Transparency Talk

« Vodafone New Zealand Foundation Joins GlassPockets | Main | How Family Foundations Are Opening Up: Part II »

How Family Foundations Are Opening Up
January 24, 2019

Elaine Gast Fawcett of PhilanthropyCommunications.com is a philanthropy writer and communications strategist who has managed multi-million dollar grant programs for foundations, is a certified multigenerational family trainer with 21/64, and a Contributing Editor to the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP). This post is the first of a two-part look at some of the key findings about transparency in family foundations from a new NCFP report.

Elaine Gast Fawcett
Elaine Gast Fawcett

When it comes to transparency, family foundations, by and large, choose the level of their liking or opt to remain “under the radar.” Yet as the public and the nonprofit sector call for greater funder openness and transparency, more family foundations are wondering: how transparent should we be, and why? Will transparency lead to greater effectiveness? Or are there some circumstances where it serves our mission more to stay mums-the-word?

While there is a wide range of transparency practices in family philanthropy, there are more stories of the field swinging toward openness. I interviewed a number of family foundations for the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities. Here are a few stories that show how family funders are thinking and acting when it comes to transparency, and what has come as a result.

Transparency is…Being Accessible to Grant Applicants

“When we think about our approach, we don’t use the word transparency—it’s just what we do,” says Jean Buckley, president of the Tracy Family Foundation in Illinois, and daughter of the founders R.T. and Dorothy Tracy.

“From a grantmaking perspective, we’ve always strived to be transparent in our process—communicating clearly on our website how to apply and when we make funding decisions,” she says. Beyond that, the Tracy Foundation encourages grant applicants to consult with the foundation program manager to strengthen their applications and increase their chances of getting funded.

“We see so many applications that come in and need a lot of work. By making ourselves accessible to grant applicants, we can give them tips on making their proposals better. It also helps our program manager get to know the organization, and prepare to communicate to the board.”

She acknowledges that a foundation can’t have that level of communication with applicants without a dedicated staff. It takes time to dedicate those resources. Yet, at the end of the day, she says, it saves time. “I used to spend my time reading through countless applications, sending emails and follow up emails. And more than half the time, it would postpone funding,” she says. “Now that applicants have these pre-conversations with our program officer, the applications are clearer, and our discussions now are so much more efficient at board meetings. It’s improved our process and saved everyone time,” she says.

Buckley does acknowledge that there are challenges to transparency, particularly in small towns. “We live in a rural area, and no one wants to feel like they are bragging about giving away money,” she says. “Privacy can also be an issue. The more ‘out there’ the foundation is, people always want something from you, and there’s a good chance you’ll get stopped in the grocery store,” she laughs.

It’s a chance she is willing to take. “Without transparency, funders can miss out on opportunities and connections and learning. We all learn so much from each other,” says Buckley.

”It’s not like we sit around and talk about how to be more transparent. We’re open, honest people running a foundation, trying to make the communities we work in a better place. To do that requires us to be transparent, to engage in thoughtful communication with ourselves and others.” – Jean Buckley, Tracy Family Foundation

Transparency is…Listening and Building Authentic Relationships

Authenticity and transparency go hand in hand, says Patrick Troska, executive director of the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota. It requires a different set of skills to do it right and well, and it takes time and effort.

Philanthropists have historically been more directive and less in the role of listener, he says. “We realized we needed to stop talking and authentically listen. That’s how we built relationships. We were transparent about our guiding values and that we wanted to be in true partnership with the community. Even using the word partners as opposed to grantees intimates a different way of being.”

First, foundation staff assessed themselves individually and as an organization using a tool called the Intercultural Development Inventory assessment. “We needed to understand how we show up in the community when it comes to race, diversity and equity—what are the biases and lenses we bring, how much space do we take up based on our level of privilege, and how can we, as a predominantly white staff, authentically work in a persons of color community? Understanding this was an important first step. It showed us who we are, what we needed to do differently, and what types of behaviors we would need to start to practice.”

“Next, we had conversations with anyone who would talk with us: community leaders, faith leaders, teachers, principals, students, business leaders, and more. We asked them: what are your hopes, your dreams for your community? What do you most want for this community?”

“Then? We listened.”

This wasn’t always easy or comfortable. Troska remembers a moment at a community meeting when an angry leader shouted at foundation staff. “Who are you to be in our community, she said. We knew we needed to sit there and listen. And we came back the next week, and the next week, and listened more. We could have gotten defensive or run away. But we stayed and practiced a set of skills and actions that helped us show up differently.”

“We now have a strong set of allies—folks who want to be a part of the work we’re doing. A new set of leaders emerged from those conversations we had early on. We’re now seen as a more trusted partner in the community, all because of the work we did to be more open to what the community had to say.”

Learn more about transparency trends in philanthropy in my next post, or by downloading the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide, Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities.

--Elaine Gast Fawcett

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Great research topic and article! I am looking forward to part 2.

So helpful, thank you!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Share This Blog

  • Share This

Subscribe to Transparency Talk

  • Enter your email address:

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.

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

    If you are interested in being a
    guest contributor, contact:
    glasspockets@foundationcenter.org

Categories