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October 2021 (4 posts)

Opening Up on Strategy - What to Say, How, and When
October 27, 2021

Michaeljarvisby Michael Jarvis

Is there a more dreaded phrase for grantee ears than “funder strategy refresh?" In the best case, a funder strategy review will likely mean a limbo period in active grantmaking; worst case it can lead to a funder deciding to exit the grantee’s issue area.

How can funders make the strategy process more open and intelligible to grantee partners, fellow funders, and the fields they serve? What to communicate and when? These have become active questions among members of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative (TAI) funder collaborative that brings together seven major funders of good governance programming, representing around $600 million in active grants.

Even in a small collaborative such as TAI, at any one point, there is at least one of our members entering or exiting a strategy process. We’ve noted growing demand from foundation directors and program officers alike to compare notes and encourage each other to communicate strategy steps and decisions in ways that feel responsible, authentic, and respectful. There is a desire to tap field insights to inform funder strategy and a desire to manage the anxiety that funder reviews can provoke. Ideally, these are not in competition.

So, what are funder recommendations for communicating strategy?

  • Set clear parameters for input. Be clear on if and when you are inviting feedback in the strategy process and to what end. Often a funder will commission a field scan, evidence review, or trends analysis and will invite partner input or validation of those products. Draft strategy positions or theories of change may be shared. This shift to greater transparency in funder thinking and a more iterative process is to be encouraged. However, it’s important to be specific on the expectations and channel for feedback and to be up front about how feedback will be acknowledged and used. You don’t want partners left with the sense that they took the time to comment, but their input disappeared into a strategy black hole.
  • Know your audiences. Take care early in the process to map out who are the stakeholders to prioritize for communication - for example:
    • Grantees
    • Peer funders
    • Researchers and practitioners working on the funded issue
    • Colleagues (don’t neglect internal communications - sometimes foundation staff can feel in the dark.)
  • Communicate proactively. “Communicate early and often” has been an oft-repeated phrase in our funder discussions. A vacuum will only amplify anxiety and fuel rumors about strategic directions that may or may not be accurate. TAI members have found it helpful to be up front on the reasons for a strategy review, the anticipated timetable, and any sense of how radical a shift it may entail.
  • Sequencing matters. Especially, as you get to strategic decisions with implications for future funding, the order of outreach really matters. Communicate to current grantee partners first, then fellow funders in the field, then the broader set of field organizations.
  • Mode of communication matters. While the announcement of the start of a strategy review might be done electronically, decisions regarding future funding priorities and the implications are best communicated in ways that allow for two-way communication. Funders should create conditions that enable listening and back and forth to understand questions and concerns.
  • Invest in internal messaging capacity. It is valuable to develop a clear set of messages that can be communicated consistently. For example, one TAI member worked with a consultant to build up a set of standard talking points to introduce the strategy process and initial decisions to partners, as well as anticipated FAQ responses. These talking points and FAQs were regularly revised based on conversations already held.

What can this all look like in practice? The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Transparency, Participation, and Accountability team is in the process of completing a strategy refresh that will result in some shifts in its priorities and grantmaking. The team has used a combination of advance messages, regular updates, public blogs distilling learnings, and webinars to contextualize published field review and evaluation and explain strategy shifts. They have actively sought input and been careful to respond to feedback received. That proactive communication has proven quite resource intensive.

As Dana Hovig, Program Director of Gender Equity and Governance at the Hewlett Foundation, notes: “We have strived to bring grantees, partners, and peer funders along on the refresh process, seeking their input at multiple points. This is part of our commitment to transparency and openness, and it is also a way to ensure that we respond to the changing context in a meaningful and effective way. At the Hewlett Foundation, we trust our grantees to be our partners in problem-solving and believe it is critical to engage others in pressure testing our ideas. We recognize that strategy refreshes can cause uncertainty and anxiety, but we hope that sharing our experience, findings, and lessons learned contributes to creating new opportunities for collaboration and further strengthens the field.”

Finding the right balance is often a work in progress and TAI members are still wrestling with some communication challenges. For example, announcements of a strategy review and asks for input tend to raise a lot of questions from partners to which the funder will not have immediate answers - a strategy refresh is often a six-month process if not longer. So, what best to say in the meantime? On a different note, strategies necessarily involve choices, but not everyone will agree with those made. So, how do you best communicate the rationale, be open to criticism, and be clear on what is fixed and what is still open to adaptation?

