Transparency Talk

Action & Accountability: Why Demographic Data Matters Now
May 28, 2020

Every day we wake up anxiously to frightening new data. The number of cases. The number of deaths. Which country has surpassed another? Who’s flattening the “curve.”  And... that the pandemic’s impact is shockingly disproportionate across race, age, gender, and geography. Due to the living legacies of oppression baked deeply into our social, economic, and political systems, we are seeing that the folks most negatively affected by the crisis are more likely to be Black, Brown, and Native.  In the US especially, we are also seeing a backlash of xenophobia towards Asian and Pacific Islander communities due to efforts to racialize the virus. Add in other intersecting identities like gender identity, age, sexual orientation, immigrant status, justice-system impacted, disability status, and socio-economic class and it becomes clear that those most affected will likely face greater challenges to accessing aid or meeting eligibility requirements for existing support and recovery packages.

Although the scale here is unprecedented, the narrative is a familiar one to us. Prior to the pandemic, CHANGE Philanthropy, PEAK Grantmaking, D5 Compass, and Candid were partnering to raise awareness about the importance of collecting and sharing demographic data. As COVID-19 continues to disproportionately affect our most vulnerable communities and philanthropy mounts a large scale response to growing needs, we encourage foundations and nonprofits to consider these recommendations in an effort to accurately account for the reach and impact of philanthropic dollars and use this data to address funding gaps to communities most impacted by the crisis.

Our challenge for you: 

  • Review your response strategy with an equity lens. 
  • Move the money simply and equitably.
  • Track your grants' intended impact and community reach.
  • Be transparent by sharing your giving and program data.

Reviewing Your Response Strategy with an Equity Lens 

Billions of dollars are being mobilized to support what will become a lengthy and multi-stage response to both the pandemic and a devastating economic downturn. How they will be invested, and to which organizations and communities, will shape the legacy of philanthropy’s response during this historic crisis. A survey in 2018 by PEAK Grantmaking and Frontline Solutions found that 56% of funders had a formal equity statement. Yet, when PEAK conducted a flash survey of its members it found that so far only around 10% of funders are reporting that they are collecting any demographic data for the leaders or nonprofits or the beneficiaries they serve as part of this rapid response.

This represents an opportunity for foundations to not only to walk the talk around embedding equity into practice, but also to show it. As funders continue to distribute aid addressing COVID-19, it will be imperative for them to document the intended beneficiary community, demographics about the leadership of grantee organizations, and how the organizations are addressing community needs. This kind of focus on demographic data is essential if philanthropy truly wants to assess and improve its track record on equity and inclusion.

Move the Money Simply and Equitably

As the calls for more responsive and streamlined philanthropy grow around the current crisis, grants management professionals—the people inside grantmaking organizations who are managing technology systems, application, and reporting processes, grant agreements, and payments—are leading organizational efforts to adapt grantmaking processes, procedures, technology, and communications. At PEAK Grantmaking, many members have reported that they are already adding fields to their grants management systems to collect data around how money is being spent during this crisis. 

As decision makers are called on to make quick determinations in new settings (many have hosted or attended their very first virtual grant review committee meetings in just the last two months!), it becomes even more important for them to have data to inform their deliberations, ensure that philanthropy’s response is equitable, and take into account communities that have been marginalized or left out of traditional grantmaking practices. It is in these moments of crisis response and recovery that we must make some changes in practice, otherwise, we will default to the philanthropic practices that have only exacerbated inequity.

Track Your Grants’ Intended Impact and Community Reach

Instead of building systems that satisfy the information needs of the few while overshadowing the needs of the system as a whole, we recommend improving transparency and data collection efforts by sharing data that can be accessed by everyone to help inform both crisis response and recovery efforts.

Nonprofits can easily share key details about who they are, whom they serve, and any specific COVID-19 response through the GuideStar Profile Update Program.  Consider asking all applicants to complete the Demographics section. There, organizations can share leadership, board, and staff demographic information as well as equity strategies. The demographic survey was updated last year in partnership with CHANGE philanthropy and Equity at the Center to revise the language and approach to collecting and sharing demographic information. This data can help to inform grantmaking and be integrated later in reporting grant details.  

It sounds counter-intuitive but tracking data about grantees need not be at odds with streamlined, rapid response processes. Common standards, taxonomies, and practices are the bedrock for comparability, analysis, and insight.  The fierce independence of our sector often works against our goals to effect large-scale change with disparate actors who frequently are reticent to share information using common standards. By adopting existing taxonomies and standards foundations can bypass the time it takes to create custom systems, and ensure comparability with peers.

Be Transparent by Sharing Your Giving and Program Data

Now is the time for foundations to go beyond the details they disclose on annual IRS reporting forms (990-PF) and share current, complete, and accurate giving data, especially on COVID-19 response work and specific populations that are intended to benefit from that work.

Candid is actively tracking philanthropy’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The public-facing website includes funding opportunities, an interactive map listing awarded grants and grant descriptions, a directory of rapid response funds, and related news items all updated daily at candid.org/coronavirus. Though this effort is currently tracking more than $10 billion in grants, it is incomplete without your data.

Here are some tips to maximize the impact of this reporting: 

  1. If your organization has already funded efforts related to the crisis, please share information on this grantmaking with Candid. Knowing where the money is going and how, and having the latest information from organizations, facilitates thoughtful collaboration and decision making in times of crisis. 
  2. If your organization has established a coronavirus response fund, please let Candid know so we can include it on the list of funds we’re curating. 
  3. If you have never shared grants data before, we recommend using the simplified eReporting template.
  4. Provide detailed grant descriptions. This is the best way to ensure your data will be accurately coded to capture the subject, population, geographic area served, and support strategy you intended and, ultimately, mapped correctly. 
  5. For additional information or assistance with eReporting, email: egrants@candid.org.

 

In closing…

We already know that the impact of this pandemic is tragically inequitable. Let’s take this moment to embed intentionality around demographic data collection and reporting and bake it into our recovery funding practices. These tools and strategies will allow us to be more transparent and accountable about the reach of our pandemic response grantmaking.  If practiced, they will strengthen the field, our ability to analyze the impact, and help future philanthropists understand how to invest in community-based solutions. By combining equitable action response with timely and accurate data collection, philanthropy can avoid past patterns of excluding historically under-served communities from much needed support.

About the Authors

Melissa Sines leads PEAK Grantmaking’s work to identify effective, efficient, and equitable philanthropic practices and advocate for their adoption by grantmakers. She currently serves as Programs and Knowledge Director at PEAK Grantmaking

C. Davis Parchment has long worked to support a social sector driven by better data, research, and analysis. Currently serves as Director of Partnerships-West where she is responsible for elevating and expanding the reach of Candid across the western region by building partnerships and strategies that help to strengthen the social sector.

Kelly Brown is principal consultant at Viewpoint Consulting, which provides program design, research, and analysis to organizations and individuals investing resources to strengthen underserved communities. Previously she led the D5 Coalition, a five-year effort to advance philanthropy through diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Carly Hare (Pawnee/Yankton) strives to live a commitment to advancing equity and community engagement through her professional and personal life. Carly serves as the Coalition Catalyst/National Director of CHANGE Philanthropy.

COVID-19 Response: Which Changes in Grantmaking Practice Should Be Here to Stay?
May 19, 2020

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Janet Camarena
Melissa_Sines







Melissa Sines

Melissa Sines is Programs and Knowledge Director at PEAK Grantmaking, and Janet Camarena is Director of Candid Learning.

