Transparency Talk

Category: "Web Tools" (49 posts)

Webinar Available On Demystifiying Funder Transparency
April 9, 2014

Opening Up CoverOn March 20, Glasspockets and GrantCraft held a “free coffee and conversation” webinar discussing the demystification of funder transparency featuring Mary Gregory of Pacific Foundation Services discussing transparency challenges and opportunities for family foundations. If you were unable to attend and would like to view the recording, it is available here. Co-sponsored by Northern California Grantmakers, GrantCraft  and Glasspockets provided an overview of the new guide, Opening Up: Demystifying Funder Transparency, which delves into the innumerable benefits of funder transparency, including increased public trust and greater credibility. Mary Gregory then discussed how transparency strengthens grantee relationships. This webinar series on transparency will continue exploring further chapters in the resource guide with other guest funders. Stay tuned to Transparency Talk for more updates.

-- Eliza Smith

Boosting Transparency Through Podcasting at RWJF
March 11, 2014

Lori Melichar is a team director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as well as a labor economist. You can follow her on Twitter at @lorimelichar.

Listen to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneering Ideas podcast:

Lori-melichar-rwjf-150x150My day job involves finding and supporting innovations with the power to accelerate the development of a culture of health in this country. This means finding ways not only to continually expose myself to new ideas but also to clearly communicate the kinds of ideas that my employer, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), seeks to fund. Lately, I’m finding that on both counts, podcasting is one of my favorite tools.

I listen to podcasts during my daily run—newsy ones from NPR, political gabfests, cultural explorations. Sometimes I listen to TED Talks or stories from The Moth. Most of the time I listen to WTF, a podcast where Marc Maron interviews other comedians like himself.

A podcast invites a unique type of conversation-based storytelling, one that we hope will stimulate real-world conversation about applying innovation to create a culture of health—and generate some ideas we’ll be dying to fund.

Though most of the podcasts I listen to are, on the surface of things, unrelated to philanthropy, let alone health or health care, I can’t tell you the number of times that something I’ve heard in a podcast has stimulated an idea related to my work. Sometimes I have to stop running to jot down a thought, fact or idea. Sometimes a nugget from a podcast festers in my mind throughout my run and ends up somewhere completely different by the end.

I believe in the power of the podcast medium to reach individuals where it matters: between the ears. Which is why I’m thrilled to be taking the reins as the host of RWJF’s podcast, Pioneering Ideas. We launched the podcast last year and our third episode debuted earlier today (you can listen to it above).

Our goal with Pioneering Ideas is to be more transparent about the way we work and the kinds of ideas we seek to fund—and to do so in a way that’s engaging for others who are interested in exploring cutting edge ideas and emerging trends that can transform health and health care. Sometimes that means talking to program officers, grantees and others in the RWJF network; other times it means having conversations with pioneering thinkers with no formal relationship to the Foundation.

In our latest episode, for example, I interview Barry Schwartz, a former professor of mine and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, about how his work on the science of decision-making might apply to health and health care. Another guest on this episode, Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, recently visited RWJF as part of our What’s Next Health: Conversations with Pioneers series, and graciously agreed to spend some extra time with us talking for the podcast.

Of course, our podcast isn’t the only vehicle we have for lifting the curtain on our strategy for exploring and funding cutting edge ideas—we are active across a range of social media, and are always adding and exploring new approaches. But a podcast invites a unique type of conversation-based storytelling, one that we hope will stimulate real-world conversation about applying innovation to create a culture of health—and generate some ideas we’ll be dying to fund.

We’ve been conservative in our promotion efforts so far as we find our legs with this new venture. Just over 250 people listened to our second episode—hardly a landslide, but a very respectable showing for this type of podcast. We’ve been learning a lot behind the scenes, and the feedback we’re receiving is encouraging. A variety of thought leaders in health innovation have shared the podcast with their networks, and we're hopeful that the podcast will ultimately encourage people to tell us about their ideas for health and health care. Our goal is to increase the number of listens by 20 percent with every episode we release and build a high-quality audience that excitedly awaits each episode—just as I await new episodes of WTF every Monday and Thursday morning.

I’d love to know what you think—not just about our podcast (which you can listen to at the top of this post), but about using podcasts to support idea-sourcing and to cultivate conversations that can inform a nonprofit’s efforts at creating social change. Any examples of podcasts that you think do a superlative job of communicating an organization’s interests in a stimulating and entertaining way?