As one TAI funder director noted, communicating strategy is “more art than science” and there is always room for improvement. The philanthropic community needs spaces for funders to talk frankly of their experiences, hear feedback from those on the receiving end, and encourage reflection. After all, the next strategy review will never be far away.

 

—Michael Jarvis (he/him) is an expert in good governance and multi-stakeholder approaches and a champion of impactful funding for these issues. He leads the Transparency and Accountability Initiative - a collaborative of funders supporting transparency, participation and accountability efforts around the globe with around $600m in active grants.

Risk & Reward: Open Road Alliance and Candid Launch New Risk Management Course for Funders
October 21, 2021

MayawinkelsteinJfcheadshot


One need look no further than the events of the last 18 months to understand the importance of considering the power of the unexpected to disrupt and derail the best laid plans. How can funders safeguard impact in an uncertain world? And how can the exercise of risk mitigation support grantee efforts rather than create a burdensome process? Candid Learning teamed up with Open Road Alliance, a longtime advocate of using risk mitigation strategies as a form of social sector strengthening, to develop a new, free eLearning course designed to help funders use risk management to preserve impact in an uncertain world.

In this post, Janet Camarena, Senior Director of Candid Learning, interviews Maya Winkelstein, CEO of Open Road Alliance, to discuss the project, the importance of risk management, and learn about what’s next for Open Road Alliance.

Janet Camarena: Open Road Alliance was founded in 2012 with the ambitious goal of helping the social sector weather the unexpected risks that threaten to derail impact. Looking at your mix of support strategies, this has meant you have realized this goal by doing things like bridge funding as well as one-time grants and loans to grantees experiencing unexpected external roadblocks. So, it seems, from the beginning you were focused not just on the “what” of your grantmaking, but more specifically on the “how,” which is rare for a start-up funder. What made you focus on the “how” and what has reinforced its importance for the last decade?

Maya Winkelstein: We focus on the ‘how’ because that’s where system-change lives. There’s not enough grant money anywhere to solve the world’s problems. So if we want any hope of moving the needle, we need our market to operate more efficiently. Ultimately, Open Road’s strategy is an efficiency play. By providing relatively small amounts of money to keep much larger initiatives on track, not only do we get massive leverage as an individual donor, but we improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the system as a whole.

Over the past decade, our observation that the philanthropic market doesn’t operate efficiently has been underscored time and again. Luckily, we’ve also seen that our original hypothesis that we could solve for that with fast, flexible, emergency and bridge funding has also been remained true.

Janet: Open Road Alliance has developed a variety of tools and presentations to help support funder learning around risk management. What makes this new Risk & Reward course different? And can you describe a few of the tools the course helps funders learn how to use?

Maya: This new e-Learning course synthesizes everything we’ve learned about risk management since our work on this topic began in earnest back in 2014. It’s also our first self-learning tool that allows grantmakers and donors to acquire both the information and the tools to begin tackling this topic in their own work. For example, not only does it describe what a risk management cycle is, but it provides a template risk matrix which can be directly used to complete step 1 of that cycle: identify and prioritize risks.

Ultimately, this course democratizes the research, knowledge, and tools that we’ve developed over the years. It’s our offer to the sector writ-large, to pass the torch to our community to be able to continue building on this foundation themselves.

Janet: The title of the course is Risk & Reward—what is the reward? What are some of the success stories you can point to from working in this way for the last decade?

Maya: Reward and risk are two sides of the same coin. As the saying goes, taking great risks can often lead to great rewards, which is the conventional wisdom of traditional investing and a wisdom that can translate into philanthropy as well. For example, making a grant for a new, unproven – and therefore “risky” – avenue of research might yield the rewards of a cure for cancer. But there is also reward baked into simply walking through the steps of risk management – regardless of how “risky” the project is. That’s because when we appropriately manage risk, we increase our grantee’s chances for success. Applied correctly, risk management maximizes impact. That’s a reward we all need.

Janet: The dual tragedies of the pandemic and George Floyd’s murder brought into focus structural inequities that have resulted in some funders rethinking their own processes and practices. For example, as funders look to embrace more flexible approaches to unburden grantees, they may be more likely to embrace Trust-Based Philanthropy approaches and believe that conversations about risk may signal a lack of confidence in the nonprofit and opt to deprioritize such dialogue. Why would this be a mistake and how can risk mitigation strategies actually serve to support trust-based models and grantees?

