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March 2014 (5 posts)

Glasspockets Find: Foundation Center CEO Speaks Out On Knowledge Management
March 24, 2014

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

Rebecca Herman PhotoLike it or not, we live in a data-obsessed era. It can feel like we are swimming in a sea of data. Are we being swamped by data, or are we harnessing these currents to propel us along toward our objectives? Your foundation probably already gathers significant amounts of information about your programs, your grantees and your fields of interest. As foundations move toward greater transparency, it is worth considering how this data could serve a larger purpose outside of the foundation. And then this leads to the more difficult task of figuring out which internal data could be a meaningful contribution to the field.

"If philanthropy really wants to be strategic, harnessing data to purpose needs to be job number one."

Earlier this month, in the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, Foundation Center president Brad Smith wrote about Developing a Culture of Knowledge Management.

In the SSIR, Smith argues that foundations need to learn how to manage and share information in order for philanthropy to be strategic. This may require creating a new mindset, in which data becomes "knowledge assets," and establishing new internal incentive systems for managing data effectively.

Smith also points out a number of common pitfalls in how foundations use data:

  • An over-reliance on personal networks and verbal communication to gather information about grantees and grant applicants
  • Potentially valuable contextual data lives inside foundations as static information
  • Foundations can become so obsessed with impact that they outsource data collection and proof to their grantees

Read the complete blog post on the Stanford Social Innovation Review website to learn about the importance of knowledge management and the three types of data foundations need.

-- Rebecca Herman

Transparency, Inclusion and Collaboration: Three Ways Philanthropy Can Take Its Own Medicine
March 20, 2014

Shauna Nep is the social innovation manager at the Goldhirsh Foundation. She has a background in program development, and in mobilizing online and offline engagement with various organizations in Los Angeles. This blog was re-posted with permission from Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy. This post represents Shauna’s own opinions.

Goldhirsh-shauna-1-150x150In philanthropy, we are working each day to make the world a more open, inclusive, and participatory place. A place where marginalized voices are heard and smart solutions that work rise to the top. But, we have lagged behind in modeling the behavior we want to see in the rest of society. With some notable exceptions, the way we as philanthropic institutions currently engage is not only inconsistent with our current values, but also behind the times in which we live.

This is nobody’s fault. Foundations today are primarily top-down institutions, and changing “the way it’s always been” is hard. In many cases, foundations desperately want to engage but don’t really know how, or feel they lack the appropriate tools.

As a social change advocate who grew up in a time when most platforms are expected to be crowd-powered and open-source, I want nothing less for my field. The good news is that the field is constantly developing new tools and capabilities to help philanthropy put these values into practice.

Let’s talk about some of these values and opportunities to advance them in our own work.


As funders, we ask for full transparency from our grantees—impact reports and financial records at the very least. At the Goldhirsh Foundation, we ask our grantees to tell us about roadblocks early on, so that we can help. We want to be considered partners, and expect honesty. What would happen if we all held ourselves to these same standards for impact and disclosure?

Ways to change it

New tools and platforms allow philanthropy to embrace transparency more easily than it could in the past. IssueLab—a project of the Foundation Center—allows foundations to upload case studies, evaluations, white papers, and issue briefs, and ensures that the content is both archived and accessible. GlassPockets, another initiative of the Foundation Center, champions philanthropic transparency by inspiring private foundations to adopt openness in their communications and by highlighting where philanthropic dollars are going. Tools like these make philanthropy more transparent and streamline access to knowledge generated by philanthropy.

One action step

Check out the many transparency tools available on the Glasspockets website and share your publications on IssueLab.


A fundamental issue seems to be that as foundations, our funding strategies are developed in isolation rather than in consultation with the people and organizations we seek to benefit. As a result, the impact is piecemeal, and not nearly as lasting or transformative as it could be.

Ways to change it

There are great examples of foundations who are dramatically embracing inclusion in their grantmaking. The Vancouver Foundation youth grants are administered by their Youth Philanthropy Council—made up of Vancouver youth from diverse backgrounds. The youth not only decide who gets the grants, but also, how much. Their youth are actively engaged and strong advocates for the work of the foundation.

Other great examples include the Durfee Foundation in California, who consistently rely on former grantees to help decide which individuals and projects to fund today, or the Raymond John Wean Foundation in Ohio, whose board includes a diverse mix of community voices.

One action step

Review this comprehensive report by Grantmakers For Effective Organizations on the benefits and types of grantee and public engagement, and find one action your institution might put into practice.

Collaboration does not have to be a large effort. There are low-touch ways for foundations to learn from one another and develop solutions together to make all of our work more streamlined and more effective.


