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October 2011 (7 posts)

Glasspockets Find: New Guide to Catalyzing Networks for Social Change
October 31, 2011

Networking_guide"Given the scale and complexity of the challenges we face, it is clear that no grantmaker alone has the resources and reach required to address our society' s most pressing and intractable problems. By embracing a new way of thinking and working that is rooted in shared understanding and oriented toward engagement, grantmakers can effectively use the power of networks to make progress on complex problems and grow their own impact as well as that of their grantees. But it’s hard to know where to start."

Source: Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
press release, October 19, 2011

Catalyzing Networks for Social Change: A Funder's Guide is a collaborative effort of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) and Monitor Institute. It explores what it takes for grantmakers to cultivate a network mindset, and offers recommendations for how funders can effectively build the capacity of networks and share what they’re learning with the broader field. The core insights outlined in the guide were developed by the Network of Network Funders, a community of practice for grantmakers pioneering approaches to supporting networks that was formed by Monitor Institute in 2009. The guide builds on multiple streams of GEO's work that have been important drivers to accelerate smarter grantmaking, stronger nonprofits, and better results.

Catalyzing Networks for Social Change is available as a free download from the GEO web site.

-- Mark Foley

Another Way of Thinking about Accountability
October 25, 2011

(Michael Remaley is the director of Public Policy Communicators NYC and president of HAMILL REMALEY breakthrough communications. In a previous post for Transparency Talk, he wrote about identifying transparency benchmarks in foundation communications.)

More and more philanthropic professionals are accepting the idea that their organizations should be transparent and, in part because those who founded the organization took major tax benefits when it was established, have some accountability to the public. Many of our field's big thinkers are making a compelling case that public accountability in philanthropy should be a core value in our work. But when it comes to accountability, what if foundations and the public are talking about entirely different things?

New research from Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation presents evidence that the public and leaders across many sectors hold strikingly different ideas about what it means to be accountable. The report, "Don't Count Us Out: How an Overreliance on Accountability Could Undermine the Public's Confidence in Schools, Business, Government and More," is based on new public opinion research. It outlines the key dimensions of accountability as the public defines it and contrasts the public's perspective with prevailing leadership views. Although it isn't mentioned in the subtitle, the report explores the ramifications for foundations, too.

For philanthropic professionals, the implications are significant – both for their foundations and the institutions they support. There are several pros and cons in the research for those foundations already committed to transparency and accountability. For those foundations on the fence about accountability, the research reinforces the fact that the public expects institutions to be accountable, but raises questions about just what that means. 

There are several key points from the research that philanthropic professionals will want to consider:

Accountability requires ethics.

For foundations, the biggest "pro" in this research is that the public sees accountability first as a dimension of ethics and responsibility.  Foundations – especially those with an orientation toward accountability and transparency – will likely fair well with the public in this regard. On the "con" side, many leaders who see accountability measures as the principal way to ensure that their institutions meet their obligations to the public may be putting too much faith in how much the public values the setting of benchmarks, collecting data, measuring performance, disclosing information, and organizing system-wide reforms. Those mechanisms, while often valuable as management tools, fall far short of relieving the public's most potent concerns, especially their fears about an ethical decline in our society. Foundations that demonstrate they are acting responsibly and ethically will be thought by the public to be accountable more than those that simply talk about benchmarks.

More information does not equal more trust.

Typically, people know almost nothing about specific measures, and they rarely see them as clear-cut evidence of effectiveness. Many Americans are deeply skeptical about the accuracy and importance of quantitative measures. Most are suspicious of the ways in which numbers can be manipulated or tell only half the story. So on the "pro" side, this research is good news for those foundations that have become adept at getting their message out with personal stories of those affected by their programs. For those that are still trying to talk about their impact with lists of grants made and lots of data, the "cons" in this research may be quite jarring. Many members of the public feel confused and overwhelmed by the detailed information flying past them in the name of "disclosure" and "transparency." Many fear they are being manipulated by the complex presentations. More and more statistics do not reassure, so in fact, more information can actually lead to less public trust. It's not that they don't want accountability and information from foundations, but a whole lot of data (without any qualitative context) isn't reassuring to them.

Responsiveness is just as important as benchmarks.

