Transparency Talk

Meet Our Newest GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Dawn Hawk, Chief Operating Officer, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation
March 26, 2019

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have helped GlassPockets reach the milestone of 100 published profiles by publicly participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

Philanthropic Ventures Foundation (PVF), a grantmaking public charity, was established in 1991 to test new approaches to grantmaking. PVF has developed an expertise in “grassroots giving” through which it aspires to transform philanthropy, making it more responsive and collaborative to better meet community needs. In partnership with grassroots leaders, PVF identifies needs that can be met with philanthropic support, and then devises program ideas to help tackle the issues head on. From this drive to address unmet needs came the idea of immediate-response grants, in which PVF provides funds within a 48-hour turnaround. These immediate-response grant programs have benefitted teachers as well as social workers and juvenile court judges who work with youth in foster care.

Philanthropic Ventures Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. Dawn Hawk, Chief Operating Officer, explains why transparency is an essential component of PVF’s community and relationship-focused approach to grantmaking.

GlassPockets: Why is transparency an important value to informing how Philanthropic Ventures Foundation operates?

Dawn Hawk: For PVF, transparency is more than displaying organizational policies. Transparency is relationships with our partners – our grantee partners and donors. Transparency is related to trust. It takes one to develop the other. And trust comes from deeply understanding the work and challenges of our grantees.

Because our grantees’ success is important to us, we visit them regularly, we learn from them, and we help them tell their story, via our blog, newsletter, and social media. One key role we play for our donor advised funds is to advise our donors on giving with impact, and we want to introduce them to nonprofits with outstanding leadership and fresh ideas. Thus we feel it is important to profile our grantees on our website and in conversations.

We aren’t focused on transparency around what we will fund as we haven’t conducted a strategic thinking process that sets our funding areas in stone. We are more focused on modeling a risk-taking approach, and advocating for more responsiveness from our foundation colleagues, to free up the time our nonprofit partners now spend on writing proposals.

Dawn

Dawn Hawk

GP: Since you are in the unique role of both grantmaking and fundraising, that gives you a unique vantage point. What is one or two pieces of information you wish more foundations would have transparently on their websites?

DH: All organizations searching for support want to be able to determine if their work is a fit for a foundation’s giving focus, so having open program guidelines clearly stated is key. One of the most difficult statements for a grantseeker to understand is “we do not accept unsolicited proposals” and PVF will never state that. To us transparency also means accessibility. If you are doing good work, we want to know about it, which is why we pride ourselves on being out in the community more than in our offices, and when in the office we always pick up the phone.

And yet, PVF also struggles with communicating our “giving focus” on our website because we provide such a wide range of services: giving creative grantmaking advice to our donor advised fund clients; modeling responsive grantmaking through our immediate response grant programs for teachers and social workers; administering awards programs for innovative startup partners wishing to make an impact without establishing a stand-alone foundation; serving as a fiscal depository for projects that do not yet have their tax-exempt status but are otherwise ready to begin their charitable work.

While PVF’s immediate response grant programs and awards programs provide an easy entry point for grantseekers who fit the eligibility guidelines, there is no streamlined way for a grantseeker to understand the giving focuses of our many donor advised funds. This is a common problem with community foundations. We’d love to open this discussion and hear how our fellow community foundations address this. For PVF we make a point to profile the work of outstanding leaders and programs working in the community, as these are the programs we also hope will inspire and motivate our donors to give support. At a time when local grassroots solutions are more important than ever, we feel it is our role to inform donors about important, critical work happening in their back yard and to encourage them to “give local."

GP: How did the GlassPockets self-assessment process help you improve or better understand your foundation's level of transparency, and why should your peers participate?

DH: It has been helpful to become aware of all the avenues of transparency. The featured categories allow a foundation to conduct a self-audit to be able to present a more complete profile of their work. Since the GlassPockets assessment looks at a number of indicators across the whole foundation, deciding to do the assessment helped us to focus on transparency as a team. We are viewing the GlassPockets process as an ongoing process – we are on the road!

GP: Do you have any examples of how being a transparent funder has led you to become more effective in your philanthropy?

DH: Of course, having transparent up front information about what you fund will answer a grantseekers’ questions, and minimize the research time a nonprofit must invest. And making ourselves transparent and accessible helps us better understand their time constraints and how to structure our grantmaking processes in a way that supports our partners rather than creates a burden. As a result, we prioritize streamlined application processes out of respect for our grantees’ time and to free them up to focus more on their mission than on fundraising. In essence, transparency and accessibility lead to processes based on empathy and respect. PVF has always allocated a modest amount of grant funding to enable us to model responsive grantmaking, giving critical intervention funding when it is needed, making grants without formal applications from nonprofits, and providing support based on knowledge of the program and its impact.

GP: Since ideally, transparency is always evolving and there is always more that can be shared, what are some of your hopes for how Philanthropic Ventures Foundation will continue to open up its work in new ways in the future?

DH: In our role as an intermediary, transparency is also about helping to create a culture of learning among our donors. We continually work with our donor advised fund clients to keep them informed about local issues, such as the inequality gap, lack of housing, and displacement. We convene nonprofits and funders around these issue areas, providing forums for engagement where they can meet as equals to discover and advance new ideas to address our biggest problems, and we share these discussions online.

We help donors with a funding goal – for example, to support young people to implement community service projects – to turn these funding ideas into long-running, high-impact programs with open applications – like the Bay Area Inspire Awards Program which we have administered for five years. And of course we always endeavor to make our program application process streamlined and the decision announcement timeline short!