Recently PEAK Grantmaking and Candid teamed up on a Community Conversation as part of an ongoing PEAK series designed to provide a forum for peer learning and knowledge exchange on COVID-19 response practices. Melissa Sines, Programs and Knowledge Director for PEAK Grantmaking and Janet Camarena, Director of Candid Learning, hosted the session at the end of April, to invite grants management professionals to reflect on what they are learning from changes made to streamline grants processes that may inform how they hope to improve overall practices post-pandemic. Here we share highlights of the take aways from the session. A complete re-cap of the full program appears on the PEAK blog here.

In the weeks since the crisis began, we all have been learning what it’s like to bring our humanity to our work. Barriers to communication and collaboration that seemed insurmountable just a month ago have been erased. More funders are embracing practices that are allowing them to narrow the power gap and build strong and trusting relationships with their grantees.

More Transparency and Communication

Program participants report that they are adopting streamlined and flexible workflows, which are freeing them up to be more available to connect with grantees. During phone calls to check in on needs and progress, stronger relationships are being forged, leading to greater empathy and understanding about which adjustments might be most helpful. For example, many funders have started to repurpose existing project grants to unrestricted support, as well as to allocate a larger portion of their overall budgets to general support. An earlier GlassPockets blog delves into this further.

Streamlined and Flexible Workflows

As the world continues to adjust to the ongoing strains of sheltering in place and the stress of the extended public health and economic crisis, philanthropy is beginning to understand how its own practices can help or hurt the situation. And the burden you lift may be your own, as several participants reminded us that streamlined application and reporting processes and workflow shortcuts are reducing burden not only for nonprofit partners but also for grantmaking staff.

“Barriers to communication and collaboration that seemed insurmountable just a month ago have been erased.”

In Applications: There is increased attention to the labor standard foundation applications require, greater scrutiny on which information is really needed in order for funders to make decisions, and questioning whether the work of collecting that information should fall to the grantee or to the funder. Some funders have started taking on more of the due diligence burden, using a variety of sources readily available to them, such as organization information already available in their own databases; grantee websites; and websites like Candid’s GuideStar profiles to find the information they need. They’re also taking applications via phone—asking questions of the grantee verbally and recording answers in their grants management system. Some are also taking applications created for another funder or banding together in funder collaboratives to agree on one application and one report format and submission for emergency response grants. As one funder put it, they are “short on what we ask from the nonprofit—long on us documenting what we know about the nonprofit.”

In Decision-making: Grantmakers are convening decision-making bodies (staff, boards, grant review committees) in creative ways. Online meeting software is being utilized to convene decision makers, work through decisions, and rapidly deploy funds. Detailed grant summaries and packages are being reduced to quick emails and spreadsheet overviews that actively prompt in-depth questions and discussions that engage decision makers in meaningful work and promote good decisions. These quick meetings in virtual environments could be a great way to democratize the grantmaking process by utilizing a more participatory grantmaking structure.

In Agreements and Payments: As one of our participants declared: “We moved to electronic checks and electronic award letters and we are NEVER going back!” For many grantmakers, this crisis has led them to embrace electronic processing in place of printing and mailing agreements and checks. One funder reported that they had been advocating for wire payments for a year and a half, and now as a result of the crisis they had it up and running within a few weeks. Award letters, grant agreements, and grant modifications are all being accepted in simplified formats such as a short email, electronic signature software, or a phone call. Another funder reported that using electronic signature software had resulted in over half of signed grant agreements being returned within thirty minutes.

“Philanthropy is beginning to understand how its own practices can help or hurt the situation.”

In Reporting: On the reporting side, funders are accepting quick updates via email or phone, extending reporting deadlines for interim and final reports, even suspending reporting altogether. Some are adjusting evaluation plans and reducing report requirements. Education funders are realizing they will need to entirely rethink evaluation for their grantees given the disruption in that part of the sector.

Lessons Learned and Next Steps

Call participants admitted to feeling a lot of stress around quickly implementing and iterating these rapidly changing practices and processes, but also say that overall, they’re actually amazed at what they’ve been able to accomplish in just a few weeks. Specific takeaways from participants making such changes include:

  • Streamline applications and reporting processes and use conversation to build stronger relationships with your grantees.
  • Closely examine all pieces of information that you ask of applicants to make sure you are using this information.
  • Take on more of the burden for doing the homework and due diligence about your grantees.
  • Consider eliminating the use of customized narrative and budget templates and encouraging applicants to submit applications used for other funders.
  • Move to mobile-friendly, accessible, online applications if you haven’t previously, and make accommodations for people with disabilities.
  • Take the leap and go electronic for grant agreements, payments, and reports.
  • Change mindset on general operating support by increasing its frequency of use.
  • Consider the role of participatory grantmaking in how philanthropy might shift the power now to traditionally under-served and under-represented groups.
  • Reconsider evaluation and data requirements and remove requirements for advertising or brand opportunities that require a certain threshold of participation.
  • Consider which metrics and decision-making frameworks should be used to guide decision making now, and whether you can use an equity or values-based framework to make better decisions.
  • Remember, operationalizing and standardizing all of the changes is a lot of work, so write down how you’re making decisions and why you’re making specific decisions. It’s not easy, but it will help you document changes for your board and for the auditors.
  • Change can be intimidating and you may likely encounter resistance. So make the case that this is a pilot or part of iterative change, and it can always be changed back or changed again in the future if it’s not working. Framing in this way can help get the experiment going.

Which changes are you implementing? Which of them would you like to see carried forward to make your future grantmaking more efficient and effective?

A Call for COVID-19 Grants Data
April 15, 2020

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Kati Neiheisel

Kati Neiheisel is the eReporting liaison at Candid. eReporting allows funders to quickly and easily tell their stories and improve philanthropy by sharing grants data.

Our mission to get people the information they need to do good is taking on greater urgency during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Given how many nonprofits are struggling with increased demand at a time of financial freefall, we are doubling our efforts to make sure the information and services we provide are fast, accessible, reliable, and useful as we monitor philanthropy’s response to the pandemic—but we need your help.

“Transparency and information sharing are more critical now than ever.”

Transparency and information sharing are more critical now than ever to ensure we are not responding to today’s issues with data from years ago. If your organization has funded efforts related to the crisis, please share information on this grantmaking so we can include your COVID-19 grants on our free, public map, part of our coronavirus webpage. The map documents where the money is going and visualizes funder, recipient, and grants data through a variety of filters with list and map views. To facilitate thoughtful collaboration and decision-making, we need your help to make this the most useful resource possible.

Depending on the data fields you collect, you can either use the "Simplified Template" or the "Complete Template," both of which are available here. Please be sure to include either the term "coronavirus" or "COVID-19" in your grant description.

If you use grants management software, you can find instructions for downloading grants data into an Excel spreadsheet on our software partners page. Grants data can then be uploaded through Updater or simply emailed to egrants@candid.org.

To learn more about how this data can serve to inform dialogue and advance the sector as a whole, review this previous Candid blog on the importance of sharing grants data. And remember, timely and accurate grants data help those who want to change the world connect to the resources they need to do it.

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Caroline Kronley, President, Tinker Foundation
April 8, 2020

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Caroline Kronley

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have joined us in building a movement for transparency that now surpasses 100 foundations 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.

For more than sixty years, the Tinker Foundation has promoted economic and social development in Latin America by supporting “people, projects, and ideas.”

"Tinker encourages comparative and collaborative work and supports grantees to learn from others’ experiences."