For the public, being able to reach someone who listens to you and treats your ideas and questions respectfully is a fundamental dimension of accountability. This may be the biggest challenge for foundations in this research, since even the most transparent rarely open the door more than a crack to let the general public in to give feedback on the funding programs aimed at them. For most people, not being able to talk to someone is a signal that the institution doesn't genuinely care about those they serve. Foundations are particularly opaque to the public. The message is clear for those in philanthropy and other sectors who may fear being besieged by community input: the public wants a better balance and authentic mechanisms that allow them to be heard. On the "pro" side, those foundations that do seek community input and can demonstrate they are listening will likely be afforded a great deal of public trust. Foundations that rate well on the Foundation Center's Glasspockets measures of transparency, especially those dealing with grantee surveys and grantee feedback, can probably feel some relief that they will likely be considered accountable in the public's eyes.

The public expects to be held accountable, too.

For most Americans, the return to real accountability is not the job of leaders alone. Time and again, people in focus groups spoke about their own responsibilities and the near impossibility of solving problems without a broad base of responsibility at every level of society. Many foundations already get this. Institutions that embrace the idea of a public role in fostering institutional accountability must think creatively and proactively about how typical citizens can contribute their knowledge and actions to fulfill the organization's mission. The report emphasizes that giving people more and more information or giving them more and more choices without truly considering public priorities and concerns is likely to backfire.

The "Don't Count Us Out" report is getting a lot of attention in policy circles. The Washington Post's education columnist Jay Mathews said, "Its message is vital. Accountability is a key word in our national debate… The Public Agenda/Kettering report may have exposed the greatest obstacle to getting our kids the educations they deserve." And The Nonprofit Quarterly said, "The authors suggest that there is one other area that needs equal attention: philanthropy, which they say has 'fewer true accountability mechanisms than any other field.' However, there is one dimension of accountability in which philanthropy may be the strongest: the 'publicly stated moral convictions of its leaders.' How to measure that will, perhaps, be the biggest challenge of all."

For foundation professionals involved in communicating the results of their organizations' work, the first thing to recognize is simply the different orientation of your audience. The second is to understand that people expect more than just statistics and analyses of results to feel that the foundation is indeed accountable. Many foundations are hesitant to allow outsiders to even have easy e-mail access to staff (another Glasspockets transparency measure). So allowing the public to give feedback on the programs that are directed at them may seem like a radical idea to some. Many foundations are already doing grantee surveys and allowing public commentary on their blogs. These are likely to go a long way in engendering trust with the public.

Many foundations have already realized that telling stories is a more effective means of communicating with people than rolling off statistics and spewing facts. When it comes to demonstrating our foundations' accountability, it may be time to consider the idea that bringing the public into the process is as important as enumerating outcomes.

-- Michael Remaley

Transparency and Accountability in Today's Information Age
October 18, 2011

Jennifer Esterline(Jennifer Esterline joined the KDK-Harman Foundation in the fall of 2006 as its first program officer and was promoted to executive director in 2009. Prior to joining the Foundation, Jennifer served as a resource development director at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and also worked in Mexico for a time on issues related to civil society and philanthropy.)

Before I worked in the world of grantmaking, I raised money for a variety of nonprofit organizations, primarily from foundations. That job was sometimes frustrating because of the lack of transparency of many foundations—particularly smaller, local family foundations. Many of you can probably relate to my experience:  digging for information that usually leaves you feeling more confused than before; making inquiry calls to the foundation that never get returned; and receiving standard rejection letters that tell you nothing about why your request was declined other than the fact that “the foundation had more inquiries than funds available.” Sound familiar?

Bringing that experience with me to the KDK-Harman Foundation, both the staff and leadership of the Foundation vowed to change those “more typical” foundation practices. From the Foundation’s inception, we developed processes that ensured transparency and a feeling of customer service in our grantmaking. We took a strategy straight from the playbook of a much larger and well respected foundation in Texas by disseminating a survey to all of our applicants and grantees, which allows them to evaluate ease of application and reporting processes, the quality of interaction, and the responsiveness and knowledge of staff —whether or not they received a grant.

We also collaborate with other education grantmakers in our region through the creation of the Central Texas Education Funders group—a volunteer-led membership group of foundations that have worked together to create a common application and evaluation report for area nonprofits, learning opportunities around public education,  and even collective grantmaking. This collaboration is meant to ease the application and reporting processes of nonprofits in our region and provide opportunities for learning and sharing among its members and between grantmakers and grantees.

We also adopted many other recommendations from Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) and the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), among others, that encourage foundations to support capacity building, provide operating support, invest in evaluation and evaluative learning, and establish open and honest dialogue between a foundation and grantees in order to learn from one another’s experiences. Our staff and board realized early on that the effectiveness of the Foundation was completely dependent on the effectiveness of our grantee partners, and as such, we’ve tried very hard to create an environment and relationship with grantees that allows them to have the greatest impact in their communities.

