Transparency Talk

Category: "Social Media" (35 posts)

Give for Good: Telling Your Corporate Philanthropy Story
October 11, 2017

Debbie Johnson is author of  Give for Good: A How-to-Guide for Business Giving.

2x3Debbie IMG 008I have been devoted to philanthropy for a long time because I love it. But when I think about what I enjoy the most, it’s learning about the lives that are changed and the impact of the work. As a result, I’m a big fan of telling your philanthropy story, loud and clear. While humility may lead you to keep your philanthropy anonymous because you don’t want to “toot your own horn” or perhaps to avoid being flooded with requests, being transparent with well-told stories about the positive results of giving back can be very inspirational for other businesses, engaging for employees, and also help your favorite causes to build momentum.

So it’s important to tell your story both internally within the company and externally to the public.

Salesforce Group photo

Internal Communication

Cone LLC, a noted strategy and communications firm, found that 87 percent of Americans’ job loyalty would increase if their company supported activities that would improve society. Internally telling your story allows employees to see themselves and their co-workers doing good in the world by giving back, generating pride in the knowledge that their company helps improve the community.

There are many ways to share your good work with your staff: company newsletters, meetings, blogs, on your website, in social media, at new hire orientations, and visually around the office.

Salesforce, the San Francisco-based cloud computing company, is a great example of a corporation that gives back and makes it a big deal. Salesforce was ranked #1 in the 2017 Fortune 50 Best Workplaces for Giving Back. Its hub offices have large framed photos of employees volunteering all around the world.  These pictures are obtained from “Aloha Ambassadors,” employees who are passionate about their culture. These ambassadors plan volunteer events and then get points for taking pictures and posting them in Chatter, Salesforce’s internal collaboration tool. The points can be used for prizes such as Salesforce t-shirts and hoodies. What a great way to visually show the company’s culture of giving back!

Facebook Screen Shot No CropExternal Communication

Communicating externally is critical so that others know about a company’s generosity and culture of corporate citizenship. According to a Cone LLC survey, 80 percent of US adults favor brands that are socially responsible over others of similar price and quality that aren’t associated with charitable causes, and further, nearly 20 percent would switch to a more expensive brand to support a good cause. However, if you don’t get the word out about your good work, consumers won’t know to choose your brand.

There are also many methods for communicating your good deeds externally, including your website, in social media, in customer or public newsletters, at shareholder meetings, in external blogs, in company brochures, via public relations and industry publications. The Glasspockets’ transparency self-assessment tool provides a helpful roadmap with many ideas for how corporate philanthropy can open up its work. Human interest stories and photos are highly engaging, so use storytelling for maximum effect.

Rackspace, the San Antonio-based managed cloud provider, has a very active employee volunteer group and shares information about its activities and volunteering through a dedicated communications portal, Rack Gives Back.  Rack Gives Back also has a knack for communicating with followers.

Newsletter ScreenshotSalesforce, too, shares its 1:1:1 social responsibility plan externally through its website. The Salesforce 1:1:1 model is about integrating corporate philanthropy by encouraging businesses to pledge to give 1% of its product, time, and resources to philanthropy from an early stage. This example is unique, because it’s clear that Salesforce is not just aiming to highlight stories about its giving, but also trying to grow a movement by motivating corporate peers to prioritize giving.

And you don’t need to be a Fortune 500 company to share these stories. Another good example of sharing giving news comes from Austin-based sign maker, BuildASign, which supported relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey victims then told their customers and followers about it in a colorful newsletter.

Last but not least, another great way to share your philanthropy story is through an annual giving report posted to your website. Many companies are now realizing the importance of including corporate giving close-ups in these reports. Here are a few examples:

  1. HP sets up access to its report by stating the importance of transparency
  2. Procter and Gamble uses its report to share its community impact
  3. Unilever provides ongoing progress on its sustainable living hub

These are only a few examples of how companies are increasingly using internal and external platforms to share the good that they are doing in the world.

How are you telling your story?

--Debbie Johnson

Give For Good Book CoverGive for Good: A How-to-Guide for Business Giving

Learn more about Debbie Johnson and Sam Woolard's book Give for Good: A How-to-Guide for Business Giving.  In the book, Johnson brings her business expertise and extensive nonprofit volunteering to bear, helping clients be strategic in their philanthropy.  

True Board Engagement: How openness and access to board conversations has changed Creating the Future
April 23, 2015

(Karl Wilding is the director of public policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the umbrella body for charities and the volunteer movement in England. Justin Pollock the principal and founder of Orgforward, a community-focused consultancy working with organizations and their leadership to build the capacity to sustain thriving communities. Both Karl and Justin are Creating the Future board members.)

””

Karl Wilding

””

Justin Pollock

It’s a widely held maxim that sunlight, read as transparency and openness for the purpose of this post, is the best disinfectant. While true, we feel this view has an unfortunate undertone of emphasising the negative: greater transparency is needed in order to prevent and/or catch wrongdoing. It focuses attention on what we hope to avoid rather than what we hope is possible.