One area in which philanthropy is getting stronger is collaboration. Funders increasingly encourage and/or require collaboration amongst their grantees, and are also starting to adopt the practice themselves, with an eye towards leveraging greater impact in the ecosystems in which they work. Over the past few years several funders collaboratives have formed, and Collective Impact (which had its third birthday this January) is gaining traction.

Ways to keep the momentum going

Collaboration does not have to be a large effort. There are low-touch ways for foundations to learn from one another and develop solutions together to make all of our work more streamlined and more effective. The field is making progress in developing better feedback loops with other funders and grantees, and efforts like the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership are even making progress in establishing common performance measurements and sharing data. New advances in Big Data and data visualization and analysis should only accelerate this trend.

Putting these values into practice: my own experience

At the foundation where I work, the Goldhirsh Foundation, we sought to create through our LA2050 initiative a shared vision for the future of Los Angeles, and to track and drive progress toward that vision.

To create this shared vision we wanted and needed public participation, but did not have the capacity to conduct a large-scale public deliberation. So, we played to our team’s strengths: We built a brand that people wanted to engage with; we used digital media to collect thousands of visions for the future; we crowdsourced $1,000,000 in grants; and we brought together leaders in business, government, and the social sector to talk about how we are going to change the future of Los Angeles, together. And, demonstrating their willingness to collaborate, the Annenberg Foundation even pooled some of their own resources and funded an additional ten projects to move LA2050 forward.

We celebrate the successes we’ve had with our incredible partners thus far, but also recognize that (1) our approach is one of many possible ones, and (2) our efforts so far are only a tiny portion of what’s needed to make change at the scale we’d like to see, and it’s going to require much more collaboration and inclusion with Angelenos to really move the needle. But, if we are able to embrace the medicine we’ve so often prescribed to our grantees, we are optimistic that we’ll get there.

What can your foundation do to catch up with the times, and emulate the society we are trying to build? And what can we do together?

-- Shauna Nep

Free Webinar: Demystifying Funder Transparency
March 17, 2014

Attention grantmakers! Join GrantCraft and Glasspockets on Thursday, March 20, 2:00pm - 3:00pm EST for a free webinar complementing our new guide, Opening Up: Demystifying Funder Transparency. The webinar, which is co-sponsored with Northern California Grantmakers, will feature a conversation with:

You bring the coffee, GrantCraft and Glasspockets bring the conversation!

OpeningUp_2014_240Grantees, funding partners, the public, and philanthropy professionals themselves all benefit when foundations make their work and their knowledge broadly accessible. However, it can be challenging to know where and how to begin with improving and enhancing your foundation’s transparency practices, as well as to determine what level of transparency is appropriate for family foundations or those with limited staff capacity.

This free webinar will provide highlights from our new guide, and the opportunity to learn from Mary Gregory, Vice President of Pacific Foundation Services, which provides philanthropic support to 20 family foundations and is currently active in promoting the benefits of increased foundation transparency to its clients. Mary will also draw from the case study shared in the guide and her experience as executive director of the Bella Vista Foundation (BVF) about why and how BVF has approached transparency and what advice Mary has for other family foundations grappling with how to best share the work of a foundation with its grantees and other stakeholders, as well as overcoming concerns about perceived risks associated with greater transparency.

Click here to register now!

Note: The webinar will be recorded and available on the GrantCraft website for later viewing. However, be sure to join the live webinar to ask questions and reflect with other participants in real time!

Boosting Transparency Through Podcasting at RWJF
March 11, 2014

Lori Melichar is a team director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as well as a labor economist. You can follow her on Twitter at @lorimelichar.

Listen to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneering Ideas podcast:

Lori-melichar-rwjf-150x150My day job involves finding and supporting innovations with the power to accelerate the development of a culture of health in this country. This means finding ways not only to continually expose myself to new ideas but also to clearly communicate the kinds of ideas that my employer, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), seeks to fund. Lately, I’m finding that on both counts, podcasting is one of my favorite tools.

I listen to podcasts during my daily run—newsy ones from NPR, political gabfests, cultural explorations. Sometimes I listen to TED Talks or stories from The Moth. Most of the time I listen to WTF, a podcast where Marc Maron interviews other comedians like himself.

A podcast invites a unique type of conversation-based storytelling, one that we hope will stimulate real-world conversation about applying innovation to create a culture of health—and generate some ideas we’ll be dying to fund.

Though most of the podcasts I listen to are, on the surface of things, unrelated to philanthropy, let alone health or health care, I can’t tell you the number of times that something I’ve heard in a podcast has stimulated an idea related to my work. Sometimes I have to stop running to jot down a thought, fact or idea. Sometimes a nugget from a podcast festers in my mind throughout my run and ends up somewhere completely different by the end.

