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January 2014 (4 posts)

Glasspockets Find: 2014 Gates Annual Letter
January 29, 2014

(Mark Foley is Associates Program manager at the Foundation Center’s Washington, DC, office.)

BillGatesphoto“By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been. People are living longer, healthier lives. Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient. You might think that such striking progress would be widely celebrated, but in fact, Melinda and I are struck by how many people think the world is getting worse. The belief that the world can’t solve extreme poverty and disease isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful. That’s why in this year’s letter we take apart some of the myths that slow down the work. The next time you hear these myths, we hope you will do the same.”

-- Bill Gates, from the 2014 Gates Annual Letter, 3 Myths that Block Progress for the Poor

We all have those days when a generous dose of optimism can improve our outlook and make us feel that change for the better is possible. This is the just the kind of boost I received after reading the 2014 Annual Letter from Bill and Melinda Gates.

The challenge of this year’s letter is to break down 3 Myths that Block Progress for the Poor:

  • Myth One: Poor countries are doomed to stay poor
  • Myth Two: Foreign aid is a big waste
  • Myth Three: Saving lives leads to overpopulation
“Above all, I hope we can stop discussing whether aid works and spend more time talking about how it can work better.”

Bill and Melinda Gates take on each of these myths and provide a convincing set of arguments to debunk them. Their point is not to sugarcoat the hard work that still must be done, step by incremental step, but to dispel the harmful, self-perpetuating, effects of these myths as impediments to progress. They challenge the stereotypes that too many of us hold when we think—if we think—about global poverty. Bill Gates wants to remove, as much as possible, the general sense of despair that many use as an excuse not to act at all: “Above all, I hope we can stop discussing whether aid works and spend more time talking about how it can work better.”

The Gates Annual Letter is addressed to civil society as a whole—particularly in the “high-income” countries—and explicitly sets out to change the conversation on foreign aid. By being transparent about challenges the Gates Foundation is facing in broadening support for foreign aid, the Annual Letter aims to make their goals and motivations clear, while inspiring others to join their cause. Bill and Melinda Gates’ openness to acknowledge preconceptions about foreign aid also invites more people into the conversation, rather than creating a silo of people who already agree with the Foundation’s approach to improving global health and development.

As one might expect from Gates, the letter is presented in an interactive, engaging format, full of videos, graphics and survey questions that draw you in and encourage you to respond positively. Go on and give it a look—and share your thoughts and comments with your Glasspockets community.

-- Mark Foley

The Value Added of Engagement
January 23, 2014

(Jay Ruderman is the president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. You can engage with him on Twitter and/or follow the foundation to learn more about inclusion. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's GrantCraft blog.)

Jay-Ruderman-press-headshot-150There are over 500,000,000 users on Twitter--and I am one of them.

As president of a family foundation, I spend my day managing the foundation’s operations and staff, working with partners in the philanthropic and organizational world, and searching for new, innovative projects to invest in. Our foundation advocates for and advances the full inclusion of people with disabilities into the Jewish community. Our focus is on creating lasting change, and I work tirelessly in pursuit of creating a fair and flourishing community.

I speak at conferences, conduct interviews with journalists, meet with legislators, and do whatever is necessary to push the issue of inclusion onto the agenda. Like you, I have a very full schedule filled with meetings, phone calls, site visits, and still more meetings.

And then I started tweeting.

Most of my philanthropic friends and foundation colleagues do not use social media, for a variety of reasons. I myself was unsure of how effective Twitter could be in helping to change the status quo. But I embarked on this experiment six months ago to see if I can build community around the issues the foundation advocates for. I understood that it takes time to build an audience and find one’s voice online. Change does not happen overnight.

Tweeting allows me to see who the players and influencers in this field are. Connecting with them allows us to share experiences and knowledge.

Of utmost importance was having a Twitter strategy in place. I knew in advance who the influencers I wanted to engage were, how to connect with them, and what type of content to push out. Certainly I had much to learn: how to engage, how to effectively use the platform, when and how to post and how to conduct conversations. Through trial and error I have learned, and the early results are encouraging--there has been a definite increase in the number of conversations, retweets and mentions. (Notice I didn’t mention number of followers--that’s not a metric I’m using to measure success). Additionally, my tweeting has brought increased exposure for our foundation’s official account, and we have seen a marked upswing in traffic to our blog.