On this morning’s run, I heard Marc Maron say that a philosophy teacher once told him there are two ways to fill your mind: One is to put new stuff in there, and the other is to heat up whatever’s in there so that it expands.

I hope Pioneering Ideas fills your mind.

And if you’ve got any audacious ideas for creating a culture of health in this country, I’d love to hear them. Find me on Twitter at @lorimelichar or email me at lmelichar [at] rwjf.org.

-- Lori Melichar

Glasspockets Find: GrantCraft’s Technology Tool Finder Helps Foundations Work Together
December 2, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is special projects associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

Herman-150GrantCraft recently launched a great new resource for funders who want to work together, called Harnessing Collaborative Technologies. This easy-to-use, interactive tool finder can help you find the best online technology tools for collaborating, sharing information, learning from partners, building community, and assessing progress.

The finder can generate custom results of tools that are well suited to your collaboration, based on the size of the group and your project needs. Or, you can search for tools by 17 different functions that help facilitate collaboration. Among the types of tools that foundations may find particularly helpful for transparency are:

Harnessing Collaborative Technologies_crop


The interactive tool finder was developed in conjunction with a joint report issued by the Foundation Center and the Monitor Institute, which sheds light on how online tools are changing the way funders collaborate. Harnessing Collaborative Technologies: Helping Funders Work Together Better helps funders learn about the different phases of collaboration and online tools that can help them advance all types of sharing, coordination, and cooperation. (An executive summary of Key Findings is also available.)

Funders worldwide have an opportunity to grow their impact by working with one another. The goal of the finder is to facilitate collaborations, share tips, and allow funders to suggest other tools that should be added in the future. If you like the interactive tool finder, don’t keep it to yourself—you can tweet about it, too.

-- Rebecca Herman

Meet the New Glasspockets Web Site
November 14, 2013

(Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the Center's Glasspockets effort.)

Janet CamarenaToday we are launching a redesigned and enhanced Glasspockets web site that I hope readers to this blog will enjoy exploring or rediscovering. Our goal remains the same as when the site launched in 2010: to champion greater philanthropic transparency in an online world. But the site today is a very different one, much improved by walking the transparency and accountability talk — thanks to our efforts to create a user experience that responds to direct feedback from our stakeholders.

You might be wondering if we really still need Glasspockets to champion transparency at all. And to that I would respond with a resounding "yes." It may be surprising to people to learn that — despite the digital age in which all knowledge seems available at the swipe of a finger on a mobile device — according to our latest data, fewer than 10% of foundations even have a web presence. Many assume that this is probably due to the large quantity of small, unstaffed family foundations that comprise many of the nation's foundations. However, even when we just looked at foundations with assets greater than $100 million, nearly 30% of those also did not have web sites. 

We recognize it's hard for grantmakers to know where to begin with transparency, so with the redesign, grantmakers will more easily be able to find tools they can use and steps they can take to increase their level of transparency in an online world.

So, it is clear, that many who practice institutional philanthropy prefer to do so in "stealth mode," which makes it very challenging from a field-building perspective since it is impossible to comprehensively map the ecosystem for fields and sub-fields. This makes life difficult for grantmakers and grantseekers alike, who then must rely on personal networks rather than complete data sources to connect with colleagues, compare notes, and identify potential solutions that are not replicating someone else's experimentation.

We recognize it's hard for grantmakers to know where to begin with transparency, so with the redesign, grantmakers will more easily be able to find tools they can use and steps they can take to increase their level of transparency in an online world.

Earlier this spring we conducted a user survey, asking questions about the impact of the Glasspockets initiative as well as questions pertaining to the site's content and navigation. We specifically invited the 50 foundations that had used and shared publically our "Who Has Glass Pockets?" assessment tool, our Glasspockets partners, as well as those who had served as guest bloggers to Transparency Talk to give us their input. What we learned from the helpful feedback of the respondents was very encouraging:

  • 100% of respondents believed that it was either somewhat or very important that foundations move toward greater transparency and openness
  • Strengthening credibility and public trust were the most popular reasons grantmakers cited for increasing transparency
  • Nearly 60% reported that Glasspockets had spurred them to increase their level of online transparency by sharing more content
  • More than half of survey takers told us that Glasspockets had helped them make transparency a priority with their staff or board.

