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Glasspockets Find: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Shares its Strategy and Lessons Learned for Vulnerable Populations Program
August 13, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

To foundations it may seem that, however much information they share, it is never enough. Online annual reports, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds—where will it end? While nonprofits may have the sense that foundations are never sharing the information that they really need to make informed decisions. At Glasspockets, we are interested in learning what kind of information-sharing is beneficial to fostering good relationships between funders and grantees. In May, The Center for Effective Philanthropy released a fascinating report that gets to the heart of this delicate matter: Foundation Transparency: What Nonprofits Want. It reminds me of a more practically-minded version of relationship counseling books. (Foundations are from Mars and Nonprofits are from Venus?)

The CEP’s report is based on a survey of 138 nonprofit leaders, representing organizations with budgets ranging from $100,000 to $60 million. Among the findings, the ones that came to mind recently in relation to one foundation’s experimentation with new media are:

  • 88% of nonprofits surveyed are looking for foundations to share more lessons learned; and
  • 80% want more clarity about how foundations select their grantees.

I was reminded of this report’s call for greater transparency around these kinds of data elements as I viewed the new videos that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) just released on its site. The videos illustrate how new media might serve to provide this kind of window on foundation work. As an example of foundation transparency in their selection and decision-making process, RWJF also has shared its strategy for generating large-scale social change through its Vulnerable Populations programs, to help create understanding around how a national foundation selects a regional model to replicate across the country. RWJF created videos about its work with grantees Playworks and The Green House Project to explain the foundation’s long-term goals and five-stage strategy of investing in innovative models that can be tested, refined, and applied on a wide scale.

Watch the video»

The RWJF web site also features related articles, “Scaling Visionary Solutions to Improve the Health of Vulnerable Populations: The Case of the Green House Project” and “Playworks: Scaling a Great Idea,” which include lessons learned from working with each of these grantees. My favorite takeaway is from Playworks CEO and Founder Jill Vialet, who shares this lesson from scaling the program nationally: “Communications is part of every solution.”

Watch the video»

The sentiment also applies to our question of building good relationships between foundations and nonprofits. Now that we know “What Nonprofits What” in terms of foundation transparency, communications can be part of the solution, rather than a point of frustration.

--Rebecca Herman


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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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