Transparency Talk

Category: "California" (50 posts)

Hole in the Road to Transparency: People with Disabilities Often Excluded By Foundations & Nonprofits
October 17, 2019

Untitled design








Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is founder & president of RespectAbility, a nonprofit that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities.

Philanthropic transparency is vital. But there’s a major challenge – people with disabilities are being excluded from philanthropy and nonprofits every day.

RespectAbility, a nonprofit disability organization, did a major study of close to 1,000 people in the social sector. The report, “Disability in Philanthropy & Nonprofits: A Study on the Inclusion and Exclusion of the 1-in-5 People Who Live with a Disability and What You Can Do to Make Things Better,” found that while the vast majority of foundations and nonprofits want to include people with disabilities, they don’t know what they don’t know. Hence their practices do not align with their values and they are discriminating against people with disabilities.

For example, only 59 percent of foundations and nonprofits say their events are always held in physically accessible spaces, which means that people who use wheelchairs are shut out from participating. Only 30 percent say they have a process in place to allow people with disabilities to request necessary accommodations (like a sign language interpreter or allergy-free foods) on event registration forms. And only 14 percent say their organizations use captions on web videos to ensure people who are deaf or hard of hearing can access the content (although free rough captions can be automatically generated on YouTube). Thus, people with disabilities do not have the access and accommodations they need to fully participate in the public good these groups are doing.

Take the case study of the Ford Foundation. In a 2014 keynote address at the annual conference of the Council on Foundations, Ford’s President Darren Walker announced a major game-changing initiative on equity. He gave a passionate speech about equity and lifting up the most marginalized of people. Yet he did it in a way that was not accessible to people with disabilities. Ford released a tweet about the new initiative that was not screen reader accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. That tweet directed people to a website that also was not accessible to people with vision impairments. Some tweets went to a video that had no captions – so no one who was deaf or hard of hearing could gain the information. And Ford’s grant application software was not even remotely accessible (and still is not fully accessible today).

“Only 59 percent of foundations and nonprofits say their events are always held in physically accessible spaces.”

I, and other disability activists, reached out to Mr. Walker about these barriers. Thankfully, he listened deeply, understood what was at stake and took concrete action. Indeed, in his annual open letter he wrote: “The Ford Foundation does not have a person with visible disabilities on our leadership team; takes no affirmative effort to hire people with disabilities; does not consider them in our strategy; and does not even provide those with physical disabilities with adequate access to our website, events, social media, or building. Our 50-year-old headquarters is currently not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – landmark legislation that celebrated its 26th anniversary this summer. It should go without saying: all of this is at odds with our mission.”

In the time since then, Darren Walker, Noorain Khan and others at the Ford Foundation have taken step after step to ensure that they no longer discriminate against people with disabilities. Their transition, while not yet complete, is nothing short of spectacular. Not only that, Ford, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and other foundations have now recruited a significant number of major foundations to join them in a cohort to move these issues forward.

But here’s the thing – you don’t need to be a big and well-funded foundation to make the changes needed. Most of them can be done for little or no money. If your foundation wants to offer transparency, accessibility, equity and accountability there are specific steps you can take. These include:

  1. Commit publicly to the inclusion of people with disabilities. The message that all people, including those with disabilities, are of equal value must be communicated publicly and repeatedly by top leaders verbally and on your website.
  2. Ensure people with disabilities are included in decision making positions, not just for issues related to them but for all issues. Organizations are at their best when they welcome, respect, and include people of all backgrounds. Indeed, problems are best solved by working with people who have experienced them first hand and know solutions that work. Just like issues that impact people of different racial, ethnic, or other backgrounds, people with disabilities should be involved in solving issues that impact them.
  3. Foster an inclusive environment with your language and practices. What we say makes a difference. Avoid saying things like “wheelchair-bound,” “confined to a wheelchair,” “wheelchair person,” or “suffers from.” Do say “someone uses a wheelchair.” 
  4. Have an inclusion point person or committee. Add an inclusion statement to your website and event invitations, and train your human resources staff to respond to requests for disability accommodations. Consider including diversity, including disability, as a performance metric for all departments and employees.  
  5. Include people with disabilities in your marketing. For example, photos on your organization’s website and your publications should include individuals with visible disabilities. 
  6. Make your website, online resources and social media accessible. Set up your website and social media for use by screen readers and for people who need captions. Ensure that all photos have alt text, and that all videos have captions. Ensure that your business cards, documents and presentations are accessible. 
  7. Ensure the accessibility of your office and events. All of the following must be accessible: invitation/notification of event, facilities, communications and staff/volunteers.
  8. Include disability in diversity data and ask your grantees to do the same. Demonstrate that your organization prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion by walking the walk (or rolling the roll in the case of wheelchair users) on disability inclusion.
  9. Promote a disability lens among grantees and partners. Ask your grantees and partners about meaningful and inclusive policies and/or programs; public commitments on website and materials; employing people with disabilities at all levels; inviting people to request accommodations; physical accessibility of office and programs; website accessibility; video captioning; and internal and external educational efforts. Help them to look at intersectional data and impacts.
  10. Disability impacts people of all races, genders, and backgrounds and making a difference is much easier than you think.

RespectAbility is offering a free online series to train foundation and nonprofit leaders in the nuts and bolts of how to be inclusive of people with disabilities. You can free resources here:   https://www.respectability.org/inclusive-philanthropy/ and sign up for the series here: https://www.respectability.org/accessibility-webinars/

--Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Donor-Advised Funds Debate Intensifies with Proposed California Legislation
September 30, 2019

JeanneBell-e1490280555818







Jeanne Bell

Jeanne Bell, MNA is the Director of Practice Advancement at The Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) and she directs NPQ's Advancing Practice program to advance critical conversations about nonprofit management and leadership.

