Transparency Talk

Category: "Blogging" (13 posts)

How Family Foundations Are Opening Up: Part II
January 31, 2019

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

Elaine Gast Fawcett
Elaine Gast Fawcett

Last week I started by identifying some of the key ways in which family foundations are working more transparently than in the past. Strengthening relationships was core to the two practices I identified: being accessible to grant applicants and learning from listening to the community. Here are a few more helpful examples and practices from the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities.

Transparency is…Credibility to Bring Voice to Issues

When Stefan Lanfer came to the Barr Foundation in 2008, it was just over a decade old, and did all of its grantmaking anonymously. “In 2009, Barr’s trustees decided it was time to be more open and transparent about the foundation’s work,” he says.

What drove the decision? “Mission. The board saw the potential to bring more value beyond its grant dollars alone—to elevate the voices and work of our partners, and also to use our own voice to contribute to public debates about the issues we focus on.”

The shift to greater transparency took time. One of the foundation’s core values is humility. For its many years as an anonymous funder, the prevailing view was that “attention ought to be on the community leaders and issues at hand, not us,” says Lanfer, who was tasked with leading the foundation’s communications efforts. “We weren’t interested merely in increasing visibility for Barr. We wanted to know how to use communications to further our mission.”

“We realized there are times when the Barr Foundation lending its voice can be significant to issues affecting our city and region,” he says. “It can spark, frame, and help shift important conversations.”

For example, like many cities, Boston has experienced a huge real estate boom along its waterfront, says Lanfer. “Over the last 10 years, development along Boston’s waterfront has exploded. Meanwhile media coverage and public debate has principally focused on the merits or concerns about individual projects—and not on growing concerns that Boston’s waterfront could end up being walled off from public use. In this context, Barr’s president, Jim Canales, wrote an Op Ed that ran in the Boston Globe, calling for a new conversation, and a different approach. He called for greater ambition and vision to create a waterfront that all can access and enjoy for generations.”

That one Op-Ed precipitated a significant increase in media coverage of the topic. At the same time, Barr launched a new special initiative focused on the waterfront, which has since awarded over $11 million. Yet, it was a willingness to add its voice to the conversation, says Lanfer, that had that first, important amplifying effect. “It drew more attention to the cause and created a momentum that wasn’t there before, and has only continued to build.”

Transparency is…Sharing Mistakes in the Spirit of Learning

“When we started thinking about transparency, it was when we were looking at ways to help communities develop and how they could become more resilient, flexible, and intuitive in their own ways,” says Richard Russell, board member of The Russell Family Foundation (TRFF). “We looked at what was making a difference in the waters of Puget Sound. What we learned was that more than 50 percent of the pollution of Puget Sound comes from the communities surrounding it, and that those communities have a lack of consciousness that they live next to this incredible fjord and are dumping everything in there.”

“We asked ourselves: what is our theory of change? What will make a difference down the road?” says Russell. “We saw an opportunity to build trust and convene community. The more we can be open with each other, the better the quality of our connection.”

One of the ways to be open is to share mistakes, he says. “In our culture, mistakes are taboo. Yet revealing mistakes can be a source of strength,” he says. “We all think we have to protect ourselves. Yet a lot of our nervousness or fears around that are misguided.”

“My parents (George and Jane Russell, founders of TRFF) believed that you can advance progress so much faster if you got the right people in the room and got out of their way. If you try to keep people out of the room or hide mistakes that people are inevitably going to make, it injects more tension into relationships,” says Russell.

In the spirit of its founders, TRFF posts its mistakes. In fact, for years, one of the most it ever posted was on a failed program related investment that it had made to a nonprofit. “The video featured interviews with the executive director of the nonprofit, interviews with me from TRFF, what we had learned, and how we the foundation processed these lessons learned across the silos,” says CEO Richard Woo.

“People don’t learn from each other if they aren’t open,” says Russell. “One of the most valuable things we’ve been able to do as a community leader is to convene people on issues that they aren’t talking about—to get people to let their hair down and talk openly. We all need to be a learning organization.”

