inform the development of collective intelligence?

There is hope here in that increasingly, philanthropy articles and conferences are turning to the theme of collective impact, and knowledge sharing, which are in many ways a departure from the current practice in philanthropy in which fragmentation - or the “lone ant” phenomenon - tends to be the prevailing norm. And there is also hope in the form of new tools that are available to you to help us all work smarter, provided we commit to take advantage of them.

Moving Toward a Collective Brain Trust

New tools recently launched by IssueLab may give us all a roadmap to how to go from struggling, lone ants to mighty ants. IssueLab’s relaunched website has almost 20,000 knowledge resources, covering 38 different issue areas, from 7,000+ organizations around the world. Each resource includes links to the full report, and helpful data, such as article abstracts, related articles, and author information. 

Many of these resources include lessons learned and were funded directly by foundations. Together, IssueLab resources represent one of the greatest assets of the social sector, provided they remain easily findable and usable by others.

The Path to Open Knowledge

Toward that end, IssueLab's relaunched website also includes helpful resources aimed at helping the social sector commit to creating a culture of open knowledge. The website includes recommended principles and also tactical practices that organizations can adopt to move toward this vision of a collective brain trust, from which we can all mutually benefit.

Given the critical connection between transparency and shared learning, earlier this year Glasspockets added Open Licensing to the "Who Has Glass Pockets?" transparency self-assessment profile. Since this is one of our newest elements, and it is an emerging practice among foundations, we want to draw particular attention to a set of tools now available on IssueLab's redesigned site that aim to demystify the path to open knowledge.

IssueLab breaks it down into the following practices:

  • Articulating an open knowledge policy; 
  • Using open licensing on all knowledge products; 
  • Using open knowledge repositories like IssueLab to catalog and better share your work; and 
  • Using a shared descriptive vocabulary, such as schema.org, on your organization’s website to make it easier to discover and index knowledge products.

To learn more about each practice, visit IssueLab's Open Knowledge area.

How Can We Know What Others Know?

And to continue building a bigger and bigger brain trust that truly represents the shared knowledge of our labors, the redesigned IssueLab also makes it easier for anyone to upload, find, and freely share research by providing metadata and links to original documents on publishers' websites.

New features include:

  • An improved interface that makes it easier and faster to upload research to IssueLab and share items via a website, blog, or on social media.
  • Filtered search, the ability to curate user libraries, and "what to read next" suggestions for related research.
  • The ability to use Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) to increase a document's long-term accessibility across the Internet and on archival sites like WorldCat, the world's largest library catalog.
  • Metadata such as keyword search, date published, geography, and language to facilitate powerful searching and browsing capabilities.

Visit IssueLab to start collecting, connecting, and sharing knowledge, and just maybe collectively moving mountains.

--Janet Camarena

Transparency Chat: CEP On Sharing What Matters
March 2, 2016

CEP_Ellie-ButeauEllie Buteau, Ph.D., is the vice president of research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), which received a grant from the Fund for Shared Insight (FSI). FSI is a multi-year collaborative effort among funders that pools financial and other resources to make grants to improve philanthropy. Transparency Talk is featuring grantees in the FSI openness portfolio. Janet Camarena, Foundation Center’s director of transparency, and Ms. Buteau discussed the findings of CEP's new report, "Sharing What Matters: Foundation Transparency."

Janet Camarena:  I'm going to start with what jumped out at me as surprising. The report lists time and inconsistencies across staff members as the most common barriers to greater foundation transparency.  Only 6% responded to your survey that a lack of commitment to transparency was a barrier and a full 24% responded that there was nothing specific that limited their foundation's transparency. Could this be because those surveyed are already predisposed to pushing the effectiveness envelope? Can you talk a little bit about the survey sample and how representative it might be? 

Ellie Buteau:  Yes, definitely. Response bias is always a top-of-mind question when we conduct a survey. The main bias we wondered about for this study was whether or not foundations that are already working on, and care about, transparency were more likely to respond. Unfortunately, we have no way of reliably measuring that. We did have data about a few other variables that were important to compare, including assets, giving, geographic location, etc. The main difference we saw was that foundations that have used one of CEP’s assessments (such as our Grantee Perception Report) in the past were more likely to respond to the survey. This is something we find in most of our survey samples. It doesn’t mean that foundations that haven’t used our assessments aren’t responding, but they are doing so at a lower rate. It could indicate, though, that foundations interested in gathering feedback on their performance were more likely to respond. We have more information about what we tested for response bias on page 45 of the report. 