This post also appears in The Nonprofit Quarterly.

Before I report on the legislation that has been proposed to regulate donor-advised funds (DAFs) in California, I want to remind readers that this kind of state legislation not only can go viral but can also presage federal lawmaking on the given issues. Therefore, even though this bill addresses the DAF industry only in California, it has the potential to create a wedge in policymaking on a more national basis.

A video of the August 29th Candid forum upon which this article is based can be viewed below. That said, given the increasingly heated national discourse about donor-advised funds, the California legislation co-sponsored by CalNonprofits, NextGen California, and philanthropist Kat Taylor, herself a DAF holder, is perhaps surprisingly modest next to the far more extensive concerns and proposals being offered by national critics.

 

 

In its current form, AB-1712 focuses only on DAF transparency and would “require the Attorney General (AG) to adopt rules and regulations that require DAF Sponsors to disclose information about the individual funds or accounts they maintain to help the AG ascertain whether those funds are being properly administered.” In this case, “properly administered” includes that the DAF sponsor has “a publicly available policy that governs DAFs that are inactive, dormant, or do not make distributions during a specified period of time that does not exceed 36 months.”

As NPQ first reported in March of this year, Assembly Bill 1712 was introduced by Buffy Wicks of California’s 15th Assembly District, which encompasses the cities of Berkeley, Emeryville, Richmond, and parts of the City of Oakland in the East Bay. As seen above, Candid hosted a debate about AB-1712 last month in San Francisco with CalNonprofits CEO Jan Masaoka, who favors the legislation, and Daniel Baldwin of the Community Foundation for Monterey County and Nageeb Sumar, Vice President of Philanthropic Strategies at Fidelity Charitable, neither of whom support it as currently proposed.

Here, we stop for a little more context-setting. Philanthropy in general has long been resistant to changes in its regulation, and the resistance often is what Scott Harshbarger at one point called “ragging the puck”—that is, keeping the puck in play until the legislative clock runs down. In the case of DAF sponsors, this generally seems to take the form of responding to every challenge on transparency and payout with a statement about how essentially good they are (an argument more often used by community foundations) and how sad they are for being “under attack,” or, alternately, how fast they are growing/how much they are managing and granting in philanthropic funds—never mind that it is precisely this point that begs the need for greater scrutiny.

At this stage, AB-1712 is what’s called a “two-year bill”; it is still open to amendment and will have to move through the Assembly by early 2020 or die. The bill’s sponsors are in active conversation with stakeholders, including community foundation executives, though the degree of that cooperation was contested during the debate. Baldwin claimed the bill’s original language “demonized DAFs” and that he was unaware of recent language changes, while Masaoka insisted the sponsors had been in dialogue with community foundations along the way.

Jockeying for the Frame

It was immediately apparent that the debaters were jockeying for more than a winning position on whether AB-1712 is worthy legislation; instead, they were trying to frame an overall take on DAFs themselves. The discussion was often less about the specifics of the legislation and more about the desired positioning of the two leading DAF sponsor types: community foundations on the one hand, and national entities like Fidelity Charitable, which are independent charities created by and affiliated with for-profit investment firms, on the other. Baldwin and Sumar were each working hard to distinguish the worthiness of their respective organizational types. Baldwin, who in addition to being CEO of a community foundation is active in public policy work for the League of California Community Foundations, framed community foundations as local experts connecting donors to real community needs. When challenged by Masaoka about the donor-centrism of his positioning on DAFs, he claimed that his community foundation was above all else about “promoting grantmaking.” Sumar, on the other hand, underscored the scale and innovation of the Fidelity Charitable model, noting that he had previously worked at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is now smaller than Fidelity. Several times he said that Fidelity aims to give an “Amazon-like experience” to donors’ philanthropy; they have, he said, a new app that allows people to do transactions on their phones, and they took in $70 million in cryptocurrency gifts to DAFs last year.

Which Data Do We Need?

Baldwin and Sumar showered us with data, citing it near constantly in their arguments.

  • From Sumar on the “geography of giving”: 42 percent of their DAF grants stay in the city of their origin, and 50 percent of their DAF grants stay in their state of origin.
  • From Baldwin’s poll of 31 members of the League of California Community Foundations: Together, they hold 7,200 DAFs, 5,500 of which are not endowed, meaning the full funds are available for grantmaking. They hold roughly $9 billion in these funds and granted $2 billion for the last year reported.

The irony is that Masaoka’s argument for AB-1712 is that none of this self-reported data is the data we would need to determine whether and what kind of regulation of this multi-billion-dollar industry is appropriate to protect the taxpayer from bad actors.

Of most significance, the data they offer is not reported fund by fund, but rather in aggregate, allowing for impressive percentages in grants made, for instance, but obfuscating the dormant or questionably invested cases in these large portfolios.

Best Practice vs. Regulation

In the end, this debate was a very plain one. It’s a debate over whether an industry of this size with this much untaxed money in play should set its own standards or be regulated. In arguing for internal standard-setting,

Baldwin and Sumar made all the cases one would expect. They both suggested that reporting by fund would be an administrative burden to them as sponsors and a turnoff to DAF donors who enjoy the flexibility and relative anonymity of this vehicle. Baldwin pointed to the National Standards for US Community Foundations, through which he and his colleague organizations get certified. It’s important to note that the Council on Foundations describes these standards thusly: “The National Standards for US Community Foundations® is an accreditation program created by community foundations for community foundations. They are peer-driven, voluntary, and self-regulatory.” And Sumar noted that Fidelity Charitable does in fact have a five-percent DAFs payout policy, which is a voluntary policy choice on its part.

