Transparency Talk

Category: "Technology" (16 posts)

The Purpose of a Foundation's Website
April 27, 2015

(Jay Genske is the director of digital, communications at The Rockefeller Foundation. Marc Mertens is the CEO of A Hundred Years. This post originally appeared on The Rockefeller Foundation's blog.)  

What’s a foundation website for?


Jay Genske


Marc Mertens

We aren’t the only ones who have asked this question. After all, foundations are not in the business of raising money or selling products or services. So what good can a foundation website do?

The Rockefeller Foundation has over one hundred years of experience promoting the well-being of humanity around the world, we have a significant amount of knowledge that can be leveraged to influence every sector to help us achieve our mission. We also recognize digital media’s transformative power to find and accelerate new ideas and networks to solve some of the world’s greatest social problems.

To reimagine the purpose of the Foundation’s website, we knew we needed to find a partner to step outside a traditional vendor relationship. This would mean becoming an extension of each other’s team, and establishing a deeply collaborative, transparent and open process. The Foundation’s partnership with A Hundred Years resulted in a new depth of insight and understanding of the Foundation’s knowledge, content and systems-level approach to philanthropy. Dozens of staff, grantees, and partners helped to co-design the experience and purpose of the site, which we’re thrilled to launch today.

Here’s a look at what you’ll find:

What solutions are hiding in our PDFs?

A few months ago, the World Bank published a noble and important report noting that nearly 50 percent of their policy reports have the goal to inform and influence the social impact sector, yet more than 31 percent of these reports are never downloaded, and 87 percent are never cited. Like so many organizations, the Foundation produces a number of informal and formal reports, publications, blog posts, stories from the field, thoughts shared on social media, and even drafts of “in-process” work. In a busy and crowded Internet, how can we be sure that our audience is discovering the information they need to make important business and policy decisions?


You might call this knowledge management in the world of digital media, and definitely a work in progress. To start, we’ve pulled out the key facts and figures on each initiative page, paired with recent tweets from our grantees and partners. The numbers represent statistically important numbers surrounding the work, such as a staggering fact about the problem we’re trying to solve, or a key learning from our research that could be leveraged by others. We’ve also affixed a topical and geographical tagging structure to all knowledge to enable dozens of entry points to our learning. Finally, we’ve installed a best-in-class Search tool to scan and surface intelligence, hopefully providing a little serendipity along the way.


Building on the success of our blog, the new Insights and Ideas section surfaces the thoughts and theories of some of the world’s brightest and boldest social innovators. We’ve posed questions around topics the Foundation is investing in–such as building urban resilience or advancing health–and curated ideas and options from our network of staff, grantees, and partners. These ideas are at once diverse and interrelated, and we believe they’ll spark new thinking and connections in our global audience.

The Foundation’s grantees are tackling pressing problems, and they have the stories and knowledge to prove it. We want the website to be a medium and mouthpiece that promotes their work to the important funders, influencers, and policy-makers who visit our site. Each grantee now has their own page, showcasing the publications, reports, and storyline of our shared journey.


Finally, a new section on the Foundation’s strategic approach to philanthropy. This section illustrates our broad view of systems and how we identify spaces where there is momentum for innovation that makes change likely to take hold. We also to seek to intervene where our “risk capital” can usher in new actors and larger flows of capital that have a shared interest in solving these problems.

Just like the Foundation, our website will continue to evolve and refocus. So take a look today and let us know of any feedback in the comments below.

--Jay Genske and Marc Mertens

Overcoming Website Angst: Keeping it Simple, Easy- to-Manage and Cost Effective
April 15, 2015

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

Sally CrowleyDid you know that less than 10% of all charitable foundations h ave a website? It seems unbelievable in this day and age, but research conducted by Glasspockets finds that it’s true.

When you think about it, though, it’s actually understandable. Building a dynamic, professional website can be a daunting task. Maintaining it with up-to-date content can be even more daunting. Plus, some price tags will just give you sticker shock… and maybe a bit of angst.

