Transparency Talk

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

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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.

Turning Aspiration into Action
August 10, 2021

A New Report Illustrates Equity in Action at the McKnight Foundation

Na Eng
Na Eng

By Na Eng

As a communication professional, I am often focused on the weight of words and both the hope and expectation they create. Values-based language can be especially challenging—for example, how do we translate virtues like equity and transparency into concrete action steps? In 2018, the McKnight Foundation released the organization’s first diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statement. Since then, the Foundation’s board and staff have held fast to the tenet that we need to back up our words with actions. Aspiration must transform into action because communities deserve more than good intentions.

A new Equity in Action report documents examples of shifts we’ve taken at the Foundation to tilt toward a more diverse, inclusive, and equity-oriented organization since the DEI statement’s release. In the past three years, McKnight has made changes in how we use our public voice, make grants, invest funds, convene partners, and work with vendors. McKnight’s DEI efforts are a work in progress, and while this work has not always followed a smooth or linear path, the Foundation has indeed made progress.

Impact through Multiple Roles

As a private foundation, we’ve long recognized that we can create impact through multiple roles that include—and extend far beyond—grantmaking. These six identities—as identified in the DEI statement—are funder, convenor, thought leader, employer, economic entity, and institutional investor. The Equity in Action report gives examples of action steps we’ve taken in those areas.

EquityInAction-ReportCoverHere are a few highlights:

$32 Million for a More Equitable Minnesota. Using an inclusive process, McKnight designed an entirely new program focused on building a more equitable and inclusive Minnesota. With a projected annual grantmaking budget of $32 million starting in 2022, Vibrant & Equitable Communities is one of the largest programs at McKnight. In addition, all of McKnight’s programs—whether addressing climate change, supporting working artists, advancing collaborative crop research, or funding innovative neuroscience research—are committed to embedding equity as a through-line in our grantmaking.

Diverse Leadership across the Foundation. As an employer, McKnight has dramatically increased the diversity of its senior leaders and program and operations directors. The Foundation’s board selected Tonya Allen, a longtime champion of equity and inclusion, as president in late 2020. She heads an all-women, majority-BIPOC team with diverse lived experiences. In fact, 10 of the 17 McKnight team members (or 59%) who hold director level positions or above identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color.

Speaking Up for Justice. As a thought leader, McKnight has increased the use of its public voice to stand in solidarity with our communities, collectively grieve acts of racial violence, and advocate for a more participatory democracy and equitable distribution of federal funds. For example, in the past few years, we have issued or signed on to public statements—including the We Stand for Democracy statement, AAPIP’s Open Letter to Philanthropy, and the Philanthropic Collective to Combat Anti-Blackness and Realize Racial Justice—that stood for our core value of equity, and represented ways we embed an equity approach into all areas of our work.

The Equity in Action report gives numerous examples of inclusive impact investments, convenings on equity topics, and efforts to pay more attention to the Foundation’s purchasing decisions. For example, today approximately 45 percent of our endowment is mission-aligned, and, among other investments, we specifically invest in creating affordable housing, supporting small businesses owned by people of color, and making sure low to moderate income communities have access to renewable energy and efficiency solutions. For our convenings, we created inclusive guidelines that considered ways to create welcoming environments and access, and to lift the contributions of Black, Indigenous, and people of color participants. And the Foundation just adopted a new vendor policy to promote fairness and inclusion, and to increase opportunities for underrepresented groups to provide goods and services to the Foundation.

Aspiration must transform into action because communities deserve more than good intentions.

Joining Together to Set New Patterns for Equity

In her book Emergent Strategy, activist and organizer adrienne maree brown speaks to what it takes to successfully enact change. Using the analogy of fractals—infinitely complex patterns that are created by repeating a simple process over and over—she encourages advocates to understand that the small, consistent practices impact the large. “What we practice at the small scale sets the pattern for the whole system,” she writes.

While some of the steps featured in the Equity in Action report are modest and nascent, even the smallest of these actions creates new precedents and patterns. We still have much more work to do and more to learn. We know the roots of inequity are deep and structural. The Foundation is committed to continuing to learn, listen, reflect, and speak up—with transparency—to advance equity inside and outside the Foundation. Most importantly, we will continue to act.