So far, so good.

People ask me why I tweet--especially those who think Twitter is where people post about their morning coffee! I see Twitter as an integral tool to furthering our mission. Here’s why:

  • Tweeting allows me to see who the players and influencers in this field are. Connecting with them allows us to share experiences and knowledge.
  • Twitter is helping to position our foundation as a thought leader in the inclusion arena.
  • It allows me to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and raise awareness of the issue.
  • By showcasing the wonderful work being done by our partners and grantees, we advance their individual missions and contribute to “grantmaking beyond the buck.”
  • Social media opens my eyes to other projects out there, the latest news and trends, and that allows us to have a finger on the pulse and assists us in becoming a smarter funder.


The central reason why I tweet is because people like to connect to other people. Putting a face on our foundation’s activities helps create a more intimate conversation and can bring more people into the fold. People connect to my passion, my sense of urgency to create sustainable change, and, as president, I have a unique voice on the issue that people want to hear.

Funding innovative projects is not enough--we want to move the needle. The value of social media is the ability to reach the masses, meet people where they are hanging out and engage them. I want to tap into the energy and passion young people have for issues of social justice and encourage them to become involved, advocate and be at the forefront of change in society. I want to use my newfound connections to urge organizational leaders to make their communities more inclusive.

When I look back in a year or two, I hope to have raised awareness and to have caused more people in the Jewish community to realize the importance of the issue. This will go a long way to realizing our foundation’s mission, one tweet at a time.

-- Jay Ruderman

Glasspockets Find: New E-Book About Making Sense of Data
January 14, 2014

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

Herman-150Markets For Good’s e-book Selected Readings: Making Sense of Data and Information in the Social Sector, is a compendium of blog posts from the past 15 months that hits on many hot topics—including transparency. Although that seems like a relatively short time, it’s useful to look back on this period and see how the conversation on data continues to evolve quickly and ripple through various sectors of civil society.

Transparency and openness are recurring themes in several thought-provoking blog posts featured in the e-book, including Laura Quinn’s In Search of Better Data About Nonprofits’ Programs, first published in April 2013. In her Author Update for the post, Quinn writes:

“Since the publication of this blog post, the problem of blaming nonprofits for lack of transparency has only gotten worse, with a substantial amount of conversation about “effective” and “data-based” philanthropy. It’s hard to argue the premise that donors and foundations should try to give money to those nonprofits most likely to be able to use it effectively. The weak link in this chain of logic is the assumption that the burden should be on the nonprofits to show their own effectiveness.”

Markets for Good-eBook-Cover-230Issues related to transparency and NGOs are raised in Anne Hand’s Notes from the Field: Mexico and Social Sector Data, and, in the post 3 Reasons Open Data Will Change the World: A Real-Time View, Ben Hecht argues there is the great potential in data-driven government initiatives, which are based on a commitment to greater transparency and open data in the civil sector.

One of the most in-depth looks at timely issues in transparency is Put Your Data Where Your Mouth Is, in which David Bank, Co-Founder and Editor of ImpactIQ and ImpactSpace, writes about his quest to cover impact investing: “If it was hard for me to track “impact” deals, how could impact investors themselves?” Bank also notes:

“Transparency is needed across the capital spectrum, but one area is particularly ripe for openness: the new class of start-up entrepreneurs mixing technology, emerging markets, and new financing mechanisms to disrupt business as usual in food, water, health care, education, energy, and even sanitation.”

In Divining a Vision for Markets for Good, Arthur “Buzz” Schmidt specifically addresses the need for greater foundation transparency. in the section on “An Alternative Vision for the Philanthropy Ecosystem”:

“We have not succeeded to date because we have not accounted for the complexities and contrary economies of philanthropy as it exists today. We are attempting to interject creative online methods into a philanthropy ecosystem that does not yet value, promote, and reinforce the importance of information, consistency, or effectiveness.”