At Creating the Future, rather than thinking of sunlight as that thing that disinfects, we embrace the photosynthetic view that letting the light in allows for growth and transformation. We recognize our role in supporting thriving communities and believe that the community should have a role in creating our success at all levels of the organization. Though Creating the Future is not a grantmaking foundation, we believe that all organizations, including foundations, gain by opening up to and actively engaging the communities we are passionate about and that we profess we serve.

In a conversation about boards and governance recently, someone remarked to one of us that “transparency can be transformational,” and it’s this sort of thinking that powers Creating the Future’s approach to leadership, trusteeship, and governance. Beyond just being transparent – allowing people to see us, we are open – people can actually interact with us and influence our growth in real time.  This approach to governance is open, not just in the sense of visibility, but open to challenge, praise, and, since board members live stream from various places around the world, the occasional ribbing for the state of our living rooms and barking dogs (how much more “real life” can it get than that?).

We use Twitter, monitoring our hashtag during the meeting, to encourage people to share their curiosity and brilliance so we can respond in real time to the ideas that break us out of the group-think commonly found when people of like passions gather.

All well and good in theory. But what does this really look like in practice and what does it make possible for us as trustees and anyone else interested in the work of the organization we serve?

In practice, our board meetings are entirely open, end to end. We leverage Creating the Future’s presence online. Prior to every monthly board meeting, our board chair posts a blog providing the context and agenda for our upcoming meeting, our operational leaders post video progress reports, and you can find a link to our upcoming meeting which are all live-broadcast using Google Hangouts.

We use Twitter, monitoring our hashtag during the meeting, to encourage people to share their curiosity and brilliance so we can respond in real time to the ideas that break us out of the group-think commonly found when people of like passions gather. But it doesn’t stop there: most board meetings, we invite a guest to take part in the broadcast in the anticipation that they might just lead us to change the questions that we’re asking ourselves. And if you missed something and want to know what happened next, or would like to check back on something we did, we’re in plain sight - all the meetings are archived and available on the website.

And  anyone can see this. In fact, the world gets to see it at the same time as we can, and it’s the internet, so they can share their opinions and thoughts freely. Now, we understand that this might be heresy to a foundation, in which board meetings often include sensitive topics such as grantee deliberations, however, board meetings also include strategy, planning, and policy discussions, which are exactly the conversations that thrive at Creating the Future through this open model. Thankfully the web makes it easy to segment out each part.

You might be wondering what is the value of this approach and how does it ultimately help us?What does all this effort make possible?

For us as board members, the most powerful thing about openness is that it fosters conversations where there is nothing to hide and therefore nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed by (we are sure that there is some social science that helps explain this – but we just feel it in our bones).

At the top of our list: better conversations that lead to better decisions. We think this might be one of the most compelling reasons for foundations to consider, since foundations are in the business of decision-making and idea generation. What does that look like? We actually dialog with one another, asking better informed questions, hearing different perspectives and reflections, getting positive affirmation, and gaining more confidence in the decisions we make. The last bit is important: we’re all human, taking on leadership as a trustee isn’t always easy, so it’s nice to get a bit of praise for a decision we’ve made.

For us as board members, the most powerful thing about openness is that it fosters conversations where there is nothing to hide and therefore nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed by (we are sure that there is some social science that helps explain this – but we just feel it in our bones). Any decision we make has been vetted and thought through. The assumptions that can often go unidentified when making decisions are all brought into the open so that we, in our leadership roles, deeply understand the implications and rationale behind the actions and decisions we make. Personally, we love this aspect as it encourages our own growth and strengthens our resolve around the beliefs and values we hold.

Next is the thing we often hear is missing - better engagement. We’re all in one way or another seeking to better engage board members, beneficiaries, and stakeholders. For us, this is at the foundation of our work. We know we are “better together” when we can draw on the abundant wisdom that is out there. So involving stakeholders and other interested people in the leadership and governance of Creating the Future is pretty much saying to them that they are as important as us – it’s not about the people in the room, but rather about the ideas, plans, and actions that result from the gathering.

CreatingtheFutureLogoB&W492x104Finally, we find openness raises trust – among each other as trustees, with the community that supports us, and with the staff that work tirelessly to facilitate the execution of our strategy. Everyone has an opportunity to shape decisions and everyone can see we’re just ordinary people, not some nonprofit rock stars or even mysterious alchemists who work in dark smoky rooms. And we reckon ultimately that engagement and trust build capacity: people want to join us on the journey because they realize they can be part of it in meaningful ways.

