Transparency Talk

Category: "California" (43 posts)

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

Opening Up from the Inside to Engage Philanthropy in Race & Equity
June 28, 2018

6a00e54efc2f80883301b7c924e526970b-150wi 2Hanh Cao Yu is chief learning officer for The California Endowment. She started her career in philanthropy through The San Francisco Foundation’s Multicultural Fellowship program. In this post, she explores the significance of fellowships and other intentional foundation approaches, to creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive philanthropic sector.

At the age of 7, I remember the sheer terror of my family of five fleeing Vietnam to find political asylum. Branded “alien” and “outsider,” I found it hard to speak about the trauma of my experience as a refugee. Coming to America did not end the pain, violence, or oppression we endured.  In the “Land of Opportunity,” we experienced the vicissitudes of discrimination, poverty, unsafe neighborhoods, and sub-standard inner-city schools.  I remember the cramped living quarters of our one-bedroom apartment in South LA where gun shots and sirens erupted with regularity.  To survive and succeed, I worked hard to assimilate, to perfect my English, and to rarely speak of my early experience or native culture.  But all the while, I felt incomplete and a sense of disconnection from my community.

In graduate school, the carefully constructed walls separating my private and public selves began to crack open.  As I was considering a topic for my doctoral thesis, I finally chose to focus on the experiences of second wave Vietnamese immigrant students.  This not only informed educators on the lived experiences of the children of the “Boat People,” it also helped me to reflect on my own experience of navigating the distinct worlds of family, peers, and schools and the need to constantly “code switch” to fit in and succeed.

Looking for post-graduation opportunities, I never imagined a career in philanthropy.  However, I was intrigued by the goal of the Multicultural Fellowship at The San Francisco Foundation (TSFF) to introduce young professionals of color to institutional philanthropy and to increase the pipeline of leaders of color interested in making a difference in their communities through positions in philanthropy, the nonprofit, public, and private sectors.  

“Transparency is often thought of in institutional contexts, but here I am also reflecting on how philanthropy can be improved if more of us “outsiders” who find a seat at the philanthropy table can share the power of our personal stories to influence, inform, and ultimately, to humanize the work.”

As a fellow, I was introduced to what it meant to have access to power and wealth.  I sat in board of trustee meetings and supported the development and implementation of multi-funder initiatives.  This program gave me keen insights into the inner workings of foundations and the role of philanthropy.  It taught me humility as a steward of charitable resources.  More than anything, the fellowship gave me poise and fearlessness to open up for the first time to share my intensely personal history because I realized my new colleagues could learn about the historically excluded communities they were serving through my experiences.  Transparency is often thought of in institutional contexts, but here I am also reflecting on how philanthropy can be improved if more of us “outsiders” who find a seat at the philanthropy table can share the power of our personal stories to influence, inform, and ultimately, to humanize the work.

I was encouraged to explore why community-led solutions mattered to me.  Countering the dominant behavioral expectations around race, class, and culture, this fellowship provided a nurturing, supportive environment.  I thrived under the tutelage of a powerful, Black-Filipino female mentor and the support of a peer cohort of accomplished women of color. 

I re-entered philanthropy two decades later to fulfill the promise and a great debt of gratitude for the TSFF Fellowship.  Joining The California Endowment (TCE) allowed me the opportunity to serve as a member of the executive team and to contribute to one of the most racially diverse foundations in the U.S.  Through strategic recruiting efforts, TCE has intentionally established a deep and strong pipeline of diverse staff and leaders—supporting and drawing from high-quality fellowship programs such as TSFF Multicultural Fellowship, Greenlining Equity Fellowship, and National Urban Institute Fellowship.