We also received helpful feedback in terms of how to think about reorganizing the site, including requests to:

  • Streamline the site so users could more easily find tools to help them with transparency
  • Make the definition of and steps to transparency clearer
  • Offer webinars aimed at how to approach transparency
  • Offer more case studies of how foundations are using new technology platforms to increase openness.

As you explore the new site you will see that this feedback very much informed our approach. For example, we are now presenting Glasspockets with a framework that helps foundations easily chart their transparency course, with a clearer path to participate in and learn from our "Who Has Glass Pockets?" profiles, a helpful step-by-step approach to transparency, recorded webinar content, and greater use of infographics to make the data more accessible and fun.

New features include an interactive knowledge base of "Who Has Glass Pockets?" transparency profiles, an easy to share PDF of the transparency Heat Map, and an infographic presentation providing an overview of how philanthropy is harnessing social media for greater participation and transparency. Have you ever wondered which foundations have the most Twitter or Facebook activity, or the most YouTube subscribers? Take a look and find out. 

A forthcoming how-to foundation transparency guide done in collaboration with GrantCraft will further help users navigate improving foundation transparency practices. 

You will also find important staples from the original site:

  • Eye on the Giving Pledge offers an in-depth picture of how more than 100 of the world's wealthiest people are participating in the Giving Pledge, in which they have promised to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
  • Foundation Transparency 2.0 returns in a streamlined format and lets visitors explore the online communications tools that foundations use and provides direct access to foundation blogs, Twitter feeds, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, and many other digital platforms.
  • The Reporting Commitment shows how America's leading foundations are meeting the challenges of our time. Users can track grants information in near-real-time through interactive maps and download data in open, machine-readable form.

Foundations and their grantees are tackling some of the world’s most complex issues that have no easy answers.  This is good news since it means that foundations are not shying away from the big issues of our time such as climate change, poverty, access to water, and attempting to cure currently incurable diseases. Through the redesigned Glasspockets our hope is that foundations will come to realize transparency is not a burden, but a helpful strategy that serves to accelerate the change they are trying to bring about in the world.

So, have a look around and then leave a comment or send out a tweet. Let us know what you think.

-- Janet Camarena

Glasspockets Find: Blue Shield of California Foundation shares Health Care research through live webcast
November 5, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is special projects associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

Herman-100Foundations produce reports and issue briefs every day—and we love them for it. However, not everyone has the time or inclination to read every worthwhile report that funders work so hard to produce. Some foundations take it upon themselves to find new and proactive ways to share their new-found knowledge with stakeholders, colleagues, practitioners and policymakers who can effect change in the field.

The Blue Shield of California Foundation hosted an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on October 23 to discuss findings and issues raised in its latest report on a timely topic, “Building Better Health Care for Low-Income Californians,” which was developed as part of its Strengthening the Safety Net program.

The foundation’s event at the National Press Club featured a panel discussion with experts in health care delivery, community health centers and health law and policy. Guests who could not attend in person could watch the event online through live webcast, and the program concluded with a question-and-answer session that was open to those attending virtually or in person. The recorded webcast is now available online:

Watch the video»

One particularly memorable moment was when an attendee asked the panelists what kind of research on health care policy they would like to see undertaken in the future. One panelist, Dr. Ron Yee, chief medical officer of the National Association of Community Health Centers, said he would like to understand how co-pays and deductibles will affect low-income patients accessing the health care system, which was also a question raised by an audience member. Dr. Yee commented, “I know from the front line, how my patients handle their money, the little money they have… Even a $10 co-pay is a big deal for my patients.” 

“You know we’re getting serious when we’re talking about money."

Peter Long, president & CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation remarked, “You know we’re getting serious when we’re talking about money. You know it’s not a theoretical conversation anymore, when people are talking about payment, and about what it looks like, and the end outcomes.… To me that’s very successful, in a progression of a conversation, when we’re starting to get to a point where you take human aspiration and needs, their real experience, and then what the heck do we do with them.”

Another panelist, Dr. Kavita Patel of the Brookings Institution, noted in closing, “I’m very excited to see this study escape the traditional research/beltway/policymaker circles. It is one of the few studies that has this generalizability for regular viewing audiences. What’s wonderful about that is…that movement will often precede policy changes or the public sector doing something.”

On the Blue Shield of California Foundation’s web page for “Building Better Health Care for Low-Income Californians” you can find the PowerPoint presentation from the event and an executive summary of its October 2013 research report. You can also download the entire report and find other issue briefs and research on health care in the foundation’s extensive publications section.