So was the case with ours here at The John R. Oishei Foundation.

When I first started working with the Foundation in 2006, its website was built in HTML and had about three pages, basically listing contact information and directions on how to apply for funding. This was a typical foundation website at the time.

We set out to create a more contemporary, content-rich site… a site where we could feature the work of our grantees, share information and disseminate key research findings.

In 2007, driven by the goals outlined in our strategic plan, we set out to create a more contemporary, content-rich site… a site where we could feature the work of our grantees, share information and disseminate key research findings. We worked with a website design firm that used a proprietary Content Management System (CMS), which, at the time, was a standard way of building websites. The process was extremely labor intensive for us and involved a somewhat substantial investment.

By now, most people know the meaning of a CMS, but just in case, here’s a quick definition:

CMS is a website software that allows content contributors to publish from a central, online web interface without knowing HTML, Javascript or any other complicated computer language. And among CMS programs, you can choose “open source” or “proprietary.”

Open source software is developed by a global community and is typically available at no charge. It is developed and upgraded in a collaborative way, relying on input from thousands of people from around the world. Here’s an example.

Proprietary CMS is developed, owned, and promoted by a private company and is updated/improved at the company's discretion. Here’s an example.

Our website is an extremely valuable tool that helps us communicate with our varied audiences. As our ideas of how and what to share continue to grow, a website that keeps up with our pace has become that much more essential.

Many proprietary CMS website developers offer a “handcrafted CMS” which they claim is better than their competitors’ products. In the past, this was the primary method used to build websites. The open source alternative was not yet mature, so vendors who wrote their own software provided a unique product with relative reliability for that time.

By 2012, the site we had built at Oishei using proprietary CMS was outdated. We wanted to update the site and be “cutting edge,” yet fiscally prudent. Luckily, by then, things had changed in the world of web development. Reliable open source website platforms had become commonplace. Today, I would say WordPress, which the Foundation Center uses for its web hosting services, is probably the most well-known, followed by Joomla! and Drupal. (Our site uses Joomla!) Some open-source platforms have even become so easy-to-use that sites can be created by non-technical staffers with no actual coding, a little bit of know-how and a fair amount of determination.

I am huge proponent of open source websites. Here's why:

  • I want to own my organization's site and I want to be in charge. Using an open source CMS vendor means that I own my website, and that the code and content are portable. There's no proprietary code that can't be shared with me. The website hosting is also under my control. If I become "disenchanted" with my CMS vendor, s/he can't walk off with my site. I can hire another vendor to maintain it for us. We also asked ourselves, "What would happen if our vendor goes out of business"? These days, that could happen to any company, no matter what its size. With open source, another vendor could take over our site with little disruption. 
  • I refuse to pay an arm and a leg for substantial site changes and upgrades. The Oishei Foundation recently changed its logo, core branding elements and moved its offices. This meant many changes to our site to match our new colors, replace the logo wherever it appeared throughout the site, etc. This was too much for me to handle on my own, so our web group handled it for us. Because they use Joomla!, the cost was minimal. (Note that when it comes to spending on communication efforts, we are "uber" frugal -- we'd rather use the funds to support our community.)
  • We want to stay up-to-date. In the ever-changing digital world, new design standards develop frequently; new website features pop up all the time. In addition, there's the human element. People just get bored with what they have over time. So, even though our audience might not be tired of the Buffalo skyline photo featured on our home page, our staff and board might be. Plus, who doesn't love a new bell or whistle on their site from time to time? Open source CMS vendors have a large team of active core developers, and many more third party extension developers as well. They are much more likely to offer new technologies and features faster.

Our website is an extremely valuable tool that helps us communicate with our varied audiences. As our ideas of how and what to share continue to grow, a website that keeps up with our pace has become that much more essential. Open source platforms are always improving, with developers constantly and collectively experimenting with new ideas. This means that as we become more open about the work we do, our technology is right there with us, helping us to communicate even more effectively.