But of course, as Masaoka countered, regulation is not for the good actors; it is for the current or potential bad ones: “Best practices should go hand-in-hand with regulation; they aren’t a substitute for it.” And attention to DAFs, it seems, will only increase as their holdings grow. Masaoka said a copycat bill to AB-1712 is in the works in Minnesota, and the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO) has expressed concern as well.

“It behooves the nonprofit sector,” Masaoka argued, “to stay in the lead and not [just] let this happen to us.”

--Jeanne Bell

WEBINAR—#OpenForGood: Sharing Knowledge to Advance Foundation Impact
September 5, 2019

Square (1)
Meg Long
Square (2)

Veronica Olazabal
Square

Lee Alexander Risby

Learn how to go about sharing knowledge to drive broader impact across the social sector. This webinar coming up on September 17th, hosted by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, featuring the inaugural winners of Candid’s #OpenForGood Award, will present best practices and approaches to help your foundation shift to a culture of learning.

The webinar will explore how foundations can take specific steps to better support knowledge-sharing by providing an overview of Candid’s #OpenForGood field scan and how-to guide, and asking participants to identify challenges and possible solutions when it comes to opening up knowledge for the greater good. Recent #OpenForGood award-winning foundations, the Rockefeller Foundation and the C&A Foundation, will share their insights and lessons learned in shifting to a culture of learning.

Building on a recent field scan and interviews with leaders across the globe, we will explore the following questions:

  • Why share knowledge? What are the benefits and for whom?
  • What barriers get in the way of foundations sharing their knowledge, and what are practical strategies for overcoming those barriers?
  • How can knowledge-sharing be used to level power dynamics and advance equity?
  • What role can technology play in helping to simplify the act of knowledge sharing?

REGISTER HERE

Shedding Light on DAFs: Pros & Cons of New Legislation
August 26, 2019

The transparency of donor-advised funds has been the subject of much scrutiny, debate, and now in California, pending legislation. Become informed about the proposed legislation and both sides of the debate in an upcoming program offered by Candid West in San Francisco this Thursday, August 29th. You can also participate remotely via livestream.

The California Association of Nonprofits recently helped introduce California bill AB 1712, which would mandate greater transparency around donor-advised funds (DAFs) through annual reporting requirements, promoting best practices, and requiring minimum annual distributions. Opponents, however, say it violates the privacy of the individual fund donors, as well as fund advisors who make grant recommendations.

Come join us and co-sponsor, Northern California Grantmakers, for an in-depth discussion of the pros and cons of this bill between interested parties, including Cal Nonprofits, Fidelity Charitable and the League of California Community Foundations. It’s an issue of critical concern to the social sector. Contributions to DAFs rose 16.5% from 2016 to 2017, and grants from donor-advised funds to qualified charities increased nearly 20% during the same period.

Register or learn more here.

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Chris Langston, President & CEO, Archstone Foundation
August 8, 2019

GlassPockets Road to 100

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.

Since its inception in 1985 as a healthcare conversion foundation, Archstone Foundation has responded to the implications of changing demographics by supporting innovative responses to the emerging and unmet needs of older adults. The Foundation has funded a wide range of grantees making important contributions in critical, yet often overlooked areas of need.

Today, the Foundation focuses its grantmaking on four major areas:

  • Enabling older adults to remain in their homes and communities;
  • Improving the treatment of late-life depression;
  • Developing innovative responses to the family caregiving needs of older adults; and
  • Expanding the health care and broader workforce needed to care for, and serve, the rapidly growing aging population.

Archstone Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. In this interview with GlassPockets’ Janet Camarena, Chris Langston, President & CEO of the Archstone Foundation, explains why transparency is central to its philanthropic efforts.

GlassPockets: Archstone Foundation was born out of a healthcare conversion, when a nonprofit HMO became a for-profit corporation. Do you think transparency is more important for healthcare conversion foundations to demonstrate that these dollars are being used for public good? Or are there other reasons that you are prioritizing philanthropic transparency?

Langston_hi_Staff_Photos_3.0_165_165_c1_c_t_0_0
Chris Langston

Chris Langston: I’m sure the public is more interested in what’s going on with healthcare conversion foundations, as the funds are more clearly a public trust because they derived from the tax advantages given to the nonprofit parent. As an older, smaller conversion, the public has long since forgotten the origin of the endowment, but what we do is still supported by the taxpayers granting favorable treatment to the endowment. Nevertheless, to my mind, conversions or foundations born of a wealthy individual’s gift (or other source) have the same obligation to transparency. Foundations are granted tremendous autonomy in what and how they do their work and, beyond some very broad IRS regulations, are only accountable to their boards. As a consequence, I think that we owe the public great visibility into what we do and how we do it. I believe that the great diversity of foundations is a strength in the sector, and I oppose external mandates regarding subject matter, limited lifespan, payout rates, or other aspects of foundation discretion. So, the only remaining constraint is public scrutiny of our process and our work.

GP: We often hear concerns that transparency takes a lot of time and resources, so it's really more relevant for large foundations. Why would you say transparency and openness should be a priority for even foundations comprised of a small team? How have you benefited from your efforts to open up your work?

CL: I see the GlassPockets standards as a floor and not one that takes a great deal of effort to keep shiny. We share through our website our current grants, our strategic plans, our governance documents, and financial reports. Even small foundations need to have these tools and structures and sharing them digitally is no burden. These things change relatively slowly and in the modern era are relatively easy to keep up to date.