To gain audiences and knowledge beyond each individual funder’s own connections, we encourage all foundations to post their research, reports, white papers and case studies on the Foundation Center’s IssueLab website, which aims to gather, index and share the collective intelligence of the social sector. For those interested in health care policy, be sure to delve into IssueLab’s new special collection of research on the Affordable Care Act.

-- Rebecca Herman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Watch the webinar»

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

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

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

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Watch the webinar»

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

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

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

Webinar3screenshotFINAL

Watch the webinar»

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

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

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

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: The Gates Foundation Joins the International Aid Transparency Initiative
October 16, 2013

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

Gates-image-wall-crop2The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has become the latest organization to join the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), signaling their intention to publish open data on their global development activities. IATI, launched five years ago in Accra, Ghana, aims to make information about aid spending easier to find, use and compare.

"At the end of the day, our goal is the same: to identify common ways we all can share information that will help the development community achieve greater impact."

In his blog post about the announcement—“Information Sharing for Impact”—Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes commented, “To figure out our approach to sharing information, we have taken lessons from what governments and other nonprofits are doing well, while considering the unique aspects of operating a foundation. At the end of the day, our goal is the same: to identify common ways we all can share information that will help the development community achieve greater impact.”

IATI has brought together donors, developing country governments, civil society and aid information experts to agree on a common, open, international standard for publishing more, and better, information about aid. The public can search and download data from the IATI Data Registry, which includes raw data from 189 organizations and counting.

If you’re not ready for IATI’s raw data, you can check out Open Aid Search, a simple search and browsing interface; or Aid View, a prototype visual interface to browse aid activities by donor, country and sector.

The Gates Foundation is one of the first private foundations to become a member of IATI, joining The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in increasing transparency through this global initiative.

-- Rebecca Herman

 

The Brave New World of Good
October 11, 2013

"O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't."
(William Shakespeare)

"Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted."
(Aldous Huxley)

Globe-handsWelcome to the Brave New World of Good. Once almost the exclusive province of nonprofit organizations and the philanthropic foundations that fund them, today the terrain of good is disputed by social entrepreneurs, social enterprises, impact investors, big business, governments, and geeks. Their tools of choice are markets, open data, innovation, hackathons, and disruption. They cross borders, social classes, and paradigms with the swipe of a touch screen. We seem poised to unleash a whole new era of social and environmental progress, accompanied by unimagined economic prosperity.

As a brand, good is unassailably brilliant. Who could be against it? It is virtually impossible to write an even mildly skeptical blog post about good without sounding well, bad -- or at least a bit old-fashioned. For the record, I firmly believe there is much in the brave new world of good that is helping us find our way out of the tired and often failed models of progress and change on which we have for too long relied. Still, there are assumptions worth questioning and questions worth answering to ensure that the good we seek is the good that can be achieved.

Markets

The potential of markets to scale good is undeniable. The most successful nonprofit and foundation efforts can only be replicated in multiple locations, while markets routinely attain regional, national, or even global scale. But even "philanthropic investment firms" like Omidyar Network, which was born out of eBay-inspired market zeal, have added outright grants to nonprofits as an essential part of their change strategy. Perfect markets exist only in economic theory. In the real world, avarice, corruption, politics, and power conspire to exclude minorities of all descriptions from their share of market rewards. Social policy and philanthropy, for all their faults, persist precisely because market booms benefit too few and market busts hurt too many.

Open Data

Second only to "good" in terms of marketing genius is the concept of "open data." An offspring of previous movements such as "open source," "open content," and "open access," open data in the Internet age has come to mean data that is machine-readable, free to access, and free to use, re-use, and re-distribute, subject to attribution. Fully open data goes way beyond posting your .pdf document on a Web site (as neatly explained by Tim Berners Lee's five-star framework).

When it comes to government, there is a rapidly accelerating movement around the world that is furthering transparency by making vast stores of data open. Ditto on the data of international aid funders like the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The push has now expanded to the tax return data of nonprofits and foundations (IRS Forms 990). Collection of data by government has a business model; it's called tax dollars. However, open data is not born pure. Cleaning that data, making it searchable, and building and maintaining reliable user interfaces is complex, time-consuming, and often expensive. That requires a consistent stream of income of the kind that can only come from fees, subscriptions, or, increasingly less so, government.