Tinker realizes its mission by providing funding to civil society organizations—among them nonprofit entities, research institutes, and universities—working to address the region’s most pressing challenges. The organizations Tinker supports use the foundation’s resources to test promising ideas, extend the impact of proven models, and bring together stakeholders to solve problems in new ways.

As one of a small number of private foundations focused on the entire region, Tinker believes it has a particular responsibility and opportunity to support the exchange of knowledge and approaches within and beyond Latin America. For that reason, Tinker encourages comparative and collaborative work and supports grantees to learn from others’ experiences.

Tinker Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. In this interview with GlassPockets’ Janet Camarena, Caroline Kronley, President of the Tinker Foundation, explains why transparency is central to its philanthropic efforts.

GlassPockets: The world around us has changed very rapidly in the last few weeks, and much of what is happening in philanthropy today is in response to the unfolding coronavirus crisis. Here at GlassPockets we have been looking at how the scale of this crisis is heightening the importance of being a transparent and flexible funding partner. How is Tinker responding to this unprecedented situation?

Caroline Kronley: Our first priority has been to check in with and seek to support our grantees and partners. Many are adapting to all the familiar challenges of remote work and increased family responsibilities, while also mobilizing in quite creative and resourceful ways to fight COVID-19. We know that this global crisis will play out over a number of months in Latin America and will likely hit vulnerable communities particularly hard. With that in mind, we are exploring specific grantmaking opportunities that build on the work we are already supporting in the region, such as efforts to support the protection and integration of Venezuelan refugees. 

GP: One of the biggest barriers we encounter when it comes to foundations embracing a more transparent approach is a lack of understanding of the return on the investment of time and effort.  Can you share with us how openness and transparency have played a role in advancing Tinker’s philanthropic objectives?

CK: For Tinker, investing in transparency is a matter of both pragmatism and values. Pragmatism because as a foundation with a total of five staff and headquarters in New York, we need to be as clear as possible about the work we do and how we do it in order to engage prospective partners and collaborators from Latin America. The more we can show the kinds of projects we fund, the impact we’re having, the learning we’re generating, the better for attracting compatible partners. But it’s also a matter of values: much of our work in the Democratic Governance space, for example, focuses on promoting transparency and accountability of institutions in Latin America. It’s only right for us to embody those same commitments in our own organization.

"The more we can show the kinds of projects we fund, the impact we’re having, the learning we’re generating, the better for attracting compatible partners."

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

CK: In January, we launched a new website with the goals of better communicating about the foundation and creating a platform to share the work of our grantees. In leading the design, my colleagues Meg Cushing and Angelina Pienczykowski used the GlassPockets criteria as a roadmap to help determine which transparency elements would be most valuable to our users; over time we expect to add more. We found the criteria for the “Advanced” level quite reasonable with the right planning and effort.

GP: Your commitment to openness and transparency extends to having translations of your website available in Spanish and Portuguese, which seems appropriate for a funder like Tinker that works in Latin America. Yet, translated foundation websites are not something we see that often. Can you reflect on why that might be and how having the translated content has been important to your work? And is there other new content you added with your redesigned website last year that has proved to be helpful to your stakeholders?

CK: Having the most important content in Spanish and Portuguese on our new website was a make-or-break design principle for us. As a U.S.-based foundation working in Latin America, we felt it sent an important signal to communicate in all three languages. More importantly, though, we wanted to ensure that as many prospective partners could use the site as possible; again, we’re trying to reach the organizations and leaders doing the most significant work in the region, not just those with working knowledge of English.

At the same time, having all three languages on the website required significant investment from Tinker and remains a work in progress. I imagine that could be a barrier for many foundations that work internationally. While members of our team have strong language skills, we rely on talented translators to ensure we’re communicating effectively and sensitively with our diverse audience.

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

CK: One of our institutional goals for this year is to strengthen our approach to monitoring, learning, and evaluation. Over time, we hope to have more to share about the impact we’re contributing to through the incredible work of our grantees. 

Coronavirus Heightens Importance of Being a Transparent and Flexible Foundation
March 24, 2020

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Janet Camarena

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives for Candid, and serves as a member of the board of directors for PEAK Grantmaking.

In a week's time, life has changed in unimaginable ways as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Predictable routines of work and school have been upended as we "shelter in place" and shift work to home offices shared in many cases with spouses and newly homeschooled children. Meanwhile local services and businesses have limited hours or are completely shuttered.

Nonprofits on the front lines of serving vulnerable communities and addressing new needs stemming from the magnitude of this public health and economic crisis will be tested in unexpected ways. All while adjusting budgets to a reality in which fundraising galas, revenue-generating programs, and conferences have come to a grinding halt. In such a perfect storm of calamity, philanthropic institutions must also depart from business as usual to continue to be effective community partners.

As a result, there is a growing recognition that foundations must be accessible and flexible to mount an effective response. For example, some funders are participating in a new effort to act with urgency and agility in support of nonprofit partners and communities as part of a new Council on Foundations Pledge. And even prior to the crisis, PEAK Grantmaking had issued new "Principles for Peak Grantmaking" calling on philanthropy to align practices with values, and make grantmaking practices efficient and equitable. Efforts like these are trying to identify ways to ease the burden on grantees, which is more important than ever, at this critical time.

"Foundations have a lot of power at their disposal to ease restrictions, timelines, and reporting burdens on their grantees."

To better understand how foundations are departing from business as usual, and to surface some good options, here at Candid we conducted a scan of Coronavirus-related announcements on the websites of the 102 GlassPockets foundations—grantmakers that have committed to operating their philanthropy in open and transparent ways. Our scan revealed some promising practices in how some foundations are publicly declaring changes to their grantmaking policies to meet this moment.

How are foundations communicating a departure from business as usual during this crisis? What are some of the more proactive approaches to being flexible that foundations are offering, and how are funders trying to mitigate the stresses on grantees and communities?

So far, 46 of these 102 participating foundations have already issued some kind of publicly shared statement related to the foundation's response to the coronavirus, demonstrating that a crisis likes this heightens the importance of transparency and accessibility. You can access the full list at the end of this post. To add your response announcement to this list, send it here.

The following approaches illustrate the different ways in which some foundation leaders have announced that they are adapting to this new reality:

  • Grant flexibility on adjusting grant goals, payments, and reporting deadlines
  • Willingness to repurpose funds intended for conferences and convenings
  • Assurances around foundation finances and ability to meet existing grant commitments and sustain budgeted grantmaking levels
  • Establishment of new response funds to address the crisis
  • Keeping equity and vulnerable populations in mind
  • Pointing to relevant information and knowledge the foundation has collected
  • Open invitations for ideas and suggestions about how the foundation can be most helpful

These are very challenging and unexpected times with no playbook or instruction manual for any of us to follow. So, here are examples of how some foundations are implementing these strategies that may serve as a model for others.