Moreover, I’ve worked at two other foundations previously, one which started as not very transparent because of inattention to communicating to the public and one which had historically gone to great lengths to be opaque – the Atlantic Philanthropies during its anonymous giving phase. In neither case did our lack of transparency make our work better – I think it made it worse. We got less constructive engagement from the field, we got less alignment between us and grantees, and we didn’t benefit from the extra energy that comes from knowing that your successes and failures are going to be visible for all to see.

GP: Your commitment to openness includes maintaining a responsive grantmaking program with an open RFP that can be submitted on an ongoing basis. At a time when many foundations are putting up walls by shifting to invite only grantmaking, this is notable in that you are maintaining this kind of openness with a very small program team made up of three officers. Why has it been important to maintain the open RFP, and what is your advice to keeping it manageable for lean teams?

CL: Actually, we are right now reviewing our responsive grantmaking program and could very well stop or constrain it. While having an open RFP mechanism is one kind of openness, I am more committed to having an open-door policy. I think it is a legitimate strategic decision as to whether a foundation takes grant applications by invitation only, has a monthly letter of intent review (as we currently do), or something in between. What’s more important is that there be regular opportunities whereby grantseekers can learn from foundation staff about foundation priorities and strategies for change and where foundation staff can learn about the needs and interests of nonprofits in the field and the people in need.

”The GlassPockets process is a thoughtful and well-structured way of getting started in opening up to the public, what largely belongs to the public, even if it is held in trust for them by us on the inside.”

GP: How did the GlassPockets self-assessment process help you improve or better understand your organization's level of transparency, and why should your peers participate?

CL: The GlassPockets process is a thoughtful and well-structured way of getting started in opening up to the public, what largely belongs to the public, even if it is held in trust for them by us on the inside. Providing the information helps you in many ways – it helps you be sure that you even have all the tools, policies, and procedures of a modern nonprofit (e.g., conflict of interest, committee charters, etc.). It helps you whenever you have a twinge of conscience at the thought of making something public, in so far as that is telling you that you are doing something that you don’t feel good about – something that doesn’t pass the “would you want to see it on the front page of the paper test.” And the process is part of creating a culture of openness and honesty among and between board, staff, and grantees. Creating this kind of culture is an enormous project undermined by fear, norms of silence, and power differentials – but I think it is critical for effective grantmaking.

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

CL: Having earned a GlassPockets designation now at a second organization, it is this issue that really interests me – how can we take further steps in transparency. While it is scary and a long-term project to build a shared understanding and the will to change, I hope to make much more information public – for example, grant proposals (at least the funded ones), evaluations, board minutes, budgets, and more. The federal grantmaking process at the National Institute of Health already does much of this. When I think about government processes, I expect all of that transparency and more -- and yet government is at least nominally subject to the control of the voting public. Since foundations do not make their grantmaking or staffing decisions subject to elections, shouldn’t we be even more transparent than government?

Fundamentally, the issue is that among funders and nonprofits, we spend a lot of time not just “reinventing the wheel” but more accurately, reinventing the flat tire. It is not that there is more knowledge or skill on one side or the other of the grantmaking table, it’s that there isn’t enough truth and light illuminating the conversation. And as the party with the power of the purse, it is incumbent on us to go first to change the dialogue if we want to have better results.

--Chris Langston & Janet Camarena

Meet Our Newest GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Dawn Hawk, Chief Operating Officer, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation
March 26, 2019

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have helped GlassPockets reach the milestone of 100 published profiles by 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.

Philanthropic Ventures Foundation (PVF), a grantmaking public charity, was established in 1991 to test new approaches to grantmaking. PVF has developed an expertise in “grassroots giving” through which it aspires to transform philanthropy, making it more responsive and collaborative to better meet community needs. In partnership with grassroots leaders, PVF identifies needs that can be met with philanthropic support, and then devises program ideas to help tackle the issues head on. From this drive to address unmet needs came the idea of immediate-response grants, in which PVF provides funds within a 48-hour turnaround. These immediate-response grant programs have benefitted teachers as well as social workers and juvenile court judges who work with youth in foster care.

Philanthropic Ventures Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. Dawn Hawk, chief operating officer, explains why transparency is an essential component of PVF’s community and relationship-focused approach to grantmaking.

GlassPockets: Why is transparency an important value to informing how Philanthropic Ventures Foundation operates?

Dawn Hawk: For PVF, transparency is more than displaying organizational policies. Transparency is relationships with our partners – our grantee partners and donors. Transparency is related to trust. It takes one to develop the other. And trust comes from deeply understanding the work and challenges of our grantees.

Because our grantees’ success is important to us, we visit them regularly, we learn from them, and we help them tell their story, via our blog, newsletter, and social media. One key role we play for our donor advised funds is to advise our donors on giving with impact, and we want to introduce them to nonprofits with outstanding leadership and fresh ideas. Thus we feel it is important to profile our grantees on our website and in conversations.

We aren’t focused on transparency around what we will fund as we haven’t conducted a strategic thinking process that sets our funding areas in stone. We are more focused on modeling a risk-taking approach, and advocating for more responsiveness from our foundation colleagues, to free up the time our nonprofit partners now spend on writing proposals.

Dawn

Dawn Hawk

GP: Since you are in the unique role of both grantmaking and fundraising, that gives you a unique vantage point. What is one or two pieces of information you wish more foundations would have transparently on their websites?

DH: All organizations searching for support want to be able to determine if their work is a fit for a foundation’s giving focus, so having open program guidelines clearly stated is key. One of the most difficult statements for a grantseeker to understand is “we do not accept unsolicited proposals” and PVF will never state that. To us transparency also means accessibility. If you are doing good work, we want to know about it, which is why we pride ourselves on being out in the community more than in our offices, and when in the office we always pick up the phone.

