Transparency Talk

Category: "Web Presence" (3 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

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.)

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Karl Wilding

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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 

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

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