--Janet Camarena

Join Candid at the PEAK Grantmaking Conference
March 7, 2019

Untitled designIt’s Peak season! PEAK Grantmaking conference season, that is. That time of year many of us look forward to when grants operations professionals get together to compare notes, learn from one another, and take home new ideas and approaches to make their grantmaking practices and process more efficient, effective, and equitable.

Candid Round Table

candidWe are particularly excited about PEAK’s conference this year, because it’s our first time going out into conference land as Candid, so we’re looking forward to getting out there, and doing the usual mixing and mingling, but also listening and learning from questions and ideas you have to share with us. So bring your hopes and dreams about how we transform to our Candid Round Table on Tuesday, March 12th from 3:45-5:15pm. We will also have a Candid booth in the Exhibit Hall, so please stop by and visit!

Beyond the Round Table and exhibiting, we also hope you will also join us for a couple of very timely and topical sessions we’ll be offering.

Ivory Tower No More

First up on Monday, March 11th from 1:30-2:45pm, I’ll be facilitating a session called Ivory Tower No More, which will give participants a sneak preview of both the new PEAK Principles and Practices, as well as the forthcoming GlassPockets Transparency Levels—all in the name of helping your foundation avoid “Ivory Tower Syndrome.” How do you know if you are suffering from this dreaded malady? Have your policies and practices built a moat around your foundation that is as much an obstacle for you as for others?  Learn how to avoid creating practices that work against your foundation’s ability to live up to its commitment to serve the public good. This session focuses on the importance of transparency to effective foundation stewardship, and helps you to understand how to shift toward openness in a way that strengthens your foundation by building bridges instead of moats. Inspiring case studies will be shared by my panel colleagues, Amy Anderson from the Bush Foundation; Mona Jhawar from The California Endowment; and Cheryl Milloy from the Marguerite Casey Foundation.

Untitled design

Participatory Grantmaking

Then on Tuesday morning, join my Candid colleague, Jen Bokoff along with Arlene Wilson-Grant from the Disability Rights Fund, as they introduce Participatory Grantmaking 101: Inclusive and Effective Strategic Practice. This session highlights findings from our latest GrantCraft guide. Explore the “why” and the “how” of participatory grantmaking, from its benefits and its challenges to its mechanics for recruiting community members, reviewing applications, and making decisions. Hear about the practical, real-world experience of foundations that have been using this approach for years. Presenters will offer both a field-wide view and specific anecdotes from within PEAK Grantmaking member foundations.

Hope to see you in Denver!

--Janet Camarena

Philanthropy, Transparency, and Indigenous Relationships
February 28, 2019

Kate Frykberg is a philanthropy advisor based in New Zealand, and trustee of the Te Muka Rau Trust, a philanthropic trust with a specific focus on social cohesion, respectful relationships, and the central place of Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) in Aotearoa New Zealand, where all feel confident and respected in their own cultures and heritage.

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have helped GlassPockets reach the milestone of 100 published profiles by publicly participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

GlassPockets Road to 100

I’ve been thinking about funder relationships with indigenous communities and the ways in which we get this wrong and right, and what role transparency can play in strengthening these efforts.

My cultural context is Aotearoa New Zealand and here the term most commonly applied to settlers is Pākehā – which usually (but not always) also implies that you are white. Indigenous people are Māori, or Tangata Whenua – People of the Land.

I am Pākehā, and a few years back I set myself on a journey to figure out what this means and how to be better at it. This has involved learning some tikanga (customs) and Te Reo Māori (Māori language) – why should all our interactions be conducted in the language of those who colonised the land? It has involved questioning my own identity and heritage. It has involved playing my part in addressing racism and inequity. And it has involved reflecting on and strengthening my relationships with Māori – in my work in philanthropy and in my personal life.

The thing is though, there are quite a few ways in which we Pākehā miss the mark in our relationships with Māori, often despite our best intentions. I’m not talking blatant racism, which sadly still exists, but that is a topic for another time. Instead I am talking about the wide spectrum of ways in which we try to do the right thing but then it just goes a bit wrong. Here are seven examples from my cultural context:

  1. Unconscious bias – “We would have liked to employ someone Māori but no-one who met our criteria applied.
  2. Paralysis – “I know I am pretty ignorant about things Māori and I’m scared of getting it wrong, so I will just try to avoid engaging.
  3. Paternalism – “I want to help those poor Māori people.
  4. Tokenism – “We’ve just appointed someone Māori to our board – phew – job done.”
  5. Idealising – “Oh your culture is just so deep and spiritual – it’s the answer to all the world’s problems.”
  6. Smugness – “I’ve been learning to speak Māori – I can’t wait to show you how cool I am.
  7. Cultural appropriation – “I’ve found meaning in your culture – it’s mine now too.”

And, truth is, I think I’ve done all of the above at different times. So what might a better relationship look like?

Katie 2
Kate Frykberg

My friend and colleague Marcus Akuhata-Brown describes this insightfully: “Māori need to feel free to be Māori and to enjoy high-trust relationships with Pākehā without leaving our Māori selves at the door. Also Pākehā need to be able to share power – and sometimes cede power. That’s when the going can get tough.”

This high-trust, respectful, power-sharing relationship between Māori and Pākehā is perhaps the kind of relationship envisaged in our country’s founding document, a treaty signed between Māori and the Britain called Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi). So how might this relationship play out in practice?