Grant Flexibility

Foundations have a lot of power at their disposal to ease restrictions, timelines, and reporting burdens on their grantees. Here are a few specific ideas that could be scaled across the field for greater impact:

  • Re-think grant agreements, payment schedules, and reports: In a reassuring message from its CEO, Jim Canales, the Barr Foundation provides grantees the opportunity to revisit grant objectives, timelines, and terms, which is fairly consistent with what other foundations that have announced flexible options have described. The Barr Foundation also has similar flexibility about the possibility of accelerating payments or adjusting reporting deadlines and deliverables. Most notably, Canales' message shares that the foundation is also "open to alternative formats for such reports, such as taking them verbally, by phone or video conference." Because grant reports are often time-consuming and lengthy, having the opportunity to satisfy reporting requirements via a conversation is a helpful solution that could have great impact if it were a scaled practice across the field.
  • McKnight FDNImplement automatic grant reporting extensions: In addition to general flexibility on grant terms, the McKnight Foundation announced that due to the impact of the coronavirus, all existing grantees will automatically receive a three-month extension on all grant reports. No phone calls or emails needed! Automatic report extensions are a great way to honor the time of both grantee partners and foundation staff by saving all concerned the time to reach out, discuss, and grant an extension. After all, if the IRS can do it, so can foundations! 
  • Ford-foundationConvert project grants to general operating support: The Ford Foundation's executive vice president of programs, Hilary Pennington, announced a number of flexible approaches the foundation is taking. In addition to adjusting grant objectives, deliverables, and timelines, Pennington also offers: "For grantee partners receiving project support, we are open to converting your current project grants to general support, so that you have maximum flexibility to respond to COVID-19." This kind of flexibility is a real way to acknowledge that we are all facing a very different reality than the one in place at the time the project was designed.

Conferences, Gatherings, & Convenings

Allow repurposing of conference dollars: Several foundations that have announced a willingness to loosen grant restrictions are specifically pointing to flexibility around funds intended for conferences and convenings. The Barr Foundation and Ford Foundation's messages both include allowances for such circumstances. Additionally, The Walter and Elise Haas Fund is among those announcing that: "To those of our nonprofit partners who planned events and conferences that now need to be canceled, to minimize the negative financial impact, our general policy, with some exceptions, will be to allow the organizing organization to retain the Fund's registration fees as a donation, and to not request a refund."

Opening Up About Foundation Finances

Underscoring that often transparency is an act of empathy, some foundations understand that their grantee partners may be understandably worried about a foundation's finances in light of daily headlines about the toll the pandemic is having on stock values. Such funders are including reassuring information in their messages about the foundation's intent to sustain its budgeted grantmaking levels, ability to meet future grant commitments, and commitment to fund multi-year, general operating support.

For example, the Ford Foundation's announcement includes helpful details about how the foundation's approach is designed to "weather crisis." Pennington begins by explaining how the foundation has shifted its grantmaking from mostly program to now mostly general operating support, then shifts to sharing helpful investment information: "We take a balanced approach to investing and protecting our endowment, reducing risk and providing a potential cushion for economic downturns. In 2015, we changed our budgetary policies to apply a three-year rolling average of the endowment value to determine our spending each year. In doing so, we insulate our grantees because the foundation's spending does not fall off a financial cliff."

Weingart-foundationThe Weingart Foundation also asserts its continuing commitment to making unrestricted support available. "We currently plan to maintain this commitment to providing Unrestricted Operating Support in the upcoming fiscal year. Nonprofit partners have long shared that unrestricted, multi-year grants are the most effective form of funding. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, we saw first-hand how groups used our unrestricted dollars to maintain essential infrastructure and sustain support to communities. The COVID-19 crisis requires the same approach, and we have urged our foundation colleagues to adopt or increase operating support grantmaking."

New Crisis Response Funds

Heising-simons-foundationGive grantees extra support: Foundations also have flexibility to respond to this moment by creating new funding opportunities. Given sudden unexpected financial hits, such as canceled conferences or the expense of new infrastructure to support remote work, the Heising-Simons Foundation has already created a Rapid Relief Fund for its grantees that's designed to "offset unexpected costs incurred for disruptions to operations as a result of the coronavirus outbreak." The fund will give grantees up to $25,000 to mitigate such losses. It's clear these unprecedented times of forced physical distancing will take a great financial toll on nonprofits that rely on event-based revenue generation, so there is lots of room for other foundations to follow the Heising-Simons Foundation's lead by making such emergency-related support available.

The-cleveland-foundationCommunity foundations are also mobilizing their resources to establish regional response funds. These funds are largely designed to address the needs of vulnerable communities in the regions served by the foundation. The Cleveland Foundation frames its crisis response in a historical context. Since the foundation dates back more than a century to 1914, the foundation's message reminds us it has addressed similar challenges, including the flu pandemic of 1918. The Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund "will begin by deploying resources to address the urgent health, basic human services and economic needs of disproportionately impacted communities and individuals." Though the fund was very recently mobilized, the foundation transparently provides a detailed plan of action, including short- and long-term goals, target beneficiaries, fund structure, and strategy.

These are just a couple of examples of hundreds of funds that have been established nationally to help regions around the country respond to the crisis. Candid is tracking these funds and making information about response grantmaking publicly accessible on our Funding for coronavirus (COVID-19)pop-up webpage.

Response Funds & Racial Equity

The-san-francisco-foundationAn important aspect of some of the new crisis funds is to ensure racial equity and inclusion for communities most affected by the crisis. For example, the San Francisco Foundation's COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund addresses worker support, preventing homelessness and providing renter protection/housing security, ensuring food security, and addressing racial bias. Racial equity as a priority is deeply embedded throughout the San Francisco Foundation’s work, so this is a good example of how a foundation extends a racial equity lens into all aspects of its work, including crisis response, to ensure that historically disadvantaged populations are not left behind.

"An important aspect of some of the new crisis funds is to ensure racial equity and inclusion for communities most affected by the crisis."

The California Endowment's new $5 Million COVID-19 Response Plan also prioritizes an equitable approach to serving the needs of the most vulnerable communities. Shawn Ginwright, a professor of African American Studies at San Francisco State University and chair of The California Endowment board of directors, explains "We look forward to engaging California's public and private sectors as partners standing strong together to protect the public health and safety of our families, neighbors, communities of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientation and identities." The fund supports "public health efforts and the immediate social and health services needs of highly vulnerable Californians, including farm workers/day laborers, the homeless and undocumented individuals."

United-philanthropyTo learn about other examples focusing on equity, United Philanthropy Forum has recently started an effort to encourage foundations to "keep equity at the forefront in philanthropy's response to the Coronavirus." Its open letter to philanthropy encourages donor-serving organizations to sign on and pledge to mitigate the ways in which the virus may worsen existing inequities.

Information & Knowledge Sharing

Foundations that have expertise in public health, education, or working with specific regions or populations may have helpful resources and information to share. These types of foundations are often including space in their coronavirus response messages to point to such tools.

Creative-capital-foundationBecause of Creative Capital's expertise in supporting individual artists, its website has a very helpful and comprehensive resource list of emerging funds to help artists respond to the crisis. As individual artists lose work from canceled performances, gigs, and exhibits, the need for such dedicated funds is high. Jamie Allison of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund underscores this point in a recent blog: "And it is troubling to recognize how disproportionately and direly the arts community is being affected—as that community is dependent on people coming together. If we cannot infuse artists with support, we risk many arts organizations closing their doors for good."

Another knowledge sharing example comes to us from the Bill-melinda-gates-foundationBill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is one of the few foundations with a deep bench of experience supporting the fight against infectious diseases globally. As a result, its Coronavirus coverage focuses on sharing hard won knowledge gained from investing in this global threat. One of the resources shared includes an informative New England Journal of Medicine article by Bill Gates about how donors and governments can work together to more effectively respond to this pandemic. Other knowledge shared includes expert perspectives on topics such as what it will take to accelerate COVID-19 self-testing, investing in therapeutics, and the role of technology. Transparency related to knowledge sharing is too often a missing piece in how foundations open up their playbooks, yet as Gates’ insights demonstrate, we have a lot to learn from one another.

Welcome Suggestions

In recognition that foundations don't have all the answers, some are also making space in their messages to announce a means for stakeholders to provide ideas for consideration. In a quickly evolving crisis such as this one, encouraging participation from community voices is an important means to creating inclusive and effective responses.