As more foundations make public commitments to racial equity, McKnight’s leadership hopes that collective and open reporting of our experiences will speed up progress and encourage mutual accountability. Together, we can combine our efforts to enact change and move larger systems.

 

—Na Eng is communications director at the McKnight Foundation, a private family foundation based in Minneapolis.

Internet Society Foundation Joins GlassPockets
July 21, 2021

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Sarah Armstrong

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Sarah Armstrong, Executive Director, Internet Society Foundation

This 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 Internet Society Foundation funds initiatives that strengthen the Internet in function and reach so that it can effectively serve all people. Its work advances the vision of the Internet Society (ISOC): The Internet is For Everyone. Toward that end, the Internet Society Foundation supports efforts to ensure that the Internet is open, globally-connected, secure, and trustworthy.

InternetSocietyFdnlogoThe Internet Society Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. In this interview with GlassPockets’ Janet Camarena, Sarah Armstrong, Executive Director of the Internet Society Foundation, explains why transparency is key to its philanthropic approach.

GlassPockets: 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 from misinformation that has threatened everything from democracy to public health. How is the Internet Society Foundation responding to these unprecedented times, and how has your thinking about the role of the internet in relation to these issues informed your strategies?

Sarah Armstrong: The past 18 months have shown us all that the Internet is a lifeline. In this era of lockdowns, it’s enabled children to continue learning, families and friends to stay connected, and vital public health information to keep circulating.

Aside from the pandemic, we’ve also seen the role that the Internet and technology play in recording acts of injustice that in previous decades were more easily downplayed. So the Internet and its importance in our lives at this moment cannot be overstated. Yet 49 percent of the world is still unconnected, according to the United Nations. As a Foundation in its start-up phase, we keep that troubling statistic front and center as we build our strategies and we have prioritized two pillars in our work. One is providing connectivity to communities without access. The second is equipping people with the digital skills needed to use the Internet in a productive way. We see those two components – gaining access to the Internet plus having the knowledge to use it productively – as critical to unlocking the Internet’s potential to tangibly change people’s lives for the better.

GlassPockets: The sad realities of remote schooling during the pandemic have raised much greater awareness of how digital divides are still with us and may be getting worse and serving to exacerbate uneven access to quality education and achievement gaps. For example, many of us saw the heartbreaking photo that was widely circulated on the internet of children sitting on a sidewalk outside a California fast-food restaurant to use its WiFi connection to be able to access their digital classroom during the lockdown. The transparency such images provide do serve to lay bare ongoing inequities, even in one of the supposed digital capitals of the world, but is that awareness also helping shift society toward change? As you think about the future of the Internet and how to shape that future in a direction that maintains your vision of the Internet for all, how are you approaching these widening access divides?

Sarah Armstrong: Let me start by saying that our Foundation has a truly global reach – we reached 58 countries in 2020, through 93 grants that are helping organizations around the world change their communities for the better through the Internet. And while each country has its own circumstances, when it comes to Internet access – broadly speaking – we see three challenges that threaten our vision of an Internet for Everyone: affordability, inadequate infrastructure, and a lack of digital literacy.

One way we are bridging the access gap is by supporting the creation of community networks. A community network is an Internet access solution built and run by a community, rather than through a major Internet service provider. Community networks offer a complementary way of connecting everyone by bringing connectivity in areas that are financially unattractive for mainstream Internet service providers. We recently supported the creation of two community networks: one is helping improve access for 13 tribal nations in southern California, and the other helped bring the Internet to communities who live on the fringes of the Amazon in northeastern Brazil. Different communities, different countries, but both facing exactly the same challenge.

Another factor that contributes to the access divide is digital literacy, and we are addressing this challenge through our SCILLS program. This program supports organizations that are working to close the knowledge gap that prevents many communities, and in particular girls and women, from using and benefiting from the Internet.

We are also using research as a tool to help us understand, quantify and communicate the true costs of ignoring the access divide. Earlier this year, through our Research program we funded a project in collaboration with the Alliance for Affordable Internet. This research seeks to answer the question, “What is the economic impact of women not having access to the Internet? It’s our hope that by spotlighting the economic dangers of denying women access to the Internet, policymakers and other influential voices will take note of this research, and use it as a tool in creating a roadmap to equity for women in the digital space.