And yet, PVF also struggles with communicating our “giving focus” on our website because we provide such a wide range of services: giving creative grantmaking advice to our donor advised fund clients; modeling responsive grantmaking through our immediate response grant programs for teachers and social workers; administering awards programs for innovative startup partners wishing to make an impact without establishing a stand-alone foundation; serving as a fiscal depository for projects that do not yet have their tax-exempt status but are otherwise ready to begin their charitable work.

While PVF’s immediate response grant programs and awards programs provide an easy entry point for grantseekers who fit the eligibility guidelines, there is no streamlined way for a grantseeker to understand the giving focuses of our many donor advised funds. This is a common problem with community foundations. We’d love to open this discussion and hear how our fellow community foundations address this. For PVF we make a point to profile the work of outstanding leaders and programs working in the community, as these are the programs we also hope will inspire and motivate our donors to give support. At a time when local grassroots solutions are more important than ever, we feel it is our role to inform donors about important, critical work happening in their back yard and to encourage them to “give local."

GP: How did the GlassPockets self-assessment process help you improve or better understand your foundation's level of transparency, and why should your peers participate?

DH: It has been helpful to become aware of all the avenues of transparency. The featured categories allow a foundation to conduct a self-audit to be able to present a more complete profile of their work. Since the GlassPockets assessment looks at a number of indicators across the whole foundation, deciding to do the assessment helped us to focus on transparency as a team. We are viewing the GlassPockets process as an ongoing process – we are on the road!

GP: Do you have any examples of how being a transparent funder has led you to become more effective in your philanthropy?

DH: Of course, having transparent up front information about what you fund will answer a grantseekers’ questions, and minimize the research time a nonprofit must invest. And making ourselves transparent and accessible helps us better understand their time constraints and how to structure our grantmaking processes in a way that supports our partners rather than creates a burden. As a result, we prioritize streamlined application processes out of respect for our grantees’ time and to free them up to focus more on their mission than on fundraising. In essence, transparency and accessibility lead to processes based on empathy and respect. PVF has always allocated a modest amount of grant funding to enable us to model responsive grantmaking, giving critical intervention funding when it is needed, making grants without formal applications from nonprofits, and providing support based on knowledge of the program and its impact.

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

DH: In our role as an intermediary, transparency is also about helping to create a culture of learning among our donors. We continually work with our donor advised fund clients to keep them informed about local issues, such as the inequality gap, lack of housing, and displacement. We convene nonprofits and funders around these issue areas, providing forums for engagement where they can meet as equals to discover and advance new ideas to address our biggest problems, and we share these discussions online.

We help donors with a funding goal – for example, to support young people to implement community service projects – to turn these funding ideas into long-running, high-impact programs with open applications – like the Bay Area Inspire Awards Program which we have administered for five years. And of course we always endeavor to make our program application process streamlined and the decision announcement timeline short!

--Janet Camarena

Evolving Towards Equity, Getting Beyond Semantics
December 17, 2018

Mona Jhawar serves as learning and evaluation manager for The California Endowment.

Mona JhawarIn my previous post, I reflected on The California Endowment’s practice of conducting a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Audit and how it helps us to stay accountable to intentionally integrating and advancing these values across the foundation.

We started this practice with a “Diversity and Inclusion” Audit in 2008 and as part of our third audit in 2013, The California Endowment (TCE) adjusted the framing to a “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” Audit. This allowed us to better connect the audit with how the foundation viewed the goals of our strategy and broadened the lens used through the audit process.

While this could be viewed as a semantic update based on changes in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, by 2016 our audit results reflected how TCE described both our core values that lead with principles of DEI and the ultimate outcome of our work that point towards health equity and justice for all. And although we didn’t make a corresponding change to reflect this shift in what the audit specifically assesses, select findings from our most recent audit highlight how not only diversity, but how equity is also being operationalized within the foundation.

Getting beyond the numbers

In some ways, the most straightforward entry point for DEI discussions is to first examine diversity by assessing quantitative representation within the foundation at the board and staff level, among our partners, contractors, vendors, and investment managers. Though it’s a necessary beginning, reporting and reflection, however, cannot stop with counting heads.  While our audit may have started as a way to gauge inclusion through the lens of diversity, it’s become clear that collecting and examining demographic data sets the stage for critical conversations to follow.

Part of the inherent value of reflecting on diversity and representation is in service of getting beyond the numbers to discover what questions the numbers inspire. Questions such as:

  • Who’s missing or overrepresented and why?
  • What implications could the gaps in lived experiences have on the foundation, the strategies used and how our work is conducted?
  • What are the underlying structures and systems that shape the demographics of the foundation and of the organizations with which we partner?

It’s these types of questions about our demographics and diversity that help move us beyond discussions about representation into deeper discussions about equity.

The audit has been a valuable point of reflection and action planning over the past several years. It’s a comprehensive process conducted in partnership with evaluation firm, SPR, that spans an extensive number of sources.

Towards Equity and Inclusion

As TCE pursues our health equity goals, we’ve been able to define and distinguish key differences between diversity, equity, and inclusion. While diversity examines representation, we define equity as promoting fair conditions, opportunities, and outcomes. We also define inclusion as valuing and raising the perspectives and voices of diverse communities to be considered where decisions are being made. For future audits, we’re looking to refine our DEI audit goals to more explicitly focus on equity and inclusion across both our grantmaking efforts and to even more deeply examine our internal policies, practices, and operations. However, here are a few examples from our latest audit that highlight how equity and inclusion currently show up across the foundation outside of our grantmaking.