The skeptics at this point are probably wondering: what could go wrong? What about sensitive issues, confidentiality, or errant voices? This is straightforward: there’s always going to be stuff we want to think or talk about without the world watching, and for that we allow for closed sessions. And we  do this transparently as well, acknowledging the rationale each time it is needed. We think people appreciate us for being honest and up front about that. And for those  who may fear negative comments or hijacked conversations, all we can say is that it just doesn’t happen. Rather than taking us in a direction we don’t want to go, external voices elucidate new paths that we excitedly travel down and may not have seen because of the inherent nature of “group think.”

We honestly have not experienced anything scary: openness has become mundane, with many of us shedding the nervousness that comes from thinking about the fact that the world could be watching. This is a good thing, unless you are offended by seeing an untidy living room or a person eating their lunch.

Things have occasionally gone wrong: the technology is the obvious candidate, with broadband connections dropping out. But this is part of the warp and weave of normal life, and we’ve found people stick with us. In fact, the biggest risk is that no one cares, no one’s watching. And if that’s the case you may well have some bigger issues to contend with, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

Our aim is to tip the scales from the common practice of making openness rare and exclusivity common (think of most every board meeting you’ve been to), to making exclusivity that rare bird that is hard to find. In fact, we honestly have not experienced anything scary: openness has become mundane, with many of us shedding the nervousness that comes from thinking about the fact that the world could be watching. This is a good thing, unless you are offended by seeing an untidy living room or a person eating their lunch.

Openness is our “not-so-secret sauce.” Maybe it’s just the people around the virtual table, maybe it’s keeping the meetings open to guests, or just the sense that we’re visible, but the meetings are highly enjoyable and stimulating; plus, we get business done. We think opening up gives boards more vitality, richer conversations, and better engagement.  And we reckon fear of failure, of “getting found out,” is the biggest barrier to opening up. So foundations: be brave, join us for one of our board meetings to see how we roll, then hopefully try this format for yourself. You have nothing to lose but your broadband connection. 

--Karl Wilding and Justin Pollock 

Getting Down to Social Media Brass Tacks
March 18, 2015

(Sally Crowley is the communications director for The John R. Oishei Foundation.)

Sally Crowley In my two previous posts, I wrote about the importance of using social media as part of an integrated communications plan and how to build a solid strategy.

This week, it’s time to talk tactics. One of the things I love about social media is that there’s always something new to try. Here are a few relatively current tricks of the trade.

Post or send at peak viewing times, based on the outlet. 

Twitter usage is highest on weekends and on weekdays between 12 -3 pm. Facebook is stronger on weekdays, mainly from 6-8 am and 2-5 pm.

Email blasts are said to be best sent at 9:30am or 2:30pm on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. We found our open rates were highest at 9:30am on Wednesday. Test what works best for you and stick with it.

During weekdays, post or send about 5-10 minutes before or after the hour, when people are just back or just heading off to a meeting.

Sally Crowley's Blog Post ArtAdd a photo or video to every post.

You can actually double the reach of your posts by including a picture or video.  If you need visuals, try Freepik or make a visual of your own, like I did here using Canva. In fact, the list of sites providing no or low-cost graphics and photos is as long as Rip Van Winkle’s beard. BufferSocial lists 53 viable options on its blog. Don’t be shy. I used to think you could only tweet one picture at a time, but you can add up to four pictures per tweet. And, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. So, cut your text and say more with less.

You can actually double the reach of your posts by including a picture or video... And, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. So, cut your text and say more with less.

“It’s not about you.”

Keep people’s interest by mixing up your content. Don’t just talk about your own activities. Sprinkle in links to articles about what’s new in philanthropy, what’s new in your community and how to find out more about the hottest fundraiser of the year. Share others’ posts that relate to your work and your funding. The result: more engagement and wider reach for your organization!

Don’t get in over your head.

If you’re like us here at The John R. Oishei Foundation, you have limited communications staff. It’s tough to join every new social media outlet that pops up. Focus on the best matches for your organization and your staff’s capacity. It’s better to choose a few outlets and maintain them well than to stretch yourself too thin across 20 sites.

Remember to Be Human.

Some of our most highly-read posts are about our staff members or about people that we have helped in some way with our funding or our philanthropic support. we all want to relate to others in a personal way. After all, even though we work in the “business” of philanthropy, isn’t it all really meant to help people live better lives?

What have you tried that’s worked well in the social media scene? 

--Sally Crowley

Building Your Social Skills
February 18, 2015

(Sally Crowley is the communications director for The John R. Oishei Foundation.)

Sally Crowley Last month, I wrote about some of the benefits of using social media as part of an integrated communications plan for foundations.

This month, I’d like to share a few of the lessons we learned, as well as our process for outlining and implementing different social media strategies, at The John R. Oishei Foundation.

Once I had buy-in from my teammates to dip our toes into “social waters,” we started by taking a look at what other foundations were doing.  We used the defined peer group that we are benchmarked against in the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Grantee Perception Report. We found that some of our peers were very active in social outlets and others had very minimal presence. Promotion of foundation, grantee and partner events was a very common practice as was the sharing of news/media releases.