Transparency is…Opening Up Online

A website is a minimal transparency tool, says Patrick Troska. “At a minimum, people should be able to find you and get in touch with you, not have their question go into some black hole. We do exist in the public trust and are supposed to be responding to the public—and if we’re not doing that, what are we doing?”

“I hope these stories will inspire family foundations to look at their own transparency practices, and how family foundations—and the communities they serve—can benefit from increased openness.”

Recently, the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota revamped its website to be more community focused. There are now photos from the community, blog posts written by foundation staff and other guest writers, staff contact information, and funding guidelines. The foundation is even considering an interactive map showing where they fund.

The Perrin Foundation in New Haven, Connecticut also recently redeveloped its website. “When we started the process, we found we weren’t as transparent online as we thought we were,” says president Laura McCargar. “On our previous site, we had listed our board chair, but no other board members. We talked about grantmaking areas, but didn’t talk about how we encourage folks to build relationships. We listed our grant partners, but no financials.”

While it’s been a somewhat challenging process to redevelop the website, the “opportunity to discuss together how we publicly represent ourselves has been invaluable.” She says one of the discussion points was about how board members individually wish to be represented on the site. “Some felt photos might make it too much about the family, and others felt it would keep us too much behind a veil if we didn’t put photos up. These are important conversations to have.”

Ultimately, consistent with the GlassPockets transparency self-assessment, it’s up to a family foundation board, perhaps with staff, to decide on the right level of transparency for them, and why. I hope these stories will inspire family foundations to look at their own transparency practices, and how family foundations—and the communities they serve—can benefit from increased openness.

Want more? Download the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide, Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities, which encourages donors, boards, and staff of family foundations (and other giving vehicles) to purposefully consider their choices regarding transparency in grantmaking, governance, and operations. This guide includes a list of questions family foundations can ask themselves as a board to think deeply and develop a transparency strategy.

--Elaine Gast Fawcett

The Value Added of Engagement
January 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

And then I started tweeting.

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

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

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

So far, so good.

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

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


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

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

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

-- Jay Ruderman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Rebecca Herman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Eric Brown

Glasspockets Find: The Hewlett Foundation’s New Transparency Policy, Sharing "Work in Progress"
November 20, 2013

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

Herman-150Yesterday the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced their new blog, Work in Progress, with an ambitious inaugural post by the foundation’s president, Larry Kramer. A new foundation blog may launch every week—and we certainly enjoy reading them—but it doesn’t always change our outlook on transparency within the field of philanthropy. What makes this blog unveiling noteworthy is that is reads like a manifesto, as Mr. Kramer writes:

“Transparency matters. Being open matters. The Hewlett Foundation and our peers in the philanthropic sector have the great privilege to operate within a system that allows—and even encourages—us to use our resources for the betterment of society as we see it. And with that privilege comes the responsibility to act with the highest ethical standards and commitment to the public good.”

Hewlett-blog-titleThe post culminates in the announcement of the Hewlett Foundation’s new Statement of Purpose on openness and transparency. Here, Mr. Kramer codifies transparency, taking it from a value to a policy—one that states the foundation is starting from new default mode: “To put this commitment to openness and transparency into action, we begin with a presumption that information created by or about the Foundation should be freely available.”

“In being open and transparent, we demonstrate confidence in our strategies, but also show that we are willing to have them challenged.”

The comments section of the Hewlett Foundation’s first blog post is a lively read as well, responding to Mr. Kramer’s call for more discussion and disagreement. As he states, In being open and transparent, we demonstrate confidence in our strategies, but also show that we are willing to have them challenged.”

Among those weighing in to question the status quo is political scientist Robert Reich, who commented, “Transparency is also important, it seems to me, because it confers additional legitimacy on the work of foundations, rightly positioning their work as worthy of public scrutiny and debate. It acknowledges that the activity of private foundations is not in fact private. It is public-facing, aimed at improvements on issues of public concern.” 