Walter-and-elise-haas-fundThe Walter and Elise Haas Fund very quickly developed and issued a short survey to its grantees to help guide the development of its coronavirus response. In a blog from executive director Jamie Allison, she shares the survey's results, explaining that the needs fell into the following five categories: funding; togetherness; flexibility; technical assistance; and policy. Since the survey findings can be helpful to other funders, both the quantitative results and foundation analysis are available via the blog.

The-reach-healthcare-foundationIn the case of the REACH Healthcare Foundation, a request for ideas comes directly from foundation president & CEO Brenda Sharpe, who lists her own email address for such suggestions. She urges grantees to contact her to discuss concerns and clients' specific needs as they relate to COVID-19 response. Typically requests for such suggestions and open-ended comments are relegated to generic email addresses in which one is unsure who is on the receiving end, or how frequently it's monitored, so including this call for ideas in a personal request from the CEO heightens both the urgency and sincerity of the request.

Inviting community input also emphasizes that we are in this together, which seems a particularly important message for a social sector in the age of social distance. Compiling this list is one-way Candid is trying to do our part to bridge the distance and help us learn from one another. Toward that end, as your foundation surfaces new ideas and ways of working that would benefit others, please let us know so we can highlight it. You can reach us in the comments below or send your comments by email.

Sample Foundation Coronavirus Statements

Is the Environmental Movement Still #SoWhite? Learning from the 2019 Green 2.0 Transparency Report Card
March 12, 2020

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Whitney Tome

Whitney Tome is the executive director of Green 2.0, which advocates for improved diversity, equity, and inclusion in the mainstream environmental movement.  

As environmental disasters from the recent wildfires in Australia and California to the growing intensity of tropical storms increase, environmental work takes on heightened urgency. We know that crises such as wildfires, rising sea levels, poor water, and air quality disproportionally impact people of color and vulnerable communities, so it’s important that the movement for improving our environment be accessible, welcoming, and open to all.

Since its inception in 2014, Green 2.0 has pioneered accountability measures for the #DiversifyGreen movement writ large. Through our annual Transparency Report Cards, we’ve exposed some of the worst actors within the top 40 environmental NGO’s and foundations while praising those who’ve demonstrated true commitments to diversity with their hiring practices. Our work has been instrumental in putting the spotlight on the glaring diversity issues within the environmental movement, and as a consequence, we’ve seen folks make substantive progress.

Though the diversity statistics for 2019 are encouraging, it is far too premature to declare victory. Some of the top foundations and organizations in this space who claim to be major, influential players, perpetuate a double standard—asking their grantees for their data and equity efforts while not providing their own.

This kind of hypocrisy is not just a glaring weakness, but it needs to be understood as an obstacle to making the kind of progress and impact these organizations seek to make.

"Opportunity, accountability, and intentionality are three pillars that funders and nonprofits alike must stand on."

Let us be clear—opportunity, accountability, and intentionality are three pillars that funders and nonprofits alike must stand on. Environmental leaders cannot afford to lose sight of the significance of diversity at a time when this movement needs greater unity and coordination of resources than ever before. There is too much at stake. Especially for our most vulnerable communities.

Inaction is inexcusable. And data can move people to action. This is why we publish these diversity statistics each year. With the critical support, leadership, and thought-partnership of Guidestar by Candid and Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson, our report cards and data analysis are produced with great care and efficacy because these organizations, like every organization, must be held accountable.

Based on our 2019 findings, we urge leaders in the environmental movement to adopt the following recommendations: Green2.0_logo-NEW

  1. More organizations in the funder sector of the movement need to report their data. As it stands, so few foundations have reported that Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson simply could not make an apples-to-apples comparison of which sector is excelling more rapidly. It is clear that NGOs excel in reporting data and are making strides, and while we assume foundations are making less progress due to lack of commitment to even report data, we simply cannot know for sure. What is clear is that data reporting signals external commitment and reinforces internal resolve to remove barriers to diversity that exist in persistently white organizations.
  2. Leaders must be thoughtful about how the opportunity to diversify manifests differently at different levels of their organizations. For example, while senior staff numbers have increased slightly in this year’s report, leaders have to consider whether that is sustainable if C-Suite professionals stay longer and their organizations are not expanding the number of senior staff positions. When senior positions do open, pushing search professionals to deliver truly diverse slates is an urgent necessity, and underscores the importance of having good data to back up the need. Evidence for the importance of tracking demographic data and using it to advocate for greater inclusion can be seen in the growing diversity of boards noted in this year’s report.
  3. Listen to young people. As we’ve seen, despite their lack of representation in the public sphere, young people are already building separate lanes of influence on climate change. Their leadership, messaging, and organizing strategies are noticeably more inclusive and racially diverse than the institutions that comprise the wider movement. They are nimble and rapidly responsive, in part, because they are the communities they are trying to save.

    "Inaction is inexcusable. And data can move people to action."

While we have faith that the longstanding, mainstream environmental movement will challenge itself to push the envelope on inclusivity, we implore the recalcitrant organizations to step forward and pledge to do better today. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Because many brown and Black communities just don’t have the time.

When Numbers Fall Short: The Challenge of Measuring Diversity in a Global Context
January 16, 2020

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Bama Athreya

Bama Athreya is the Gender and Social Inclusion Advisor at the C&A Foundation, a corporate foundation committed to making fashion a force for good and transforming the industry to be more sustainable and provide decent livelihoods.  

At C&A Foundation we believe many of the challenges we seek to tackle are rooted in social exclusion. We are on a journey to deepen our approach to gender justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. As part of our own effort to learn, we recently undertook a demographic survey of our 60+ employees worldwide to find out how “diverse” we are as an organization and what it might imply for our efforts to create an equitable organization. It was a first for us and we learned far more than the numbers alone revealed.

The process itself was both eye-opening and humbling. It forced us to reflect on what really matters for our global organization when it comes to diversity and it revealed some of our own implicit biases.

"We believe many of the challenges we seek to tackle are rooted in social exclusion."

We worked with US-based consultants to prepare the survey—covering age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, disability, race, religion, and educational status. Unknowingly, the very act of selecting these categories imposed a US-centric world view, particularly with respect to our understanding of race and ethnicity.

For example, the category “Latinx” was used in the initial survey; this category is very relevant in the US, but reductive in Latin America, confusing in Europe, and irrelevant in South Asia. An important category for Europe—Roma—was not available for selection.

So we tried again, re-surveying our country offices in an attempt to create meaningful country-specific data. This proved far more useful in revealing what we should be considering as we seek to foster an inclusive workplace culture.

In Brazil, for example, race is a very salient concept and we are developing a much stronger understanding of why power dynamics around race may be the single most important thing we can address in that context. Less than half the Brazilian population is white —yet, political and economic structures are predominantly controlled by whites.

In Mexico, we need to consider the significant proportion of indigenous people and “mestizos” (mixed ethnicity). Although Mexicans of European descent are the minority there, they too remain a dominant political and economic class. In India, race itself is a problematic construct. Instead, caste discrimination has played a powerful role in reinforcing social group dominance and oppression for centuries. A dizzying array of ethno-linguistic groups suggests diversity but masks the real and sometimes violent social exclusion based on caste and religion. While historically disadvantaged “scheduled” castes and tribes make up around 25 percent of India’s population, they are significantly under-represented in the country’s economic life.

And throughout South Asia, religion is a political and social flashpoint. This applies to Bangladesh, a majority Muslim country where Hindus and Christians face increasing sectarian violence, as well as India, where, as recent events show, laws and policies excluding Muslims reflect rising Hindu nationalism.