Maya: We are huge fans of the trust-based model of philanthropy, but leading with trust doesn’t eliminate risk, it simply changes the way we can talk about it. The grantees of trust-based funders get hit by the same risks as everyone else whether it’s a global pandemic, employee fraud, a change in government, or simply discovering that your nonprofit office has flooded due to a burst pipe. We can’t trust risk away. However, I think what trust-based philanthropy does offer us is a wonderful framework to help us see risks as an inevitable challenge that we can solve with our grantees. Risk is not evidence of weakness or a ‘gotcha’ moment for funders to judge. Ultimately, a candid, honest, two-way conversation about risk is an expression of trust.

Janet: You are completing a decade of work in influencing the field to lean into its power to remove barriers that can derail impact. Candid is proud to team up with you to house what you have learned from this work in the form of this eLearning course. What else is next for this work and for Open Road Alliance?

Maya: In working on these issues, our most rewarding moments have been seeing organizations across the country engaging in a meaningful conversation about risk as an essential and necessary component of good grantmaking. In recent years, we have realized that making risk management mainstream will only be successful as an open- source community of practice for all. As we approach our own 10-year anniversary in 2022, it is time for Open Road to pass the torch to our peers, our grantees, and you, the grantmaking community, to carry this conversation forward. We are thrilled to partner with Candid on this course to provide our peers in the philanthropic community the tools, lessons, and resources needed to carry the practice of risk management in philanthropy forward. While Open Road will continue to practice what we preach, we leave the work of sharing this body of knowledge in good hands, with you, to encourage, question, explore, share, learn, and cultivate the ongoing conversation and practice around risk.

To learn more or register for the new course, visit Candid Learning.

 

Maya Winkelstein, @OpenRoadTweets, is CEO of Open Road Alliance where she is responsible for the organization’s overall investment strategy including finding new ways to deploy capital to achieve maximum social returns.


Janet Camarena is Senior Director of Candid Learning at Candid.

Ottumwa Legacy Foundation Joins GlassPockets
October 14, 2021

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Kelly Genners, President & CEO, Ottumwa Legacy Foundation

Kelly Genners President and CEOThis post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have joined us in building a movement for transparency that now surpasses 100 foundations publicly participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

The Ottumwa Legacy Foundation in southeastern Iowa, established as a healthcare conversion foundation in 2010, was formed to create ongoing public benefit and enhance well- being in its community. The foundation’s strategic priorities include economic prosperity, educational opportunity, quality of life, and housing availability. Recognizing its own legacy areas as well as its role in serving as a catalyst in the community, the foundation also directs supports to innovation, capacity building, cancer treatment, and scholarships.

The Ottumwa Legacy Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. In this interview with GlassPockets’ Janet Camarena, Kelly Genners, President & CEO of the Legacy Foundation, explains why transparency and public engagement are key to its philanthropic approach.

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Janet Camarena
: The last 18 months have been a very unpredictable and challenging time for us all, and much of what is shaping philanthropy today stems from responding to multiple crises unfolding from the pandemic, systemic inequities, and a variant surge that is currently straining healthcare providers. How is the Ottumwa Legacy Foundation responding to these unprecedented times, and has this led to the foundation engaging differently in the community or rethinking how you work in any way?

Kelly Genners: While we have always prided ourselves in being responsive, our changing health and social environment has certainly caused us to step up our game! A priority for us has been to take the time to listen to our partners to examine what their needs were in terms of the pandemic, this involved more concise applications and reporting guidelines and most importantly, the redirection of funding to unrestricted general operating support which is what they needed most of all.

We have also made a deliberate decision to integrate more inclusive language into our systems and support efforts that promote inclusivity. For us, DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) is not a catch-phrase but part of our culture and a continued opportunity for learning and growth.

Janet: The process described on your website for how the Legacy Foundation developed its strategic plan sounds very transparent and participatory. For example, you reference engaging in “hundreds of community conversations” before defining your direction. Why would you say it’s important that private foundations take the time and resources to create such a public and transparent engagement process?

Kelly: The simple answer is yes, whenever possible there is definitely value to getting input and feedback on not only the projects or initiatives that you are working on but also on how impactful you are as an organization. We learned early on that our work was much more impactful with partnership and collaboration.

"We learned early on that our work was much more impactful with partnership and collaboration."