I believe in the power of the podcast medium to reach individuals where it matters: between the ears. Which is why I’m thrilled to be taking the reins as the host of RWJF’s podcast, Pioneering Ideas. We launched the podcast last year and our third episode debuted earlier today (you can listen to it above).

Our goal with Pioneering Ideas is to be more transparent about the way we work and the kinds of ideas we seek to fund—and to do so in a way that’s engaging for others who are interested in exploring cutting edge ideas and emerging trends that can transform health and health care. Sometimes that means talking to program officers, grantees and others in the RWJF network; other times it means having conversations with pioneering thinkers with no formal relationship to the Foundation.

In our latest episode, for example, I interview Barry Schwartz, a former professor of mine and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, about how his work on the science of decision-making might apply to health and health care. Another guest on this episode, Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, recently visited RWJF as part of our What’s Next Health: Conversations with Pioneers series, and graciously agreed to spend some extra time with us talking for the podcast.

Of course, our podcast isn’t the only vehicle we have for lifting the curtain on our strategy for exploring and funding cutting edge ideas—we are active across a range of social media, and are always adding and exploring new approaches. But a podcast invites a unique type of conversation-based storytelling, one that we hope will stimulate real-world conversation about applying innovation to create a culture of health—and generate some ideas we’ll be dying to fund.

We’ve been conservative in our promotion efforts so far as we find our legs with this new venture. Just over 250 people listened to our second episode—hardly a landslide, but a very respectable showing for this type of podcast. We’ve been learning a lot behind the scenes, and the feedback we’re receiving is encouraging. A variety of thought leaders in health innovation have shared the podcast with their networks, and we're hopeful that the podcast will ultimately encourage people to tell us about their ideas for health and health care. Our goal is to increase the number of listens by 20 percent with every episode we release and build a high-quality audience that excitedly awaits each episode—just as I await new episodes of WTF every Monday and Thursday morning.

I’d love to know what you think—not just about our podcast (which you can listen to at the top of this post), but about using podcasts to support idea-sourcing and to cultivate conversations that can inform a nonprofit’s efforts at creating social change. Any examples of podcasts that you think do a superlative job of communicating an organization’s interests in a stimulating and entertaining way?

On this morning’s run, I heard Marc Maron say that a philosophy teacher once told him there are two ways to fill your mind: One is to put new stuff in there, and the other is to heat up whatever’s in there so that it expands.

I hope Pioneering Ideas fills your mind.

And if you’ve got any audacious ideas for creating a culture of health in this country, I’d love to hear them. Find me on Twitter at @lorimelichar or email me at lmelichar [at]

-- Lori Melichar

Glasspockets Find: The Weingart Foundation Lays Out Its Assumptions and Its Grant Plan
March 3, 2014

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

Herman-150Everyone has assumptions about charitable giving and philanthropy, but we usually don't spell out what those assumptions are. We may have devoted months to researching what nonprofits need most, and we may have spent hours deliberating where to focus our efforts--and where is that information to be found? In a foundation's private files? Not anymore.

Weingart Foundation logoThe Weingart Foundation starts planning its annual grantmaking by laying out its assumptions. This public document reads like a kind of "state of the union" from one funder's perspective, informed by grantee feedback, research, conversations with colleagues and analysis of grant applications. In the President's Message, Fred Ali describes the observations and challenges in the field that led to the Weingart Foundation's grant planning assumptions, such as:

"The failure of private and, in particular, government funders to adequately support administrative and fundraising costs undermines nonprofit effectiveness and sustainability."

Providing support for administrative costs and infrastructure versus program expenses is undoubtedly a hot-button topic in philanthropy, and it is one The Weingart Foundation addresses head-on in their FY2014 Grant Plan Assumptions:

"When combined with strong leadership and management, providing unrestricted, multi-year core operating support is one of the most effective ways to build nonprofit organizational capacity. Core Support grants provide the 'working capital' nonprofits need to sustain and improve their operations, and necessary infrastructure."

What kind of conversations are you having internally about funding administrative expenses? What might your colleagues learn from your assumptions? To start a dialogue about how to share such information publicly, check out the Why Transparency section of Glasspockets, and our new guide, Opening Up: Desmystifying Funder Transparency, created by GrantCraft in collaboration with Glasspockets.

SoundcloudThe Weingart Foundation is one of the case studies that is featured in the guide, and you can hear Belen Vargas, vice president of programs, speak about the foundation's reasons for sharing information about their grantmaking process in one of GrantCraft's new Transparency Chat podcasts.

When you find other great examples of foundations sharing their planning processes, share them with us at:

-- 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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