To see how the Hewlett Foundation “walks the talk” in the area of transparency, check out its “Who Has Glass Pockets?” profile on our new Glasspockets web site. You can also read our own statement of purpose in the Why Transparency section of the site. We’ll be following all the commentary to see if it leads to wider policy changes across the field and more real dialogue on transparency.

-- Rebecca Herman

Family Philanthropy and Social Media: A Conversation with Kate Wolford, President of The McKnight Foundation
September 26, 2013

Kate Wolford (@KateWolford) became president of The McKnight Foundation (@McKnightFdn) in 2006. This blog is re-posted with permission from the August 2013 edition of Family Giving News, the monthly email newsletter of the National Center for Family Philanthropy.


We don’t see a lot of foundation executives on Twitter. So, let’s hear a bit more about your own experience with social media – how did you first get started?


The biggest value to me personally is in what I follow: a mixture of topics directly relevant to our work, as well as others that help broaden my horizon.

The first thing to make clear is that I am not an expert on social media! The McKnight Foundation has been getting its feet wet on Facebook and Twitter for a year or so, and recently launched a blog. We’ve also been experimenting with Yammer as an in-house tool for sharing knowledge. I registered my personal Twitter account about eight months ago. I was an early adopter, so I could better support our institutional communications strategy. My plan was to simply “lurk and learn” on Twitter, following others so I could better understand how our foundation and grantees were using social media to increase our reach and impact. Now I tweet as well, and more and more McKnight staff are using social media.

What are three things you hope to gain from social media?

The biggest value to me personally is in what I follow: a mixture of topics directly relevant to our work, as well as others that help broaden my horizon. I see articles that I would probably never see otherwise—or at least not in such a timely manner.

For The McKnight Foundation, my goal is even greater transparency and awareness about how we are using private funds to pursue public good. It is an avenue to share research, as well as promising and proven ideas with a broader network both within and beyond philanthropy.

Social media—like every tool—can be used for good or ill. More than a goal, my dream is to use it in ways that support a powerful global movement for social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

Why should a family foundation use social media?

Social media can be an additional useful way to engage with current or potential grantees, stakeholders, and the general public. It’s not a substitute for strong individual relationships and deep dialogue between foundations and grantees. Foundations still need a one-stop organizational website through which grantseekers can find clear information on the foundation’s mission, goals, strategies, what it will or won’t fund, its application process, etc.

Taking advantage of as many communications tools as we can use well and cost effectively can enhance our transparency, accessibility, and ability to share knowledge and perspectives in our fields of interest.

A Center for Effective Philanthropy survey in 2012 found that only about 16% of grantees followed the social media streams of their funders. I suspect this number will grow quickly as both nonprofits and foundations move from early experiments in usage, evaluating feedback and ramping up in areas that seem most productive for building their networks and advancing their goals. We’re also increasingly reaching out to important program stakeholders beyond our grantees, and social media is one way to reach those broader audiences.

The real power of social media is the opportunity to go beyond just one-way communication to a more engaged dialogue. Unlike newsletters or press releases, social media is—well, it’s social! For many family foundations (and foundations in general), that may push the boundaries of their comfort zone. Social media puts real-time information, learning and perspectives out to a potentially very broad audience. That, in turn, may invite new levels of scrutiny, critique, and interaction.

I think it is important to enter with the mindset that you will get feedback that covers the spectrum from positive to negative, and from polite to nasty. Embrace that, and focus on how the input can also broaden your perspectives, sharpen your thinking, and increase your effectiveness and impact.

What kind of rules and practices do you follow?

In general, I think about how all my communications, whether in a community conversation or a blog or a tweet might reflect on the foundation and its reputation.

While “all tweets are my own,” I do not tweet anything that I would not want associated with our foundation. I know others who more freely mix the personal and professional—in that case, I think it would be important to be transparent with your board of directors about that choice.

I limit my time on social media to 30 minutes per day, and sometimes I don’t get to it all. On my best days, I uncover 3-5 articles that I read or tag for my next plane ride, and I share something that will be of interest to my followers.