At TCE, we push ourselves, as grantmakers and change leaders, to learn and adapt to the shifting socio-political environment to create an equity-focused organization and improve our work as a result of having a number of staff who are representative of the diverse communities we serve.  This entails:

  • Creating the space and time for healing and difficult internal conversations on race: Although TCE is renowned for its work to advance health equity and social justice, our staff continues to ensure we take the time to openly discuss the effects of current events on our well-being, and build an “authorizing environment” to support a shared understanding and analysis of racial equity to inform our work with communities. 
  • Using the foundation’s platform to influence and collaborate: TCE staff is engaged from the inside to transform philanthropic practice and to have difficult internal conversations about our role as a health foundation in taking a stance against state sanctioned violence and exclusionary practices.  Most recently, our President & CEO used his voice and TCE joined forces with numerous foundations and advocates and grantee partners in a joint statement to express outrage at the policy of separating children from families at the border and how this affects TCE’s mission and our work as a foundation. And earlier this year, following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, given the implications to public health, our Board committed to scrubbing our stock holdings of any investments in gun manufacturing.
  • Ensuring that power is built and sustained in marginalized communities. In the long-run, TCE has identified our North Star as “Building voice and power for a health and inclusive California.”  Our work is not done until historically excluded adults and youth residents have voice, agency and power in public and private decision making to create an inclusive democracy and close health equity gaps, so we prioritize supporting youth movements and governing for racial equity. 

By all measures, the work of TCE is better and more attuned to communities because the foundation opened up its work to those who have traditionally been on the outside of philanthropy.  As the first Vietnamese Chief Learning Officer, I am proud of my branded outsider, refugee status. This gives me the strength, inspiration, and empathy to do my best work in philanthropy and to re-envision the land of opportunity for my community and all Californians.

--Hanh Cao Yu

Visualizing California Philanthropy Discussion now Available on Livestream
June 29, 2015

Recently we convened a variety of foundation leaders in our San Francisco office to discuss strategies to improve data for and about California philanthropy. During the program, Visualizing the Past, Present, and Future of California Philanthropy, president of Foundation Center, Brad Smith, moderated a discussion among representatives from a diverse array of California-based foundations: Pamela H. David, executive director of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund; Sara Davis, director of grants management at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; and Peter V. Long, Ph.D., president and CEO of Blue Shield of CA Foundation. The discussion focused on transparency, and how these foundations have adopted sharing, accountability, and openness into their giving practices. The funders also related how technology has impacted and enhanced their transparency practices-including the adoption of Foundation Center’s Reporting Commitment and Get on the Map campaign.

If you missed the session, or attended and would like to view it again, you can find it here. If you would like to Get on the Map, but are unsure how to do so, check out our how-to webinar.

Awareness of self, partners, and field essential to building organization and sector capacity
June 8, 2015

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

ElizaIn an open session held at Foundation Center in San Francisco on April 29, we explored two exciting tools to help those in the social sector get smarter about building organizational and sector capacity—through awareness. As we explored Foundation Center’s data visualization tool, Foundation Maps Professional 2.0, and the GrantCraft guide, Supporting Grantee Capacity: Strengthening Effectiveness Together, a theme emerged: leaders are at their most strategic and are empowered to build capacity when they have a strong awareness of themselves, their partners, and the field.

Awareness is pretty much the name of our game here at Foundation Center. We collect, analyze, and distribute data about philanthropy, providing various audiences—from foundations to budding nonprofits to established grants managers—a firm understanding of what’s going on in the social sector. Foundation Maps Professional 2.0 is kind of like Foundation Center’s version of Google Maps, with social sector-relevant overlays and filters. If you’ve ever wondered who is funding what and where, Foundation Maps has answers for you.

In the grantee-grantmaker relationship, the foundation is king… at least, that’s how it has been. But the folks at Packard are working hard to rectify this power imbalance and create a level playing field for foundations and their beneficiaries. How? It’s all about awareness.

Recently, my sister-in-law asked me if I knew about environmental funders in the Bay Area. Her friend is moving to Oakland and wants to work with an organization that combats climate change. I’ve lived and fundraised in the Bay Area for almost a decade, but I was drawing a blank. So I used Foundation Maps  and quickly came back to my sister-in-law with a long list of environmentally engaged local grantees and funders. Maybe her friend will gravitate towards a foundation on the list, or maybe, after discovering which organizations those funders support, she’ll want to apply to a nonprofit. By the time she gets here, she’ll have a greater awareness of this subsection of Bay Area philanthropy and can wow her interviewers with her knowledge of the field. More importantly, though, once she lands a job at a Bay Area environmental organization, she can use this knowledge to fuel her projects, creating further connections in the field.