Being relative social “newbies,” we kept our objectives simple: increase awareness of the foundation’s goals and activities and support and promote our grantees and partners.

We then defined objectives that supported our foundation’s mission which is to be a catalyst for change to enhance the economic vitality and quality of life for the Buffalo Niagara region through grantmaking, leadership and network building. Being relative social “newbies,” we kept our objectives simple: increase awareness of the foundation’s goals and activities and support and promote our grantees and partners. Next, we fleshed out our strategy. A well-defined strategy is key to earning strong audience engagement.  We used the old-fashioned communications framework-- the 5 W’s: who, where, what, when and why. We identified:

Timing (when): We created a rough target schedule that defines how often we post content. We shoot for at least two postings per week, every week. This is minimal by most standards, but we wanted a goal we knew we could meet given our small staff. It also helps us keep content “post worthy.”

Types of content (what): We found it critical to keep our content manageable and somewhat easy to obtain and share. We work with countless grantees, partners and leaders who host a plethora of events, seminars, luncheons…you name it. So we decided that posts in support of events and community happenings would be at the top of our content list. News about Oishei, other foundations and philanthropy in general were next on our potential content list. Photo albums and links to videos from our grantees and of our own staff and board out in the community fill out most our ongoing needs. When this type of content gets scarce, we proactively look for infographics about philanthropy and positive local happenings such as art openings and seasonal celebrations.

Who within our organization will provide/develop/post content: In order to maintain our brand identity and consistent “voice” we agreed that posting would be limited to me, the communications director, and our knowledge management officer. We are a relatively small, close-knit group, with just nine full-time staffers, so we work very closely together on many major foundation initiatives. Program officers often supply us with input about grantees, news, etc. that we morph into posts.

We found it critical to keep our content manageable and somewhat easy to obtain and share.

Where: We again stuck with basics for now: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. In order to maximize our reach and frequency, we’ve linked our Facebook page so that all of our posts are automatically “tweeted.”  We are considering hiring a social media company to take us to the next level, but hesitate to use our funds for that purpose. Our team is inherently frugal -- we’d rather use the funds for grants, mission-related investing, convening and other efforts that improve our community at this point.

“Why” circles back to the objectives we started with!

Lastly, we review the amazing analytics available from social media outlets to track our progress and tweak our strategies as we go along. We’ve seen that the most viewed posts for us are media releases, published articles and photo albums of on-site grantee tours.

What strategies have worked for you? Are you considering hiring a social media company to handle this type of communications for your organization?

--Sally Crowley

Losing the Social Anxiety
January 26, 2015

(Sally Crowley is the communications director for The John R. Oishei Foundation.)

Sally Crowley When I first suggested to our organization that we enter the social media scene a few years ago, my colleagues and I shared anxiety about it.

Would it be worth our time to tweet? Will we open ourselves up to criticism or attack? How could we use the social outlets effectively?

I reminded myself and my team of two of our strategic goals: "to better communicate our work and role to the community" and "to serve as a leader, convener and network builder."

I did not want us to be thinking at the "tactical level," which can be easy to do when it comes to communications. After serving on nonprofit boards and spending many years as a communications consultant, I was used to pulling folks out of the "tactical basement." My peers and I have a name for the often-requested tactic-without-objective. We call it a "COULDN'TCHA JUST."

"COULDN'TCHA JUST write a press release? COULDN'TCHA JUST do a flyer? Or a billboard?"

Social media allows us to inexpensively promote not just our own events, activities, and programs, but also those of our grantees and community partners.

The answer is NO. Wildly created tactical communications can actually be effective, but it is RARE and based upon, pretty much, pure luck.

I am a firm believer that effective marketing communications stem from clearly defined goals and a well-thought-out communications plan. One of the first steps in developing a yearly communications plan is writing a situation analysis that includes an environmental scan, or a review of the "market," in which one looks for best practices, benchmarks, and the newest trends.

In our scan, we found that social media has many benefits for foundations. The reach is amazing, and the promotional costs are minimal when compared to traditional paid media. The numbers we found were astounding...

  • 72% of all internet users are active on social media
  • 18-29 year olds average 89% usage with 30-49 year olds at 72%
  • 60% of 50-60 year olds and 43% of age 65+ plus are active
  • Facebook has over 1.15 billion users, with 23% logging in at least 5 times per day
  • Twitter has over 550 million registered users, 215 million of which are active
  • Pinterest has 20 million active monthly users
  • Instagram counts 150 million active monthly users
  • LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, Vine, Slideshare and others also continue to grow in popularity

In addition, most social media is easy to track, so we can see what topics our audiences are most interested in, and what types of content and media are most effective.

Social media allows us to inexpensively promote not just our own events, activities, and programs, but also those of our grantees and community partners.

We're reaching out to our audiences rather than simply building a website where we hope "they will come."