GlassPockets: Transparency, openness, accessibility, and collaboration are some of the virtues that come to mind when thinking about the positive impacts of the Internet on society, so has operating your foundation in a transparent way stemmed from this ideal? And if so, how has your foundation made these virtues core to how you work, and what advice do you have for other organizations embarking on similar efforts?

Sarah Armstrong: The Internet Society Foundation is committed to operating in a transparent way that prioritizes openness, accessibility and collaboration. And we have made this possible in a number of ways.

Our website serves as the single source of truth about our grant programs, where we publish all the information an applicant would need to understand if they are eligible for one of our grants, how to apply, and the process we use to evaluate applications. This information is available in English, French, and Spanish. And as part of our due diligence process, applicants are required to answer a list of questions that can tell us right away if they are eligible and qualified to receive funding.

Additionally, once applications have been accepted for consideration, they are reviewed by what the Foundation calls the Independent Program Review Committee. This committee is comprised of three to five experts who are chosen based on their knowledge of the subject matter and as part of their review, they recommend which applications should be funded and at what level, as well as document feedback for the applicant that is compiled and shared by the Foundation. Throughout this process, independent experts are required to adhere to our Conflict-of-Interest Policy.

"It’s difficult to practice integrity without being honest and transparent.

Lastly, as a team we’ve agreed upon a set of values to guide how we work and one of them calls for us to “act with Integrity.” And it’s difficult to practice integrity without being honest and transparent. My advice to other organizations would be to find a way to embed transparency into your organizational values, that way it’s easier to bring the word into daily conversations and eventually weave it into the fabric of the organization.

GlassPockets: 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?

Sarah Armstrong: Being a new Foundation, it’s been important for us to establish trust with our grantees, especially considering that we began running our programs at the onset of the pandemic when everything had an air of uncertainty. One way we have tried to build this trust is by holding quarterly check-in calls that bring all grantees in a given cohort together to informally discuss any challenges, opportunities, or learnings they are experiencing in their projects.

The grantee feedback has been extremely positive, with many sharing that these calls provide them a platform to speak openly and without judgment about the ups and downs of operating their programs in a COVID world, and also allow for a rich exchange of ideas. These calls also provide additional space for the grantees and Program Officers to be more flexible and adaptable, and hold necessary conversations such as perhaps adjusting the scope of a project, or revisiting a project’s goals. As a Foundation that is embracing a test, learn, and adapt model to our programming during this startup phase, these calls have been an important part of our learning journey.

GlassPockets: Your foundation has the 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 Internet Society Foundation’s level of transparency, and why should your peers participate?

Sarah Armstrong: This process has created the opportunity for us as a team to have these important conversations around what transparency means, how we can embed it into our work, and what kind of Foundation we want to be for our grantees and other stakeholders. This will be an ongoing conversation for us as the Foundation continues to grow and shape our programming, and we look forward to the journey. I’d encourage my peers to participate in this process; it helps us as organizations to build stronger and more trust-based relationships that ultimately enable our work to have a greater impact.

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

Sarah Armstrong: We will continue with the practices we have established but also follow our Test, Learn and Adapt model. Because we are a startup, we know we are testing new things, as well as learning from the practices we have put into place and the questions we are asking. And we make adaptations as needed from what we learn. It is in this way that we will move forward to ensure our transparency commitment evolves.

Better Data, Better Decisions, Better World
June 3, 2021

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Sarina Dayal
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C. Davis Parchment

By C. Davis Parchment (she/her) and Sarina Dayal (she/they)

This post originally appeared on Candid blog.

Last month, over 1,300 grants professionals gathered virtually for PEAK2021. For eight days, this group of philanthropy professionals dedicated to advancing equitable, effective grantmaking practices came together to connect, learn, and share in critical discussions about the practice of grantmaking. LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund, underscored a major theme during the opening keynote that carried through the rest of the conference: together. She reminded us that as a field, we must create the future of philanthropy together. Inherent in that call to action is an implicit recognition that working together as a field of millions of disparate actors requires the right information to realize our potential to make the world a better place.

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At a conference packed with grants managers, talk of data and data systems were abundant and layered. Data governs almost every aspect of our individual lives and plays a significant role in our field. We need data to tell our story, identify funding opportunities and gaps, uplift partners, define the problems we seek to solve, and contribute to our collective impact.

