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December 2013 (6 posts)

The Mission of Spend Down
December 30, 2013

(Jeffrey Solomon is president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. This piece originally appeared in GrantCraft. This is the third post in the "Making Change by Spending Down" series, produced in partnership by The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and GrantCraft. You can learn more about this project on the GrantCraft web site.


In this latest in a continuing series of blogs about spending down — as manifested at the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP) — I am focusing on the impact of spend down on our foundation’s overall mission and what lessons might be generalized in this arena.

Time, as a concept, is a phenomenon about which so much has been written, but less so within the philanthropic field. While the missions of many foundations deal with the most compelling and time-critical issues on earth, the reality of the perpetual foundation is that perpetuity is indeed a long time.

We (foundations) can experiment, develop theories of change, revise these theories, find different partners, and move at a pace that is at dissonance with the compelling nature of our missions.

When the determination of 2016 as the ending year for ACBP was made in 2001, it seemed like a long way off. For the first few years, other than a spending rate that was significantly greater than 5%, little changed.

But by 2007, the reality of the 2016 spend down date brought the board and senior management to a serious place in determining final strategies and tactics.

For some time, ACBP had managed as an operating foundation — creating programs, developing sustainability plans, recruiting partners, hiring management, building governance, and conducting all of the activities that had each of these entities become more than the sum of their parts. ACBP believed that its public presence is far less significant than that of its incubated organizations.

The graphs below show the financial outcome of this philosophy for ACBP’s three core programs: Birthright Israel globally, Project Involvement in Israel, and Historica Canada in Canada.

Charitable Funding from 2001 to 2016

Growth of Three Core Programs 2001 to 2013

As is clear, while ACBP’s financial contribution to these organizations began to taper off, their aggregate budget grew dramatically, underscoring one of the operating principles of ACBP that programs need to be mission-driven and leverage-sensitive. It is an important achievement for each of these three programs at the core of ACBP’s mission.

The reality of the 2016 spend down date drove a process, including the use of outside consultants such as Cambridge Leadership Associates and Bridgespan to assure that these programs would be "best of breed" as ACBP came close to its spend down.

The reality of a closing date had both a concrete impact on the decision-making regarding each of these programs as well as a huge impact on the motivation to be certain in that all of the pieces were in place for sustainable growth.

I am not certain that grantmaking foundations deal with the same dynamic as those foundations, such as ACBP, developing and incubating entities that deliver and fulfill an overarching foundation mission.

Specifically, ACBP annual grantmaking ended in 2012 with no less than three years notice to each of the grantees. For the six smaller incubated projects, an aggregate sum was determined by 2010 for their continued support through 2016. In each case, the program’s management was given the choice of the time over which this sum would be distributed.

In retrospect, it is an error to believe that management best knows its revenue flow needs. Whereas each grantee would have benefited from a longer term phase-down approach, each chose to complete their ACBP funding within three years and several have regretted that decision.

So we should not forget that in addition to the financial support, the brand credibility of ongoing foundation support is often helpful in obtaining or maintaining other donors.

Many of these factors are significant in terms of the implications of the spend down decision, and how the mission of a foundation plays out in various stages of its life.

I will leave for future blogs some of the more challenging notions including reductions in force, space reductions, asset sales and the emotional impact that the spend down has in the engagement of senior management.

-- Jeffrey Solomon

The Foundation Center and MacArthur Foundation Join IATI – Open Philanthropy Meets Open Global Development
December 23, 2013

(Jeff Falkenstein is vice president of data architecture at the Foundation Center.)

FalkensteinThe Reporting Commitment, an initiative by 15 of the largest foundations in the United States to be more transparent in how they share data on their grantmaking, launched a year ago in October. Since then, those 15 foundations have been joined by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the VNA Foundation. These organizations have committed to a level of transparency and scrutiny never before seen in the philanthropic sector. But why? Some foundations are interested in communicating out what good works they are doing and sharing lessons learned; some are hoping to improve their organizational intelligence through the sharing of better and more timely data, and others are hoping to be more effective, efficient and targeted in both their grantmaking and collaboration efforts. Not that these ideas are mutually exclusive.

At the heart of the Reporting Commitment is a set of standards by which the participating foundations have agreed to report their data. 1) The grant data must be reported at least quarterly; 2) the grant data must include the details of the geographic area being served using the Foundation Center’s geographic taxonomy--the Geotree--so the data can be reported consistently; and 3) the foundations must all report their data using the Foundation Center’s html-based reporting standard, hGrant.