Plus, we've created a two-way dialogue, one where anyone interested in our work and/or our community can comment and share a photo, video, or link. We're reaching out to our audiences rather than simply building a website where we hope "they will come." We're using social media to drive folks to our website, maximizing our substantial investment in a content-management-driven, open source, cutting-edge website.

However, the use of social media, and any communications tactic, is most effective when used as part of a strategic, integrated, thoughtful communications plan.

If you haven't taken the "social" plunge, and it's a tactic that comes out of your long-term plan in support of your mission, then it's time to take the leap!

-- Sally Crowley

Through The Looking Glass: The Tactics and Importance of Transparency
July 2, 2014

(Epaminondas Farmakis is the President and CEO of elpis Philanthropy Advisors and serves as Program Director of the EEA Grants NGO Programme for Greece. A version of this post originally appeared in The Huffington Post.)

HeadShot2Many in the developed world take for granted that NGOs and non-profit foundations follow the highest standards of transparency when they dispense funding. Access to data is a pre-requisite for all organizations that apply for, and receive, either public or private funding. Grantees must share their funding sources and publicize their activities and results through their websites, newsletters and social media profiles. Indeed, this reporting and sharing of results compose a large part of how those organizations solicit and secure additional funds for future work.

When considering grant requests, foundation program officers look for certain information, and the applicant’s web presence is essential to that search. Program officers must assess how active the organization is and whether donors have access to results and metrics. The level of local community engagement can also play a role depending on the nature of the applicant’s work.

Funding applicants expect scrutiny and understand the need and power of telling their stories in ways that both ensure transparency and support development goals. But what about funders? Shouldn’t they hold the same high standards of openness that they request from prospective grantees?

It’s a bit of a double-edged sword—how much should funders reveal, and is it possible to reveal too much? However, it’s only fair to ask foundations to address the same issues that grantees have to navigate. Applicants that resist transparency risk losing funding or clients. Historically in traditional philanthropy, closed off funders had nothing to lose. But the current environment of open source platforms, social media and easily accessible data and analytics urges a new model of public collaboration. Resources such as GrantCraft, an online tool provided by The Foundation Center, offer many examples of how foundations and donors may adopt full transparency in their work.

Publicizing clear guidelines and selection processes translates to better grant requests, and sharing of internal data and reports with other funders results in a more efficient philanthropic practice. Foundations and donors need to make a choice: Will they continue to do their business behind closed doors or share their practices with the community?

And the benefits are plentiful, too. Publicizing clear guidelines and selection processes translates to better grant requests, and sharing of internal data and reports with other funders results in a more efficient philanthropic practice. Foundations and donors need to make a choice: Will they continue to do their business behind closed doors or share their practices with the community?

While transparency is the goal, there are also myriad associated benefits along the path to achieving it. Here are a few:

Building Trust

Foundations and non-profits exist in a symbiotic relationship imbued with an inherent level of trust. If one party wants to improve its work, it needs to ask for feedback from its partners as well as the community it serves. Foundations and non-profits alike seek the public’s support in their charitable endeavors. The alignment of goals and organizational objectives is a critical factor in building trust through transparency. With a full understanding of a foundation’s mission and purpose, grantees can articulate and refine their own program objectives in order to fulfill that mission. This also prevents “mission creep,” in which the grantee initiates projects just because funding is available. The philanthropic community benefits overall from this trust. Parties on both sides have a clear understanding of the issues addressed and neglected in the community.

Creating Effectiveness

Smaller foundations and family trusts often keep their priorities a secret. They avoid revealing information such as strategic goals, issues and geographic areas of interest in order to maintain flexibility in the projects they fund. However, that mystery also discourages applicants. A foundation website with clear guidelines and descriptions of the selection process should be the absolute minimum standard for transparency. Regular communications through workshops or online tutorials—with advice on what donors look for in an application—will help create a better understanding from applicants on how to navigate the often complex funding request process. Tips on what constitutes a “red flag” are also helpful in ensuring that applicants don’t waste their efforts on non-priority issues or requests. A transparent explanation of a foundation’s process and strategic goals can help both sides work toward more effective and meaningful projects and programs together.

Ensuring Collaboration

Last but certainly not least, sharing information, data, reports, practices and failures leads to better grant-making. The era when every foundation was working in isolation is long gone. In today’s interconnected world, if your goal is making an impact, then the only way forward is through collaboration. Representatives from the philanthropic community need to meet regularly, exchange views and data and create networks with other stakeholders. In a perfect world of transparent grant-making, donors would commit to give only to those organizations that are forthright with their funding sources, projects and results. Minimum standards of transparency should appear on donors’ websites and throughout the donation process. The drafting of the International NGO Accountability Charter was a great first step in setting global standards for NGO accountability. Donors around the world should embrace such initiatives and commit themselves publicly to fund organizations that comply with such standards. In addition, foundations must commit to ongoing collaboration. As the sector evolves and matures, so must our ability to work toward common best practices for all.