JC:  I found it a little troubling that only 45% of CEOs of independent foundations view the general public as a relevant stakeholder group for their transparency efforts, yet the premise of philanthropy is that it is dedicated to serving the public good.  Did you also find this surprising? And any thoughts on the disconnect there?  

CEP_Foundation-Transparency_coverEB:  I did not find that surprising, and I’m not sure our data indicates that there is a disconnect between how foundations are thinking about certain aspects of transparency and serving the public good. If foundations are focused on being open with the nonprofits they fund and the nonprofits that may want funding from them in the future, that does seem like a pretty direct connection to serving the public good. After all, those are the organizations through which foundations are able to serve the public.

I think sometimes conversations about transparency suggest foundations should make sure they are sharing information with anyone and everyone. But that doesn’t seem like the most effective or efficient use of foundation resources. If people want to know what foundations are up to, most of the foundations of the size included in our study have websites or publicly available annual reports. Where I see real opportunity for foundations to do more is in sharing information about what does and doesn’t work in addressing the tough challenges they’re working to address. While that information itself may not be of interest to the general public, it can be applied in ways that benefit the general public.

JC:  Since the report points out that the philanthropy field is weak when it comes to sharing lessons learned and assessments of foundation performance, and since it also correlates stronger grantee-grantmaker relationships among foundations who have a tendency to be more transparent, will you be advocating that those who use your Grantee Perception Reports and other survey products share them?    Why or why not?

EB:  It’s up to foundations that use our Grantee Perception Report to decide whether to share their results publicly. Many, in fact, do, and almost all at least share a summary of what they learned. You can find on our website a list of those foundations that have made their GPRs public (scroll down on this page). I think it’s great when foundations are open in this way. But I don’t think that a foundation publicly sharing its GPR results is necessarily indicative of it doing more to respond to feedback or having strong relationships with its grantees.

JC:  Of the websites you examined, only 5% shared any information about lessons learned when things didn't go as planned.  Often this is because grantmakers fear harming the reputation of grantees or casting their work in a negative light.  Can you talk about how those grantmakers that were opening up this side of the work tackled that issue.

EB:  In the report, we share some examples of foundations being open about when things didn’t pan out as hoped. Those foundations do not name names of specific grantee organizations or tie results back to any individual organization. They seemed to share their lessons in a more general way, but still communicated enough specificity that others could learn from their experiences. I think their examples show that it’s possible to strike this balance.


JC:
 One of the struggles with the field and transparency is, of course, that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, once you start looking under the hood of foundation websites, patterns of emerging and best practices often surface.  Can you point to one or two transparency examples you uncovered that you wish others in the field would emulate?

EB:  Here is where we had a finding that did surprise me. I thought that perhaps the more information foundations shared on their websites, the more transparent they’d be seen to be by grantees. It turned out that was not borne out in the data. I think this is really important to consider: that the amount of information shared isn’t directly tied to perceptions of transparency. In my own experience, that makes sense. Sometimes, even when I know that a foundation has shared information about what it’s learned, I’ve had difficulty figuring out where to find that on a foundation’s website because there is so much other information on the site. I think what I’d suggest is that a focus be on how their websites can most effectively be used as a tool for sharing information that matters.  

 JC:  The last time CEP issued a report on transparency, it led to changes in the kinds of questions you include in your Grantee Perception Survey, which now includes questions specific to assessing perceptions about foundation transparency.  How will what you learned from this report impact your own work in the future? 

EB:  This research has given us a better understanding of how foundation CEOs, themselves, are thinking about transparency. It turns out there is a lot of agreement about what transparency means, so this research really validates the importance of the questions we added to our grantee survey a few years back. Transparency, especially about the substance of foundations’ work, is considered crucial by both grantees and foundation CEOs. Foundations and grantees are more aligned than they may realize when it comes to the information they think is important for foundations to share. Now it’s about foundations implementing — and really doing it well. Our research suggests they are doing well in some areas but not in others. We will build off of the findings in this study as we continue our research on other related topics. For example, we recently fielded a survey on evaluation practices at foundations, in partnership with the Center for Evaluation Innovation, and are seeing findings in that study that further build upon what we published in this report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Highlights of OPP’s blog posts include:

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

 

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

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

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

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

--Melissa Moy

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

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

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

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

From Glasspockets to Glass Skulls

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

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

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

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

Opening the Doors to Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

So What Next?