Equity in hiring

  • Recognizing the impact of structural racism and mass incarceration, TCE followed the lead of partners working to “ban the box” and the Executives’ Alliance for Boys and Men of Color to change hiring practices. TCE now utilizes a Fair Chance Hiring Policy that opens the door for hiring qualified applicants with a conviction or an arrest and shares open positions with anti-recidivism organizations.

Inclusion and equity in investments

  • In the spirit of inclusion, the criteria for our Program Related Investments (PRIs) integrate whether the PRI will engage the community it is intended to benefit as well as whether the investment will address a known health inequity or social determinant of health.
  • In recognition of structural racism leading to higher rates of incarceration within communities of color, in 2015 TCE announced that we will no longer invest in companies profiting from for-profit prisons, jails, or detention centers.

Equity in vendor selection

  • Operationalizing equity also requires considering how facility operations align with organizational values. In line with our divestment from for-profit prisons, an RFP process identified a vendor-nonprofit team that encouraged hiring formerly incarcerated and homeless community members within our onsite café. We remain committed to this approach.

The Work Ahead

We’ve accomplished a great deal. At the same time, as we evolve towards becoming an equity organization there are areas where we need to put more of our attention.

To move beyond articulating values and to get to deeper staff engagement, audit feedback suggests more staff resources are needed to connect individual functions and roles to our DEI values, including through our performance review process, particularly among non-program staff.

Connected to developing a greater vision regardless of department affiliation, we will soon embark to engage staff across the entire organization to develop a more deeply shared racial equity analysis of our work.  As part of this effort, our board is participating in racial equity trainings and adopted a resolution to utilize a racial equity lens as the foundation develops our next strategic plan.  Building on what we’re learning through our audits, in 2019 we’ll launch this effort towards becoming a racially equitable health foundation that will intentionally bring racial equity to the center of our work and how we operate.

Finally, as we continue to partner with and support community to fight for equity, there are several unanswered, imminent questions we’ll need to tackle. Within the walls of the foundation:

  • How do we hold ourselves to the same equity and inclusion principles that our partners demand of system leaders?
  • How do we confront the contradictions of how we operate as an organization rooted in a corporate or hierarchical design to share power with staff regardless of position, increase decision making transparency, and include those impacted by pending decisions in the same way we ask our systems leaders to include and respond to community?
  • With an interest in greater accountability to equity and inclusion, how do we not only tend to power dynamics but consider greater power sharing through foundation structures and current decision-making bodies both internally and externally?

Herein lies our next evolutionary moment.

--Mona Jhawar

Living Our Values: Gauging a Foundation’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
November 29, 2018

Mona Jhawar serves as learning and evaluation manager for The California Endowment.

Mona JhawarThe California Endowment (TCE) recently wrapped up our 2016 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Audit, our fourth since 2008. The audit was initially developed at a time when community advocates were pushing the foundation to address issues of structural racism and inequity. As TCE’s grantmaking responded, staff and our CEO were also interested in promoting DEI values across the entire foundation beyond programmatic spaces. Over time, these values became increasingly engrained in TCE’s ethos and the foundation committed to conducting a regular audit as a vehicle with which to determine if and how our DEI values were guiding organizational practice.

Sharing information about our DEI Audit often raises questions about how to launch such an effort. Some colleagues are in the early stages of considering whether they want to carry out an audit of their own. Are we ready? What do we need to have in place to even begin to broach this possibility? Others are interested to hear about how we use the findings from such an assessment. To help answer these questions, this is the first of a two-part blog series to share the lessons we’re learning by using a DEI audit to hold ourselves accountable to our values.

While the audit provides a frame to identify if our DEI values are being expressed throughout the foundation, it also fosters learning. Findings are reviewed and discussed with executive leadership, board, and staff. Reviews provide venues to involve both programmatic and non-programmatic staff in DEI discussions. An audit workgroup typically considers how to take action on findings so that the foundation can continuously improve and also considers how to revise audit goals to ensure forward movement. By sharing findings publicly, we hope our experience and lessons can help to support the field more broadly.

It is, however, no small feat. The audit is a comprehensive process that includes a demographic survey of staff and board, a staff and board survey of DEI attitudes and beliefs, interviews with key foundation leaders, examining available demographic data from grantee partners as well as a review of DEI-related documents gathered in between audits. Having dedicated resources to engage a neutral outsider to carry out the audit in partnership with the foundation is also important to this process. We’ve found it particularly helpful to engage with a consistent trusted partner, Social Policy Research Associates, over each of our audits to capture and candidly reflect where we’re making progress and where we need to work harder to create change.

As your foundation considers your own readiness to engage in such an audit process, we offer the following factors that have facilitated a productive and learning oriented DEI audit effort at TCE:

1. Clarity about the fundamental importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to the Foundation

The expression of our DEI values has evolved over time. When the audit started, several program staff members who focused on DEI and cultural competency developed a guiding statement on Diversity and Inclusiveness. Located within our audit report, it focused heavily on diversity although tweaks were made to the statement over time. A significant shift occurred several years ago when our executive team articulated a comprehensive set of core values that undergirds all our work and leads with a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

2. Interest in reflection and adaptation

The audit is a tool for organizational learning that facilitates continuous improvement. The process relies on having both a growth mindset and clear goals for what we hope to accomplish. Our 13 goals range from board engagement to utilizing accessibility best practices. In addition to examining our own goals, the audit shares how we’re doing with respect to a framework of institutional supports required to build a culture of equity. By comparing the foundation to itself over time we can determine if and where change is occurring. It also allows us to revise goals so that we can continue to push ourselves forward as we improve, or to course correct if we’re not on track. We anticipate updating our goals before our next audit to reflect where we are currently in our DEI journey.