For years now, philanthropy has been working to become more accountable and less siloed. So has Candid. It’s one of the main reasons we became Candid—by bringing together data on nonprofits and foundations, we can help our sector accomplish so much more together.

The social sector’s information landscape is changing. And it's clear that now is the time for philanthropy to step up and collectively be more data-driven. For years, we’ve seen too much lip service paid to organizing our philanthropic response in a more systematic and equitable way, and there hasn’t been enough adoption of cohesive, data-driven practice. This is not an individual problem—the nature of philanthropy is structured so that foundations are able to work in silos with little accountability or competitive pressure to take joint action. Despite this, it is on all of us to change this narrative.

We know that change is hard and slow, and Candid is a great example. It’s been two years since we’ve become Candid, and we are still navigating the transition. Bringing together our cultures and our data systems has by no means been a seamless process, and we continue to experience both successes and failures in the process of change. But we know they are necessary.

In celebration of PEAK Grantmaking’s 25th anniversary, Satonya Fair, President and CEO of PEAK, reminded us that, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” So, to help us go far together, Candid is prepared to help.

To become the data-driven, relevant, responsive, and equitable sector we aspire to be, we must have an information infrastructure on which we can all rely. Candid is working to build this infrastructure and data capacity for the sector. While we are most commonly known for tools and resources like GuideStar profiles and Foundation Maps, we are currently bringing together our data repositories so we can seamlessly capture a full view of the field.

But for this to work best, it requires broad adoption and participation. We need both funders and nonprofits to contribute their information to Candid’s central data system. We also need to improve how we generate data in ways that reduce the burden on nonprofits while building efficiency for the sector as a whole.

This starts with organizations having a current GuideStar profile with in-depth, up-to-date information, recognized with a Seal of Transparency. These profiles allow nonprofits and foundations to tell their full story by adding specific information about their programs, such as measures of progress, operations, demographic information, and financials. Consider updating your GuideStar profile and asking your potential and current grantees to earn a Gold Seal of Transparency. By doing so, you’ll be advocating for increased and enriched sector-wide information about nonprofits—who they are, what they do, who they serve, and why it matters. This also alleviates the burden on grantees to tell their story over and over again, since it’s displayed on their profile for all to access.

Through Candid’s data partner networks, GuideStar profile information is shared with all major U.S.-based donor-advised funds and more than 200 charitable sites, including AmazonSmile and Facebook. Research shows that organizations with a GuideStar Seal of Transparency have 53% more fundraising success. And from an equity lens, Candid is increasingly being tapped to identify BIPOC-led and/or BIPOC-serving organizations for funders that are making efforts to center equity in their grantmaking. Let’s help lift up these organizations—together—using one standard.

We also need funders to share their grants data directly with us through e-reporting. We can’t rely on tax returns from nonprofits and foundations to meet the sector’s information needs. (That’s even more relevant this year! See our blog post on the IRS 990-filing backlog). Only with current contributed data, including detailed grant descriptions, can we tell the full story of where funding is and is not going. Please consider making a regular practice of sharing details about your grantmaking. Check out a recent webinar, Why & How to Share Your Grants Data with Candid, to learn more.

Information from funders is essential to paint a complete picture of the field so that we can monitor trends. This became even more clear to us in 2020 when working on our COVID-19 and racial equity funding maps. Many funders use our resources as a starting place to understand the field’s activity. While we actively collect real-time data, we rely on your contributed information to accurately represent how the field responds to urgent needs. In addition to providing open access to grants and nonprofit data on our special topic websites, we also collect and share related reports on IssueLab. As your foundation commissions and publishes knowledge, remember to also share it with Candid via IssueLab so it’s easily discovered by others.

We know it's a big lift to be data-driven and navigate new tools and processes. To help, we’ve created a new self-paced, free course to learn how to use Candid’s mapping, data, and knowledge tools to better identify funding peers, potential grantee partners, and funding gaps.

There is still so much we all need to learn. If you have feedback or questions for us—whether it’s about the data infrastructure or demographic information—we are always open to conversations in the pursuit of making data work for all. Reach out to us or comment here if there’s something you want us to consider.

A big congratulations to PEAK for a very successful conference.