In order to evaluate our effectiveness, we developed a theory of change and a logic model early on that would give both staff and board members a clear picture of what we were trying to accomplish and determine benchmarks to measure progress towards those objectives.  All of these documents are updated regularly and available online on our web site,

Assessing performance sounds daunting, but it is well worth the effort.  For small foundations like ours wondering how they should get started with the development of a logic model or other evaluation metrics, here is some specific advice based on our successes and lessons learned along the way:

  • Start small—you don’t have to hire an outside consultant and invest lots of money. Start by bringing your staff and board together during a half-day retreat to talk through elements of a logic model to start a first draft.
  • Collaborate—work with like-minded funders in your area to learn about their evaluation processes.
  • Revisit your performance tools often—logic models are never static, they change over time as the foundation learns more about their areas of expertise and as community needs change.

The staff and trustees of the KDK-Harman Foundation dedicate a lot of time to ensuring that the Foundation is held to the same standards that we expect from our grantees. As a foundation working to break the cycle of poverty through education in Central Texas, we are only as effective as our grantee partners. You don’t have to give away millions of dollars a year to invest in processes that ensure transparency, accountability, and learning within your foundation. Just a simple willingness to learn and an open mind will get you further than you realize.

-- Jennifer Esterline


Glasspockets Find: Net-Centric Grantmaking - Increasing Social Impact in a Networked World
October 17, 2011

Foundation leaders met in San Francisco on October 17 to discuss their experiences with embracing a network mindset, supporting and catalyzing networks, and sharing and investing in network learning.

Part of a conference on networking convened by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and Monitor Institute, this interactive panel discussion looked at both the challenges and opportunities for taking on more open and collaborative approaches to grantmaking. The panel included Chris van Bergeijk (Hawaii Community Foundation), Steve Downs (the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), Stephanie McAuliffe (the David and Lucile Packard Foundation), and Rafael Lopez (the Annie E. Casey Foundation).

How has your organization embraced a network mindset? How has it changed the way you work?

-- Daniel Matz

Glasspockets Find: Embracing Transparency
October 13, 2011

Grants Managers Network

Jennifer Pedroni, vice president of administration at the North Penn Community Health Foundation, has written an excellent article for the Fall 2011 issue of GMN Examiner, the newsletter of the Grants Managers Network (GMN). She rhetorically asks, “… how transparent is GMN? How easily does GMN show itself?” and then proceeds to answer with some terrific examples—and makes it all sound so refreshingly natural and simple. 

GMN strives to be a model for accountability and transparency. At its meeting in March, the GMN board adopted the Principals for Good Governance and Ethical Practice framework as well as a transparency policy. In keeping with this commitment, the GMN web site includes its mission and values; bylaws, board of directors list, staff bios, annual reports, strategic plan, budget, audited financial statements, and tax returns.

As a member of the board, Pedroni concludes by asking her readers (i.e., primarily GMN’s members and funders) to evaluate the board’s progress in achieving the organization’s accountability/transparency goal—and issues a call for yet additional information that could be made visible.

Glasspockets applauds the Grants Managers Network for promoting transparency so extensively within the organization. Through these values and practices, GMN is leading by example.

-- Mark Foley

Steve Jobs and Occupy Wall Street: Two Ways to Disrupt Philanthropy
October 11, 2011

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center.  This post first appeared October 10, 2011, in PhilanTopic, a blog of opinion and commentary from Philanthropy News Digest. )

Occupy_wallst_large In the fifty-six impossibly creative years he spent on the planet, Steve Jobs did far more to disrupt philanthropy than any of us who write, think, live, and breathe it as a profession or avocation. By taking the hulking mainframe computers pioneered by the likes of IBM, Honeywell, and Control Data and putting them first on our desktops and then in our ears and in the palm of our hands, he connected us 24/7 to information and to each other. Perhaps because he never seemed that interested in philanthropy, we never fully grasped -- and may not still -- how profoundly he was changing our industry.

Far more radical than the sleek design and tactile interface of the company's inventions, however, was the profound way in which they democratized the control of and access to information. Philanthropy, a cumbersome latecomer field that is only beginning to operate in the digital world, cannot ignore what this means for social change and the way we do business. People, causes, organizations, governments, businesses, and everything in between are becoming networked in ways that bring into question our notions of "grantmaker," "grantee," "not-for-profit," and "for-profit." This kind of disruption, so competently explored by Lucy Bernholz, compels us to re-imagine, re-position, re-tool, and aspire to a future in which we can and must do far more to make the world a better place than we've done to date. Still, this is disruption philanthropy can live with: even as Jobs' innovations challenged us, many a foundation prospered by hitching their endowments to the upward spiral of Apple's geometrically expanding market cap.