Since C&A Foundation always aims to be open and transparent, it is our practice to openly share what we learn from our research, and this exercise was no exception. However, in the end, due to the importance of country and cultural context, the only demographic categories we felt were appropriate to include in our annual report were gender, disability, and migration status. Age is another context-neutral category we might report globally in the future. But for our 60 staff people spread across the world, we realized that inclusive hiring, promotion and retention policies needed to do more than just look at the numbers, even for these categories.

So what did we learn, and what do we suggest to other foundations undertaking similar surveys?

First, generic global surveys aren’t the best way to tackle region-specific diversity and inclusion challenges. Instead, start with a social inclusion assessment that looks at the local context. Who has power? Who is marginalized? From there you can craft context-specific demographic questions for your employees or your partners.

Lesson two: don’t just play the numbers game. With, at most, a dozen staff in any given country office, we found there is limited value in trying to add them all up to some global statistic on diversity. However, it is important to look at who’s not present in your workplace. For example, in Brazil, we’ve taken affirmative steps to recruit more Afro-Brazilians by hiring a consultancy specialized in searching for Afro-Brazilian professionals. And we are looking carefully at how to create more inclusive workplaces for people with disabilities across all of our country offices. For us, this kind of targeting does more to address diversity than a broad-brush effort.

"It is important to look at who’s not present in your workplace."

Finally, another value of this approach is that you are leading by example to your grantees since you likely ask them to provide you with their own demographic data. Just as we realize the limitations to what we do with this data, we can understand and respect the variety of approaches that our grantees may take to tackle their own specific diversity, equity and inclusion challenges. At C&A Foundation we see our efforts to address inequality as another means to encourage our local grantees to prioritize and embrace their own equity and inclusion agendas. This is where our broader influence may lie—and offers a further compelling reason to continue our own internal journey.

 

In 2020, C&A Foundation`s work in fashion will become part of Laudes Foundation - a new, independent foundation designed to support brave initiatives that will inspire and challenge industry to harness its power for good. The organization will works both to influence capital so that investment encourages good business practices, and through industry to tackle its deep and systemic challenges.

Laudes Foundation is a part of the Brenninkmeijer family enterprise, next to the COFRA  businesses and the family’s other private philanthropic activities, including Porticus, Good Energies Foundation, and Argidius Foundation.

Communities in Crisis Raise the Stakes for Sector-Wide Transparency and Information Sharing
December 19, 2019

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Skyler Badenoch

Skyler Badenoch is the CEO of Hope for Haiti, a nonprofit organization operating in southern Haiti. For the past 30 years, Hope for Haiti has been working to improve the quality of life for the Haitian people, particularly children, through its programs in education, healthcare, clean water, infrastructure, and economic advancement.

The inequality and anti-corruption riots of 2019 have taken a dangerous toll on the people of Haiti. Mass demonstrations and violent unrest have resulted in an emerging humanitarian crisis that has left an already-fragile country with acute shortages of food, water, and access to healthcare. There is a great deal of concern for the safety and well-being of all currently in Haiti, particularly those who are most vulnerable. The ongoing violence and unrest will have short, medium, and long-term consequences for the people of Haiti and the social and economic development of their country. In order to effectively support Haiti and the Haitian people during this difficult time, the international donor, foundation, and nonprofit community must adhere to a higher standard for humanitarian assistance.

At Hope for Haiti, one of the ways in which we try to live up to this goal of adhering to high standards is by using external assessment tools to benchmark our efforts. For example, we are proud that our organization attained GuideStar’s Platinum Seal of Transparency and see it as part of our commitment to maintain a strong code of ethics, organizational transparency, and fiscal and programmatic accountability. These are ongoing efforts for our organization that are embedded in our organizational values, and what follows are some of the lessons we have learned that might be helpful for peers and donors alike.

Strong systems for financial transparency and accountability on both sides of the funding process are critical for organizations to achieve their programmatic goals. Donors want to ensure that their contributions to an organization will make a proven impact, and organizations have a responsibility to their funders and to the communities they serve to be transparent on how funds are used. A consistent dedication to transparency will help ensure that donors better understand the work of their partners and help them fund the specific projects and programs they care most about.

"Strong systems for financial transparency and accountability on both sides of the funding process are critical for organizations to achieve their programmatic goals."

Similarly, donors can also help alleviate the burden on applicants and grantees by paying attention to their own communication and applicant outreach efforts. When looking to support organizations in Haiti, foundations should make sure that their application and grants process is transparent, straightforward, and designed to support multi-year requests to maximize long-term impact.  This will help ensure that the organizations they decide to fund are using their valuable time as efficiently as possible, particularly in a time of great need (i.e following a humanitarian crisis). To that end, we recommend the following steps:

  1. Be transparent about what you want to fund, and why. By clearly listing your desired program areas, locations, and projects on your website and in your application, you will save time for your review committee and for the organizations that are looking for funding. If you work globally, consider the use of translators to offer applicants these guidelines and application submission in the languages used in the countries in which your foundation works. Organizations that don’t share the same priorities or geographic focus will be able to self-select out of the process, and your review committee won’t take time to review an application that isn’t a good fit. Going through the GlassPockets “Steps to Transparency" process will help make sure your foundation is hitting all the correct benchmarks.
  2. Invest in strategic partnerships, with greater consideration for multi-year funding. This is particularly important in the global context and during a humanitarian crisis. Effective programming requires sustainability; an organization must address the most pressing issues first, then form plans to address long-term goals. Making multi-year commitments gives organizations the assurance they need to make accurate strategic plans, commit to program partners, and ensure sustainable and stable progress.  This saves critical staff resources that would otherwise be devoted to an annual application process for programming and communicating impact. 
  3. Require good governance, accountability and transparency in the organizations you decide to fund. Governance, accountability and transparency are a two-way street, and partnering with organizations that hold those values in the same high regard will ensure your investment is truly making an impact. Consider investing in capacity building to help organizations of all sizes and their leaders gain valuable expertise to improve their operations and maximize their impact long-term.

To that end, below is a short list of what we have learned that may help other international nonprofits and NGOs:

  1. Require an external audit and list financials on your website.  Each year, Hope for Haiti is externally audited by our audit firm, which examines our financial records, ensures that we are adhering to General Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), and makes recommendations on how we can operate more efficiently. To support transparency, we then post access to our audited financial statements and our annual IRS Tax Filings for the past 10 years on our website where everyone can view them.

  2. Produce an annual report. To promote accountability to our donors, each year, we release an annual report in print and online that includes data on our key programmatic areas, testimonials of impact from partners and beneficiaries, as well as an overview of the previous year’s financial health.

  3. Invite independent review from external charity evaluators. We always welcome the review of our work by third party charity monitoring organizations like GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and Excellence in Giving. We’re proud to hold top ratings across all of these platforms.

By working together for a common cause, sharing a dedication to transparency, and fostering open communication, donors and organizations can more efficiently and effectively work as a team to make a profound impact in the lives of families in Haiti. Together, we can build a better future.

Invitation Only: Closing the Door to Equity?
November 15, 2019

Clairepeeps
Claire Peeps

Claire Peeps is the executive director of the Durfee Foundation, a family foundation that focuses on investing in extraordinary people who are making a better Los Angeles.

This blog also appears in Candid’s GrantCraft blog.

After more than 20 years of grantmaking in Los Angeles County, you’d think our staff at the Durfee Foundation would know all of the eligible nonprofits in our region. But we don’t.