3. Engagement of key leaders, including staff

Our CEO is vocal and clear about the importance of DEI internally and externally, as well as about the significance of conducting the audit itself. Our executive team, board, and CEO all contribute to the audit process and are actively interested in reviewing and discussing its findings.

Staff engagement is critical throughout audit implementation, reflection on findings, and action planning as well. It’s notable that the vast majority of staff at all levels feel comfortable pushing the foundation to stay accountable to DEI internally. However, there is a small, but growing percentage (23%) of staff who report feeling uncomfortable raising DEI concerns in the workplace suggesting an area for greater attention.

4. Capacity to respond to any findings

Findings are not always going to be comfortable. Identifying areas for improvement may put the organization and our leaders in tough places. TCE has historically convened a cross departmental workgroup to consider audit findings and tackle action planning. We considered co-locating the audit workgroup within our executive leadership team to increase the group’s capacity to address audit findings. However, now we are considering whether it would be best situated and aligned within an emerging body that will be specifically focused on bringing racial equity to the center of all our work.

5. Courage and will to repeat

In a sector with limited accountability, choosing to voluntarily and publicly examine foundation practices takes real commitment and courage. It’s always great to hear where we’re doing well but committing to a process that also raises multiple areas where we need to put more attention, requires deep will to repeat on a regular basis. And we do so in recognition that this is long term, ongoing work that, in lieu of having a real finish line, requires us to continuously adapt as our communities evolve.

Conducting our DEI audit regularly has strengthened our sense of where our practice excels—for example in our grantmaking, possessing a strong vision and authorizing environment, and diversity among staff and board. It’s also strengthened our sense of the ways we want to improve such as developing a more widely shared DEI analysis and trainings for all staff as well as continuing to strengthen data collection among our partners. The value of our DEI audit lies equally in considering findings as well as being a springboard for prioritizing action. TCE has been on this road a long time and we’ll keep at it for the foreseeable future. As our understanding of what it takes to pursue diversity, equity, and inclusion internally and externally sharpens, so will the demands on our practice. Our DEI audit will continue to ensure that we hold ourselves to these demands. In my next post, we’ll take a closer look at what we’re learning about operationalizing equity within the foundation.

--Mona Jhawar

Transparency & Start-up Philanthropy: What We Can Learn from Bezos and Zuckerberg
October 11, 2018

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

Janet Camarena PhotoIt’s hard to think of a philanthropic institution as a start-up. The phrase “start-up” conjures the image of two geeks in a garage with big dreams but very limited means. But as we all know from breathless news coverage about them, some of these once resource-constrained, scrappy start-ups have gone the distance, hit it big, and now are learning the ropes of managing another kind of start-up—the philanthropy kind.

I was recently reminded of this trajectory when a reporter from CNBC contacted me to ask about Jeff Bezos’ new Day One Fund for a story he was working on about the announcement that Bezos and his wife, novelist MacKenzie Bezos, were establishing a $2 billion philanthropic fund to help support homeless initiatives and early childhood education for low-income children. As a tech reporter, he was asking a lot of good questions to better understand the nature of organized philanthropy.  He wanted to know about things like the structure of the fund, where the funds would come from, what kind of philanthropic vehicle it might be, and the transparency and tax regulations for each kind of vehicle.

I had a strong sense of déjà vu, as I realized I’d had a very similar conversation about 18 months ago when Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan announced the launch of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). In choosing to structure CZI as an Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), and not a private foundation or nonprofit entity, they launched a global debate that put philanthropic transparency on the map like never before. Unlike private foundations, LLCs are not required to provide details on giving, are able to fund both for profit and nonprofit entities, and there is no transfer of funds to an entity that is regulated to serve the public good. So, suddenly topics usually reserved for the geekiest of foundation geeks--tax code, philanthropic vehicles, and the difference between traditional philanthropy and the LLC approach --were being covered by everyone from The New York Times to San Jose Mercury News.

In Bezos’ case, it’s unclear as of this writing how the Day One Fund will be structured or when we might learn more. But Axios reported last month that according to public records, the couple had “incorporated a nonprofit in Washington State called Bezos Foundation, and someone reserved the name ‘Bezos Day 1 Foundation’ for a nonprofit.”

”Philanthropic transparency is very important to building public trust and credibility for institutional giving.“

The announcement did answer long standing speculation and questions that began more than a year ago, when Bezos started a crowd-sourcing experiment asking the world via Twitter to suggest philanthropic ideas to him at the “intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.” The inquiry led to more than 46,000 responses, and much speculation about what the eventual philanthropic mission would be. In his announcement Bezos described two groups within the Day One Fund: The Day 1 Families Fund, which will support homeless support organizations such as Mary’s Place in Seattle; and the Day 1 Academies Fund, which is to fund the launch of a network of Montessori pre-schools for low-income children.

What might be most surprising to Bezos is that though his September announcement puts the focus area questions and speculations to rest, it has created a whole host of new questions about the Fund. This led me to think about our mission at GlassPockets around championing greater philanthropic transparency, and what that might look like for a start-up fund.