Then there is Occupy Wall Street, a "leaderless resistance movement" that claims it is "the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%" and employs "the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic" to achieve its ends. When it comes to disruption, this is more like a fist to the solar plexus. No matter how you slice it, philanthropy is driven by asset-based wealth; indeed, large organized philanthropy of the foundation variety is fueled by the top 1 percent of the population that holds 23.5 percent of national income -- and whose "greed and corruption" the Occupy Wall Street movement is protesting. For foundations, Wall Street is not some distant exotic land, given that their investments are often entrusted to some of the biggest financial firms; nor is it unheard of for foundation presidents and executives from some of those firms to sit on each other's boards.

On the heels of a brutal recession caused, in large part, by an orgy of financial excess, it is dangerously easy to tar everyone in the top 1 percent with the same brush, even those who might have made their money the old-fashioned way and are giving something back through their philanthropy.

Occupy Wall Street has no Steve Jobs to personify it, yet the thousands who are swelling its ranks use his iPhones and iPads to document, communicate, organize, and network. A visionary business leader that saw a connected world beyond anything most of us could have imagined and a burgeoning social movement that refuses to accept the accumulation of vast wealth without the exercise of social responsibility: as philanthropy is disrupted, those of us who work in the field will have to adapt and change. And foundations will need to do a far better job of connecting themselves to the digital world, being transparent, and telling one big, overriding story: every day foundations strive to use the immense privilege and freedom of action that comes with wealth to fill the world with justice, beauty, and opportunity for all.

(Photo: Getty Images)

-- Brad Smith

The Wiki Workplace and a Network Mindset - Part 2
October 5, 2011

Diana Scearce (Diana Scearce is a senior consultant with the Monitor Institute where she works primarily with networks and multi-stakeholder groups. Her work combines strategy, facilitation, research, scenario thinking, and learning design. She has written multiple articles and reports on effectively leveraging networks, including the forthcoming "Catalyzing Networks for Social Change: A Funder's Guide" (GEO, October 2011).

This is part two of a two-part blog series on how the David and Lucile Packard Foundation is working with a network mindset with its "see through filing cabinet"— a wiki through which the foundation's Organizational Effectiveness (OE) team shares resources and insights across its grantmaking, research in progress, and even internal documents. Part one shared an interview with the OE team's Stephanie McAuliffe and Kathy Reich, about how the experiment came about and how it's impacting their work. Part two shares insights from another OE team member, Jeff Jackson, about wiki results to date and how they're approaching assessment. For a deeper dive, check out their "wiki learning" page.

How do you know if this experiment in transparency — and now engagement — is working?

Jeff Jackson: Year one was about making sure the work and processes most meaningful and useful to us were shared, and that perhaps some people would engage enough to let us know we were not just being transparent to ourselves. While initially we weren't quite sure how to measure this, we now have more third party comments about our transparency than we know what to do with, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy saying "Packard is leading.

Efficiency became the earliest and most visible benefit of transparency.  We could easily point ourselves and others in the right direction faster and better than we did before with our disjointed filing cabinets (we're a very virtual OE team with team members in Mexico and multiple U.S. locations). A non OE team member (a nonprofit leader) is now telling us he is using the wiki as his OE resource center.

It seems strange to try to measure a wiki since it evolves with every new member and can take on a very different look as the work changes. For instance, it wasn't immediately apparent why Eugene Kim wanted to use the wiki to post his notes from the GEO Learning conference (vs. use his own blog), but that's the beauty of this flexible, open format. Although I don't know why he made that choice, I still found value in what he did. Once he posted his conference notes, I decided to do the same for conferences I attended.

We're also learning that once we set "our" measures, the definition and scope of "our" changes. At the same time, we still believe that without measures/targets for distinct parts of the wiki (Goldmine for instance), we might not progress or know we are progressing.

The Packard Foundation team's experiences mirror broader experiences we've noted in the "Network of Network Funders" — a learning community for funders who are catalyzing networks and working with a network mindset. Assessing the impact of network platforms, like wikis, and the impact of groups of people who are working together formally and informally on shared social change goals can be tough. Participation is fluid, the network is in a constant state of flux, and outcomes can be unexpected when you're inviting broad and diverse participation. Yet, as Jeff says, having clear indicators of progress is critical for staying on course, learning about what is working, and adapting as needed.

How are you assessing the impact of your efforts to work transparently and catalyze networks?

-- Diana Scearce

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  • 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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