Philanthropy is dear to my heart – but most New Zealand foundations operate according to models imported from the US and Europe. Thinkers like Dr. Manuka Henare and Dame Anne Salmond have questioned this, and the small philanthropic trust my husband Dave Moskovitz and I set up over a decade ago is one of several funders trying to do things differently. Our very small foundation, Te Muka Rau has a specific focus on social cohesion, respectful relationships and the central place of Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) in Aotearoa New Zealand. We transparently state our commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi on our website and we are trying to run our trust as a partnership between Māori and Pākehā. So far this process has involved:

  • Moving to a bi-cultural governance model with two Māori and two Pākehā trustees;
  • Being gifted a new name Te Muka Rau, meaning “the many strands,” to replace the previous name of “Thinktank Charitable Trust;”
  • Aligning the way we run trustee meetings with Maori tikanga;
  • Experimenting with making small grants on the basis of a conversation between people requesting funding and our trustees, with the required checks and balances and paperwork managed internally;
  • Not asking for written reports on grants and instead meeting face to face;
  • Offering non-financial support like advice on fundraising and technology, writing articles in support of the causes we fund, and providing introductions to other funders;
  • Considering the role of reciprocity in philanthropy to better align with giving in Te Ao Māori;
  • Being transparent in who we are, how we work, where the money comes from, where it goes to - and being open and eager to learn from feedback.  (We are proud to be the first New Zealand foundation to become a GlassPockets funder.)

These changes have enabled Te Muka Rau to fund Māori-led initiatives like a project where Māori young people interview and film established Maōri leaders to gather learnings on authentic Māori leadership, and a project to reinstate and teach traditional food growing practices in local communities. Both of these projects are important for reclaiming cultural knowledge and practices, and it is unlikely that we would have known about either project before we changed how we worked.  In fact, it is even unlikely that we would have been trusted to fund these projects. This is because there is an uncomfortable irony in seeking resources from the coloniser to reclaim knowledge lost under colonisation, but this is at least somewhat addressed when half the trustees are Māori.

On the flip side, there have been some projects which looked good to our Pākehā trustees which we didn’t fund – because our Māori trustees had insights into implications and unintended consequences that we would never have become aware of.

Te Muka Rau Trust has not yet gone far along the path to becoming a true partnership between Māori and Pākehā, nor am I very far on the path to being a better Pākehā. But, through being transparent and open we have started to build trust. By listening and learning we have started to build stronger relationships. And by consciously sharing power we have started to build partnership. I think this path is creating better outcomes for everyone involved, and I personally am finding the journey exciting, challenging and enlightening.

--Kate Frykberg

Open Road Alliance Joins GlassPockets
February 21, 2019

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Maya Winkelstein, Executive Director, Open Road Alliance

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have helped GlassPockets reach the milestone of 100 published profiles by publicly participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

Open Road Alliance (ORA) is a private philanthropic initiative that serves the social sector by keeping impact on track in an unpredictable world. Open Road was founded in 2012 by psychologist and philanthropist Dr. Laurie Michaels to address the need for contingency funds and the absence of risk management practices in philanthropy. ORA provides both short- and long-term solutions to unexpected challenges that arise during project implementation, so that impact and finite resources can be maximized across the social sector. To meet immediate needs, ORA offers fast, flexible funding to nonprofits and social enterprises facing discrete, unexpected roadblocks during project implementation.

In addition to its investment portfolio, Open Road promotes the long-term, sector-wide adoption of better risk management practices. In collaboration with peers, ORA conducts research, develops tools, and generates data on approaches to financial and non-financial risk management.

Open Road Alliance is among our newest GlassPockets participants. Maya Winkelstein, executive director, explains why transparency is central to its philanthropic efforts.

GlassPockets: As a donor-advised fund (DAF), Open Road is voluntarily being more transparent than what's required, so why are you prioritizing transparency? Is it part of your strategy?

Untitled design
Maya Winkelstein

Maya Winkelstein: Transparency is key to our investment strategy and to our mission of Keeping Impact on Track. We believe that honest, transparent conversations - particularly in the donor-grantee relationship - are critical to mitigating risk and preserving impact.

As for being a DAF, we chose that structure because it’s very flexible and keeps our administrative costs down - meaning we can put more of our assets directly into our grant and loan portfolios. We’re focused on impact, the rest is just logistics!

GP: We often hear concerns that transparency takes a lot of time and resources, so it's really more relevant for large foundations. Why would you say transparency and openness should be a priority for even foundations comprised of a small team? How have you benefited from your efforts to open up your work?

MW: We believe in a customer service approach to philanthropy where our customers are
our grantees and potential grantees. This ethos is embodied in our customer service credo which outlines how we do business. We exist to serve them, not the other way around. I think this is how philanthropy should be -- no matter the size of your organization. Given this core ethos, it would be impossible for us to provide “good service” without transparency and honesty. That’s what makes it a priority for us.

We have also found that integrating transparency into our criteria, our decision-making process, timelines, expectations, and definitions of impact makes for more effective partnerships. Being honest accelerates relationship development and given that the organizations we work with are coming to us with a challenge laid bare, there’s a built in requirement and responsibility for mutual transparency and candor. It’s an invaluable piece of the Open Road puzzle.

GP: How did the GlassPockets self-assessment process help you improve or better understand your organization's level of transparency, and why should your peers participate?

