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July 2013 (4 posts)

Enabling More Effective Giving by UK Foundations
July 24, 2013

(Loren Treisman, PhD, serves as Trust Executive for the Indigo Trust in London. A version of this post originally appeared on the Indigo Trust’s blog on July 1st, 2013.)

Treisman-100Last month, The Indigo Trust hosted a working lunch which brought together data experts and civil society representatives to explore how we could encourage UK Foundations to publish their data in an open format in order to make grant giving more effective.

We believe that being transparent in itself is the right thing to do, but the reasons for encouraging openness go far beyond this. In summary, openness makes grantmaking better.

We believe that being transparent in itself is the right thing to do, but the reasons for encouraging openness go far beyond this. In summary, openness makes grantmaking better. We believe that opening up grant data will enable more effective collaboration amongst funders and between civil society and funders, allow for more effective strategic planning which will ensure that money gets to where it’s needed the most, enable grantmakers to assess their impact and demonstrate this to the public and enable analysis of interventions across a whole sector such as health or higher education.

A great example of how open data can lead to better understanding of a sector is demonstrated here, where Water, Sanitation and Hygiene funders released their data to enable more effective collaboration and programmatic design across the sector globally. DFID’s development tracker is another excellent example of the power of open data and enables users to trace aid flows globally.

It’s exciting to see a movement toward such openness globally, with interventions such as the Open Government Partnership. The UK has also taken a lead in this movement, with DFID publishing all its data to an IATI standard and being ranked first in terms of Aid transparency by Publish What You Fund. The UK has also taken a lead in developing the G8 Open Data Charter. Now it’s time for Foundations to play their part.

We have set ourselves a goal to ensure that within five years, 80% of grants made by UK charities, foundations & other grantmakers are reported as open data to agreed standards and 50% by number/volume.

This should enable grantmakers in the UK to have a clear understanding of who is funding what, where and at what level, and also enable more strategic philanthropy and collaboration and improve transparency for the public and authorities.

Watch this space for further details on how we intend to move forward with this programme.

The following people attended the working lunch and we’d like to thank them for their crucial insights and contributions:

Simon Marshall, Big Lottery Funding
Cathy Pharoah, Cass Business School
Owen Barder, Centre for Global Development
Beth Breeze, Centre for Philanthropy – Kent University
Adam Pickering, Charities Aid Foundation
Joni Hillman, Development Initiatives
Mary Glanville, Institute for Philanthropy
Carol Mack, Association of Charitable Foundations
Tom Steinberg, mySociety
David Kane, NCVO– National Council for Voluntary Organisations
Charlotte Ravenscroft, NCVO – National Council for Voluntary Organisations
Dan Corry, New Philanthropy Capital
Ed Anderton, Nominet Trust
Martin Tisne, Omidyar Network
Chris Taggart, Open Corporates
Nigel Shadbolt, Open Data Institute
Richard Stirling, Open Data Institute
Rufus Pollock, Open Knowledge Foundation
Tim Davies, Practical Participation
Mark Brough, Publish What You Fund
David Hall-Matthews, Publish What You Fund
Dorothea Hodge, Aequitas Consulting

Fran Perrin, Founder and Director, Indigo Trust
William Perrin, Trustee, Indigo Trust
Loren Treisman, Executive, Indigo Trust
Richard Crellin, Researcher, Indigo Trust/SFCT

If you’re a Foundation, open data expert or civil society group and you’re interested in getting involved in this initiative, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

--Loren Treisman

Editor’s Note: The Indigo Trust is part of The Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts (SFCT). SFCT is the operating office of 18 grantmaking trusts established by three generations of the Sainsbury family. David Sainsbury, founder of the Gatsby Charitable Foundation has been profiled in our Eye on the Giving Pledge and you can read his profile here.

What’s The Story, Data?
July 10, 2013

(Kyle Reis, after twenty-five years at the Ford Foundation, has just joined the nonprofit social enterprise TechSoup Global as Senior Director of Global Data Services and East Coast Representative. When not busy raising three daughters or reading Emily Dickinson poems, he spends his time thinking about the intersection of data, design, and social change.)