What has your foundation’s experience been with proprietary vs. open source? 

--Sally Crowley

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,, 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

Transparency Chat: Creative Commons Helps to Scale Social Sector Knowledge Building
March 3, 2015

(Timothy Vollmer is the public policy manager at Creative Commons, which recently received a grant from the Fund for Shared Insight (FSI). FSI is a multi-year collaborative effort among funders that pools financial and other resources to make grants to improve philanthropy. This is the first in a series of interviews Transparency Talk is conducting with grantees of the FSI openness portfolio. Janet Camarena, director of Foundation Center’s San Francisco office and project lead of the Glasspockets initiative, asked Timothy about the work this grant will fund.)

Tvol headshotJanet Camarena: Congratulations on your recent grant from the Fund for Shared Insight!  Your grant falls within the part of the portfolio dedicated to supporting "efforts to increase foundation openness in service of effectiveness." What do you think the relationship is between increased openness and greater foundation effectiveness, and what have you learned about this from your prior work? 

Timothy Vollmer: We’re excited to work with foundations to adopt open licensing policies for their grant-funded content, and even homegrown works.  I think that increased openness can promote foundation effectiveness in different ways. First, by adopting open licensing policies on the outputs of the grants they are giving out, foundations set up the conditions to maximize the impact of their giving. By adopting open licensing policies for the digital outputs of their grantees—this could include reports, original research, educational courses, data, and other sorts of content—foundations are lowering the barriers to re-use of their grant-funded content. This is not a trivial change. Typically when grantees receive funds from a foundation to create something, the grantee is not required to share those materials. Instead, they  remain under “all rights reserved” copyright, and any third party who wants to take advantage of them for use in their own work needs to ask permission from the grantee in order to do so. Under open licensing, permission is granted in advance, allowing re-use for any reason as long as a minimal set of license conditions are met—for example attribution to the author. When open licensing policies are in place, grant-funded content can be more widely distributed and used in new ways. By requiring that foundation grantees contribute grant-funded materials to the commons, it can open doors that would have normally been closed. Grantees can access and use works produced by other grantees, and incorporate already openly licensed works into their own creations to make them better. Open licensing indicates, “I’m open for collaboration.”

By adopting a policy whereby the foundation works more in the open—and provides reports, grant databases, and other materials under open licenses—the philanthropic community can become better coordinated because they’re able to understand what’s being funded and where investment needs to be made.

Second, foundations themselves can begin to share more both within and between themselves. By adopting a policy whereby the foundation works more in the open—and provides reports, grant databases, and other materials under open licenses—the philanthropic community can become better coordinated because they’re able to understand what’s being funded and where investment needs to be made.

JC: Your specific funded project is to create resources and tools to help foundations adopt open licensing policies to enable increased sharing of grantee-produced materials. Tell us more about the details about what this work will produce and what you hope its impact will be, and whether there are opportunities for our Transparency Talk audience to participate?

TV: Our efforts will be two-fold: First, we will develop a foundation-focused website for open licensing and policy information, likely to be dedicated to the open licensing needs of foundation staff and grantees. It’s important to have a set of easy to understand resources for foundations that are looking to adopt open licensing policies. The website will host various types of resources, with a specific focus for foundation staff and foundation grantees. Such things might include licensing how-to guides, best practices for marking/attribution, explanations of the benefits of open licensing, case studies of existing foundation open policies, and a database of intellectual property policy texts from existing foundation practice.

Second, we will conduct outreach to new foundations about open policy and provide open licensing adoption and support. We think that a hands-on approach is desired in order to help foundations effectively implement an open licensing policy and support grantee compliance with the foundation’s openness goals. We plan to offer support services to all relevant foundation staff to ensure a successful adoption of open policies within the foundation. Such things could include legal support with foundation general counsel or legal staff on policy text drafting/adoption on all appropriate grantee documents, technical assistance for foundation web developers or grantees in order to license and mark works correctly, communications and promotional outreach to ensure accurate presentation of open policy details, and strategic discussion with foundation program officers and leadership team regarding how to work with grantees on understanding and complying with the open licensing policies. 