MW: We are grateful to have the opportunity to participate in GlassPockets. Not only so that peers and partners have insight into Open Road, but the process afforded us the opportunity to evaluate how accessible we are to potential applicants or peers seeking resources. It has inspired us to include more ways to engage with Open Road on our contact page, and to highlight feedback received and how to give us feedback, by providing a link to our profile on GrantAdvisor.

GP: Feedback mechanisms are often something that foundations struggle with. Open Road Alliance has been able to provide such a mechanism by becoming an early adopter of GrantAdvisor, an open platform where grantees and applicants can anonymously review your foundation. Why is this important and what have you learned from your participation?

MW: We’re big fans of GrantAdvisor, and I’ve been lucky enough to serve as a member of their National Leadership Panel for three years. I think it’s a platform that’s long overdue. It’s important to us because anonymous feedback is honest feedback. GrantAdvisor.org offers the opportunity to hear directly from our most important stakeholders (i.e. grantees).

As an ED, I also use it as a management tool. I regularly check recent reviews to see how our investment team is doing - if we are living up to our customer service credo. If we get a bad review or critical feedback, we use that to have a conversation internally and assess if we need to make a change. Every enterprise needs unfettered feedback from its customers. GrantAdvisor gives us that.

GP: Since ideally, transparency is always evolving and there is always more that can be shared, what are some of your hopes for how Open Road Alliance will continue to open up its work in new ways in the future?

MW: As a small team we don’t always have the bandwidth to report on our impact. We’re currently in the process of hiring a data scientist who will be instrumental in analyzing our portfolio, the impact we’ve had on individual projects and the sector, and, frankly, what we could be doing better. With increased capacity, we’re looking forward to sharing that data more regularly!

--Janet Camarena

How We Became Candid and What It Means for You
February 6, 2019

We hope you saw yesterday’s announcement that Foundation Center and GuideStar have joined forces to create a new nonprofit named Candid. (If not, surprise!) Here’s a quick summary:

  • Candid connects people who want to change the world to the resources they need to do it. Learn more at candid.org.
  • The name Candid reflects our commitment to be upfront and honest. We’ll speak honestly about what we do, what works, and what can be improved. We’ll put that principle before all others.
  • For now, it’s business as usual for our collective products and services. We’ll keep you posted as activities and offerings evolve.
  • Brad Smith is president of Candid and Jacob Harold is executive vice president of Candid. They published a blog post yesterday that’s worth reading.

HOW WE BECAME CANDID

1
Jen Bokoff
2
Gabe Cohen

Over the years, starting around GuideStar’s inception in 1994, a colorful cast of characters (from past leaders to long-time program officers to students learning about the sector for the first time) wondered why Foundation Center and GuideStar were in fact separate. Our organizations seemed to be working toward analogous (or at least complementary) missions. And, in parallel, staff regularly observed that our stakeholders—be they training attendees, database-hunters for grants, or those looking for funding gaps and partnerships to capitalize on—conflated the two organizations, which muddled the information-finding landscape. In 2012, the organizations more formally investigated the idea of joining forced and decided it wasn’t the right time—combining operations could be a good idea at some point, but not then.

In the years since, we have tested the waters. We partnered on various projects to see how efficiently and effectively we could work together. We shared the costs of obtaining and posting nonprofit data; we collaborated on an ID system for entities working to promote social good; we led conversations about the importance of using data to drive smarter work.

During this time, too, the nonprofit information landscape changed. Probably the biggest development was the expansion of available (but mostly messy) nonprofit and foundation data. We also saw more organizations sharing information and embracing social media and other digital platforms. And everybody was asking nonprofits to provide information—online giving sites, companies providing nonprofit discounts, grantmakers, state charity officials, media ... you get the idea.

So in 2017, Foundation Center and GuideStar looked again at combining operations. We commissioned an expert study, met with past donors, and engaged our board in exploring whether joining forces was possible and smart. The unanimous conclusion: Yes.

The bottom line of that exploration: our organizations could accomplish so much more together than they could apart. The boards came together to work through questions of governance, funding, leadership, and sustainability. As they say, the rest is history.

For the last six months, a cross-organizational group has worked to develop the new organization’s identity and launch it to the world. Starting yesterday, together, GuideStar and Foundation Center are Candid.

WHAT CANDID MEANS FOR YOU

As we begin to integrate operations, it will mostly be business (and mission) as usual for our respective platforms and users. Our goal during this transition period is to ensure that our stakeholders receive the same level of support that we have been delivering for a combined 85 years. You’ll still find comprehensive information about grantmakers on Foundation Center’s website and extensive profiles of nonprofits on GuideStar. You can still improve your grantseeking skills with GrantSpace and update your organization’s information on GuideStar. And you’ll still access Foundation Center and GuideStar products and services the way you always have. We’ll dig into this more on a webinar this month.

There will be some more immediate changes though. Our updated social media presence will be the quickest platform to evolve, and over the next few weeks and months, you’ll notice tweaks to our logos and some of how we write and look.

What you see launching today is only the beginning—it will continue to evolve and be shaped through essential conversations with our board, our staff, and, most importantly, with you. We’ll let you know as these developments happen. But for now, it’s business as usual for the Foundation Center and GuideStar products and services you rely on. (And, all of our friends and family, who were never sure if we worked for GuideStar or Foundation Center because they felt like one and the same, can sleep easier!)

Launching Candid is only the first step. Now comes the real fun—meshing the activities of more than 200 employees. We—and our colleagues—will keep you posted.

