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Glasspockets Find: 2011 Grantee Community Call Hosted by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
November 22, 2011

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation As part of our "Who Has Glass Pockets" transparency and accountability assessments, our Glasspockets team regularly scouts for mechanisms that allow grantmakers to receive ongoing grantee feedback, as well as ways in which grantmakers are using technology to build networks and learning communities.

How does the nation's largest foundation encourage two-way communication and engage with its global grantees? One method is through its second annual Grantee Community Call. I had the opportunity to listen in on the first of two one-hour conference calls (12 hours apart) that were hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on November 21. With more than 600 participants on this call, the session began with CEO Jeff Raikes citing the importance of understanding the perception and the reality of working with the Gates Foundation and the critical role of "smart collaboration" between the foundation and its grantee partners and with other funders. He repeated the foundation's commitment to grantees based on three concepts: quality interaction, clear and consistent communication, and opportunities to provide feedback that will be used to make continuous improvements. Indeed, this Grantee Community Call was a means to put this philosophy into action—and may serve as a good example for other grantmakers with a lot of ground to cover.

Grantees were reassured that the foundation's priorities will not be changing, despite two new leadership additions and the melding of the Global Health Program with the Global Development Program. The foundation also remains committed to the evolving process of breaking down silos in order to integrate and better coordinate the sharing of information across multiple sectors, both internally and with its grantee partners.

The first half of the community call featured presentations by three program directors: Gary Darmstadt, director, Family Health; Vicki Phillips, director, College Ready; and Sam Dryden, director, Agricultural Development. Each, in turn, reinforced the foundation's commitment to constructive, effective relationships by:

  • encouraging grantees to challenge the foundation to strive for continuous improvement at various levels;
  • working together as thought partners;
  • breaking down internal silos to encourage cross-sectional integration; and
  • promoting transparency and welcoming accountability.

The second half of the session was a time for questions and answers. Participants were able to submit questions before the call via an e-mail address and during the call via a special Twitter hashtag and by queuing up with the conference call operator. There was time for nearly a dozen questions from a representative assortment of grantees, including callers from Asia and Africa.

What was perhaps the most impressive take-away was the seemingly genuine and sincere effort of the Gates Foundation to display respect and gratitude to its grantee partners. As Mr. Raikes said in conclusion, [we strive for] "greater impact together." With multiple opportunities for feedback, grantees should not hesitate to engage with the foundation in their mutual goal of improving lives. One very interesting, and rare, feedback mechanism allows grantees to anonymously report issues that raise ethical concerns to EthicsPoint, a service provided by an independent third party.

Finally, the foundation plans to conduct its next Grantee Perception Report, working with the Center for Effective Philanthropy, in the first quarter of 2013.

Recorded versions of the 2011 Grantee Community Calls are now available on the foundation’s web site.

-- Mark Foley


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Amen to general oantprieg support! As a mid-sized, unique community music school in the Chicago area (budget approx $1.5 million), we continually have to say NO to projects that divert us from our core mission. If we don't, our mission and values will be diluted and we will not be successful. I wish funders would select organizations that have proven they can manage funds well and are the best in their field at doing what they're doing, and give them general oantprieg funds that would enable them to do an even better job in their mission and expand their reach in this way.

My own experience with the Gates Foundation is one of opacity and unwillingness to discuss the honest feedback they claim they are looking for. You can read the details in my small book, Honest Feedback, Questions to the Gates Foundation
and also a few proposals like a transparency scorecard to rate the organizations:

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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.

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