By adopting open licensing policies on the outputs of the grants they are giving out, foundations set up the conditions to maximize the impact of their giving.

JC: Your work centers on creative licensing and sharing; Creative Commons must see a great deal of compelling content all the time. With the implementation of the FSI grant, what sorts of contributions to the social sector do you anticipate from grantees? Are there any specific projects you’ve seen in the past that, because they previously could not be shared with the sector at large, would bring about more innovation and change?

TV: With open licensing policies, there’s massive potential to scale the creative reuse of content. We shouldn’t overlook how inefficient the current system is. This is true even more so in the public sector, where billions of dollars of taxpayer funded materials are not realizing their full potential because those grant recipients are not required to share their creations with the public that paid for them. What if we were able to flip the default from “closed” to “open”? One project we’ve been working on is helping grantees of the Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program (yes, it’s a mouthful). The program funds community colleges to create course content for worker retraining. The innovation in this $2 billion federal grant is that the outputs of grantees must be shared online and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license for reuse by anyone, even for commercial purposes. The Department says it want “to ensure that the Federal investment of these funds has as broad an impact as possible and to encourage innovation in the development of new learning materials.” It’s still too early to see how all this content is being used and reused because it’s currently in development, but imagine the possibilities with a huge repository of openly licensed publicly funded educational resources.

Cc logoAnother thing that open licensing enables is reuse of materials in novel, unexpected ways contemplated by the original author. Take for example the PubMed Central CC BY article repository, an open access repository of scientific articles. A small group of Wikipedians developed the Open Access Media Importer, which scrapes PubMed Central CC BY-licensed articles and uploads the audio and video materials (almost 19,000 files thus far) to Wikimedia Commons so that those resources can be reused within Wikipedia articles. The reason this content can be used on Wikipedia is because it is licensed under a liberal license such as CC BY.

JC: Foundations and their grantees are sometimes reluctant to embrace open licensing because they support or manage projects that develop revenue streams for their organizations, and perceive open licensing to mean free.  Can you explain briefly what you mean by open licensing and whether it only encompasses free content?

TV: It’s true that some foundations support projects and ventures that are trying to make money, but I wouldn’t assume that the majority of them operate in this way. When we talk with foundations and other institutions contemplating adopting an open licensing policy, we urge them to match their policy with the overarching goals and missions of the foundation. For many types of foundations funding content like scientific research, educational resources, datasets, and the like—it makes a lot of sense to try to adopt the most liberal policy possible so that the materials have the best chance to be broadly reused and the impact of the foundation funding will be maximized. And foundations are in an optimal position to do this! We’ve already seen the most progressive policy for the funding of scientific research coming out of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which will require CC BY for all articles created with foundation funds.

Of course, for some types of foundation funding, open licensing doesn’t make sense—for example for general operating support or for the funding of salaries. And it should also be noted that foundation that have already passed policies setting CC BY as the default for the outputs of grantees also have written in a safety valve for releasing under a different license. For example, both the Hewlett and Ford Foundation policies say they will entertain exceptions/opt-outs if the grantee can make the case that CC BY doesn’t make sense or can’t be used for a particular publication or educational resource. This seems reasonable, especially as open licensing can be a new or confusing concept to grantees and foundation staff, at least initially.

For many types of foundations funding content like scientific research, educational resources, datasets, and the like—it makes a lot of sense to try to adopt the most liberal policy possible so that the materials have the best chance to be broadly reused and the impact of the foundation funding will be maximized. And foundations are in an optimal position to do this!

JC: Some of the risks mentioned in the Fund for Shared Insight's Theory of Change include the fact that institutional philanthropy is resistant to change.  How do you plan to get past that to achieve what you need to as a part of this project, and what do you think needs to happen for the field to be more change-oriented?