Foundation grants are great for short-term investment, experimentation, or building an app or two, but they are no substitute for a scalable business model. Structured, longitudinal data are vital to social, environmental, and economic progress. In a global economy where government is retreating from the funding of public goods, figuring how to pay for the cost of that data is one of our greatest challenges.

Innovation

Open-data purists frequently equate open data with innovation. Opening up data to as many brains as possible simply increases the likelihood that something creative, unexpected, and truly innovative will be done with it. We often hear about examples of transit apps, election fraud maps, early warning systems, and the like powered by open data-fueled innovation. But it is probably still too early to declare victory on what seems to be a positive trend, partly because we are invariably attracted to the new, exciting things that catch our attention at the moment. Meanwhile, most innovation that scales in the world is the stuff we never see coming because it is contained in patents purchased and protected deep within the intellectual property vaults of companies like Apple, IBM, and Google. We need to build ways to identify, track, evaluate, and communicate sustainable innovation to assess the true potential of open data.

Hackathons

Hackathons are the tool of choice for transforming open data into innovation. Talented programmers are turned loose, usually on a volunteer basis, to create something cool, useful, and good out of different data streams. This challenges traditional models where expertise is siloed within individual businesses or organizations along with all the tunnel vision and bottom-line pressures that can stifle true creativity. Hackathons are amazing, and the sheer brilliance, energy, and will of brainy programmers to do good is inspiring. But we should not kid ourselves. Relying on intense coding sprints by otherwise overworked programmers may be the "new necessary" in terms of tackling the world's most pressing problems, but it is not sufficient. This highly qualified, high-value form of volunteering is fast becoming a key ingredient in producing lasting change, but seldom is it the entire recipe.

Disruption

In the brave new world of good, disruption has practically become synonymous with innovation. For those aspiring to emulate the success of a Sean Parker or a Mark Zuckerberg, venerable businesses and nonprofits are often seen as "ripe for disruption." What economist Joseph Schumpeter described as "creative destruction" has always been part of economic progress, as innovation in producing goods and services comes to replace old business models with new. But today, it is almost as if disruption is an end in itself rather than a means. Wait a minute: If we are busy disrupting businesses and organizations right and left, who's going to pay the salaries and benefits of all the programmers required to turn open data into innovation through hackathons?

Transparency

My favorite example of good is the social enterprise that calls itself just that, "Good," and bills itself as "a community of people that give a damn." It's almost as if a Wall Street financial firm was to label itself "Greed." I follow Good's great infographics, enjoy its positive vibe news stories on my mobile news reader, and really don't have anything against the company except that I don't know much about it. It's privately held and says nothing detailed about itself on its Web site; in fact, this is all I could find out about the company online. Oh, and Good has a dog-friendly work environment. That, in a nutshell, is my greatest concern about the brave new world of good -- its lack of transparency.

For many who inhabit this brave new world, nonprofits and grantmaking foundations are associated with the old way of doing things. Nevertheless, we have a very good idea of what they actually do to create a better world because they are required to tell us in public disclosure documents. Those documents, the IRS Forms 990, though far from perfect, have served as the raw material on which entire information systems have been built by organizations like GuideStar, the Foundation Center, and the National Center for Charitable Statistics to classify, track, measure, and visualize how America's more than 90,000 grantmaking foundations and 1.3 million nonprofits work on everything from adoption to Zambia. We know who's on their boards and staff, where the money comes from, to which organizations it goes, and for what, where, and whom it is destined to benefit. Foundations and nonprofits may not be hip, but they are more transparent.

There is no comparable information source for impact investing, social entrepreneurship, corporate social responsibility, and the like. We have some data -- rankings and ratings, standards, and partial information on impact investing -- only some of which is open and, taken together, is nowhere near comprehensive. So, despite its enormous promise, we are left to understand this brave new world of good through spotty data, case studies, the occasional evaluation, and lots of anecdotes (aka "storytelling"). There is hope on the horizon in the form of Markets for Good, a nascent effort to create a kind of data and information "commons" for the social sector. Funded by -- guess who…foundations (!) -- and backed by some twenty organizations, we now have a platform to bring together the different data streams that enable us to begin to piece together the world of good.