In partnership—together,

Davis and Sarina

Sharing Power: A Frank Discussion Between Funders and Grantees
May 26, 2021

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Janet Camarena

by Janet Camarena, Senior Director of Candid Learning, Candid


One of the most energizing things about Candid Learning is the opportunity it affords us to bridge the philanthropy divide by bringing together funders and grantees to learn from one another.

As we collectively grapple with the uneven pandemic recovery, and the realities of the work ahead to improve systemic inequities, it’s increasingly critical to examine the role power and influence play in the social sector.

special free webinar program we are offering next week brings together funders and their nonprofit partners to discuss strategies and approaches to sharing power to improve the grantee-grantmaker relationship.

Join us on June 2 for this frank conversation, which will include approaches to help grantee organizations advocate for themselves despite the power imbalance, and advice for funders about how to mitigate the power differential inherent to grantee-grantmaker partnerships.

Thumb-cover-funding-performance-250x300-v2The webinar will draw upon the powerful and thoughtful essays in the recent Leap Ambassadors publication, Funding Performance: How Great Donors Invest in Grantee Success.

Candid is delighted to be hosting Tipping Point CEO, Sam Cobbs and Ford Foundation Executive Vice President, Hilary Pennington in conversation with National Immigration Law Center Executive Director, Marielena Hincapié and Homeless Prenatal Program Founder and Executive Director, Martha Ryan to explore how funders and grantees can navigate power sharing—in service of stronger, more equitable outcomes. Leap Ambassador Lowell Weiss will moderate this free discussion.

Whether you are a donor or grantee, the insights and hard-won lessons learned that the panelists will share will be compelling and inspirational as we consider how we can all work together more equitably and effectively.

Register for this free webinar today.

Where are the 2019 (and 2020) 990s? On filling the gaps in Candid’s grants data
May 20, 2021

Anna Koob is Candid's Director of Research Standards, Candid; Laia Griñó is Candid’s Director of Data Discovery. This post originally appeared on the Candid blog.

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People often ask us, “When will the [year just passed] 990s be available?” Because of the way Form 990 deadlines work, the answer is complicated. There’s no universal date for filing 990s; instead, the end of an organization’s fiscal year determines when its 990 is due at the IRS. Add in six-month filing extensions and IRS processing time, and it can be two years before we receive all the returns for a specific year.

This year, another factor is in play: backlogs created by COVID-19. To date, there are still millions of returns from 2019 that have not yet been processed. This gap is notable because IRS 990 filings are a substantial source of data about nonprofits and foundation grantmaking in the U.S. At Candid, grants data from 990s flows into tools such as Foundation Directory, public dashboards that provide insights into philanthropy in different regions across the U.S., and several issue- and location-specific Foundation Landscapes. Sourcing grants data from 990s isn’t ideal to begin with—grant descriptions from filings are often sparse, and sometimes grants lists are missing entirely. And two years is already a long time to wait for this information. The additional delays exacerbate this issue.

990s by Month

The IRS isn’t Candid’s only source of data, but it’s an important one

To be sure, Candid doesn’t depend exclusively on IRS data. In addition to IRS filings, we collect data about the nonprofit sector and foundation grantmaking from the organizations themselves as well as other publicly available sources. (Our executive vice president, Jacob Harold, wrote about three sourcing methods we use to collect grants data—IRS filings, direct reporting, and web scraping—on the Candid blog.) To date, we’ve collected data on more than 125,000 grants for 2020 and 2021, most of it from non-IRS sources. Our investment in efforts to collect more real-time data has enabled us to provide the field with insights into the philanthropic response to such crises as the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing struggle to achieve racial equity and racial justice.

Although real-time grants data is in high demand, “old” IRS 990 data still matters, for two related reasons. First, it is comprehensive; all foundations and grantmaking public charities are legally obligated to disclose data about their grantmaking. By necessity, our most recent grants data is limited to what’s been shared directly with us or made public. Second, 990 data provides context. Inevitably, when people see data about what grantmakers are doing “today” (or as close to today as we can get!), they want to know how it compares to what happened before: “How does the response to the COVID pandemic compare to the response to previous crises, like the Ebola outbreak?” “Are funders providing more general support than in previous years?” “How has funding for Black communities changed since George Floyd’s murder?” Having comprehensive data is what allows us to answer these types of questions with confidence.