TV: First, open licensing is a somewhat new topic for most of the philanthropic world. CC licenses are only 12 years old, and only recently have they been incorporated into the publishing workflows of foundation grants and foundation-created materials. And of course, most program officers at foundations have decent-sized portfolios of projects, and a lot to do! I think most program officers, legal staff, and even foundation leadership would be completely on board with open licensing policies if it could help them achieve their goals and increase the impact of the philanthropic grant making. Of course, anytime you ask them to add on even one more thing to their workload, it can be a big deal. So partly, asking foundations to change how they work is a matter of internal capacity to do so.

But it also has to do with education, and it’s incumbent upon Creative Commons and the “open” community to demonstrate the benefits of open licensing and make its adoption and  implementation as easy as possible. That’s why we want to use the support of this Fund for Shared Insight grantt to develop easy to understand open licensing guides, marking best practices, and useful policy language, and also to provide legal and technical assistance directly to foundations.

The ball is already rolling with foundation open licensing. Just in the last year we’ve seen announcements of new or expanded open policy adoptions at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. Let’s keep it up!

--Timothy Vollmer

Glasspockets Find: Ford Foundation Makes an Impact with Open Licensing
February 17, 2015

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

6a00e54efc2f80883301bb07dfa3ee970d-150wiAs of February 1st, The Ford Foundation is adopting  an open licensing policy via Creative Commons, so that it can share its grantees’ innovative work, from research reports and evaluation findings, to white papers and web sites. Creative Commons is a nonprofit “that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.” Many foundations produce knowledge in the form of publications and reports, but few take the time to think beyond their own use of that knowledge.   By embracing open licensing, the Ford Foundation is encouraging others to build on its work, which has great potential to increase its impact and reach.

In the press release, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, commented, “Our organization is committed to being as transparent and open as possible, and this philosophy extends to the work we fund and the valuable materials we and our grantees produce. This policy change will help grantees and the public more easily connect with us and build upon our work, ensure our grant dollars go further and are more impactful, and—most importantly—increase our ability to advance social justice worldwide.”

Though, far from common among foundations, Ford isn’t the only foundation to adopt Creative Commons licensing to disseminate grantees’ work—by making this move, it’s joining ranks with Open Society Foundations, David and Lucile Packard, the William and Flora Hewlett and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations. Creative Commons makes a call to action in their press release, urging other foundations to “emulate the ongoing leadership of the Ford Foundation by making open licensing an essential component of their grantmaking strategy.”

What do you think about open licensing? If more foundations made the move to share their grantees’ work, how much more impactful would the philanthropic sector be?

--Eliza Smith

Big Ideas That Matter for 2015: Are Philanthropic Organizations Ready?
January 12, 2015

(Sara Davis is the Director of Grants Management at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California. She can be followed on Twitter @SaraLeeeDeee or reached via e-mail at This post was originally featured on the Grant Craft blog.)

Sara davisOne way I mark the passage of another year is the welcome arrival of the latest Blueprint — the annual industry forecast report written by Lucy Bernholz and published by GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center. This year’s report, Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2015, provides us once again with a rich opportunity to look back at the past year and to ponder what’s to come in the year ahead. The Blueprint is a great marker of time and creates a moment to pause for reflection. As I read this year’s report, I found much to digest, understand, and learn. Like the five previous editions, Blueprint 2015 is provocative, and — as I settled in to read — I was humbled to discover that it brought up many more questions than answers. The report piqued my curiosity about the state of the social economy and more explicitly about organized philanthropy and how we do our work. Specifically:

Are we agile and flexible enough? Are our philanthropic organizations ready?

The words “dynamic” and “dynamism” show up throughout the Blueprint 2015, and the pervasive thought I had while reading was that this is an exciting, creative, and expansive time for the social economy. Given this, I couldn’t help but wonder if philanthropic organizations are ready — will we be able to flex, bend, and adapt at the same pace as the change around us? Our ecosystem is evolving, moving, and reorganizing. In this time of globalization, disruptive technology, digital activism, new organizational forms, and even new language, are philanthropic organizations keeping pace? Do we have a picture of what “keeping pace” would really mean?