Egrant_reporterhGrant is just one approach to joining the Foundation Center’s eReporting program; another part of the program is eGrant Reporting wherein nearly 1,000 foundations provide data in an Excel format through standard report queries via one of the Center’s grants management software partners. We are working closely with many of our partners to include hGrant as a reporting output option as well.

IATIGiven our experience with data standards, the Center was invited to join the Technical Advisory Group of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), an initiative to create an XML-based data standard to capture data on global development flows, primarily those of governments and international agencies. The goal of this work was to bring together organizations committed to working together to increase the transparency of capital flows benefitting aid on a global scale. In developing this standard, IATI has been careful not to duplicate the great work already being done by other organizations such as the Organization for Economic Co-Operative Development, which produces statistics about past aid flows. Instead, the IATI standard builds on this foundational work and tries to improve the timeliness and accessibility of such data.

Realizing that government and multilateral/bilateral data does not tell the whole story of aid flows, many NGOs have also joined the IATI community. Additionally, two foundations have joined the initiative, including early adopter the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and, most recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation Center is very excited to report that we are officially the 200th organization to join IATI, through the help of the John
D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
. The MacArthur Foundation, one of the original participants of the Reporting Commitment, realized that it wanted to have a voice in international global development, as did the Hewlett Foundation and Gates Foundation. Rather than MacArthur reporting directly to IATI, creating redundancy in their workflows, the Foundation Center worked to enable MacArthur’s Reporting Commitment hGrant feed to be simultaneously converted into the IATI XML standard and, as a result, it is now reported on the IATI registry. We are pleased to be able to help the MacArthur Foundation more fully engage in the global development conversation, and this is just one of the ways the Foundation Center is working to help philanthropy open up its data.

The Foundation Center is dedicated to increasing knowledge on philanthropy through the timeliness and transparency of data, as can be seen via our recent efforts around:

Much like the MacArthur Foundation wanting to get its information out to both peer foundations and the global development community, the Foundation Center is looking for ways to help other foundations be more strategic, gain access to more timely data, better understand where they sit in the sector in relation to their peers, and create opportunities for knowledge sharing and learning.  We'll be announcing some new foundations joining the Reporting Commitment soon. Our work with hGrant and IATI is just another step down that road to helping foundations become a part of the open data movement. Come join us!

If you want to learn more about the Foundation Center’s eReporting program, IATI or anything else in this blog, please contact me at

-- Jeff Falkenstein


Glasspockets Find: NCRP Assessment of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation Shows the Value of Transparent Relationships
December 16, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is special projects associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.) 

Herman-150When I skim a report, I often jump ahead to the very end. Unlike a novel, I want to know the arc of the story before I commit. Am I going to learn something from the journey of this foundation? In the case of The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s assessment of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, I learned how much grantees value their relationships with funders and other organizations, and I learned a new way foundations now have of tackling the tricky task of performance assessment.

NCRP_275The new report by NCRP examined how the foundation's strategies and practices aligned with its goals, the outcomes and impact from its "Moving the Needle" agenda, and the quality of the foundation’s partnership with its grantees. In the report, two quotes from grantees stood out for me, as they highlighted the crucial role of transparency in building productive relationships:

“The biggest thing is that we all understand our roles; they understand they are the funder and are very respectful of not telling us what to do or how to think…We view them as allies, as partners. Clear and transparent relationships make that possible.”

“They have had some convening tables to get us working together, and a lot of us work well together anyway…It all gets back to competence, transparency and creating a noncompetitive space so folks can relax and focus on the work.”

Screen shot 2013-12-16 at 2.25.27 PMIf you read to end of the report, you find an enlightening coda in Appendix B: “If you became CEO of the foundation…” Here’s a plot twist that keeps me interested! The NCRP asked grantees and other stakeholders to imagine themselves the CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and asked them which approaches they would continue or what they would do differently.

The grantees-turned-imaginary CEOs suggested that they would want to do more to build relationships with policymakers, other nonprofits, and other philanthropists. The NCRP report also notes this in one of their recommendations:

Continue exercising leadership through combined capacities of research, content expertise, relationship building, bully pulpit and convening.

Although this report is specific to the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, you can also find online the related NCRP report Real Results: Why Strategic Philanthropy is Social Justice Philanthropy, which provides a framework for an assessment tool to increase foundation effectiveness.

And here is a recommendation that may apply to many foundations that are currently reviewing this year’s accomplishments and plotting next year’s goals:

Provide timely and comprehensive grants data to the Foundation Center so that [Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation] and its stakeholders can monitor its progress in meeting benchmarks for good grantmaking practices.