I see some foundation leaders focusing mainly on topics relevant to the philanthropic sectors while others cover a number of topic areas. I think each person has to “find their own voice.” I lean toward the eclectic side of the spectrum — I follow and tweet on topics ranging from governance to climate change to education to Minnesota.

Should the foundation executive engage if the foundation already has a social media presence?

There are a number of factors to consider, including size and staffing structure. In small foundations where the executive already has many hats, it may simply not make sense nor be practical to maintain a separate Twitter or blog presence. The executive can still have a presence—authoring blogs or being quoted on the foundation sites.

Another key consideration is board expectations around the level of visibility of its lead staff person, and whether or not he/she should have a voice that may be distinct in substance or tone from that of the foundation.

Final thoughts?

I’d encourage foundations to use any communications tools that help them reach and engage their own key audiences in useful ways. Within that, just like any tool, social media probably isn’t a great fit for everyone.

So as we explore social media’s pros and cons at McKnight, we are paying close attention to how our philanthropic colleagues are using it to the best effect. We’re forging our own unique path as we go, which I think is very important, but we’re also keeping our eyes out for model practices and practitioners around the country. For readers interested in digging deeper, I’d point you to nonprofit social media guru Beth Kanter, The Communications Network’s resource-rich website for nonprofit and foundation communications pros, and terrific sector blogs like COF’s RE:Philanthropy, Foundation Center’s PhilanTopic, and the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

And there is no shame and very little to lose in lurking first, like I did, just to see if social media seems like a good fit before diving in!

-- Kate Wolford

(For a list of additional Twitter feeds to get started, see this Ask the Center feature on Family Giving News.)

From the President: Transparency 2.0
February 13, 2013

Jim Canales is the President and CEO of the James Irvine Foundation. This post first appeared February, 13 on the foundation's Web site.

Canales-100Within the past few weeks, I have read with interest the observations of a number of active bloggers in the arts field whom I have come to respect and admire: Nina Simon, Diane Ragsdale, Clay Lord and Barry Hessenius. Each of them has blogged on aspects of the Irvine Foundation’s new arts strategy and, in doing so, has contributed to a robust dialogue that has played out on their respective blogs as well as on Twitter.

And that’s what prompts my contribution to this discussion: I will comment only lightly on the substantive issues they have raised related to our Arts strategy as my colleague, Josephine Ramirez, who directs our Arts program, plans to post a more substantive comment on those issues in the next week or so. There is another aspect of this discussion that I do want to comment upon and invite others to engage on with me and my colleagues in philanthropy.

Whether people agree or disagree with the choices we have made, we are now discussing it, publicly, intelligently and forthrightly.

From my early days as Irvine’s CEO, and with great support from our Board of Directors, I have placed a premium on transparency, both with regard to our work at Irvine and for the broader field of philanthropy. I have certainly not been alone in this quest (Brad Smith at the Foundation Center is probably our field’s leading champion), and I think it’s a fair observation to say that the field has come a long way in the past decade.

At the same time, I would characterize much of the progress under the headline of “Transparency 1.0”: creating useful and information-rich websites; describing in detail the strategic priorities of the foundation; sharing results of evaluations and learning; posting results of surveys that offer feedback, such as the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Grantee Perception Report. All of these have been positive developments, aimed toward shedding more light on what is often an opaque and impenetrable field. At the same time, these efforts at transparency are primarily one-way, aimed at information transmission. In “Transparency 1.0,” we decide what to be transparent about and then put it out there for you to digest.

Today, the advent of social media, to which philanthropy is still a bit of a newcomer, combined with the recognition that foundations certainly do not have all of the answers, offers opportunities for the field to embrace and practice what I will call “Transparency 2.0,” oriented toward dialogue, debate and shared learning.

And that’s what has struck me about this recent dialogue related to Irvine’s Arts strategy. Whether people agree or disagree with the choices we have made, we are now discussing it, publicly, intelligently and forthrightly. I admire those who have stepped forward to criticize aspects of our strategy, whether they believe it is wrong on its merits or they view it as yet another example of “strategic philanthropy” gone awry, where we are dictating and imposing our solutions upon the field.