Follow the Money

Several years ago, a Google employee told me: "I want to map all the good in the world." At the time, I remember thinking how monstrously naïve that seemed (though if anyone could pull it off, it would probably be Google.) But today, I see that comment in a different light and find myself yearning for the same thing. If so much of the world is doing good, I want to know about it. I want to count it, measure it, and map it. Some will say -- as they do of philanthropy -- "I don't care how much money is being spent on X, I want to know what's effective." So do I, but we all know that standardizing effectiveness is elusive at best. In the meantime, let's follow the money. We know how much money the world is spending on pet food, weapons and war; let’s try to prove we're spending more on good.

-- Brad Smith

This blog is re-posted from PhilanTopic.

Glasspockets Find: Learn Foundation Law Pools Resources to Offer Legal Training to Private Foundations
September 3, 2013

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

Remember all those group projects in school that were supposed to help us work together as a team? The main lesson we learned from the process was that group assignments are never easy. In the grown-up world of philanthropy, “collaboration,” “resource-sharing,” and “knowledge-building” are buzzwords that frequently show up in our benchmarks for success. Foundations often ask nonprofits if they can pool resources and share information with their colleagues, and we all know this can be just as difficult as when we were teenagers.

GrantCraft Advocacy GuideThankfully, there are online tools to facilitate both collaboration and transparency, thereby increasing our efficiency and reducing duplication of effort. Wouldn’t you like to know if someone else has already tackled any complex issues your organization is facing? The Learn Foundation Law website is an example of teamwork by a group of foundations who have created training materials on legal issues in the field of philanthropy. The legal staff at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation created Learn Foundation Law in 2010 as an online instructional resource, so that any foundation can jump-start their legal education.

The website is also a wonderful instance of foundations being more open about seldom-discussed issues in philanthropy. Course topics include legal rules for private foundations on advocacy, lobbying, and anti-bribery/anti-corruption. You can find a commentary on the content of Learn Foundation Law’s online training materials on the blog of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

For more information about advocacy funding in particular, check out this guide on GrantCraft, the Foundation Center’s own online resource and knowledge center for grantmakers. There is even a GrantCraft guide about funder collaboratives! At Glasspockets, we advocate for transparency in philanthropy, and we see one of the benefits of greater openness is to make it easier for the field as a whole to earn an A+ in collaboration.

-- Rebecca Herman

Social Media, So What? RWJF Tackles How to Answer the Social Media, So What Question
April 17, 2013

Debra Joy Perez (@djoyperez) is currently serving as Interim Vice President of Research and Evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Perez-100Last year, after Steve Downs shared an overview of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) social media strategy, we hosted a series of interviews with RWJF staff members about how social media, and more broadly, the transparency and participation they offer, are adding new and critical dimensions to their work. The first case study on social networking as a learning tool is available here. The second on experimenting with different social mediums to serve as a catalyst for collaboration is available here. The third on leveraging social media to expand networks is available here.

The latest post offers perspective on how the use of these tools—which have become essential to our communication efforts—can be measured to reflect the impact of our work and rooted in a context of achieving social change goals.

Q: Let’s start with a glimpse into a day in the life of your work at the Foundation in light of all these new technologies. Why are metrics important to RWJF?
A: RWJF has a 40 year history of developing evidence-based programming. We are known for our research and evaluation work nationally and internationally. Yet, as new ways to advance our goals in health and health care become more reliant on technology, we struggle with measuring success and accountability.

Since 2009, RWJF has been incorporating Web 2.0 technology in our everyday work. That is what people who visit our website  can see since our September redesign, as we have more social sharing facilitation tools across the site. We also invite conversation about how to advance health and health care on Twitter, Facebook, and produce content that can serve the needs of various online communities.

We can clearly see and have made projections about the future value of social media. Social media can help us create social change and build movements around the causes that we care deeply about. We have learned many key lessons from initiating this work guided by our principles of openness, participation, and decentralization. Specific lessons include:

  • Personal outreach matters;
  • Responsiveness to requests for engagement is important;
  • Criticism can lead to healthy dialogue;
  • Make engagement easy and simple; and
  • Engagement takes work and dedicated resources.

These take homes suggest that each of these principles requires concerted efforts and conversations about policies and processes for achieving the intended goals. With each social media campaign, we must be explicit about expectations. Social media metrics is an essential part of our efforts at RWJF. We need measurement to help us achieve those expectations. Measurement also helps us continually improve our use of social media to achieve our broader social change goals.