Philanthropic transparency is very important to building public trust and credibility for institutional giving. This is particularly true for large, highly visible, and new philanthropic initiatives but could be a helpful guide for other emergent philanthropies. So beyond the social media and the press release, what’s a newly minted philanthropist supposed to share? Based on our “Who Has Glass Pockets?” self-assessment tool, as well from the questions we get from reporters and researchers, here are some suggestions of how to think about telling the story of your start-up philanthropy:

  • Even if short on details, establish a website where people can go to look under the hood and learn more details about the work the philanthropy plans to do, how it plans to do it, and how people can stay informed of new developments. Sunlight Giving, which is a philanthropy that started up in 2014 as a result of the sale of WhatsApp to Facebook, and has already joined the GlassPockets transparency movement, made it a point to establish a website and commit to transparency early on.
  • What motivated the establishment of the fund and the issue areas? Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan provide a great example of this as the announcement for the launch of CZI was inspired by the birth of their daughter to whom they dedicated the Initiative’s vision in a “Dear Max” letter format.
  • What is the scale of the giving and what is the source of the funds?
  • How will the fund be structured? Is it a private foundation, a donor-advised fund, a limited liability corporation, or a supporting organization of a community foundation? Of these structures, the private foundation provides the most transparency because of the annual 990-PF filing detailing foundation finances, grants, and payout among other disclosures.
  • Who will be running the fund? And if it’s structured as a nonprofit, who will comprise the board of directors? Is it exclusively family members on the board, or a mix?
  • How and who will select grantees? What will the grantmaking process look like? Since this is not likely to be defined at the start-up stage, share a target date by when you hope to have this information available.
  • How will the funders get input from the communities they seek to serve? And how else will the funders learn about the issues they have identified?
  • Through what mechanism will grants and other announcements be made in the future?

It may seem like a long list, but by opening up the playbook and speaking from the heart, a new philanthropist can inspire others with their vision rather than inspiring the suspicion that inevitably comes with opacity.

--Janet Camarena

What Philanthropy Can Learn from Open Government Data Efforts
July 5, 2018

Daniela Pineda, Ph.D., is vice president of integration and learning at First 5 LA, an independent public agency created by voters to advocate for programs and polices benefiting young children. A version of this post also appears in the GOVERNING blog.

Daniela Pineda Photo 2Statistics-packed spreadsheets and lengthy, jargon-filled reports can be enough to make anybody feel dizzy. It's natural. That makes it the responsibility for those of us involved in government and its related institutions to find more creative ways to share the breadth of information we have with those who can benefit from it.

Government agencies, foundations and nonprofits can find ways to make data, outcomes and reports more user-friendly and accessible. In meeting the goal of transparency, we must go beyond inviting people to wade through dense piles of data and instead make them feel welcome using it, so they gain insights and understanding.

How can this be done? We need to make our data less wonky, if you will.

This might sound silly, and being transparent might sound as easy as simply releasing documents. But while leaders of public agencies and officeholders are compelled to comply with requests under freedom-of-information and public-records laws, genuine transparency requires a commitment to making the information being shared easy to understand and useful.

“…genuine transparency requires a commitment to making the information being shared easy to understand and useful.”

Things to consider include how your intended audience prefers to access and consume information. For instance, there are generational differences in the accessing of information on tablets and mobile devices as opposed to traditional websites. Consider all the platforms your audience uses to view information, such as smartphone apps, news websites and social media platforms, to constantly evolve based on their feedback.

Spreadsheets just won't work here. You need to invest in data visualization techniques and content writing to explain data, no matter how it is accessed.

The second annual Equipt to Innovate survey, published by Governing in partnership with Living Cities, found several cities not only using data consistently to drive decision-making but also embracing ways to make data digestible for the publics they serve.

Los Angeles' DataLA portal, for example, offers more than 1,000 data sets for all to use along with trainings and tutorials on how to make charts, maps and other visualization. The portal's blog offers a robust discussion of the issues and challenges faced with using existing data to meet common requests. Louisville, Ky., went the proverbial extra mile, putting a lot of thought into what data would be of interest to residents and sharing the best examples of free online services that have been built using the metro government's open data.

Louisville's efforts point up the seemingly obvious but critical strategy of making sure you know what information your target audience actually needs. Have you asked? Perhaps not. The answers should guide you, but also remember to be flexible about what you are asking. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District is set to launch a new portal later this summer to provide parents with data, and is still learning how to supply information that parents find useful. District officials are listening to feedback throughout the process, and they are willing to adjust. One important strategy for this is to make your audience -- or a sampling of them -- part of your beta testing. Ask what information they found useful and what else would have been helpful.

“When you share, you are inviting others to engage with you about how to improve your work.”

Remember, the first time you allow a glimpse into your data and processes, it's inevitable your information will have gaps and kinks that you can't foresee. And if you are lucky to get feedback about what didn't work so well, it may even seem harsh. Don't take it personally. It's an opportunity to ask your audience what could be done better and commit to doing so. It may take weeks, months or maybe longer to package information for release, making it usable and accessible, but this is an investment worth making. You might miss the mark the first time, but make a commitment to keep trying.

And don't be daunted by the reality that anytime you share information you expose yourself to criticism. Sharing with the public that a project didn't meet expectations or failed completely is a challenge no matter how you look at it. But sharing, even when it is sharing your weaknesses, is a strength your organization can use to build its reputation and gain influence in the long term.

When you share, you are inviting others to engage with you about how to improve your work. You also are modeling the importance of being open about failure. This openness is what helps others feel like partners in the work, and they will feel more comfortable opening up about their own struggles. You might be surprised at who will reach out and what type of partnerships can come from sharing.

Through this process, you will build your reputation and credibility, helping your organization advance its goals. Ultimately, it's about helping those you serve by giving them the opportunity to help you.

--Daniela Pineda

Share This Blog

  • Share This

Subscribe to Transparency Talk

  • Enter your email address:

About Transparency Talk

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

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

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

Categories