Jen and Gabe worked with a small staff group and Open, our brand consultants, for the past five months to create the new Candid brand and identity. They will lead implementation of the brand across Candid’s many offerings over the next year and look forward to connecting with our many stakeholders as part of evolving the work. They also ask for your forgiveness in advance if you happen to get the wrong announcement email, no email at all, or some other sort of communications mishap.

Jen Bokoff is Director of Stakeholder Engagement at Candid, and leads GrantCraft. Shoot her an email any time at jen.bokoff@candid.org, or find her on Twitter at @jenbo1 @grantcraft.

Gabe Cohen is the Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Candid.

Facing the Future Together
February 5, 2019

The social sector is big. It’s essential. It’s complex. For a combined 85 years, Foundation Center and GuideStar have helped people make sense of that complexity.

But the world faces growing challenges: polarization, climate change, technological revolution, and poverty and inequality. Foundation Center and GuideStar must do more to support the social sector.

Bradford Smith
Bradford Smith
Jacob Harold
Jacob Harold

candidThat's why we are combining our talent, technology, data, and leadership to become a new organization, Candid. There is so much more we can do together:

  • We can offer a 360-degree view of the work of social good—who’s doing what, where, on the issues that matter to people around the world.
  • We can bring the nonprofit sector closer to having common profiles for every organization and in doing so promote more efficient systems for raising funds, managing grants and donations, and measuring impact.
  • We can offer insights that were never before possible and share those insights in clear and actionable ways.
  • We can link the learning of changemakers around the world so they can work smarter, together.

Combining two historic organizations—with tools used by millions of people across hundreds of platforms—will be challenging to say the least. Over the next several years, we will be weaving together technology systems, petabytes of data and content, dozens of products and services, and, most importantly, the deep knowledge and experience of more than 200 staff. But we are confident we can do it.

To guide this transition, we will aspire to the ideal embodied in our new name. The word candid speaks to the roots of Foundation Center and GuideStar, organizations born out of the need to provide fair, accurate, and objective information about foundations and nonprofits. It also informs how we will work, speaking to our future imperative of continuing to earn our stakeholders’ trust in an information-wary world. To succeed, we will need to be honest about what works, what doesn’t, what we know, and what we still need to figure out. In this vein, as Candid, we will use transparency as a guiding value in our communication with you.

Tomorrow two of our colleagues will discuss how we became Candid and what this change means for you. But now we turn to you. Tell us what you’d like to see in a stronger social sector: how can information transform the work of social good?

Bradford Smith is president and Jacob Harold is executive vice president of Candid.

How Family Foundations Are Opening Up: Part II
January 31, 2019

Elaine Gast Fawcett of PhilanthropyCommunications.com is a philanthropy writer and communications strategist who has managed multi-million dollar grant programs for foundations, is a certified multigenerational family trainer with 21/64, and a Contributing Editor to the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP). This post is the second of a two-part look at some of the key findings about transparency in family foundations from a new NCFP report.

Elaine Gast Fawcett
Elaine Gast Fawcett

Last week I started by identifying some of the key ways in which family foundations are working more transparently than in the past. Strengthening relationships was core to the two practices I identified: being accessible to grant applicants and learning from listening to the community. Here are a few more helpful examples and practices from the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities.

Transparency is…Credibility to Bring Voice to Issues

When Stefan Lanfer came to the Barr Foundation in 2008, it was just over a decade old, and did all of its grantmaking anonymously. “In 2009, Barr’s trustees decided it was time to be more open and transparent about the foundation’s work,” he says.

What drove the decision? “Mission. The board saw the potential to bring more value beyond its grant dollars alone—to elevate the voices and work of our partners, and also to use our own voice to contribute to public debates about the issues we focus on.”

The shift to greater transparency took time. One of the foundation’s core values is humility. For its many years as an anonymous funder, the prevailing view was that “attention ought to be on the community leaders and issues at hand, not us,” says Lanfer, who was tasked with leading the foundation’s communications efforts. “We weren’t interested merely in increasing visibility for Barr. We wanted to know how to use communications to further our mission.”

“We realized there are times when the Barr Foundation lending its voice can be significant to issues affecting our city and region,” he says. “It can spark, frame, and help shift important conversations.”

For example, like many cities, Boston has experienced a huge real estate boom along its waterfront, says Lanfer. “Over the last 10 years, development along Boston’s waterfront has exploded. Meanwhile media coverage and public debate has principally focused on the merits or concerns about individual projects—and not on growing concerns that Boston’s waterfront could end up being walled off from public use. In this context, Barr’s president, Jim Canales, wrote an Op Ed that ran in the Boston Globe, calling for a new conversation, and a different approach. He called for greater ambition and vision to create a waterfront that all can access and enjoy for generations.”

That one Op-Ed precipitated a significant increase in media coverage of the topic. At the same time, Barr launched a new special initiative focused on the waterfront, which has since awarded over $11 million. Yet, it was a willingness to add its voice to the conversation, says Lanfer, that had that first, important amplifying effect. “It drew more attention to the cause and created a momentum that wasn’t there before, and has only continued to build.”

Transparency is…Sharing Mistakes in the Spirit of Learning

“When we started thinking about transparency, it was when we were looking at ways to help communities develop and how they could become more resilient, flexible, and intuitive in their own ways,” says Richard Russell, board member of The Russell Family Foundation (TRFF). “We looked at what was making a difference in the waters of Puget Sound. What we learned was that more than 50 percent of the pollution of Puget Sound comes from the communities surrounding it, and that those communities have a lack of consciousness that they live next to this incredible fjord and are dumping everything in there.”