And he goes on to envision a possible future that raises our hopes: “Institutional donors will be accountable, consistent, transparent, intentional, and demanding in their philanthropy. Communities will articulate common objectives and track collective progress. Nonprofits will report consistently about their own objectives and institutional progress. Resources will be directed to organizations that best meet society’s evolving needs. Superior social and environmental progress will result and our liberal democracy will be strengthened.”

MarketsForGoodlogoMarkets for Good’s e-book reminded me that transparency, data and openness are issues that are of central concern to an incredibly broad range of nonprofits, government, social entrepreneurs, investors and international organizations—and we can learn more by widening our gaze beyond the philanthropic sector. The e-book offers practical views of tackling particular data issues, but it also provides an informative sampling of how different groups within the social sector are thinking about data and transparency today.

-- Rebecca Herman

Transparency, So Far: An Update from the Hewlett Foundation
January 9, 2014

(Eric Brown is Communications Director of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. This post is re-published with permission from the Hewlett Foundation’s blog, Work in Progress.)

Brown-eric-150In November, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation president, Larry Kramer, kicked off the Foundation’s new blog, Work in Progress, by explaining that the blog is one element of the Foundation’s evolving approach to transparency and openness. Larry explained that we will try to share as much information as we can about what we do and why we do it. Sometimes we just share items of interest. (By the way, if you’re not following Ruth Levine’s Friday Notes, you should. They’re really interesting and fun.)

We’re conducting research into the kind of information about the Foundation that people are most interested in and we’re going to figure out how to make that information easy to find and easy to use.

It’s not enough to make information merely available, though. We are also going to try to make that information easy to find and easy to use. We are going to talk more about it in the future, but we are just getting started on a project that we think will help deliver on our commitment to transparency. We’re conducting research into the kind of information about the Foundation that people are most interested in and we’re going to figure out how to make that information easy to find and easy to use. We are already discovering that it’s harder than it looks. People have wildly different interests and different ways of seeking out information. We will spend the next several months conducting research on this question, and we will have much more to say about it as the project develops.

There are a few things we are doing right away. For example, we are beginning to make more information about our grants available on the web site. We are now publishing the summaries of grants that we provide to our Board so that grantees, grantseekers, other funders, and interested observers have a better sense of the purpose of the grants. We began by publishing new Global Development and Population Program grants from our most recent Board meeting (those listed as awarded on November 10, 2013 in our Grants Database), but we will expand to the rest of the programs after our next Board meeting in March. We’d be very interested in knowing how people use this information, if in fact they do.

Hewlett logo_WFHF_reversegreyFor the last several years, when we published our annual report, we included the annual memos that programs submit to our Board. This was a pretty good example of potentially useful information that we made public, but I have to confess that we didn’t do a good enough job of publicizing this information. You can read these memos in our most recent annual report. In them, each program reports on the past year and gives the Board a sense of what to expect in the coming year. It’s a way of holding ourselves accountable to our Board and to our own strategies. If you are interested in learning about a program’s strategy, this ought to be pretty useful information. Is it? Let us know.

We are by no means the only foundation to make this kind of information available, by the way. As we were refining our approach to transparency, we learned a great deal from a number of foundations that we think do a great job of sharing information. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Gates Foundation are just two examples. Are there exemplars of openness that you can cite? Please share them. We need as many models as we can find.

As I said, we are by no means pioneers, but my guess is that our announcement has stirred some interest in this topic. In fact, in the time since Larry’s blog post, I’ve gotten a number of messages from colleagues at other foundations who explained that they are now reexamining their own approach to transparency and openness. I imagine that those are not always easy internal conversations. I would be very interested in learning (to the extent you feel comfortable) how those conversations are going. What do you think the value of increased transparency might be? What might the drawbacks be? 

As you can probably tell, our work on transparency is very much a work in progress. We are learning as we go, but it feels like we have made a decent start (if the spirited comments to the Hewlett Foundation's blog are any indication). Nevertheless, we also know that we have a lot of work ahead of us. Onward!

-- Eric Brown

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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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