In this time of globalization, disruptive technology, digital activism, new organizational forms, and even new language, are philanthropic organizations keeping pace? Do we have a picture of what “keeping pace” would really mean?

My experience is that folks doing the work of philanthropy take their role very seriously. It’s a tremendous responsibility to be entrusted with private resources in order to create public benefit. That we take that trust seriously is a good thing. In practice, this means that we tend to be careful, we analyze everything thoroughly, and we remain deliberate, trying hard not to make mistakes. This subtle — or not so subtle — perfectionism creates a tension against our desire to also be nimble, innovative, creative, and dynamic. I wonder: how can we talk about and manage that tension? Are there times we should be using philanthropy as true risk capital, maybe leaping more and looking less? Can we be nimble enough to fail, learn, and course-correct quickly, and have that process be okay, even celebrated? It’s clear that many of the newer entrants in the social economy are working from this spirit of moment-to-moment dynamism. How can we collaborate with openness, adaptability, and readiness for change? Are we learning how to be more agile and flexible along the way?

Are the right people/skills at the table?

The other thing that struck me as I read the report is the variety of new skills and voices needed to work well within the changing social economy. We know, for example, that new technologies and digital data are emerging as important sources and byproducts for learning, innovation, and achieving results. It follows, then, that we need to make sure technology and data capacity are being fostered, used, and advanced within philanthropic organizations and across the sector. Together, we need to gain expertise as we take on challenging topics like intellectual property, open licensing, transparency, and privacy. Further, working in a digital world during this time of rapid change requires operational savvy. We need to build and maintain necessary infrastructure to execute well today, while also forging the space so we can adapt and shift easily in the future. Collectively, this is a tall order. Are we listening to the right experts to make this happen? Are we building the necessary capacity and knowledge?

We need to make sure technology and data capacity are being fostered, used, and advanced within philanthropic organizations and across the sector. Together, we need to gain expertise as we take on challenging topics like intellectual property, open licensing, transparency, and privacy.

As “pervasive digitization” has become the new normal, have we changed the way we think about technology and data expertise in our grantmaking? It doesn’t seem reasonable that all program officers now also need to be technology experts (though some are.) How do we make sure the technologists are being included at the right times? How can our daily work be informed by data expertise and digital best practices, and how do we successfully integrate these into our grantmaking? Bernholz notes that “technologists are becoming part of the sectors that they serve” and imagines a future where “data analysis and sensemaking skills” are integrated into strategy and grantmaking. What new understandings do we need in order to know how we will do this? And, who do we need to include in the conversation to live this out fully?

The 2015 Blueprint marks a time that is vibrant, rich, and exciting for us to be working in this sector. It also invites us to adapt, flex, and change — more than ever before. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but sometimes I find myself thinking about the proverb of the shoemaker whose children have no shoes. Those of us who work in philanthropy understand that our grantees need to adapt within changing circumstances and must constantly evolve. We know that executing well is the challenging standard we place upon grantees as we give them resources. I’m not sure we always hold ourselves to the same standard, or that we take the time to know what executing well might mean within our own changing context. Just as we offer capacity building support and technical assistance to the organizations we fund, it’s also important that we do our own capacity building work, making the necessary changes within our organizations to be effective, real-time participants in the social economy. Are we checking ourselves to make sure we have the skills, roles, knowledge, and processes needed to do that?

Our changing ecosystem will certainly require that we become comfortable with the continued blurring of lines and re-imagining of everything around us. As we strive to achieve impact and social benefit, it may mean we need to bring new people to the table, while developing new skills and new ways of working ourselves. My hope is that all of our good intentions and hard work continue to fuel the adaptability, learning, and dynamism that Bernholz points to so brilliantly.

--Sara Davis

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:

Subscribe to Transparency Talk