“We asked ourselves: what is our theory of change? What will make a difference down the road?” says Russell. “We saw an opportunity to build trust and convene community. The more we can be open with each other, the better the quality of our connection.”

One of the ways to be open is to share mistakes, he says. “In our culture, mistakes are taboo. Yet revealing mistakes can be a source of strength,” he says. “We all think we have to protect ourselves. Yet a lot of our nervousness or fears around that are misguided.”

“My parents (George and Jane Russell, founders of TRFF) believed that you can advance progress so much faster if you got the right people in the room and got out of their way. If you try to keep people out of the room or hide mistakes that people are inevitably going to make, it injects more tension into relationships,” says Russell.

In the spirit of its founders, TRFF posts its mistakes. In fact, for years, one of the most it ever posted was on a failed program related investment that it had made to a nonprofit. “The video featured interviews with the executive director of the nonprofit, interviews with me from TRFF, what we had learned, and how we the foundation processed these lessons learned across the silos,” says CEO Richard Woo.

“People don’t learn from each other if they aren’t open,” says Russell. “One of the most valuable things we’ve been able to do as a community leader is to convene people on issues that they aren’t talking about—to get people to let their hair down and talk openly. We all need to be a learning organization.”

Transparency is…Opening Up Online

A website is a minimal transparency tool, says Patrick Troska. “At a minimum, people should be able to find you and get in touch with you, not have their question go into some black hole. We do exist in the public trust and are supposed to be responding to the public—and if we’re not doing that, what are we doing?”

“I hope these stories will inspire family foundations to look at their own transparency practices, and how family foundations—and the communities they serve—can benefit from increased openness.”

Recently, the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota revamped its website to be more community focused. There are now photos from the community, blog posts written by foundation staff and other guest writers, staff contact information, and funding guidelines. The foundation is even considering an interactive map showing where they fund.

The Perrin Foundation in New Haven, Connecticut also recently redeveloped its website. “When we started the process, we found we weren’t as transparent online as we thought we were,” says president Laura McCargar. “On our previous site, we had listed our board chair, but no other board members. We talked about grantmaking areas, but didn’t talk about how we encourage folks to build relationships. We listed our grant partners, but no financials.”

While it’s been a somewhat challenging process to redevelop the website, the “opportunity to discuss together how we publicly represent ourselves has been invaluable.” She says one of the discussion points was about how board members individually wish to be represented on the site. “Some felt photos might make it too much about the family, and others felt it would keep us too much behind a veil if we didn’t put photos up. These are important conversations to have.”

Ultimately, consistent with the GlassPockets transparency self-assessment, it’s up to a family foundation board, perhaps with staff, to decide on the right level of transparency for them, and why. I hope these stories will inspire family foundations to look at their own transparency practices, and how family foundations—and the communities they serve—can benefit from increased openness.

Want more? Download the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide, Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities, which encourages donors, boards, and staff of family foundations (and other giving vehicles) to purposefully consider their choices regarding transparency in grantmaking, governance, and operations. This guide includes a list of questions family foundations can ask themselves as a board to think deeply and develop a transparency strategy.

--Elaine Gast Fawcett

How Family Foundations Are Opening Up
January 24, 2019

Elaine Gast Fawcett of PhilanthropyCommunications.com is a philanthropy writer and communications strategist who has managed multi-million dollar grant programs for foundations, is a certified multigenerational family trainer with 21/64, and a Contributing Editor to the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP). This post is the first of a two-part look at some of the key findings about transparency in family foundations from a new NCFP report.

Elaine Gast Fawcett
Elaine Gast Fawcett

When it comes to transparency, family foundations, by and large, choose the level of their liking or opt to remain “under the radar.” Yet as the public and the nonprofit sector call for greater funder openness and transparency, more family foundations are wondering: how transparent should we be, and why? Will transparency lead to greater effectiveness? Or are there some circumstances where it serves our mission more to stay mums-the-word?

While there is a wide range of transparency practices in family philanthropy, there are more stories of the field swinging toward openness. I interviewed a number of family foundations for the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities. Here are a few stories that show how family funders are thinking and acting when it comes to transparency, and what has come as a result.

Transparency is…Being Accessible to Grant Applicants

“When we think about our approach, we don’t use the word transparency—it’s just what we do,” says Jean Buckley, president of the Tracy Family Foundation in Illinois, and daughter of the founders R.T. and Dorothy Tracy.

“From a grantmaking perspective, we’ve always strived to be transparent in our process—communicating clearly on our website how to apply and when we make funding decisions,” she says. Beyond that, the Tracy Foundation encourages grant applicants to consult with the foundation program manager to strengthen their applications and increase their chances of getting funded.

“We see so many applications that come in and need a lot of work. By making ourselves accessible to grant applicants, we can give them tips on making their proposals better. It also helps our program manager get to know the organization, and prepare to communicate to the board.”

She acknowledges that a foundation can’t have that level of communication with applicants without a dedicated staff. It takes time to dedicate those resources. Yet, at the end of the day, she says, it saves time. “I used to spend my time reading through countless applications, sending emails and follow up emails. And more than half the time, it would postpone funding,” she says. “Now that applicants have these pre-conversations with our program officer, the applications are clearer, and our discussions now are so much more efficient at board meetings. It’s improved our process and saved everyone time,” she says.