-- Epaminondas Farmakis

Transparency in Family Foundations: The Strength of Glasspockets
June 9, 2014

(Jean Whitney is former executive director of the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation and a current board member of Associated Grant Makers.  She has decades of experience in working with family foundations. A version of this post appeared earlier on Family Giving News.)

Jean-whitney-150x150Family foundations, by their very nature, are complex. With significant involvement of family members on the board and sometimes in operations as well, there can be layers of generations, widely divergent views, and the need to preserve positive family relationships.  This complexity is a challenge but not an excuse for avoiding transparency or openness about how family foundations do their work.

At the recent National Forum on Family Philanthropy in Cambridge, MA sponsored by the National Center for Family Philanthropy, a session on Transparency in the Family Philanthropy Context did much to illuminate the continuum of viewpoints on the issue as well as to provide valuable resources to improve practice.

With advances in technology and social media, the question today is not whether or not to be transparent, but how to be transparent – and how far to take your efforts to be fully transparent.

Why worry about transparency?  On one end of the spectrum of views is the argument that many families prefer to do their philanthropic work quietly, with some degree of privacy for their choice of interest and funding decisions.  Humility is, after all, part of the tradition of American philanthropy and too much transparency can bring interest from parties ranging from friends and business colleagues to government regulators.  On the other end of the spectrum is the belief that all foundations have an obligation to be accountable to the public and that being accountable requires some degree of openness.  The conversation about foundation accountability also includes the question of foundation impact.  Can a foundation establish trust, create partnerships, and achieve the outcomes it desires without being transparent? With advances in technology and social media, the question today is not whether or not to be transparent, but how to be transparent – and how far to take your efforts to be fully transparent. “The data is out there…,” they say, and the most effective families invest in managing how information about their giving and practice is shared.

Best practices for foundations aiming for greater transparency include basics like having a web site, posting guidelines and listing grants. As someone who has worked in the field of family philanthropy for many years, I think my colleagues in the field will find the Foundation Center and its Glasspockets web site to be a great resource.  Glasspockets resources include a helpfullist of 23 indicators of transparency and accountability for foundations and also a wealth of practical resources to assist any foundation in becoming more transparent.  The site even includes a “Foundation Web Builder” service to help foundations get started if they lack a web presence.  The name of the web site comes from a quote by Russell Leffingwell, a banker and Carnegie Foundation board member, testifying in 1952 before a Congressional Committee investigating foundations for the support of un-American activities.  He said, “So far as there is a justification -- and I am sure there is -- for the existence of these institutions, it is that they serve the public good. If they are not willing to tell what they do to serve the public good, then as far as I am concerned they ought to be closed down.” And one of his most quoted statements is that "We think that the foundation should have glass pockets."  

A key distinction discussed by the session participants was  between transparency about the “product” of a foundation’s work (e.g., grants, results against strategies, etc) and the “process” it uses (meeting deliberations, criteria for funding, internal planning documents, board selection and terms). Many family foundations would agree that sharing much of the process publicly can be difficult.  And that it’s unnecessary.  While younger family members who are used to sharing everything in their lives on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram may disagree, more experienced family members say that intentional dialogues and training can help tap the best of both perspectives and encourage a practice that lies somewhere in between.

Whether or not a foundation makes an effort to share information publicly about its work, there is already plenty of information out there. The 990s have been accessible to the public for some time, but the next few years will bring the advent of mandatory online tax filing.  In addition, new web sites have sprung up that invite public ratings of foundations and invite feedback from stakeholders to assess foundations

Brad Smith, president of the Foundation Center, advises that the best way for the field of philanthropy to be responsible and to protect itself is to be proactive and to frame its work. For a family foundation, this starts with developing a web site where it can tell its story, talk about its interests and share its aspirations.  The unique stories of families are often both compelling and inspirational. Why leave information about the family’s history, passions and work for others to interpret when you can communicate this most clearly yourselves?  This takes some work, but so many resources exist and a lot can be accomplished in short order.

Many foundations may find that the path to being more open leads to thoughtful discussions on present efforts and future directions.  This can only translate into becoming more effective and spur greater collaboration.  Who knew that having glass pockets could add such strength?

-- Jean Whitney

Justin Bieber vs. the Gates Foundation
May 27, 2014

(Brad Smith is president of the Foundation Center. To learn more about what's trending with foundations and social media, click here.)

Bks-150When it comes to social media and "crowds," the largest philanthropic foundation in the world is no match for Justin Bieber. Not even close. As the graphic below shows, over the thirty-day period from November 3 to December 3,"Justin Bieber" was mentioned in 40,596,304 tweets while the "Gates Foundation" appeared in just 4,765.

Bieber_vs_gates

This somewhat crazy comparison offers some important lessons for philanthropy as foundations struggle to measure their grantees' (and their own) online impact.

