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August 2011 (3 posts)

Glasspockets Find: New CSR blog from American Express
August 17, 2011

American Express

Timothy J. ("Tim") McClimon, vice president for corporate social responsibility (CSR) at American Express and president of the American Express Foundation, has just launched CSR Now!, a weekly blog "designed to get at what's happening in corporate social responsibility today—from the point of view of a corporate practitioner."

McClimon will use the blog to reflect on current trends in CSR, with examples from his own experience at American Express and from those of his colleagues at other companies. He hopes to track current literature and online developments, and feature a guest blogger on occasion.

As yet another vehicle to promote grantmaker transparency, let’s wish a long and productive run to CSR Now!

Be sure to share any similar efforts in CSR that you come across.

-- Mark Foley

Walking the Talk: Using Social Media to Demonstrate Transparency
August 9, 2011

Jenn Whinnem(Jenn Whinnem is a communications officer at the Connecticut Health Foundation. In this role, she manages the Web, social media and e-mail initiatives, and contributes to overall Web vision and strategy for the foundation.)

When it comes to transparency, social media really forces philanthropy's hand. Is your organization really committed to transparency—the good, the bad, and the ugly? Because social media will compel you—and those around you—to take a good, hard look at who you are and what you're doing.

When it comes to  transparency, social media really forces philanthropy's hand. Is your organization really committed to  transparency - the good, the bad, and the ugly?The value of being transparent in social media, however, is considerable. You can foster deeper relationships with your existing audiences—including grantees—and connect with new audiences, who can become grantees. Overall, the biggest opportunity in social media is to increase your impact on the social issues you're addressing. And what foundation doesn't want that?

From our beginning in 1999, the Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health) has had a strong commitment to transparency. Even though she was a staff of one at the time, our president and CEO, Patricia Baker, started to develop our annual report all by herself.

And yet, a year ago when we started thinking about social media, we knew we had to consider the impact of real-time feedback from the outside world. We also had to ask ourselves, "How would social media help us achieve our mission of improving the health status of everyone in Connecticut?

Luckily for us, our brand screams for social media. Our brand promise—to support "innovative solutions for health justice"—calls for us to capitalize on new opportunities like social media.

With our brand and our leadership fully behind the use of social media, we took the plunge two months ago—letting our four brand dimensions guide what we share and how we share it:

  • Caring and Respectful. Will sharing this help our community? Can we hear what our community has to say? Will we be showing our respect for their work and what they're trying to do? Will sharing this part of our human side allow us to connect with our community? If so, yes, we will share.
  • Effective Alliances. If we really want to make a difference in our priority areas, we have to collaborate with others. Will sharing this allow us to strengthen our existing relationships, or build new ones? If yes, we will share.
  • Knowledge Leader. Will what we're sharing inform and educate our community? On the other hand, can we also take in information from our community, and use it in our work? Can we pave the way for deeper understanding of the issues that are important to us? If yes, we will share.
  • Visionary Action. At CT Health, we're change agents. We not only want to take visionary action, we want to inspire others to do the same. If we can highlight a visionary action (either ours or theirs), we will share it.

So what has this meant for us? How do the guidelines translate to our day-to-day? When the CT Health Leadership Fellows got together to wish a member of their class farewell, we re-tweeted pictures that one of the Fellows shared with us. After we held three listening sessions with members of the Connecticut oral health community, we blogged about some of their insights to foster conversation with our broader audiences, because we know we don't have all the answers all by ourselves. We are, after all, a learning organization, and we want social media to help strengthen our work.

Not that we haven't had some challenges along the way. In the spirit of transparency, I'll share two of our main struggles here:

  • What is the role of non-communications colleagues in the creation of content?
  • How do we share political news and research from other organizations?

Figuring out what participation in social media looks like for our program and finance /operations colleagues is something we're still working on. At the beginning, we created an Editorial Committee so that the different functions within CT Health could share what we're doing and brainstorm topics. And yet, everyone is so busy. Turning those ideas into blog posts and then making sure they're factually accurate takes time—time that our colleagues may not feel like they have. Our communications team is trying to demonstrate the value of participation to them—such as building individual brands to increase our overall impact—to make it feel less burdensome.

One success we've had in this area was having our Vice President of Finance & Operations Carol Pollock write "3 Tips for Selecting a Chief Investment Officer (CIO)." Carol was hesitant to position herself as an expert, but we assured her she'd just be sharing her experience. The result? A philanthropy trade publication contacted us to learn more, and this has the opportunity to blossom into a full-fledged feature story (interviews pending).

Our challenge around politics is that we're a non-partisan organization, and the IRS specifically prevents us from lobbying. We can't appear as if we're endorsing one side or another of a politically-motivated issue. And yet, for example, we're a foundation focused on health in a time when health care reform is a hot issue. What we've done so far is stick to the facts, and highlight health policy research that may be in the mainstream media and that doesn't provide suggestions or recommendations about specific pieces of legislation or regulation.

That's how CT Health is using social media, and what we're learning along the way. What would you share with us that you've learned?

-- Jenn Whinnem

Glasspockets Find: Giving Voice to Your Grantmaking
August 2, 2011

The Haas, Jr. FundThe Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund recently introduced First-Person Stories, an online feature of first-hand accounts by individuals whose lives are impacted by the work supported by the foundation. As the foundation explains, "We seldom have the opportunity to understand who they are, where they are from, and what they are capable of contributing to our communities and society." In this way, storytelling becomes a vehicle for transparency: the Haas, Jr. Fund uses First-Person Stories to communicate which communities it serves, the social impact of its grants, and the core values of its foundation.

To begin to collect its narratives, the Haas, Jr. Fund collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Dave Eggers and his nonprofit organization, Voice of Witness, which uses oral history to empower those most affected by contemporary social injustice. Eggers and his staff believe there is a "limitless learning potential in increasing one’s capacity to listen without judgment."

First-Person Stories showcases the human side of the Haas, Jr. Fund’s work, gives voice to its grantmaking and its grantees, and makes the foundation’s mission more accessible and easily understood.

Which other grantmakers are using storytelling to reveal and enhance the social impact of their efforts--while also being more transparent?

-- Mark Foley

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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."

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