Transparency Talk

Category: "Research" (32 posts)

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

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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

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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

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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»

Advice on Archives from a Knowledge Manager: A Q&A with Alan Divack
March 28, 2013

(Alan S. Divack is Senior Project Manager for Archives and Knowledge Management at the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program. He was a guest at the recent Philanthropy New York forum, "How Will Your Foundation's Story Be Told in 100 Years: Why Archives Matter," which was chronicled in a blog post here.)

Divack-100Transparency Talk (TT): You mentioned at the forum that electronic data presents new challenges and opportunities for archival preservation, including the challenge of capturing data generated with changing hardware and software. How have these changes affected the functionality of archives in relation to the transparency of information for researchers?

“I think that foundations, as public trusts, are under an obligation (still undefined) to make their information public. The 990s alone just don’t cut it.”

Alan Divack (AD): The changes affect every aspect of records preservation and use of the material.  I think that impact on transparency depends on these other fundamental issues. In order to keep electronic records available over time, institutions have three basic options: 1) the hardware and software platforms necessary for their use must be preserved; 2) the records must be converted to a more generic format more likely to be useable in the future (migration); or 3) systems must be developed that will enable future hardware and software systems to imitate the functionality of the original systems (emulation). Of these, 2 and 3 are the most promising, but each requires substantial planning and investments. If these investments are not made, the records will not be usable in the future and they become completely opaque to researchers.

TT: Based on your work to create the Global Archives at the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program, how can archives enable foundations to further their international human rights work? What documents or data are most important for facilitating a successful archival system in this area, and what are the risks involved with preserving and providing access to this information?

AD: I would actually flip this around and encourage foundations interested in human rights work to consider funding archival programs. A lot of human rights work depends on accurate documentation of offenses. When states or non-state actors commit offenses, it is often up to the non-governmental organization (NGO) sector to document what has happened, and then to preserve this documentation so that it can be used for both mobilization and individual redress. The Ford Foundation has worked with many grantees, particularly in Latin America, on this and I think that there is room for such programs in other regions as well.

TT: According to a new study by The Commonwealth Fund, “The Archives of U.S. Foundations: An Endangered Species,” 80 percent of foundations with archives are not keeping important e-mail messages, and more than half are not preserving Web site information. As a specialist in digitization and electronic records, what value can be gained by archiving e-mail and Web site data and what is lost by deleting it?

AD: I think that the full record format in most organizations is actually e-mail plus attachment. A report or memo may be saved in electronic format, but it leaves a lot of questions. Why was it written? For whom? How was it received? I once cataloged a hard-copy report recommending a new line of work for a foundation. It turns out the recommendations were set aside, but it was impossible to determine this from the documentary record. I only found this out later from talking to some of those involved. A thread of e-mails can provide a tremendous amount of information about the documents that they convey. E-mails tend to be less formal and controlled than other organizational records and therefore present particular challenges, more for cultural than technological reasons. While they are certainly valuable for internal use, organizations may want to be more cautious about their use by the research public. One possible approach is to restrict their use to on-site in research archives, rather than making them available with other electronic resources over the Internet.

Web content is sort of the flip side in that the challenges are more technical than cultural. Because most of it is vetted and designed for public consumption, Web content presents few access/confidentiality problems. The problems with Web content arise because it is changed rapidly and because of the networked nature of the document. What a user sees on a Web page may come from several different sources, and the result may be unusable unless all of the sources are transferred to the archives and linked appropriately. One resource worth exploring is Internet Archive, which  tries to archive Web sites and would probably not only be happy to archive a foundation’s Web content, but would also do it better. 

TT: According to John Craig, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of The Commonwealth Fund, most institutions do not archive declined proposals. Can foundations or researchers gain knowledge from these proposals, and should they be preserved?

AD: I think that for the most part, foundations are making the right decision on this. In my experience, most large foundations fund very few unsolicited proposals. However, they often get large numbers. I don’t see the long-term value in preserving inquiries that are often tangential to a foundation’s work. In general, proposals and partners are actively solicited by program staff in their fields. These proposals are the end-product of long conversations and interactions, and are very different from most received by a foundation. There are two exceptions to this: responses to Requests-For-Proposals, which are likely to be related to specific foundation initiatives, and cases where foundations actually do fund a large proportion of unsolicited proposals.

TT: Can you give us an example, or tell a story, about how foundation archives have been used to improve philanthropic work in the U.S. or abroad?

Just as, due to the complexities of social change, it can be difficult to attribute specific instances of change to foundation programs, it is difficult to cite uses of foundation archives with specific impact. However, I can refer to a number of research projects from my time at the Ford Foundation where the use of the archives may have helped change how the foundation approached its programming: an evaluation of programs in international relations, which included significant archival research, led to a reorientation of the foundation’s international programs. In a similar field, but with a narrower geographic focus, I believe that a highly critical report questioning the impacts of the foundation’s programs on dialogues between India and Pakistan led the foundation to redirect its resources there. More broadly, on the topic of evaluation and reflection, few foundations have the resources or the attention span to reflect on the long-term impact of their programs. By making their records available to the research public, there are scholars who will do that for them and contribute to knowledge in the fields that foundations continue to care about. 