That is certainly not our intention. What is different for us in our new Arts strategy is that rather than continuing with a broad-based approach that funded projects across multiple objectives, we made the strategic decision to direct our finite resources in a way that, in our view, will best position the arts field for future viability and success. In doing so, we are openly expressing a point of view about how we think the field must evolve to ensure its dynamism and relevance. Yet, we are very clear about our willingness to learn with our partners in this effort, to refine our approach accordingly, and to help to advance the field’s understanding of the many ways to engage a broader cross-section of Californians (in our case) in the arts.

To draw from Diane Ragsdale’s very thoughtful analysis, I suppose one person’s coaxing might be another person’s coercion, but I hope what we will be able to do via this work is to co-create. In the end, we care about impact. And we believe that to maximize our ability to have impact requires a clear, focused and coherent strategic direction. That’s what we are aiming for in the Arts, similar to what we have already been committed to in our other core program areas of Youth and California Democracy.

Just as we lament the fact that the arts are too often (and wrongly) viewed by funders as discretionary or recreational, so must we demand that arts grantmaking be guided by the same level of rigor and strategic direction as other program areas. That’s what we are striving for at Irvine, and we know that we have much to learn along this journey. And that’s why I have been inspired and pleased by the active engagement from others, demonstrative of the evolution of transparency in philanthropy. So, please keep the ideas, observations and critiques coming. It’s the best way to ensure we can achieve the end we all agree upon: a vibrant, relevant and successful arts field. And in doing so, we might just model new ways for foundations and their partners to engage, debate, discuss and learn together.

-Jim Canales

Using Social Media to Expand Networks: A Q&A with Susan Promislo
September 27, 2012

Susan Promislo  is Senior Communications Officer for the Vulnerable Populations Portfolio at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Promislo_100At the start of the year, Steve Downs kicked off our Transparency Talk blog with a great overview of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) social media strategy and how it has evolved since their early adoption and experimentation stage two years ago. Given the many questions grant makers have about developing and accessing social media efforts, we are continuing to learn from the road the RWJF staff has traveled by offering a series of interviews with staff members about how social media, and more broadly, the transparency and participation they offer, are adding new and critical dimensions to the work. The first of these case studies, on social networking as a learning tool, is available here. The second on experimenting with different social media to serve as a catalyst for collaboration is available here.

Transparency Talk (TT): First, let’s start with a glimpse into a day in the life of your work at the Foundation in light of all these new technologies. How is Web 2.0 changing your job as a Senior Communications Officer? How is it changing your relationship with grantees and the wider community you serve?

Susan Promislo (SP): As the former communications officer for the Pioneer Portfolio, I think I was the first staff member at the Foundation to manage a blog and one of the first to use Twitter. In part, it was because of our involvement in conferences like TED and communities like Health 2.0 that are further out in front with technology and social networking. But we also knew that a broadcast strategy was not going to work for Pioneer, which focused on finding transformative ideas from within and outside of health and health care. We had to pursue a networking strategy, had to be learning, had to be open to ideas from all avenues.

It helps affirm that we’re connecting beyond our usual suspects, and that social media has empowered us to build stronger, more diverse networks. It has helped program staff raise their profiles and gain greater presence in new fields, paving the way to build relationships with key thinkers and actors that they might not otherwise have developed.

So I learned by jumping in and feeling my way, listening to what was going on, and learning from others. And social media became not only another way to promote RWJF and our grantees, and engage others in our work, but also a way for me to deepen my learning on key issues and make valuable connections.

Twitter, in particular, has been really instructive. As I began to follow more people and have more people follow me, and see those networks blossom, I became more comfortable as a voice on the issues we care about, and as a connector who could share information that others might find valuable.

As far as our grantees, we provide resources to help them be more effective in their use of social media. But we also leverage RWJF’s platforms, voice, and reach to lend further power to their work.

TT: We have all seen and heard many examples in recent years about how social media is a perfect medium for discovering new ideas and building networks. What initiative or project comes to mind that is an exemplary case of how you have used social media for these purposes? Share a brief background about the project with us and how it unfolded.