Janet: One of the biggest barriers we encounter when it comes to foundations embracing a more transparent approach is a lack of understanding of the return on the investment of time and effort. Can you share a story about how opening up and illuminating the work that you are doing has helped you to better achieve your organization’s goals, or advanced your work in some unanticipated way?

Kelly: I have found throughout my career that more often than not when people are upset with something you are doing it is because they don’t have enough information or good information. Having a grant database on our website that lists our community investments in detail has been extremely helpful for us as a communication tool. It is a tool we can immediately point to that “sets the record straight” when misinformation is prevalent and can ultimately turn a critic into a champion.

Janet: Your foundation has the unique distinction of having both a GuideStar Transparency Seal as well as now a GlassPockets Transparency Badge. How did these processes help you improve or better understand the Legacy Foundation’s level of transparency, and why should your peers participate?

Kelly: I would say that the process itself was very eye-opening to us - not only in those conversations we were having about what would share externally - but also with our internal team. We sometimes take for granted that everyone is on the same page and has the same information but that is not always the case. I would definitely encourage others to participate in the process. We have always tried to serve as a model for sound nonprofit management practice and this is yet another opportunity for those in philanthropy to serve as an example for others.

Janet: Since ideally, transparency is always evolving and there is always more that can be shared, what are some of your aspirations for how the Ottumwa Legacy Foundation will continue to open up its work in new ways in the future?

Kelly: It is so timely that you ask this question! Over the past year we have made a lot of changes in how we communicate to our stakeholders. While we have tried many different methods with varying success we still felt as though we could do better. After much thoughtful consideration, we recently made the decision to have a presence on social media platforms. I will tell you that, historically, social media is something that those of us in philanthropy have been wary of – both in terms of time management needed but also because of the exposure to criticism that often comes with it. In our efforts to better communicate about our Foundation and our work, we now feel like the benefits will outweigh the risks and are excited for another opportunity to connect. Find us on Facebook at Ottumwa Legacy Foundation.

 

Confessions of a DEI Data Junkie
October 7, 2021

EvaNicoBy Eva Nico

I am going to start with what may seem like a brag and not a confession.

In pursuing our mission to “get you the information you need to do good,” Candid receives and moves vast quantities of digital information in the social sector on more than 1.8 million active US-based nonprofits. As part of that work and over the past 7 years, we’ve been actively and systematically collecting and sharing demographic data – information about race & ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and dis/ability status. There are now over 22,000 organizations actively sharing demographic information via Candid’s profiles.

The point of these facts isn’t to brag; rather, it’s to show that we have some hard-won experience to share. In fact, I am going to do the opposite of brag. In this blog, I’m going to give concrete examples of a few of our own mistakes and surprises in collecting and sharing demographic data.

Why confess these at all?

We want to share the mistakes we’ve made – so you don’t have to repeat them. We want to share them so you can learn from our experience in collecting this information systematically over the past seven years. We want to share, because we need your help. We ask that your organization advocate for a Gold Seal of Transparency and demographic data via Candid.

There are sensitive and important questions our sector struggles to understand: Who leads and works at nonprofits? Who is served by nonprofit organizations? Which organizations are supported by philanthropy (or not)?

By asking your grantees, members or peers to participate on Candid, you are working toward answers to these important questions. You are also doing so in a way that is respectful of the time and effort organizations need to go through to provide these answers. Instead of hundreds of custom, one-off surveys between foundations and grantees or associations and members– we can work together toward a collective understanding of diversity in the social sector. That’s the real promise of Candid and of “having information you need to do good.”

True Confessions

Confession: We knew asking about identity would be hard – but we underestimated how hard it would be.

Identity is not simple. But to keep the burden of data collection low and to analyze trends easily, the questions about identity and methods for data collection and reporting need to be.  It’s a constant balancing act.

On the GuideStar nonprofit profile, organizations can report on four dimensions of diversity: race & ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and dis/ability status. Our “How to Collect and Share DEI Data” guide is a resource for the field and has been written with nonprofits who want to start collecting their organization’s data in mind.

The questions and choices of answers have been carefully considered with our expert partners – CHANGE Philanthropy, Equity in the Center, and RespectAbility. We also re-visit the questions based on feedback and by analyzing the data contributed by organizations.