TT: Do you think that archives help foundations to tell their own stories versus having others tell their stories for them?

AD: It is not an either/or but rather a both. When I worked at the Ford Foundation archives, I think a majority of our research use was for foundation staff. Although communications staff were major users (telling the story), the largest group were program staff. There was little institutional memory, and this was a niche that the archives occupied. With broad availability of a robust intra-net within the foundation, this has changed. Most program staff information needs are for relatively recent information (let’s say the past decade) and enough of this is available electronically from the intranet, rather than from the archives, to meet these needs. 

TT: What are the best access policies to balance the needs of both researchers and foundations?

AD: There is no single best policy. I think that foundations, as public trusts, are under an obligation (still undefined) to make their information public. The 990s alone just don’t cut it. However, I think that just because information or records should be made available, they do not have to be made available immediately and without restriction. In fact, if there are no restrictions and the presumption is that all records should be open to researchers at once, I think that records creators are less likely to create, capture, and maintain the kinds of information that will be of use to researchers, even in the near future. Access policies should balance the needs of the public and researchers to know in the medium term with the necessity of organizations to conduct business and make decisions in the short term.

One way in which I think electronic records will complicate this going forward is the extent to which they might be made universally available over the internet. The access challenges may be more cultural than technological. Institutions had a certain degree of comfort with historical records being used in analog form in a controlled setting. The open frontier of the internet is something else entirely.

-- Alan Divack

"Million Dollar List" Promotes Transparency Through Publicly Accessible Data
January 28, 2013

Jacqueline Ackerman

(Jacqueline Ackerman is the project coordinator for the Million Dollar List at the Indiana University School of Philanthropy.)

The Million Dollar List is the largest free record of publicly reported charitable donations of $1 million or more made in the United States since 2000.

Million Dollar List

Via an interactive website, the Indiana University School of Philanthropy offers this information as a database available to the general public. Users can download the entire database or portions of it, customize searches for their particular interests, and find trends and statistics about giving at this level at www.milliondollarlist.org. The Million Dollar List provides gift-level philanthropic data, rather than overall information about how much a specific donor gives or a particular nonprofit receives.

On the Million Dollar List website, users can search for information by donor or recipient organization, type of donor or nonprofit, gift size, and date. The interactive website also maps gifts by state for both donors and recipients. The list is the most comprehensive database of its kind, and to date includes more than 68,000 gifts.

The Million Dollar List is useful to a variety of audiences:

Donors value transparency and are driving the trend, requiring more information of themselves, their foundations, and the nonprofits they benefit.

High net worth donors. The Million Dollar List provides high net worth donors and their advisors with a place to better understand and visualize current high-dollar giving and more strategically plan their own giving. They can see which organizations working on causes in which they are interested have received large gifts, and where gaps in funding may exist. The Million Dollar List can also help donors find where other donors are giving at this level, and identify possible opportunities for leveraging their giving or engaging in peer-to-peer learning. For example, a donor wishing to combat domestic sex trafficking used the Million Dollar List to identify other donors who give to organizations addressing this issue. Through the Million Dollar List, this donor was able to connect with others to determine the most effective way to give.

Nonprofits. The Million Dollar List can help nonprofit organizations understand who is giving high-dollar gifts to similar groups, and look at the big picture of giving to specific nonprofit subsectors. An environmental nonprofit in Colorado, for example, could find out which similar organizations donors are supporting at this level and might want to consider developing relationships or partnerships with those organizations to increase their collective impact.

General public and the media. Finally, the Million Dollar List provides a wealth of information about million-dollar-plus giving that is of interest to the general public. The huge amount of data in the Million Dollar List has inspired a number of research projects and forthcoming papers. Basic findings using data from 2000-2010 can be found here.

Perhaps the most significant benefit of the Million Dollar List is that it promotes transparency in philanthropy. Donors value transparency and are driving the trend, requiring more information of themselves, their foundations, and the nonprofits they benefit. About two-thirds of the gifts on the Million Dollar List are from foundations, providing a boost to transparency in giving by foundations of all types.

Donors have provided their own information to the Million Dollar List in order to help provide a clearer picture of patterns and trends in million dollar gifts. At the same time, the Million Dollar List’s transparency offers donors the opportunity to leverage and coordinate their giving in supporting particular organizations or causes.

I invite you to explore the Million Dollar List online to learn more and see how you can use this information.

-- Jacqueline Ackerman

 

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.

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About Transparency Talk

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

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