SP: Forward Promise is a $9.5 million initiative that we recently launched to improve the health, education, and employment outcomes for boys and young men of color. RWJF believes that health is shaped as powerfully—if not more powerfully—by social factors than by the health care we receive. Things like housing, access to a good education, income, exposure to violence, and access to reliable transportation make a huge impact on your health over your lifetime.

If you look at the challenges facing young men of color in this country, the data are pretty staggering. If we don't act now to give them the opportunity to be healthy and successful, I think we're in danger of undercutting the futures of an entire generation of young men.

In shaping our strategy for Forward Promise, we didn't want to take an insular approach. We wanted to reach out to organizations and stakeholders on the ground in these communities, working on these issues and with these young men, and engage their input in shaping the strategy.

TT: What circumstances do you think made this a successful experiment? And reflecting on the experience, what was the biggest reward or outcome from this experience?

SP: Before we ever put pen to paper on a Call for Proposals, we issued a Call for Ideas to the field, relying heavily on social media. We researched and connected with a number of organizations that never either knew of RWJF, or did not view us as a potential funding source. Ultimately, we received more than 320 ideas from organizations that greatly informed and enriched the conversation and our exploration. And now we’re staying connected to them, keeping them informed of our progress and reaching back out to them with the Call for Proposals.

The Foundation has crafted a larger strategy around becoming a Web 2.0 philanthropy. What this means is that, if we run something like a Call for Ideas, at the end we can’t just thank everybody for their contributions, go back behind the curtain, and deliberate on where we move forward from there. We need to actively stay in touch with the community that we reached out to, and that shared with us so openly, and keep them informed of our progress. We need to shed light on how our strategy is forming, what our challenges might be, where we're struggling, and where their insights could continue to help us. Because I think, in doing that, it engages more people to take part in what’s ultimately a stronger movement to change the future for young men of color.

TT: What surprised you the most about the effort?

SP: What struck me was that, of those 324 groups that responded to our Call for Ideas, more than 300 had no prior funding relationship with the Foundation. It helps affirm that we’re connecting beyond our usual suspects, and that social media has empowered us to build stronger, more diverse networks. It has helped program staff raise their profiles and gain greater presence in new fields, paving the way to build relationships with key thinkers and actors that they might not otherwise have developed.

TT: What advice would you offer to foundation colleagues interested in pursuing similar work?

SP: I think, in general, we’re all pressed for time and it’s easy to see engaging in social media as being less of a priority amidst all of the competing demands; but the time you put into it ultimately does have its payoffs.

There's been a dramatic recognition on the part of the Foundation that we don't have all of the answers, and that it’s key to connect to unexpected partners and networks that might have solutions we never would have surfaced on our own. Occasionally, social media help you harness serendipity, which I love—you just come across different perspectives and resources. And it gives staff a channel for their personalities to shine through, to be more approachable and informal, which is never a bad thing in philanthropy.

--Susan Promislo

Glasspockets Find: New CSR blog from American Express
August 17, 2011

American Express

Timothy J. ("Tim") McClimon, vice president for corporate social responsibility (CSR) at American Express and president of the American Express Foundation, has just launched CSR Now!, a weekly blog "designed to get at what's happening in corporate social responsibility today—from the point of view of a corporate practitioner."

McClimon will use the blog to reflect on current trends in CSR, with examples from his own experience at American Express and from those of his colleagues at other companies. He hopes to track current literature and online developments, and feature a guest blogger on occasion.

As yet another vehicle to promote grantmaker transparency, let’s wish a long and productive run to CSR Now!

Be sure to share any similar efforts in CSR that you come across.

-- Mark Foley

Walking the Talk: Using Social Media to Demonstrate Transparency
August 9, 2011

Jenn Whinnem(Jenn Whinnem is a communications officer at the Connecticut Health Foundation. In this role, she manages the Web, social media and e-mail initiatives, and contributes to overall Web vision and strategy for the foundation.)