Reis-100Data are not sexy.

There, I’ve said it. The sentence proves the point. Data are. Data is. Data, hmm. Personally, I love data. But we all know what invariably happens when the ‘D’ word comes up in conversation other than at a hackathon or Google staff party. Our eyes glaze over, we nod that, yes, this is indeed the era of Big Data, and then excuse ourselves to freshen our drink.

But let me clarify. It’s not that I love data per se. The data point, ‘New Jersey,’ does not, thankfully, excite me. What I do love, however, is what can come of data, particularly when it gets big and varied. Often, a surprising thing happens: the data get interesting. Really interesting. Even more importantly, the data become meaningful. Individual data points begin morphing into larger concepts like, say, The Law of Large Numbers. Now we’re talking sexy. I would even go so far as to call the Law of Large Numbers awesome! See for yourself:

Law of Large Numbers

OK. So, formulas aren’t sexy either. But, in layman’s terms, what this tells us is that, as we get more and more data (e.g., rolls of a die, Google “flu” searches, grants approved by foundations), the data become more predictable and informative. Data points bond together and in so doing undergo a kind of metamorphosis in our perception. They begin to reveal previously hidden truths, to show surprising patterns and correlations, and to surface anomalies. If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers or studied the concept of positive deviance, you know how much we can learn from that which deviates from the norm. Here’s a quote from the Positive Deviance Initiative that touches on this topic, and sounds a lot like something that would be of interest to foundations:

“Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.”

When cultivated and well-presented, this “data metamorphosis” takes on a new resonance for one simple reason: it begins to reveal stories.

We all love stories. Stories resonate. Stories delight. Stories move us. For foundations, stories are vital to our work. Stories of need or injustice, of action or inaction. Not only can stories help us decide who to fund, but also what results from our funding. However, for philanthropy’s stories to move others to action, they must have data.

Data help us unearth facts that, in turn, help us learn about organizations and the impact their work has on the communities they serve.

Why data, you might ask. Isn’t the folksy anecdote that moves us to action good enough? In the past, the answer might have been yes because supporting an organization that’s doing good is better than not supporting one. But this is no longer sufficient. The needs are too big for us to be funding all but the best organizations. So how do we find these organizations? Using data. Data matter. Data help us unearth facts that, in turn, help us learn about organizations and the impact their work has on the communities they serve.

And that’s why initiatives like the Reporting Commitment are so important. Though it might seem small that sixteen foundations – including some of the largest in the country – have begun publishing their grants data in an open, accessible fashion - the truth is this is big news. Here’s what these records look like:

In just nine months these 16 foundations have made available to the public more than 10,000 grants totaling $9 billion. Now imagine what this data set could look like in two or three years’ time, with several hundred foundations contributing tens of thousands of grants totaling tens of billions of dollars. Then imagine these same foundations and others working to improve people’s lives downloading this data and mashing it up with Census, World Bank, or other information. Or using word clouds and other visual tools to reveal beautiful patterns. Or mapping the geographic-area-served data to see if funding is reaching the places of greatest need. And then, if you will, imagine this data being used in ways we can’t yet dream. This metamorphosis of data could be spectacular, and the impact of what we do with this knowledge would be tangible.

So here is my call to all funders: join the Reporting Commitment. Send in your data so that you and others can use it to tell the stories that are out there waiting for the data to find them. Do this and you, too, will come to love data as I do.

IHRFG Holds up a Map That is a Mirror
July 8, 2013

(Kate Kroeger is the Executive Director at the Urgent Action Fund. This blog is re-posted from the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) blog.)

Kroeger-100I have always loved maps. As a young girl, I would spend hours staring at the maps of the world hanging on the walls of my classrooms, absorbing the contours of each continent and the oceans in between. The obsession has been a lasting one, staying with me as I have traveled to places near and far. So when the Foundation Center and the International Human Rights Funders Group published Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking, I was immediately drawn to it: opening it right up to the map at its center.