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

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

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

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

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

Are foundations using feedback loops? The Fund for Shared Insight has answers
May 14, 2015

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

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511bd210d970c-150wiThe Fund for Shared Insight (FSI) is all about opening up philanthropy. You might remember, we published blog posts earlier this year from its 2015 openness grantees--organizations that are working hard at making our sector more transparent. But FSI isn’t just encouraging their beneficiaries to promote openness: they aim to walk the talk themselves. Recently, they published a report, Feedback Loops and Openness: A Snapshot of the Field that looks at how (and if) foundations are using beneficiary feedback to improve their grantmaking.

FSI teamed up with ORS Impact, an evaluation firm, to do a landscape analysis across the philanthropy sector.  ORS’ current analysis focused on openness and beneficiary feedback loops and here is a summary of the key findings:

  • Foundations understand conceptually what beneficiary feedback loops mean, but few have strong internal practices for intentionally collecting and putting to use feedback that comes from "the people they seek to help";
  • The three most common barriers to implementing feedback loops into foundation practice are organizational capacity, organizational culture and technical challenges;
  • Prior to the launch of Fund for Shared Insight, ORS Impact found some instances of feedback-focused content in a broad based review of sector-related blogs, reports and publications but there is definite room for more voices discussing this work;
  • The two most common barriers to foundation openness are organizational culture, including a fear of sharing failures, followed by time and resources.

FSI_logoFSI reviewed the evaluation findings, and found that “while the baseline report indicates that nonprofits and foundations seem to be talking about feedback loops, there isn’t a widespread understanding of how to do it well, how to integrate it into practice, and how to take action based on the feedback.”

As FSI found, it can be scary for foundations to adopt a culture of openness. Sharing anecdotes about positive impact and success is always much easier since it feels good to share news when things are going well. But broadcasting defeats, failures, and tough lessons learned can be intimidating and gives many foundation leaders pause. But with FSI’s help, we’re excited to see a greater culture of willingness and courage develop around transparency and accountability. 

--Eliza Smith

Knowledge Services for Smarter Philanthropy
April 6, 2015

(Lisa Philp is the vice president for strategic philanthropy at Foundation Center. Find her on Twitter @howtogive. This post was originally featured on the GrantCraft blog.)

Lisa_Philp_180_180_s_c1I had some visitors to my Foundation Center office the other day, and I gave them a quick, behind-the-scenes tour.

In one corner, there was a stand-up “scrum” of our application development and strategic philanthropy staff checking in about a custom map showing early childhood funding for East Africa. Passing by an enclave, we overheard a Skype discussion with our knowledge management directors about sharing what funders have learned about effective immigration reform. Around another table, our researchers and data indexers used guidance from an advisory committee to figure out better ways to monitor philanthropy’s response to disasters.

Knowledge Services are data-driven tools and content-rich platforms developed by Foundation Center for funders and their networks, consultants, advisors, and grantees.

As a former philanthropic advisor and program officer (and affinity group board member and regional association staffer—yes, I’ve been working in philanthropy for a while!), I can’t help but get excited about the incredibly useful tools and platforms that emerge from this teamwork. At Foundation Center, we’ve started to refer to these types of projects as Knowledge Services.

In the past, I relied on my personal network, practical experience, and issue expertise to do my work. Believe me, there’s no replacing that. In the back of my mind, I sort of knew there had to be easier, less-redundant ways to find, create, and update what I needed to know. But I was constantly pressed for time, so I pushed those nagging thoughts aside and kept forging ahead. I’m psyched because I really think these Knowledge Services can transform the way that funders approach their work.

Data-Driven Tools and Content-Rich Platforms

Knowledge Services are data-driven tools and content-rich platforms developed by Foundation Center for funders and their networks, consultants, advisors, and grantees. Examples include:

  • Foundation Maps: a data visualization platform through which users can explore the world of philanthropy and that allows us to create custom options to further leverage its functionality and data;
  • Foundation Ideas: shareable collections of reports, evaluations, and case studies that can help a foundation understand what all foundations already know—saving time and money; and
  • Foundation Landscapes: issue-based web portals for scanning and collaboration that combine funding information, research, news, and stories in one place to enable funders and practitioners to make the most of what they are learning.