Buckley does acknowledge that there are challenges to transparency, particularly in small towns. “We live in a rural area, and no one wants to feel like they are bragging about giving away money,” she says. “Privacy can also be an issue. The more ‘out there’ the foundation is, people always want something from you, and there’s a good chance you’ll get stopped in the grocery store,” she laughs.

It’s a chance she is willing to take. “Without transparency, funders can miss out on opportunities and connections and learning. We all learn so much from each other,” says Buckley.

”It’s not like we sit around and talk about how to be more transparent. We’re open, honest people running a foundation, trying to make the communities we work in a better place. To do that requires us to be transparent, to engage in thoughtful communication with ourselves and others.” – Jean Buckley, Tracy Family Foundation

Transparency is…Listening and Building Authentic Relationships

Authenticity and transparency go hand in hand, says Patrick Troska, executive director of the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota. It requires a different set of skills to do it right and well, and it takes time and effort.

Philanthropists have historically been more directive and less in the role of listener, he says. “We realized we needed to stop talking and authentically listen. That’s how we built relationships. We were transparent about our guiding values and that we wanted to be in true partnership with the community. Even using the word partners as opposed to grantees intimates a different way of being.”

First, foundation staff assessed themselves individually and as an organization using a tool called the Intercultural Development Inventory assessment. “We needed to understand how we show up in the community when it comes to race, diversity and equity—what are the biases and lenses we bring, how much space do we take up based on our level of privilege, and how can we, as a predominantly white staff, authentically work in a persons of color community? Understanding this was an important first step. It showed us who we are, what we needed to do differently, and what types of behaviors we would need to start to practice.”

“Next, we had conversations with anyone who would talk with us: community leaders, faith leaders, teachers, principals, students, business leaders, and more. We asked them: what are your hopes, your dreams for your community? What do you most want for this community?”

“Then? We listened.”

This wasn’t always easy or comfortable. Troska remembers a moment at a community meeting when an angry leader shouted at foundation staff. “Who are you to be in our community, she said. We knew we needed to sit there and listen. And we came back the next week, and the next week, and listened more. We could have gotten defensive or run away. But we stayed and practiced a set of skills and actions that helped us show up differently.”

“We now have a strong set of allies—folks who want to be a part of the work we’re doing. A new set of leaders emerged from those conversations we had early on. We’re now seen as a more trusted partner in the community, all because of the work we did to be more open to what the community had to say.”

Learn more about transparency trends in philanthropy in my next post, or by downloading the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide, Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities.

--Elaine Gast Fawcett

Vodafone New Zealand Foundation Joins GlassPockets
January 17, 2019

Vodafone New Zealand FoundationGlassPockets Road to 100

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Lani Evans, Foundation Manager, Vodafone New Zealand Foundation

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have helped GlassPockets reach the milestone of 100 published profiles by participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

The Vodafone Foundation has been giving globally since 1991 and the New Zealand Foundation is one of 27 Vodafone Foundations around the world. In New Zealand, the foundation has been working since 2002, and focused on youth development since 2007. Over that time, it has invested more than NZ $28 million in local communities.

Vodafone New Zealand Foundation is dedicated to creating a thriving and prosperous Aotearoa New Zealand, where all young people can live lives they value. According to Treasury New Zealand, there are 210,000 children and young people who don't have access to the resources and support they need to grow into the great adults they want to be. Vodafone New Zealand Foundation wants to change that.

The Vodafone New Zealand Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. Lani Evans, Foundation Manager, explains why the foundation takes the time to make transparency a priority.

GlassPockets: Why is Vodafone New Zealand Foundation prioritizing foundation transparency?

Lani EvansLani Evans

Lani Evans: For us transparency is all about relationships. We're a relational funder, and we want to have high-trust relationships with our community partners. We want them to be open and honest with us – to tell us the positive stories of change, but to also tell us when things are difficult, when a program isn't working as expected, or when our behavior is impacting their efficacy. We can't expect that level of transparency from them, if we're not willing to offer it ourselves.

Transparency is also a way of holding ourselves to account. By being transparent, we give communities and organizations the opportunity to see the full picture, to understand us and, if they want, to critique us. It helps to redress the power imbalance that exists between funders and grantees.

GP: Given competing priorities and often relatively small staff teams, why should corporate grantmakers make transparency a priority?

LE: One of the challenges we have in corporate philanthropy is a community perception that we are limitless in our resources! And while I absolutely wish that was true, the reality is that we have limited funds available, and strategic boundaries on the types of projects we can support. We've found that increasing our transparency, and publishing things like our policy documents, staff information and financial accounts, actually reduces our workload. The transparency allows people to more clearly understand our capacity, our focus areas, and what we will and won't fund. That means we're receiving fewer requests that we are simply unable to fulfil, which is good for the community and good for us.

GP: How did the GlassPockets self-assessment process help you improve or better understand your foundation's level of transparency, and why should your peers participate?

LE: The self-assessment process revealed a few really basic gaps in the information we were providing. It helped us to think about what might be missing and prompted us to include some easy extras that provide important context, like statistics on diversity and copies of our policy documents. It was a simple and useful process.

It also prompted us to discuss transparency in our team meetings – what it means, why it's important and how we can continue to improve our practice, particularly in our data collection, annual report and yearly website reviews.