An analysis of data shared by more than 22,000 organizations provides a clear example of how challenging questions about identity can be. We provide an open-response option that invites people to “Please specify” their race and ethnicity. And to date people have specified over 100 ways of describing their identity beyond the structured choices we’ve provided. Some with the intent to educate about their primary identity– by sharing “Middle Eastern” and “Jewish." Some with the intent to protest the question (e.g. by answering “Human”).

So what can you learn?

  • Adopt standards where possible. The Census questions are a kind of standard, as are Candid’s questions shared in the How to Collect and Share DEI Data guide.
  • Consult with experts and evolve the standard. We are open to feedback on Candid’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) questions and we receive comments through our support channel.
  • Keep the balance. Respect for identity vs. the burden of collection, depth of data vs. utilization.

Confession: We collected data we couldn’t interpret.

When GuideStar (now Candid) launched the DEI data collection, the balancing act was even tougher, as many organizations did not see the need for these questions on the profile. In our attempts to make the data collection simple, we compromised on how the data was collected to the point where it became difficult to make sense of it.

For example, we did not validate that the number of staff or board members identified within a demographic category totaled to the overall board and staff count. In the course of the data collection, we received some feedback from people trying to use the data. Feedback like:  

“Basically … we need further guidance to clean up the data we received. For example, in some cases, the number of staff who checked each category box do not match the total number of staff the organization has.”

We’ve corrected this, of course, in the newest iteration of the data collection launched in August 2019. We also made sure that each demographic question had explicit options to “Decline to state” and for “Unknown” responses (to account for non-responders to surveys of board and staff). These were significant changes that have improved the quality of the collected data tremendously.

So what can you learn?

  • Collect data you can use – by actually trying to use it.
  • Include best practice response options like “Decline to state” (for those who decline to identify themselves explicitly) and “Unknown” (to account for non-responders to surveys of board and staff).
  • Learn from the responses you get.

Confession: We assumed nonprofits had the data to share.

In the early days of DEI data collection, we noticed that adoption among nonprofits was rather slow. There are many hesitations in collecting and sharing this data but one we identified early on was that some nonprofits did not have this data to share in the first place. Or perhaps they did have the data but in different categories and formats.

In response, we created the How to Collect and Share DEI Data guide to take the guess work out of collecting DEI data. The guide includes introductory text, questions and definitions.

So what can you learn?

  • Create resources and offer grant support to help nonprofits collect the data.
  • Build DEI into your application process.
  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good – acknowledge challenges with missing data and move forward with the analysis.

Confession: The variety of reactions and feedback surprised us.

If your organization advocates for the collection of DEI data – be prepared for a variety of feedback. We’ve received many comments over the years both positive and negative.

Some of the feedback will be negative:

“We hire employees based on experience, skills and heart, not to fulfill a social-political agenda.”

“I'm offended at the profile questions.  I am not going to ask employees what their sexual orientation is nor am I going to be made to feel guilty because my staff is all white (because our community is white).”

Some might be heart-breaking, for example when the questions you ask might not do justice to someone’s identity:

“I just wanted to let you know there's a few issues with terminology on the demographics piece for orgs to fill out. As someone [who is] non-binary, I'm not cis but I also don't identify as trans.”

What can you learn?

  • Respond to all and let them know how much you appreciate their feedback.
  • Collect constructive input and consider for the next iteration of revisions.

What’s next?

We started recognizing organizations for sharing demographic data about their leader with a Gold Seal of Transparency in October 2020. Since then, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the number of organizations doing so via Candid’s profiles – from just over 6,000 in October 2020 to now over 22,000 organizations and counting. But there is more we can do together.

With more than 1.8 million active nonprofits and almost 200,000 with at least one full-time employee in the US alone – there is a lot of room to grow participation and we need your help. We ask that your organization advocate with your peers, members or grantees for a Gold Seal of Transparency and demographic data via Candid.

Organizations like the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation have already done so. In their message to grantees, the Mott Foundation said why: “to promote a just, equitable and sustainable society compels us to strive to do the best we can to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in our grantmaking.”

With the unprecedented level of resources and attention on diversity, equity, and inclusion in our own sector – we are poised to make real and lasting progress – but only if we are willing to work together and hold ourselves accountable to the data.

 

—Eva Nico (she/her) is Senior Director of Profile Management at Candid.

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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, Candid 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 Candid.

    Questions, comments, and inquiries relating to guest blog posts may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Senior Director of Candid Learning


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