Social media is another tool to achieve larger goals. While it can be a very powerful tool, it should not be mistaken for an end in itself.

Q: What does an effective and efficient social media campaign look like?
A: So where do you start: well, you might start first with acknowledging what you are already doing in social media and celebrating that. Do you have a Facebook page, an organizational presence on Twitter, operations on Tumblr? Conduct an inventory of what you are doing as an organization, as well as the engagement by individuals. Do staff leverage social media for their job, how have they been able to extend their reach, do we regularly appear on relevant blogs?

As you do this, you might start to recognize how much you don’t know. BUT don’t let the “not-knowing” stop you.

  • Have an explicit dialogue about your goals, what are you trying to accomplish with your social media efforts, e.g. what is the purpose of tweeting something, what is the action you want an individual to take? Although click-through is not itself an outcome, in my view, it is a process measure. 
  • Identify your networks. You probably already have more of a network than you recognize (see The Networked Nonprofit  by Kanter).
  • Schedule a formal discussion about value proposition in-house. Talk to who does it now and who doesn’t. Don’t expect everyone to Tweet. Some are better long-form writers and therefore might be better suited for blogging.
  • Establish data points for measuring impact of what you do.
  • Provide unique URLs for product releases and then test URL placements against each other (AB testing) to see which one is more effective.

Ultimately, discuss to what end are you using social media. Social media is another tool to achieve larger goals. While it can be a very powerful tool, it should not be mistaken for an end in itself.

Q: What is the expected ROI for social media?
A: We believe social media can have a profound effect on expanding our reach, as more people are building trusted networks of individuals and organizations and engaging online. Appropriate use of social media channels help us provide the right information and the right tools into the hands of our health and health care advocates (also known as message evangelists). You then start to see how making data accessible in new ways, such as interactives, data visualizations, and infographics, enables us to illustrate key points for case-making and building awareness.  

Because social media is a vehicle through which ideas can be generated, tested, built upon, and spread, we believe that this is worth measuring. However, while there is a plethora of ready to use analytical tools crowding the market, the challenge will be to avoid the “low-hanging fruit” trap of measuring activity over action. If we do our job correctly, we will be able to say what works and what doesn’t using social media metrics, as well as distinguishing online from offline impact.

Q: What is the current state of the field for measuring social media? Where do we go from here?
A: The potential power of social is undeniable and we are looking for ways to continue to test our assumptions about what we are producing. For example, by watching others comment on Twitter about our work we not only have a better sense of how we are being understood, it also serves as a kind of content analysis of the impact we are having. By monitoring a recurring Twitter chat, we can hear whether our meaning and intention is influencing the discussion in the way we desire it to.

As the unit responsible for measuring the impact of our work, we regularly ask ourselves: What are we using social media for? Who are our target audiences (segmented, as well as aggregated)? (The ability to diversify our networks is a huge value to RWJF; developing metrics that includes demographics of our audiences is an important part of the measurement effort.) What is the expected action/behavior we wish to see? How do we measure behavior change? How can we best go beyond measuring online activity (page views, unique visitors, tweets, and re-tweets) to measuring offline action and policy change? This is the key challenge for philanthropy today: assessing an effective and efficient social media campaign. As a foundation, accountable to our Board and the public, we must have standards for our investments in social media just as we do for our programmatic investments. We ought to be able to answer the so-what question for investing staff time and talent in social media campaigning. As a sector, we are becoming much more sophisticated in our use of communications to advance our work. Looking at ways to measure social media should fit within the framework of measuring communications broadly. Even as the task of identifying communications indicators is challenging, social media lends itself well to being more precise and thus measurable.

In order to engage the field in a dialogue on social media measurement, RWJF is hosting a national convening of experts in three domains: evaluation, communications, and social media. The April convening will produce a set of indicators on five Foundation-focused outcomes:

1. Our foundation is viewed as a valuable information source.

2. Our foundation is viewed as transparent.

3. Lessons are disseminated, multiplying impact beyond our foundation’s reach.

4. Public knowledge, advocacy, influence, and action is increased in strategic areas

5. Our networks strengthen and diversify.

We invite you to help us advance the field of social media measurement. Please follow hashtag #SM_RE on Twitter for conversations stemming from the social media measurement meeting this month, including a live Twitter chat on April 18, 3 p.m. EDT, as we continue to move the field forward in using data to evaluate and assess impact of our work.

-- Debra Joy Perez

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