Freely Accessible

Research3Most of what falls under our Knowledge Services is accessible to the public at no charge. Foundations with passionate interests in specific issues, strategies, and geographies provide us with grants or contracts so we can create resources useful to them, fellow funders, grantees, and others working in the field. These interests include black male achievementcapacity buildingdisaster philanthropyfisherieshuman rightsLGBTQ fundingmediapalliative careU.S. democracywater, and youth philanthropy.

Some Knowledge Services are custom projects developed for partners and made available as a benefit exclusively to their constituents. A few are subscription-based.

A new section of Foundation Center’s website, foundationcenter.org/knowledgeservices, makes it easy to learn about our full set of offerings and explore specific components that pique your interest.

GrantCraft and Knowledge Services

Last week’s visitor tour revealed examples of our work in progress. A series of earlier scrums, Skypes, and cross-departmental work led to the latest round of Knowledge Services launches.

Over the past two weeks, Foundation Center released Foundation Maps Professional 2.0with a free trial offer, a Foundation Research analysis on funding for nonprofit and philanthropic infrastructure, a Foundation Landscapes portal filled with U.S. education-related reports, stats, lists, resources, and news, and a Foundation Ideas collection onAfrican giving.

Landscapes3In the next few weeks, we will complete three custom versions of Foundation Maps, publish two additional Foundation Research reports, wrap up another Foundation Ideascollection, and launch a new Foundation Landscapes portal.

We know that sorting through tools and platforms to find what’s useful in your work can be challenging. GrantCraft already provides convenient access through its strategy, issue, and content type (“Foundation Center Features”) tags; RSS feed; and e-newsletter. But with an increasing array of new projects coming online every week, we’re going to add additional coverage of Knowledge Services to GrantCraft to help you more easily engage with these resources.

Knowledge Services in Action

I love working with funders who don’t suppress their nagging thoughts about how philanthropy can work smarter. These folks recognize that information, analysis, and technology hold great promise for transforming a sector that talks about impact and effectiveness, but too often defaults to business as usual. We’re experimenting with several foundations on ways to infuse Knowledge Services into the daily routines of their staff, as vital supplements to whom and what they already know.

These donors—and like-minded philanthropy network staff, consultants, advisors, and grantees—aren’t Pollyannas; they know that behavioral change is hard and slow. But all of them, like those of us at Foundation Center, keep at it because the potential is so great.

--Lisa Philp

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

Glasspockets Webinar Series: Transparency and Technology Tools for Grantmakers
October 23, 2013

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

Rebecca Herman PhotoPublic expectation about what information is made available online is increasing at a rapid pace—whether you are operating in the public sector, the private sector or the social sector. For grantmakers, emerging online technologies and platforms also provide an array of new opportunities to be transparent about their approaches to philanthropy and the impact of their work.

Over the past few months, in partnership with California Philanthropy and the James Irvine Foundation, Glasspockets offered three webinars to help foundations take advantage of online tools and resources that address timely issues in philanthropy. Our Glasspockets webinar series for grantmakers explored how harnessing the power of transparency can facilitate greater collaboration, reduce duplication of effort, build stronger relationships with stakeholders, and cultivate a community of shared learning:

Check out these webinar recordings for tips on the newest transparency tools:

Equipping Your Foundation for the Age of Transparency and Big Data, presented by Foundation Center President Bradford K. Smith

Webinar1screenshotFINAL

Watch the webinar»

Are you ready for big data? Big data—the gathering of unprecedented amounts of digital information to understand trends and predict future behavior—is fundamentally changing the way we understand the world and make decisions. This webinar explores how grantmakers can use big data to inform their work. He also discusses how revolutionary changes in technology-fueled transparency, data access and data mining will have a profound impact on foundations of all sizes.

Sample tip: The field of philanthropy resembles an archipelago—islands that are far too isolated from each other, especially in this era of data-sharing. Foundations’ urge to be unique (and create their own “island”) creates disadvantages when it comes to harnessing big data, since each grantmaking program is speaking its own language. Stop trying to be unique!