Lesson #1 — "Crowdsourcing" requires a CROWD

The professionals that really understand crowdsourcing work for companies like eBay, not for philanthropic foundations. But like most of us, foundation program officers have learned enough about all this stuff to be dangerous and increasingly pepper their grantees with questions and suggestions about crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing works best when knowledge can be built on the clicks of very large numbers of people involved in relatively simple market-based activities such as shopping and travel, or where new markets can be created, as we are beginning to see with crowdfunding. Crowdsourcing in the philanthropic space, on the other hand, has by and large been a failure, and there is a trail of dead wikis to prove it.

Lesson #2 — Scale is a relative concept

Justin Bieber has scale, and so does the Gates Foundation. The crucial difference is that young Bieber's is driven by the mass-market appeal of the entertainment industry, while the Gates Foundation operates in a niche market. As important as the issues — agricultural development, malaria prevention, vaccine delivery — that drive the Gates Foundation are, they will never attract the kind of attention that a successful pop singer does. And as much as I might like to live in a world in which the 900 million people who do not have access to safe water are as important to the Twitterverse as the latest boy band, I do not. It has nothing to do with "fair" or "right"; it just "is." Philanthropy as a whole has achieved scale online: collectively, America's foundations have 4.5 million followers on Twitter. But philanthropy's scale is relative, and even though its reach is far greater than it was just a decade ago — and continues to grow — it will always lag mass social media trends. Meanwhile, Justin Bieber alone has nearly 49 million Twitter followers!

Lesson #3 — Foundations' (limited) online traffic is commensurate with their unique offline role

The niche market that is philanthropy exists precisely because there are still too many important needs in the world that markets and governments cannot (or will not) meet. Government, when working well, can be effective at delivering vital services such as education and sanitation and in holding up standards that cross boundaries and span the globe. Foundations, however, have a more nuanced, offstage role to play, using their relatively limited resources to address problems that fall between the cracks, test new ideas, and take an occasional risk. Foundations' predilection for acting in a low-key way also has roots in the oft-professed humility of wealthy donors who create foundations. The result? Offstage + humbleness = offline. Fewer than 7 percent of America's foundations have websites, so it should come as no surprise that we are not exactly the talk of the town on Twitter.

I suppose this post, in the end, is a call for philanthropy to get real when it comes to social media. We have long since resigned ourself to the fact that our tweets won't spur mass movements around our most cherished ideas and programs. Which doesn't mean we should give up. Now is the time to build a meaningful, lasting relationship with social media and whatever form of frictionless communication lurks just offstage. Foundations need to have realistic expectations about their grantees' reach, as well as their own, and accept that we will never be truly competitive in a medium that increasingly is dominated by entertainment, sports, and global brands. At the same time, philanthropy has to get better at communications, much better, and social media is an essential tool for doing that. Justin Bieber may be off the charts in terms of followers, but when it comes to message quality, the Gates Foundation rules.

-- Brad Smith

Wanna Hangout? The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Use of Google Hangouts
May 21, 2014

(Eliza Smith is the Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco. She recently interviewed Erin Kelly and Susan Dentzer from the RWJF to learn about their experience with hosting Google Hangouts.)

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), America's largest public Eliza Smithhealth-focused philanthropy, is using Google Hangout to hold virtual panel discussions the first Friday of every  month. The Foundation has been using this social media tool to increase transparency around its work since November of 2013 and is finding these offereings have been very well-received. The foundation treats the platform as an opportunity to open its doors to its stakeholders and the general public so they can explore one of the foundation’s current projects, efforts, or campaigns in-depth and cost-free.

RWJF logoThe most recent Hangout was held on Friday, May 2 in partnership with the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) on its latest campaign, "Choose Wisely." The Choosing Wisely effort promotes patient empowerment, encouraging doctors and leaders in healthcare to inform consumers against employing expensive, superfluous, and potentially dangerous procedures and treatments. The Hangout platform promoted collaboration with doctors, patients, and healthcare professionals; moreover it championed transparency, inviting the general public to tweet (using #RWJF1stFri and @RWFJ) or submit their questions and comments to Google+. Past Hangout themes have centered on the cost and quality of healthcare, country-wide health rankings, innovative ways of delivering healthcare, and interest in new ways of employing and analyzing health data.

We believe these Hangouts can be effective in convening experts on an issue, increasing transparency to the work and partners we have the pleasure to be engaged with, and a means to expand the discussion beyond the those ‘in the room.’
Erin Kelly Erin Kelly
RWJF social media manager Susan Dentzer Susan Dentzer
RWJF senior policy adviser

The RWJF has a strong track record with social media, using tools like Twitter and Facebook so that grantees can connect with its leaders and grantmakers. Erin Kelly, social media manager at the Foundation, says they have been using these tools “to share insight into the issues and projects we’ve invested in across our areas of investments. Oftentimes these discussions are jumping off from an in-person convening or recent research or developments in the field. We believe they can be effective in convening experts on an issue, increasing transparency to the work and partners we have the pleasure to be engaged with, and a means to expand the discussion beyond the those ‘in the room.’”