Maps tell us stories as much as they tell us longitudes and latitudes.

What I found was a fascinating snapshot of the ways in which, as funders, we are spending our resources around the world. Marking the continents is a total of $1.2 billion in foundation grants to advance human rights globally. Maps tell us stories as much as they tell us longitudes and latitudes. Often, stories about power and politics: whose place names get used, which way is “up”, which towns and cities get listed and which do not, how the borders get drawn. Whenever we see a map, it’s helpful to ask what is included and what is not. Beyond the numbers, what does this map show us? And what can’t it show us? First, it shows us:

  • We’re thinking globally.
    This map paints a global picture. Despite interviewing funders primarily based in one country, the United States, we learn that 31% of grant recipients are based outside the United States and 46% of grants supported international work.
  • We see a role for human rights foundations in shaping policy solutions.
    The report notes that advocacy has become a greater part of several funders’ work. This is an important development. As funders we can use our voices and our collective weight to shape the policy priorities of our own governments, who in turn play a significant role in being able to influence the governments where our grantees live and work.
  • We’re connecting to the right people.
    We cannot do our work well without the participation, indeed the leadership, of the activists our funding supports. The report tells us that funders are working with indigenous people, sex workers, ethnic and racial minorities, the poor, migrants, people with disabilities, LGBT people, victims of violence, women and girls. These are the communities most affected by structural inequality and restrictions on human rights.

So, what stories don’t we hear? For one, this map cannot show us whether the data it provides is an accurate reflection of the human rights challenges facing the world. In other words, it shows us the landscape of (proposed) solutions but not necessarily the problems.

If someone with no knowledge of human rights were to look at this report, and assume that donors must be directing the greatest share of funding to the most important problems, they could reasonably conclude that the personal liberty and security of individuals in the United States is the most important human rights issue of our time. If we think that it is not, then it might be time to listen more closely to what we are hearing from the grassroots, and to think again about where, and how, we direct our dollars.

Recently, in Tunisia, I had the chance to reflect on the value of listening. The value of a funder listening to grantees. The value of human rights activists listening to one another. Feminists from across North Africa and the Middle East gathered for a day to share their experiences of participating in the revolutions of their countries and to assess the impact of political change on women’s rights. Activists from Syria listened to the counsel of their sisters in Tunisia that the call for change should not come at the expense of their freedom and that they must choose their alliances carefully. Older women in the movement heard from their younger counterparts that priorities are changing for young feminists. Through the act of listening, they made space for the greater inclusion of new voices. And straight women heard from LGBT activists in the room about the indivisibility of the struggle for equal rights. As Urgent Action Fund supported this convening, I listened in order to learn and to identify the strategic opportunities where our grants could make a difference. The eight hours I spent with those activists changed in fundamental and profound ways the map of Urgent Action Fund’s own priorities in the region and brought it into better alignment with the voices of the women’s human rights defenders we support.

The IHRFG map is a mirror that reflects back to us the form and content of our collective work. Let’s look closely and honestly into that mirror and use it as a starting point for moving in a direction that represents the collective aspirations of funders and activists working for a better world, around the world.

--Kate Kroeger

Now That We're 'Canon': 3 Ways to Advance Human Rights Philanthropy
July 1, 2013

(Daniel Jae-Won Lee is the executive director of the Levi Strauss Foundation, an independent private foundation that conveys the pioneering spirit and enduring values of Levi Strauss & Co.: originality, empathy, integrity and courage. He leads the foundation's international grantmaking in four areas: confronting HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination, advancing worker rights in the apparel industry, helping low-income people save and invest in their futures, and advancing social justice. This blog is re-posted from PhilanTopic.)

Lee-100For better or worse, the field of philanthropy is inundated with reports. My swelling "to-read" pile is the root cause of seemingly intractable clutter in my office.

Amid this cacophony, Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking warrants our attention. On its part, the International Human Rights Funders Group deserves kudos for culling rich insights from wide-ranging interviews with members from nine countries.