A status update on filings

The pace at which the IRS releases 990 data has slowed over the last several years. COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem, especially for 2019 and 2020 data. As the charts below illustrate, we’re far from having comprehensive data for 2019, let alone 2020. And the rate at which we’re receiving 2019 filings has slowed, compared with 2018 filings (and 2018 was somewhat slower than 2017). As of April 2021, we’ve collected 348,330 filings for 2019, about half of what we expect to collect overall and 37 percent fewer than we had at the same point last year for fiscal year 2018. [Form types captured in these counts include 990s, 990-EZs, and 990-PFs, filed either electronically or as paper documents. We consider 2018 to be our latest “complete year” of data and would expect to see comparable figures for 2019 and 2020 once collection is finalized. The trendline for 2019 represents filings collected through April 2021.]

990s on Candid

990s by Month

What the slowdown means for Candid’s data, how we’re responding, and how you can help

Although these delays have implications for all Candid products, they also have a significant impact on our research. They impede the creation of our annual Foundation 1,000 data set, which combines all grants awarded by 1,000 of the largest U.S. funders. This is the data set we, and others, use to derive information about trends in grantmaking, such as on racial justice in education or funding for disasters.

We don’t expect the issue of delayed filings to go away quickly. In fact, we anticipate that, despite the new requirements for filing 990s electronically, we may feel the effects of reduced IRS processing capacity for the next couple of years. We’re addressing the slowdown in a couple of ways:

  • Exploring new methods to allow us to draw valid insights on changes in grantmaking. We recognize the urgent interest in analyses of how things have changed in the past year. We’re exploring ways to adjust our methods to work around the delay and meet the demand for this research.
  • Continuing to encourage funders to share their grants data directly with Candid. More than 900 funders globally share their grants data with Candid, either directly or via our partners. Candid is currently collecting data on FY20 and FY21 grants to date by June 30, 2021. Funders can contact us at egrants@candid.org to learn how to contribute data to provide a clearer picture of what’s being funded and by whom.

Candid exists to get organizations and individuals working in the social sector the information they need to do good. The demand for that information is varied and vast, as are the challenges in providing it. Candid continuously adapts the way we work to address these challenges. As with most problems in the sector, though, the gaps in data caused by limited IRS capacity are not something one organization can fix alone. Good decisions require good information. We’re calling on organizations in the sector to recognize the important role they can play in making sure that information is available sooner rather than later, now versus too late.

-- Anna Koob & Laia Griñó

New Funding Smarter Course Launches
May 6, 2021

Janet Camarena is Senior Director of Candid Learning.

 Much of the work we do here at Candid is aimed at sharing peer giving activity and learning with funders so that we can all work collectively smarter. We have a number of tools that can help funders address common pain points when it comes to gathering intelligence about the fields in which you work, and now for the first time, we have a single, free course you can take to learn all about these tools.

The new free course, Funding Smarter, is a helpful overview of how to use Candid's data and knowledge tools to better inform and share your work. Foundations make the social sector's work possible, but like many in the sector, staff are often short on the crucial support, tools, and information necessary to maximize their impact. As a result of such capacity barriers, funders often go it alone rather than benefitting from collective field intelligence.

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Learn how to avoid the perils of working in the dark and become a more informed and effective funder. We'll also help you tell your foundation's story on Candid's platforms to share what you fund and why, and the lessons that you've learned.

Upon completion of this training, you should be able to:

  • Find aggregate and trend funding data about the fields in which you work
  • Identify funding connections and gaps
  • Use Candid tools to identify potential peers and partners
  • Streamline your due diligence practices with GuideStar tools
  • Become versed in how to find and learn what your peers already know
  • Use Candid's tools to improve what is known about your foundation's work

The knowledge tools shared in the course can benefit a wide range of funder roles, so throughout we have flagged tips that are of benefit to program, communication, grants management, or evaluation functions. It's also a very helpful overview that can be part of your orientations to new staff or integrated into your professional development plans for existing staff. Once you complete the course, you will receive a Funding Smarter course completion badge to show off your new knowledge.

To register or learn more, visit Candid Learning.

Happy Learning!

-- Janet Camarena

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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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