Not long ago, for example, we got a grant request from a car mechanic who had opened his garage to foster youth in the high desert, a couple of hours north of us. Aaron Valencia, founder of Lost Angels Children’s Project, is now among the most innovative and talented leaders in our grant portfolio. But we would never have met him, had we employed an invitation-only application process.  The lesson to those of us in philanthropy: you just don’t know what you don’t know.

Every time Durfee opens an application cycle, we meet eligible nonprofits that we’ve never heard of before.  It hardly seems possible, but it happens, every time. Even with our lean staffing, we think it’s increasingly important to keep the door open, so let me share with you why and how we do it.

As a generalist funder, our grantmaking lens is as wide and diverse as Los Angeles. These circumstances might explain why it would be hard for us to craft a list of ideal grantee partners. But even if we could, we would still prefer the open application process.  California

No matter how much time we spend on the ground, in the community, we can’t possibly keep up with the goings-on of all worthy, high-performing nonprofits. Plus, we’ve heard from so many of them how much they appreciate the opportunity to put themselves forward, and to state their case directly to us. Nonprofit leaders are active change-makers, and they seek agency over their future.

We also hear rueful complaints by leaders who are frustrated by their inability to get in the line of vision of funders whose mission seems to align with their own.  We field a lot of “do you know anyone there?” calls.

Which makes us wonder—what if we looked at the grantmaking process through an equity lens?

At a time when our field is focused on equity and inclusion, an invitation-only application process seems counter-intuitive. Or worse, it can project autocracy, instead of partnership—a sort of opaque “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Imagine what it would feel like to stand at the door of a windowless, locked building to which you seek entry, with no bell to ring.  And yet, that’s very often how foundations present to would-be grantseekers. Why?

"At a time when our field is focused on equity and inclusion, an invitation-only application process seems counter-intuitive."

I recognize that sometimes, invitation-only makes sense.  A place or issue-based initiative, with a specific goal and time horizon, might best succeed in a sustained, collaborative model with a set of close, expert partners.  Or, grantmakers in spend-down mode might choose to bring their work to a close in a deliberate fashion with a select few longstanding colleagues. It can streamline limited resources, reduce the demand on nonprofit leaders’ time while increasing their odds of being funded, and reduce the time foundation staff invest in application review.

While all of this seems great for the nonprofits who find themselves in a funder’s favor, what about those who fall outside their line of vision?

What Do Nonprofit Leaders Say?

The opinions above are my own, and I’m a grantmaker. Knowing that we alone shouldn’t be the ones to decide about our process, the Durfee Foundation sent a survey to approximately 100 nonprofit leaders in Los Angeles to ask their opinion on the matter. The leaders surveyed are recipients of the Durfee Sabbatical Award and are arguably among the strongest nonprofit sector leaders in our region.

We asked two questions:

  1. Do you prefer foundation application processes that are open, or invitation only?; and
  2. Do you think “invitation only” processes help or hinder the work of your organization?—and, in both cases, why?

The results were mixed and thoughtful. Overall, 78% prefer open processes, an overwhelming majority.  Not surprisingly, those who tilt in favor of invitation-only represent larger organizations, but even they recognized the challenge of achieving a spot in the inner circle. Almost all acknowledge the dilemma of a Hobson’s choice – invitation-only is always preferable if you are offered an invitation.

“If I’m in,” said one leader, “of course I prefer the invitation-only application because it increases my odds of getting the grants. But if/when I find myself in need of finding new foundations to fund our work, it seems the likely ones are invitation-only, so I’m stuck.”

Other leaders expressed appreciation for the satisfaction they feel when they work in partnership with funders.  “When we are on the ‘inside,’ it’s of course great! The collaboration with a funder is very rewarding.”

Those circling closed shops while looking for entry were incisive and blunt.

“Invitation-only applications further the funder as an all-powerful source,” said one leader. “They exclude small community-based organizations who are doing great work, but don’t have access to the privileged circles big funders run in. My organizations have been in the select group for some of the biggest foundations. It takes years of relationship-building, and the skill and ability to spend time doing that. Often those most impacted by the issues being funded do not have the time or ability to spend in that way. It’s an equity issue.”

“The open process speaks to me about the receptivity of the foundation," said another. “It tells me the foundation doesn’t think they know about everything that’s going on that might be mission-aligned.”

“Invite-only foundations can perpetuate income/gender/racial inequity in the same way as invite-only clubs,” said a third.

In addition to posing a challenge regarding equal access, some see invitation-only as limiting to experimentation: “Invitation-only, it seems, reduces the ability of the nonprofit organization to innovate and move in a new direction. If, say, our board has decided through strategic planning that we need to engage in green infrastructure when we are known for habitat restoration, how can we telegraph that to a funder that funds in this new area?”

So What’s a Funder to Do? Advice on a Hybrid Approach

The survey results yielded lots of practical suggestions, with nuanced perspective.

“More hybrid approaches are needed,” said one leader.  “Open processes should still be focused and targeted. Before applying, I want to know if my organization’s work is a fit for the foundation.  For those that are invitation-only, I would like to see more mechanisms for opening their processes, like polling current grantees for younger, smaller, newer organizations that deserve a ‘look.’ Another idea might be for grantseekers to have an exploratory interaction with the foundation, like an ‘office hour,’ a ‘meet and greet’ or a systematic process by which foundation officers actively seek out new groups to add to their portfolio.”

“I believe that an open process is perceived by the field as being more equitable," said another, “however, I don’t think this is necessarily true. The ways in which the open applications are vetted is where real equity happens or doesn’t. Who’s making the decision? What are the guidelines? These are the real questions when it comes to equity.”

So, my fellow funders, let’s start there—with these simple and complex suggestions that emerged.

Write Clear Guidelines. This may be the most challenging, but essential practice of them all. Clear guidelines may enable a foundation to shift from invitation-only to open application, without opening the floodgates to impossible numbers of applications. Vague or imprecise guidelines generate vast numbers of unsuccessful applications, and waste valuable time for both grantseekers and reviewers. Clear guidelines help nonprofits take agency in determining whether they are a fit for a grant opportunity or not.

Invite a Letter of Interest. Even if your foundation prefers to work with nonprofit partners by invitation only, offer a letter of interest option or an online platform for nonprofits to introduce themselves, and to get in your line of vision.  Acknowledge that you have received the communication, and let them know what you will do with the information.

Explain Your Selection Process. If you are invitation-only, take the time to explain why. Whether you are open or by-invitation, let grantseekers know how decisions are made, by whom, by what timeline. If there are set opportunities to invite newcomers and expand your portfolio, share when and how.

Durfee uses a peer review process for most of its programs. We’ve found this an excellent way to expand the expertise of our small, generalist staff, and to offer some transparency to our process. Our peer panelists, usually alums of our award programs, bring deep community knowledge to our decision making, and subsequently serve as ambassadors in the field, clarifying and demystifying the foundation’s process to their peers.

Be Available by Phone. In our digital age, this practice might seem old-fashioned, but we’ve found it’s incredibly valuable at Durfee for building relationships. One compassionate, articulate staff person on the phone can right-size an applicant pool by helping applicants determine if they’re a fit. When they’re not, we find we can often point them in helpful directions, offer feedback, and provide a heartfelt thanks for the organization’s work. This really can go a long distance. Regardless of the outcome, the cost of this simple strategy yields dividends in goodwill.

List Board and Staff. All grantseekers deserve to know who has decision-making authority at foundations, which are, after all, tax-exempt public entities. It’s reasonable for nonprofit leaders to consider who’s in the room before investing time in an application, so board and staff should always be listed on a foundation’s website or in print materials.