Shedding light on egregious abuses will always remain a crux part of the human rights agenda. On the other hand, narratives of human possibility and courage -- whether of affected communities or defenders -- can powerfully influence hearts and minds.

It's significant, as well, that the Foundation Center co-authored the report, its first-ever in-depth look at the topic of global human rights. As the go-to clearinghouse for information about philanthropy, the Foundation Center tracks trends and makes new knowledge visible, literally and figuratively putting grants data on the map. You might even say that funders look to the Foundation Center to discern what's "canon" in institutional philanthropic funding flows.

Human rights funders, rejoice -- we're on the map.

Some of you will recall the Foundation Center's groundbreaking survey Social Justice Grantmaking: A Report on Foundation Trends, released eight years ago (not to mention the incisive second edition in 2009). Whether by coincidence or correlation, its publication heralded a period of substantial growth for the field of social justice philanthropy, climbing to nearly 15 percent of all institutional giving. More important, it served as a touchstone for vigorous dialogue and nimble collaboration among foundations – even luring new players to the table.

As the ink dries on Advancing Human Rights, how can we spur a similar ripple effect for the field of human rights philanthropy? Here are my initial thoughts -- and let's borrow from the metaphorical trove of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights movement:

1. Help peers out of the closet. Advancing Human Rights identifies a swath of funders making grants that fall within the report’s definition of human rights but do not categorize their work as human rights philanthropy (many explicitly embrace “access to” approaches that go far beyond service delivery in such realms as health and education). Curiously, this includes six of the top fifteen funders -- all based in the United States -- that are featured in the survey.

It is time for more seasoned funders to share lessons from their institutions on "making the case" for a rights-based approach. What arguments or illustrations can convince trustees, donors, executives, and fellow staff members? What tools can we share to make human rights funding accessible -- and not the hallowed (and isolated) terrain of experts?

2. Let’s be "out, loud, and proud" on impact. Advancing Human Rights underscores the need for bold grantmaking that bolsters local advocacy and organizing -- and, moreover, for broadened general operating and multiyear support. This echoes the call to action of the U.S.-based National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy, a sector "watchdog" that aims to represent the best thinking of the nonprofit sector and social justice leaders.

Stark fault lines separate those funders who do and do not embrace these perspectives. Vigorous action to demonstrate the value proposition of investing in advocacy -- and illuminate its "life cycle" of impact over time -- is sorely needed. Within our grant portfolios and databases resides a wealth of data and narratives that will help cement this case. What are the big wins, the intermediate wins -- and, for that matter, the setbacks and upshots? How do strategies like policy advocacy, community organizing, and civic engagement collude to foster "perfect storms" of social change?

Many of us know instinctively that investing in the grassroots is a powerful and durable strategy. If we'd like to see more flows of general and multiyear support for advocacy, it is incumbent upon us to provide convincing evidence. In a provocative report, Leveraging Limited Dollars, NCRP calculated a $115 return in community benefit for every $1 invested in policy and civic engagement in the United States. Let's join this conversation with examples from the global front.

3. Convey "positive" human rights stories. As Advancing Human Rights notes, clear public messaging is critical to build a moral and political consensus for human rights on the grassroots, national, regional and global levels. But this field faces a vexing challenge: people tend to notice human rights only in their absence. In other words, communicating about human rights can seem a rather morbid affair -- as appealing as chasing ambulances.

Shedding light on egregious abuses will always remain a crux part of the human rights agenda. On the other hand, narratives of human possibility and courage -- whether of affected communities or defenders -- can powerfully influence hearts and minds. What's the positive value to society of human rights movements, mechanisms, and wins? How can we use new tools of technology and media to "color in the faces" of those bearing the brunt of stigma and discrimination? How can we make winning cases for values like participation, non-discrimination and access to justice?

No doubt, the global human rights movement is a powerful shaper of the energy and events of our time. Advancing Human Rights sets the stage for funders to deepen our commitment to bolster pioneering advocacy -- and cues the spotlight for the sector of human rights philanthropy to take center stage.

-- Daniel Lee

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