What Do We Know? Tapping the Social Sector’s Collective Intelligence, presented by Gabi Fitz, Director of Knowledge Management Initiatives, The Foundation Center

Webinar2screenshotFINAL

Watch the webinar»

Our collective intelligence is one of our most valuable offerings as a field. Access to quality research provides the social sector with the ability to improve programs and strengthen funding initiatives. How can you amplify the impact of the knowledge you create, fund, and produce? This webinar addresses how social sector research can help your organization fulfill its mission; it also provides an introduction to IssueLab, the Foundation Center’s free database of more than 13,000 white papers, case studies, and evaluations.

Sample tip: How can you make your knowledge more accessible? In addition to putting your research on your website and disseminating it to your networks, add a copy to IssueLab—a resource that we see as the public library of the social sector. You many also consider open licensing for your research, so that it to be used more widely. Make sharing research your default, not the exception!

Transparency 2.0: Foundations in the Age of Social Media, presented by Jereme Bivens, former Digital Strategy and Emerging Media Manager, The Foundation Center

Webinar3screenshotFINAL

Watch the webinar»

Learn how social media tools can help you improve information flow, interact with partners and stakeholders, and operate more transparently. This webinar shares proven techniques to stay on top of industry trends, participate in mission-related conversations, communicate effectively with your teammates, and reduce your e-mail and meeting schedule. The webinar also discusses organizations who are leading in social media, as well as new tools to track and measure your social media campaigns.

Sample tip: Google Analytics gives you information about how many people visit your website, where they are coming from, which pages they went to, and even more. For instance, are they accessing your website from a mobile device, even though your website is not mobile-friendly? There is also a new section in Google Analytics to help you identify which social media platforms are getting people to your website.

If you are interested in other transparency tools, let us know! We thank our Glasspockets webinar series sponsor, The James Irvine Foundation, and our webinar partners: Northern California Grantmakers, San Diego Grantmakers and Southern California Grantmakers.

-- Rebecca Herman

How the Reporting Commitment Leverages Philanthropy's Efforts to Solve Pressing Social Problems
August 26, 2013

(Leila Walsh is director of communications for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a private foundation with investments in criminal justice, education, public accountability, and research integrity.)

Walsh-200When the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) evaluates its grants, we measure our success against a variety of metrics designed to answer one fundamental question: Are we actually making a difference? When the answer is "yes," we are eager to do more of what's working and share our successes. If the answer is "no," we must learn from the experience and tell others about the results so they can learn from our failures. The Reporting Commitment is an important part of that process. It provides a forum to share grant information openly, transparently, and in real time. Along with the 16 other participating foundations, we will report our grants on a regular basis. You will see the groups that we are supporting as well as the amount, duration, and purpose of the grants.

We joined the effort because we believe the Reporting Commitment is helping to accelerate and better leverage philanthropy's efforts to address some of society's most persistent problems. It makes it easier to track overlapping interests and allows us to find ways to collaborate as part of a thorough and systemic effort.

We joined the effort because we believe the Reporting Commitment is helping to accelerate and better leverage philanthropy's efforts to address some of society's most persistent problems. It makes it easier to track overlapping interests and allows us to find ways to collaborate as part of a thorough and systemic effort. The Reporting Commitment also provides an opportunity to identify funding gaps, which is also critical because it gives us a better understanding of what hasn't been tried. When we discover ideas that are untested, we examine them through a rigorous evaluation process and then scale them if they prove to be effective. By examining all angles of a problem and all possible solutions, we are able to maximize opportunities for impact.

The Wall Street Journal recently called LJAF's entrepreneurial, data-driven approach to philanthropy "The New Science of Giving." We harness data and promote open access to information through each of our initiative areas. Here are a few examples of such projects:

  • LJAF's Criminal Justice team has developed and is piloting a risk assessment tool that uses data and analytics to help predict whether an individual will come back to court, whether he or she will commit a new crime, and whether he or she will commit a new crime of violence.
  • LJAF's Public Accountability team is supporting low-cost, randomized controlled trial evaluations of social programs that help government better compare and contrast among competing policy options and concentrate resources on what works.
  • LJAF's Research Integrity initiative is improving the reliability and validity of scientific evidence by investing in organizations that are committed to improving openness, transparency, and quality of research.

Because we recognize the power of data and measurable outcomes, we support the Reporting Commitment and encourage other foundations to join it. By collectively being transparent about our work and impact, we have a greater chance of producing innovative, effective solutions that will indeed make a difference and improve the lives of individuals and society as a whole.

--Leila Walsh

Explore grants by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation
and the 16 other participating foundations»

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About Transparency Talk

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

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

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