No matter the size of your foundation, the Foundation Center can work with you to help make your grantmaking more transparent, through electronic grant reporting. Sounds like a great start to a new chapter: the timely reporting of grants data!

-- Rebecca Herman

GrantCraft and Glasspockets Announce New Transparency Guide: Related Resources Available Online Starting Today!
December 11, 2013

(Jen Bokoff is the director of GrantCraft at the Foundation Center and is based in New York. You can follow her on Twitter: @jenbo1 and @grantcraft.)

Bokoff-150We are pleased to announce that GrantCraft, in partnership with Glasspockets, will release a guide about funder transparency in January 2014, and starting today we are offering a sneak preview of related podcasts, an infographic, and survey results. The podcasts feature 10 funders who were interviewed for the guide and who share thoughts on five topics related to funder transparency, including sharing grantee selection processes, strengthening the sector, and communicating using every opportunity. There is also a bonus podcast called Why Transparency? that makes the case for how transparency can help funders reach their potential. These podcasts are part of GrantCraft's initiative to branch out and create new multimedia content that brings the practical wisdom of funders to life, and part of the Glasspockets initiative to provide tools to encourage greater foundation transparency.


The infographic is a roadmap for your foundation to take steps towards transparency. Drawn by Zsofi Lang, it's also attractive enough to print out and hang by your desk as a reminder of how you can integrate different measures into your daily work. Finally we wanted to share the survey results, which include data from more than 700 GrantCraft community members worldwide who shared their observations and interests related to funder transparency.

GrantCraft is a joint service of the Foundation Center in New York and the European Foundation Centre in Brussels that taps the practical wisdom of funders to develop resources that improve the philanthropy sector. Register today to receive GrantCraft updates or to download free GrantCraft materials.

-- Jen Bokoff

Just in Time for Christmas, the Giving Pledge Welcomes Seven New Signatories
December 10, 2013

Eye on the Giving Pledge

A press release today announced that seven new participants have joined the Giving Pledge, the effort launched by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in 2010 to encourage the world's wealthiest to commit the majority of their assets to philanthropic causes. The Giving Pledge continues its emphasis on recruiting international pledgers with four new participants (making a total of eight new pledgers including the previously unannounced commitment by Arif Naqvi of Dubai) bringing the total number of signatories to 122 individuals, spouses, and their families. The new pledgers' sources of wealth run the gamut from tech investors to hoteliers to medical device manufacturers. The new pledgers are also younger, with only two born before World War II.

Initial profiles for the new signatories are now available as part of the Glasspockets Eye on the Giving Pledge feature. Full profiles will be posted shortly.

  • Beth and Seth Klarman
    Chestnut Hill, MA
  • Liz and Eric Lefkofsky
    Glencoe, IL
  • Richard Edwin and Nancy Peery Marriott
    Potomac, MD
  • Yuri Milner
    Moscow, Russia
  • Arif Naqvi
  • Bob and Renee Parsons
    Scottsdale, AZ
  • Dato' Sri DR Tahir
  • Hansjörg Wyss
    Wilson, WY

Since August 2012, Glasspockets has been keeping an Eye on the Giving Pledge, providing an in-depth picture of the participants and their publicly known charitable activities.

Explore the Eye on the Giving Pledge»

-- Daniel Matz

Glasspockets Find: GrantCraft’s Technology Tool Finder Helps Foundations Work Together
December 2, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is special projects associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

Herman-150GrantCraft recently launched a great new resource for funders who want to work together, called Harnessing Collaborative Technologies. This easy-to-use, interactive tool finder can help you find the best online technology tools for collaborating, sharing information, learning from partners, building community, and assessing progress.

The finder can generate custom results of tools that are well suited to your collaboration, based on the size of the group and your project needs. Or, you can search for tools by 17 different functions that help facilitate collaboration. Among the types of tools that foundations may find particularly helpful for transparency are:

Harnessing Collaborative Technologies_crop

The interactive tool finder was developed in conjunction with a joint report issued by the Foundation Center and the Monitor Institute, which sheds light on how online tools are changing the way funders collaborate. Harnessing Collaborative Technologies: Helping Funders Work Together Better helps funders learn about the different phases of collaboration and online tools that can help them advance all types of sharing, coordination, and cooperation. (An executive summary of Key Findings is also available.)

Funders worldwide have an opportunity to grow their impact by working with one another. The goal of the finder is to facilitate collaborations, share tips, and allow funders to suggest other tools that should be added in the future. If you like the interactive tool finder, don’t keep it to yourself—you can tweet about it, too.

-- 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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