GP: Since ideally, transparency is always evolving and there is always more that can be shared, what are some of your hopes for how Vodafone New Zealand Foundation will continue to open up its work in new ways in the future?

LE: Getting better at evaluating our own effectiveness is the next step for us. As an organization we have a big, hairy, audacious goal – we want to halve the number of excluded and disadvantaged young people in Aotearoa New Zealand by 2027. Right now, we're grappling with what that actually means and how we'll know when we get there. It's an exciting time – there's a lot of work for us to do, and some big challenges ahead, but I'm excited to share our progress, as well as our learnings along the way.

-- Janet Camarena 

A New Year, a New Transparency Indicator: Coming Soon—Transparency Values & Policies
January 3, 2019

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

Janet Camarena PhotoWhen GlassPockets started nine years ago, it was rare to find any reference to transparency in relation to philanthropy or foundations. The focus of most references to transparency at the time were in relation to nonprofits or governments, but seldom to philanthropy. When we set out to create a framework to assess foundation transparency, the “Who Has GlassPockets?” criteria were based on an inventory of current foundation practices meaning there were no indicators on the list that were not being shared somewhere by at least a few foundations. Not surprisingly, given the lack of emphasis on foundation transparency, there were few mentions of it as a policy or even as a value in the websites we reviewed, so it didn’t make sense at the time to include it as a formal indicator.

GlassPockets Road to 100A lot has changed in nine years, and it’s clear now from reviewing philanthropy journals, conferences, and yes, even foundation websites that awareness about the importance of philanthropic transparency is on the rise. Among the nearly 100 foundations that have taken and publicly shared “Who Has GlassPockets?” transparency assessments, more than 40 percent are now using their websites as a means to communicate values or policies that aim to demonstrate an intentional commitment to transparency. And demonstrating that how the work is done is as important as what is done, another encouraging signal is that in many cases there are articulated statements on new “How We Work” pages outlining not just what these foundations do, but an emphasis on sharing how they aim to go about it. These statements can be found among funders of all types, including large, small, family, and independent foundations.

We want to encourage this intentionality around transparency, so in 2019 we are adding a new transparency indicator asking whether participating foundations have publicly shared values or policies committing themselves to working openly and transparently. In late January the “Who Has GlassPockets?” self-assessment and profiles will be updated reflecting the new addition. Does your foundation’s website have stated values or policies about its commitment to transparency? If not, below are some samples we have found that may serve as inspiration for others:

  • The Barr Foundation’s “How We Work" page leads with an ethos stating “We strive to be transparent, foster open communication, and build constructive relationships.” And elaborates further about field-building potential: “We aim to be open and transparent about our work and to contribute to broader efforts that promote and advance the field of philanthropy.”

  • The Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation’s Mission and Core Values page articulates a long list of values that “emerge from the Foundation’s long history,” including a commitment to forming strategic alliances, working honestly, “showing compassion and mutual respect among grantmakers and grantees,” and ties its focus on transparency to a commitment to high standards and quality: “The Foundation strives for high quality in everything it does so that the Foundation is synonymous with quality, transparency and responsiveness.”

  • The Ford Foundation’s statement connects its transparency focus to culture, values around debate and collaboration, and a commitment to accountability: “Our culture is driven by trust, constructive debate, and leadership that empowers innovation and excellence. We strive to listen and learn and to model openness and transparency. We are accountable to each other at the foundation, to our charter, to our sector, to the organizations we support, and to society at large—as well as to the laws that govern our nonprofit status.”

  • An excerpt from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Information Sharing Approach” page emphasizes collaboration, peer learning, and offers an appropriately global view: “Around the world, institutions are maximizing their impact by becoming increasingly transparent. This follows a fundamental truth: that access to information and data fosters effective collaboration. At the foundation, we are embracing this reality through a continued commitment to search for opportunities that will help others understand our priorities better and what supports our decision making. The foundation is also committed to helping the philanthropic sector develop the tools that will increase confidence in our collective ability to address tough challenges around the world…..We will continually refine our approach to information sharing by regularly exploring how we increase access to important information within the foundation, while studying other institutional efforts at transparency to learn lessons from our partners and peers.”

  • The Walter and Elise Haas Fund connects its transparency focus to its mission statement, and its transparency-related activities to greater effectiveness: “Our ongoing commitment to transparency is a reflection of our mission — to build a healthy, just, and vibrant society in which people feel connected to and responsible for their community. The Walter & Elise Haas Fund shares real-time grants data and champions cross-sector work and community cooperation. Our grantmaking leverages partnerships and collaborations to produce results that no single actor could accomplish alone.”

  • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s statement emphasizes the importance of transparency in creating a culture of learning: “The foundation is committed to openness, transparency and learning. While individually important, our commitments to openness, transparency, and learning jointly express values that are vital to our work. Because our operations—both internal and external—are situated in complex institutional and cultural environments, we cannot achieve our goals without being an adaptive, learning organization. And we cannot be such an organization unless we are open and transparent: willing to encourage debate and dissent, both within and without the foundation; ready to share what we learn with the field and broader public; eager to hear from and listen to others. These qualities of openness to learning and willingness to adjust are equally important for both external grantmaking and internal administration.”

These are just a few of the examples GlassPockets will have available when the new indicator is added later this month. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed for updates.

Happy New Year, Happy New Transparency Indicator!

--Janet Camarena

Share This Blog

  • Share This

Subscribe to Transparency Talk

  • Enter your email address:

About Transparency Talk

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

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

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

Categories