Susan Dentzer, senior policy adviser to the RWJF, likens the Hangouts to “mini conferences” and sees them as alternative ways of facilitating communication between the Foundation and the general public. “As much information as the Foundation puts out on the web site, many grantees sometimes feel like they don’t understand what’s going on at the RWJF,” Dentzer says. “The Hangouts are an opportunity for grantees to get a sense of what’s going on at the Foundation.” And the best part about these Hangouts? “They are low-cost and low-effort,” as Dentzer says; thus, staff at the Foundation don’t feel spent after conducting a Hangout as they might holding an actual conference, leaving energy and enthusiasm for the next month’s session.

While the First Friday sessions have been popular and widely attended, the RWJF is developing more metrics for measuring the impact of the Hangouts. “This is a work-in-progress,” Dentzer says, “we are finding new ways to assess how many people we reach, who we are reaching, and if any members of the audience take action afterwards.” So far, the Foundation is planning on using resources from Survey Monkey to gather more user data, but they are still looking for more ways to better understand the impact of these social media tools. All told, “this is a great technology for the RWJF,” Dentzer says.

Have you attended one of the RWJF First Friday Hangouts? Tell us about your experience at @Glasspockets on Twitter, or post a comment here on Transparency Talk. 

-- Eliza Smith

The Value Added of Engagement
January 23, 2014

(Jay Ruderman is the president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. You can engage with him on Twitter and/or follow the foundation to learn more about inclusion. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's GrantCraft blog.)

Jay-Ruderman-press-headshot-150There are over 500,000,000 users on Twitter--and I am one of them.

As president of a family foundation, I spend my day managing the foundation’s operations and staff, working with partners in the philanthropic and organizational world, and searching for new, innovative projects to invest in. Our foundation advocates for and advances the full inclusion of people with disabilities into the Jewish community. Our focus is on creating lasting change, and I work tirelessly in pursuit of creating a fair and flourishing community.

I speak at conferences, conduct interviews with journalists, meet with legislators, and do whatever is necessary to push the issue of inclusion onto the agenda. Like you, I have a very full schedule filled with meetings, phone calls, site visits, and still more meetings.

And then I started tweeting.

Most of my philanthropic friends and foundation colleagues do not use social media, for a variety of reasons. I myself was unsure of how effective Twitter could be in helping to change the status quo. But I embarked on this experiment six months ago to see if I can build community around the issues the foundation advocates for. I understood that it takes time to build an audience and find one’s voice online. Change does not happen overnight.

Tweeting allows me to see who the players and influencers in this field are. Connecting with them allows us to share experiences and knowledge.

Of utmost importance was having a Twitter strategy in place. I knew in advance who the influencers I wanted to engage were, how to connect with them, and what type of content to push out. Certainly I had much to learn: how to engage, how to effectively use the platform, when and how to post and how to conduct conversations. Through trial and error I have learned, and the early results are encouraging--there has been a definite increase in the number of conversations, retweets and mentions. (Notice I didn’t mention number of followers--that’s not a metric I’m using to measure success). Additionally, my tweeting has brought increased exposure for our foundation’s official account, and we have seen a marked upswing in traffic to our blog.

So far, so good.

People ask me why I tweet--especially those who think Twitter is where people post about their morning coffee! I see Twitter as an integral tool to furthering our mission. Here’s why:

  • Tweeting allows me to see who the players and influencers in this field are. Connecting with them allows us to share experiences and knowledge.
  • Twitter is helping to position our foundation as a thought leader in the inclusion arena.
  • It allows me to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and raise awareness of the issue.
  • By showcasing the wonderful work being done by our partners and grantees, we advance their individual missions and contribute to “grantmaking beyond the buck.”
  • Social media opens my eyes to other projects out there, the latest news and trends, and that allows us to have a finger on the pulse and assists us in becoming a smarter funder.

Jay-Ruderman-Tweet

The central reason why I tweet is because people like to connect to other people. Putting a face on our foundation’s activities helps create a more intimate conversation and can bring more people into the fold. People connect to my passion, my sense of urgency to create sustainable change, and, as president, I have a unique voice on the issue that people want to hear.

Funding innovative projects is not enough--we want to move the needle. The value of social media is the ability to reach the masses, meet people where they are hanging out and engage them. I want to tap into the energy and passion young people have for issues of social justice and encourage them to become involved, advocate and be at the forefront of change in society. I want to use my newfound connections to urge organizational leaders to make their communities more inclusive.

When I look back in a year or two, I hope to have raised awareness and to have caused more people in the Jewish community to realize the importance of the issue. This will go a long way to realizing our foundation’s mission, one tweet at a time.

-- Jay Ruderman

Share This Blog

  • Share This

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.

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

    If you are interested in being a
    guest contributor, contact:
    glasspockets@foundationcenter.org

Subscribe to Transparency Talk

Categories