When it comes to transparency, social media really forces philanthropy's hand. Is your organization really committed to transparency—the good, the bad, and the ugly? Because social media will compel you—and those around you—to take a good, hard look at who you are and what you're doing.

When it comes to  transparency, social media really forces philanthropy's hand. Is your organization really committed to  transparency - the good, the bad, and the ugly?The value of being transparent in social media, however, is considerable. You can foster deeper relationships with your existing audiences—including grantees—and connect with new audiences, who can become grantees. Overall, the biggest opportunity in social media is to increase your impact on the social issues you're addressing. And what foundation doesn't want that?

From our beginning in 1999, the Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health) has had a strong commitment to transparency. Even though she was a staff of one at the time, our president and CEO, Patricia Baker, started to develop our annual report all by herself.

And yet, a year ago when we started thinking about social media, we knew we had to consider the impact of real-time feedback from the outside world. We also had to ask ourselves, "How would social media help us achieve our mission of improving the health status of everyone in Connecticut?

Luckily for us, our brand screams for social media. Our brand promise—to support "innovative solutions for health justice"—calls for us to capitalize on new opportunities like social media.

With our brand and our leadership fully behind the use of social media, we took the plunge two months ago—letting our four brand dimensions guide what we share and how we share it:

  • Caring and Respectful. Will sharing this help our community? Can we hear what our community has to say? Will we be showing our respect for their work and what they're trying to do? Will sharing this part of our human side allow us to connect with our community? If so, yes, we will share.
  • Effective Alliances. If we really want to make a difference in our priority areas, we have to collaborate with others. Will sharing this allow us to strengthen our existing relationships, or build new ones? If yes, we will share.
  • Knowledge Leader. Will what we're sharing inform and educate our community? On the other hand, can we also take in information from our community, and use it in our work? Can we pave the way for deeper understanding of the issues that are important to us? If yes, we will share.
  • Visionary Action. At CT Health, we're change agents. We not only want to take visionary action, we want to inspire others to do the same. If we can highlight a visionary action (either ours or theirs), we will share it.

So what has this meant for us? How do the guidelines translate to our day-to-day? When the CT Health Leadership Fellows got together to wish a member of their class farewell, we re-tweeted pictures that one of the Fellows shared with us. After we held three listening sessions with members of the Connecticut oral health community, we blogged about some of their insights to foster conversation with our broader audiences, because we know we don't have all the answers all by ourselves. We are, after all, a learning organization, and we want social media to help strengthen our work.

Not that we haven't had some challenges along the way. In the spirit of transparency, I'll share two of our main struggles here:

  • What is the role of non-communications colleagues in the creation of content?
  • How do we share political news and research from other organizations?

Figuring out what participation in social media looks like for our program and finance /operations colleagues is something we're still working on. At the beginning, we created an Editorial Committee so that the different functions within CT Health could share what we're doing and brainstorm topics. And yet, everyone is so busy. Turning those ideas into blog posts and then making sure they're factually accurate takes time—time that our colleagues may not feel like they have. Our communications team is trying to demonstrate the value of participation to them—such as building individual brands to increase our overall impact—to make it feel less burdensome.

One success we've had in this area was having our Vice President of Finance & Operations Carol Pollock write "3 Tips for Selecting a Chief Investment Officer (CIO)." Carol was hesitant to position herself as an expert, but we assured her she'd just be sharing her experience. The result? A philanthropy trade publication contacted us to learn more, and this has the opportunity to blossom into a full-fledged feature story (interviews pending).

Our challenge around politics is that we're a non-partisan organization, and the IRS specifically prevents us from lobbying. We can't appear as if we're endorsing one side or another of a politically-motivated issue. And yet, for example, we're a foundation focused on health in a time when health care reform is a hot issue. What we've done so far is stick to the facts, and highlight health policy research that may be in the mainstream media and that doesn't provide suggestions or recommendations about specific pieces of legislation or regulation.

That's how CT Health is using social media, and what we're learning along the way. What would you share with us that you've learned?

-- Jenn Whinnem

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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.

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