Transparency Talk

Category: "Blogging" (13 posts)

The Glass Filing Cabinet: What the Packard Foundation is Learning about Learning in Public
June 28, 2011

(Paul Connolly is Senior Vice President of TCC Group, a management consulting firm that serves nonprofit organizations, foundations, and corporate community involvement programs.) 

Paul ConnollyTypically, when a foundation hires an evaluator to assess a program, that evaluator collects lots of information from a range of stakeholders, analyzes the data, writes a report, and discusses it with the funder. Then, an abridged final report is maybe shared with the field. The Packard Foundation has pursued a much more transparent and interactive approach for the current review of its Organizational Effectiveness program—an approach which the foundation staff likens to having "a glass filing cabinet."

The Packard Foundation is facilitating a learning in public process through which [they] are sharing early research findings widely and encouraging input. For over two decades, Packard has been making grants to support such efforts as strategic planning, board development, succession planning, and web site upgrades to strengthen the organizational capacity of its nonprofit grantees. Packard retained TCC Group several months ago to help retrospectively assess 1,300 of these grants made during the past ten years and ascertain what constitutes a successful organizational effectiveness project. Packard is grappling with questions like: What is the sustained impact of the grants we make? How and to what extent can we quantify impact, its staff, and their outcomes? What contributes to the consultant relationship success? What are the factors that contribute to a successful project?

Packard began by compiling a huge data set based on grantee records and survey research and then asked TCC to help with the analysis. Rather than scrutinizing Packard's data on our own behind closed office doors, we are facilitating a "learning in public" process through which we are sharing early research findings widely and encouraging input. Leveraging Packard's organizational effectiveness wiki site, the project has set up a section of the wiki for grantees, consultants, funders, and other interested parties to review preliminary findings and provide feedback (we invite yours, too!). And conversations have been emerging on Twitter, blogs, and other social media venues.

What have we discovered so far about this networked approach to collective learning?

  • The Packard Foundation has been praised at several recent philanthropy conferences (such as the June 6-7 Grantmakers for Effective Organizations learning conference) for its open approach, so there seems to be some support in the field for this type of inclusive evaluation process.
  • There has been some engagement on the wiki, but not very much. We recognized that the wiki was not as technologically accessible as we had wished and are working on improving that. We are also realizing that asking a broad array of people to sift through and comment on a lot of "semi-baked" data is, well, asking a lot. (A few consultants even went so far as to say, justifiably, that they would only do so if they were paid for their time.)
  • We have learned to cull the findings and extract a few noteworthy nuggets that we then highlight and ask for feedback on—so it is more like drinking water from a cup rather than a fire hose.
  • We are also creating more opportunities for select constituents to participate in "old-fashioned" in-person discussion groups and teleconference webinars, during which we can "think out loud" with them. We have found that this live interaction engages people and make them more motivated to contribute their ideas online, too, as part of an ongoing conversation.

Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that "there are many things of which a wise man may wish to be ignorant." And New York University new media professor Clay Shirky points out that our society does not have a problem with information overload, but filter failure.

What are other foundations finding out about seeking broad input through two-way social media exchanges? How can philanthropies create better filters for seeking commentary when most people actually might not be that interested in poring through all of the information in those glass filing cabinets? At what point can a funder "over share" and ask constituents to review and comment on "too much information?" When is the best time to seek feedback from various types of stakeholders on slightly baked, half-baked, or fully baked findings? When soliciting experts' opinions, where exactly is that fine line between a foundation being open and receptive—and being presumptuous and insensitive? What is the best ways to blend online and offline input to maximize collective intelligence?

These are questions we are mulling over. We would like to hear what you think. And we would be glad to share more of our experience and insights as this public learning process evolves.

— Paul Connolly

Glasspockets Find: Rethinking the Annual Report
April 13, 2011

Kapor_screenshot This week's Glasspockets Find:

The Mitchell Kapor Foundation posted its 2010 Annual Report as a YouTube video. To explain why they chose this novel format, Kapor wrote: "In the spirit of being transparent, paperless, accessible, and plain ol' fun, the Kapor Foundation staff decided to do a video annual report that captures the highlights of 2010." The companion blog post includes links to grant lists and financial data found in traditional annual reports.

As some foundations do away with print materials and move away from traditional annual reports, is Kapor's example the shape of things to come? If you've seen other interesting approaches to the annual report, please share them here.

-- Daniel Matz

Putting the Pieces Back Together
February 14, 2011

(Dr. Albert Ruesga is the president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, as well as the editor of The White Courtesy Telephone—a popular blog about foundations and nonprofits. In September 2010, Dr. Ruesga was featured as a "Social Media Power User" in the Foundation Center survey, "Are Foundations Using Social Media?")

Ruesga-150After the storms of 2005, the City of New Orleans lost a significant amount of its population.  Our pre-Katrina population of 455,000 shrank to 209,000 in July 2006, recovering slightly to 355,000 by July 2009.  We know that many New Orleanians who moved away maintained close ties to the city. They visited family members and friends who had stayed behind.  They followed the city's sports teams.  Their ears pricked up at any news from the region.

Many of us in the City continue to feel a strong bond to our former residents.  One of the things we aimed to do with our social media work here at the Greater New Orleans Foundation was to connect with these New Orleanians in the diaspora—not only those who left after the storms, but those who left the city for a variety of reasons, seeking opportunities for themselves and their families in other parts of the country.  The City's experience with Katrina taught residents the importance of strong social networks, the people-to-people connections that were so important to New Orleans's recovery after the breaking of the levees.  At the same time, we wanted to introduce our work to new audiences, especially the mostly younger people who like to stay in touch using Facebook and Twitter.

And so, with these goals in mind, we went into our social media work with eyes wide open. We began using a variety of tools, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a blog. We were pleased to see our networks grow quickly, thanks to our staff's very thoughtful use of these media.  On Twitter, for example, our staff was quick to retweet related content and thank those who retweeted us.  Our tweets were not just about our work, but about content that would interest a broad audience.

Our social networks helped us immensely when tragedy struck our region again in 2010.  We were able to mobilize our supporters after the BP oil spill to help raise over $1 million for short-term relief and longer-term recovery efforts. We went into our social media work never expecting to raise a dime, but it has proven to be a valuable fundraising tool.

A note about transparency. If you visit our web site, you'll notice something fairly unique about most of our pages: we invite comments from the community on almost every one.  And it's one of our policies to respond to each of these comments (either by e-mail or directly on the site) within 48 hours.  We also make it a point to publish not only our grantmaking guidelines and goals, but also our rationales for these guidelines and goals, as well as our theories of change.  You can see an example of this here. We don't mind being completely transparent about our thinking.  Our work can only improve by exposing our assumptions and our reasoning to the light of day.

If you're within the sound of my voice (so to speak), and you have a stake in New Orleans's future, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  You can also read our blog, The Second Line, by visiting

And if you want to have a role in helping to make one of the great American cities even greater, y'all come down, hear?

— Albert Ruesga

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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