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December 2010 (5 posts)

A Glasspockets Partner Resource: Are Foundation Annual Reports Still Relevant?
December 27, 2010

Talking to Ourselves Report In a digital age where information can be updated from anywhere at anytime, many wonder if the annual report is a thing of the past.  The recently released report, Talking to Ourselves? A Critical Look at Annual Reports in Foundation Communications, and  companion website,, are designed to get the conversation going about why foundations issue annual reports and whether they are still relevant. 

A co-production of the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative, the Williams Group, and the Communications Network, the report grew out of a 2008 Communications Network conference session that explored the value of foundation annual reports.

Do you think there is still a role for the Foundation Annual report, or have you retired yours?

Glasspockets Find: New Publicly-Shared Grantee Surveys from Rockefeller Brothers Fund & John R. Oishei Foundation
December 20, 2010

As we collect foundation transparency practices, we are uncovering good and helpful examples for the field as a whole. With each "Glasspockets Find," we highlight a valuable "gem" we've come across that may benefit other foundations.

This week's Glasspockets Find:

Two foundations have shared the results from recent surveys of grantees undertaken by the Center for Effective Philanthropy.  Glasspockets applauds those foundations that don’t stop at making grantee surveys an internal exercise, but take the extra step of sharing the survey results publicly.  The Rockefeller Brothers Fund posted the findings from the CEP 2010 Grantee Perception Report when it recently updated the content of its web site.  The John R. Oishei Foundation also made the findings from its 2010 Grantee Perception Report public, providing a comparison to the results from its 2005 survey.

Do you have a suggestion for a Glasspockets Find item?  Let us know by e-mailing Glasspockets at:

-- Janet Camarena

Back to Basics: What are You Trying to Achieve?
December 16, 2010

(Ellie Buteau, PhD, Vice President — Research, leads the design, execution, and analysis of CEP’s research and data related to foundation performance and effectiveness. She has co-authored all of CEP’s research reports since 2005.)

In a recent op-ed in Philanthropy Journal, I wrote about the importance of foundations sharing information about whether or not they are being effective in pursuit of their goals. In that piece, I acknowledged that a review of the Glasspockets web site shows that very few foundations have an assessment of overall foundation performance that they make available.

I'd like to take a few steps back from considering how many foundations have an overall performance assessment they make public and ask about the thought process that fuels the development of such an assessment. How do foundations determine which relevant performance indicators to include in such an assessment?

The fact is, it’s virtually impossible to answer the question of what indicators to use without a solid answer to the question, ‘What are the foundation's goals?’ While this may seem like a simple question for foundations to answer, our experience and our research indicate that it is not.

In the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s 2009 study on foundation strategy, 40 percent of CEO and program staff respondents to our survey did not provide, when asked, a single specific goal that their foundation was working to achieve. By specific, I mean a goal that includes a well-defined issue area, target population, or geographic location.

We found that of those that did provide a goal, the goals varied dramatically in their specificity. For example, here are three goals all aimed at strengthening nonprofits. Consider how well each of these goals might guide a foundation in selecting the relevant performance indicators to help the foundation understand its progress towards each of these goals:

  1. “Strengthening organizations.”
  2. “Strengthen the nonprofit sector: Assist [our state’s] nonprofit organizations with their effectiveness in terms of improved governance, transparent financial operations, creativity and sustainability.”
  3. “To enable organizations with whom we partner to develop scorecards and internal systems for evaluating the impact of their work.”

Even with clear and specific goals, performance assessment for foundations is tough work. Given that a foundation is typically not the sole actor contributing to progress in a given area of work, it is difficult to determine a reasonable expectation for progress for which a foundation should hold itself accountable.

For example, if a foundation is one of many organizations working to strengthen the nonprofit sector in a particular state, how do its leaders determine to what extent it is responsible for the ultimate strengthening of those organizations? Here, I would argue, the specifics of a foundation’s strategy, and how that strategy gets implemented, are key factors that provide further guidance for the selection of relevant performance indicators.  But, as we have also learned in our research, many foundation CEOs and program staff do not use strategy to guide their work.

Many foundations have a long way to go before they’ll be able to contribute performance assessment data of substance to the Glasspockets website. They have to first clarify their goals, strategies, and the extent to which they are holding themselves accountable for the change they’d like to see.

In the quest for transparency, it is important for foundations to refrain from selecting certain indicators simply because they are easily quantifiable. Rather, foundations must commit to having the difficult conversations and doing the soul searching required to get clear on what they are trying to achieve – and how – before they can begin to consider measuring success. Why don’t these conversations happen more often at foundations? What would enable more foundations to productively discuss these complex issues with both their internal and external constituents?

-- Ellie Buteau

Glasspockets Find: The James Irvine Foundation’s CIO Interview
December 15, 2010

As we collect foundation transparency practices, we are uncovering good and helpful examples for the field as a whole. With each "Glasspockets Find," we highlight a valuable "gem" we've come across that may benefit other foundations.

This week's Glasspockets Find:

The James Irvine Foundation posted an interview with its Chief Investment Officer, John Jenks, providing great detail about Irvine’s investment strategies and performance, as well as lessons learned during the economic crisis, board involvement, and more.  Read the interview here.

-- Janet Camarena

A "Disruptive" Conversation with Lucy Bernholz
December 7, 2010

To say technology is driving change would be an understatement. We are experiencing a digital revolution. For this premiere edition of Transparency Talk, Glasspockets’ new blog and podcast series, we sat down with Lucy Bernholz to discuss how technology is transforming the ways in which foundations communicate and share knowledge.

As the founder and president of Blueprint Research and Design, popular blogger for Philanthropy 2173: The Business of Giving, and co-author of the monograph Disrupting Philanthropy: Technology and the Future of the Social Sector, Ms. Bernholz shares her expert insights and provocative ideas about one of the most crucial issues facing the social sector today.


Download mp3 (10.4 MB)
Right-click and choose "Save Target As"
Total running time: 28 minutes, 53 seconds

Join us in this conversation. Is technology "disrupting" your philanthropic efforts? And if so, in a good or bad way? Share your comments below.

-- Janet Camarena

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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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