Acknowledge Funder Fragility. Let’s face it, it’s a real thing. Whatever prompts funder fragility—uneasy power dynamics, concern about being overwhelmed by requests, disinclination to express rejection, deference to our boards, fear of criticism—we often work behind a buffer that separates us from the sector we serve. Most of our decision-making takes place behind closed doors, out of public view.

For those who truly seek anonymity in their grantmaking, a donor-advised fund might be a more appropriate giving vehicle than a foundation.  Indeed, a more honorable one. If you choose to hang out a shingle—if you seek and are awarded IRS status as a private foundation—you owe it to the public to make your grantmaking process reasonably accessible and transparent. That’s also one of the reasons that Durfee was an early adopter to participate in Candid’s GlassPockets transparency initiative to encourage greater openness in philanthropy. We hope our profile there signals our ongoing commitment to working in a trusted and transparent manner.

"If you choose to hang out a shingle—if you seek and are awarded IRS status as a private foundation—you owe it to the public to make your grantmaking process reasonably accessible and transparent."

Build Trust. According to Southern California Grantmakers, only about 30% of its members currently offer an open, accessible application process. Let’s collectively inch that number higher!

I’m hopeful that we are trending in that direction. The recently-launched Trust-Based Philanthropy Project, a national initiative spearheaded by the Whitman Institute, the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Headwaters Foundation, seeks to rebalance power in philanthropy by promoting trust-based relationships between nonprofits and foundations. Being responsive, streamlining paperwork and seeking and acting on feedback from nonprofits are among the pillars of best practice that they recommend. Other important endeavors, like California’s Full Cost Project and LA’s Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative, prize clarity and candor in nonprofit and funder exchange, and strive to put more strategic decision making in the hands of nonprofit leaders.

It takes two to tango, as they say. But a trusting relationship between nonprofits and funders shouldn’t begin on the dance floor, after funders have chosen their dance partners. It needs to begin much earlier, as they explore shared interests and skills.

And access to the dance floor? The building that houses it needs windows, and a front door with a bell that rings. Or better yet, an open door to a standing invitation.

--Claire Peeps

Hole in the Road to Transparency: People with Disabilities Often Excluded By Foundations & Nonprofits
October 17, 2019

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Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is founder & president of RespectAbility, a nonprofit that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities.

Philanthropic transparency is vital. But there’s a major challenge – people with disabilities are being excluded from philanthropy and nonprofits every day.

RespectAbility, a nonprofit disability organization, did a major study of close to 1,000 people in the social sector. The report, “Disability in Philanthropy & Nonprofits: A Study on the Inclusion and Exclusion of the 1-in-5 People Who Live with a Disability and What You Can Do to Make Things Better,” found that while the vast majority of foundations and nonprofits want to include people with disabilities, they don’t know what they don’t know. Hence their practices do not align with their values and they are discriminating against people with disabilities.

For example, only 59 percent of foundations and nonprofits say their events are always held in physically accessible spaces, which means that people who use wheelchairs are shut out from participating. Only 30 percent say they have a process in place to allow people with disabilities to request necessary accommodations (like a sign language interpreter or allergy-free foods) on event registration forms. And only 14 percent say their organizations use captions on web videos to ensure people who are deaf or hard of hearing can access the content (although free rough captions can be automatically generated on YouTube). Thus, people with disabilities do not have the access and accommodations they need to fully participate in the public good these groups are doing.

Take the case study of the Ford Foundation. In a 2014 keynote address at the annual conference of the Council on Foundations, Ford’s President Darren Walker announced a major game-changing initiative on equity. He gave a passionate speech about equity and lifting up the most marginalized of people. Yet he did it in a way that was not accessible to people with disabilities. Ford released a tweet about the new initiative that was not screen reader accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. That tweet directed people to a website that also was not accessible to people with vision impairments. Some tweets went to a video that had no captions – so no one who was deaf or hard of hearing could gain the information. And Ford’s grant application software was not even remotely accessible (and still is not fully accessible today).

“Only 59 percent of foundations and nonprofits say their events are always held in physically accessible spaces.”

I, and other disability activists, reached out to Mr. Walker about these barriers. Thankfully, he listened deeply, understood what was at stake and took concrete action. Indeed, in his annual open letter he wrote: “The Ford Foundation does not have a person with visible disabilities on our leadership team; takes no affirmative effort to hire people with disabilities; does not consider them in our strategy; and does not even provide those with physical disabilities with adequate access to our website, events, social media, or building. Our 50-year-old headquarters is currently not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – landmark legislation that celebrated its 26th anniversary this summer. It should go without saying: all of this is at odds with our mission.”

In the time since then, Darren Walker, Noorain Khan and others at the Ford Foundation have taken step after step to ensure that they no longer discriminate against people with disabilities. Their transition, while not yet complete, is nothing short of spectacular. Not only that, Ford, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and other foundations have now recruited a significant number of major foundations to join them in a cohort to move these issues forward.

But here’s the thing – you don’t need to be a big and well-funded foundation to make the changes needed. Most of them can be done for little or no money. If your foundation wants to offer transparency, accessibility, equity and accountability there are specific steps you can take. These include:

  1. Commit publicly to the inclusion of people with disabilities. The message that all people, including those with disabilities, are of equal value must be communicated publicly and repeatedly by top leaders verbally and on your website.
  2. Ensure people with disabilities are included in decision making positions, not just for issues related to them but for all issues. Organizations are at their best when they welcome, respect, and include people of all backgrounds. Indeed, problems are best solved by working with people who have experienced them first hand and know solutions that work. Just like issues that impact people of different racial, ethnic, or other backgrounds, people with disabilities should be involved in solving issues that impact them.
  3. Foster an inclusive environment with your language and practices. What we say makes a difference. Avoid saying things like “wheelchair-bound,” “confined to a wheelchair,” “wheelchair person,” or “suffers from.” Do say “someone uses a wheelchair.” 
  4. Have an inclusion point person or committee. Add an inclusion statement to your website and event invitations, and train your human resources staff to respond to requests for disability accommodations. Consider including diversity, including disability, as a performance metric for all departments and employees.  
  5. Include people with disabilities in your marketing. For example, photos on your organization’s website and your publications should include individuals with visible disabilities. 
  6. Make your website, online resources and social media accessible. Set up your website and social media for use by screen readers and for people who need captions. Ensure that all photos have alt text, and that all videos have captions. Ensure that your business cards, documents and presentations are accessible. 
  7. Ensure the accessibility of your office and events. All of the following must be accessible: invitation/notification of event, facilities, communications and staff/volunteers.
  8. Include disability in diversity data and ask your grantees to do the same. Demonstrate that your organization prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion by walking the walk (or rolling the roll in the case of wheelchair users) on disability inclusion.
  9. Promote a disability lens among grantees and partners. Ask your grantees and partners about meaningful and inclusive policies and/or programs; public commitments on website and materials; employing people with disabilities at all levels; inviting people to request accommodations; physical accessibility of office and programs; website accessibility; video captioning; and internal and external educational efforts. Help them to look at intersectional data and impacts.
  10. Disability impacts people of all races, genders, and backgrounds and making a difference is much easier than you think.

RespectAbility is offering a free online series to train foundation and nonprofit leaders in the nuts and bolts of how to be inclusive of people with disabilities. You can free resources here:   https://www.respectability.org/inclusive-philanthropy/ and sign up for the series here: https://www.respectability.org/accessibility-webinars/

--Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

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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

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