At our event, we didn’t spend the whole afternoon geeking out about data. Jen Bokoff went on to talk about the evaluation and power dynamic angles of capacity building grants with Jamaica Maxwell, an organizational effectiveness program officer at the Packard Foundation. Jamaica is well aware of the power she has, holding the proverbial purse strings. Often, she told us, grantees will hang onto her words, taking her most casual suggestions as orders. Once, she recommended a book to a grantee; the following Friday, he had bought the book and was going to read it and report back to her on the most noteworthy chapters. Jamaica wasn’t asking for a book report—she was just making an off-hand recommendation. But in the grantee-grantmaker relationship, the foundation is king… at least, that’s how it has been.

Listening doesn’t just help grantmakers tweak their budgets or understand evaluation results better, it improves the whole grant process. By establishing trust with grantees, grantmakers can push their beneficiaries to get more out of their grants. And grantees can feel more comfortable providing much-needed feedback to their funders.

But the folks at Packard are working hard to rectify this power imbalance and create a level playing field for foundations and their beneficiaries. How? It’s all about awareness. Packard requires all program officers to cultivate a deeper understanding of the profound power they have when they’re working with grantees. Foundation leadership asks program officers to turn the tables. Why not let the grantees talk?

Jamaica said that, for her, learning to listen to her grantees was integral to her work at Packard, and not just during formal, scheduled meetings and site visits. Jamaica said that some of the best grantee–foundation relationship building happens outside the office. She suggested program officers break down power structures by joining grantees on their lunch breaks and at their staff get-togethers (yes, even happy hours!).

Listening doesn’t just help grantmakers tweak their budgets or understand evaluation results better, it improves the whole grant process. By establishing trust with grantees, grantmakers can push their beneficiaries to get more out of their grants. And grantees can feel more comfortable providing much-needed feedback to their funders. Promoting awareness—of the grantee–grantmaker dynamic and of the grantee’s needs—can increase impact sector-wide.

Which brings up an important question: What role do you think awareness plays in the philanthropy sector? For us, it’s all about smarter grantmaking and increased accountability. 

--Eliza Smith

Funder's Forum: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
May 26, 2015

(Funder's Forum interviews of foundation leaders by Foundation Center staff are featured in our monthly E-Updates for Grantmakers newsletter. These interviews enable funders to exchange ideas and connect with their peers to increase their effectiveness. If you are interested in learning more about Funder's Forum, please contact R. Nancy Albilal at (212) 807-3624, or rna@foundationcenter.org.)

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation honors the commitment to philanthropy and ethos established by its founders through its work in education, global development and population, conservation and energy, performing arts, philanthropy, and more. Foundation Center's Vice President for Development, Nancy Albilal, asked Larry Kramer, the foundation's president:

QuestionWhat contributed to your decision to make transparency a priority at Hewlett, and what results has your increased openness produced?

To other funders who ask why they should be transparent, my response is: Why shouldn't you be?

“Having come from outside philanthropy, my first task was to learn. That proved difficult when I discovered how hard it was to find information, even about my own organization. I couldn't find what I was looking for on the Hewlett site, or on most other foundations' websites for that matter. It was while following up to understand why this was so difficult that I first realized how transparency was an issue. I had come to Hewlett from academia, a world in which transparency is taken for granted, so I was surprised to discover it was even a question, much less something that needed a lot of emphasis.

Wfhflogo“I approached it by issuing a challenge to the staff. "Start by assuming that we are going to make 100 percent of everything we do publicly available," I said. "Now go back through and tell me if there are good reasons not to disclose something. If so, we'll consider holding it back. But otherwise, we should share."

I approached transparency by issuing a challenge to the staff. "Start by assuming that we are going to make 100 percent of everything we do publicly available," I said. "Tell me if there are good reasons not to disclose something. If so, we'll consider holding it back. But otherwise, we should share."

“It's important to note that Hewlett never had a practice of withholding information; we always provided anything we were asked for. We simply had not been proactive about it and so didn't have procedures in place to ensure that everything possible would be made available publicly. A lot of work produced for internal use — things like the grant descriptions we prepare for the board, or memoranda and summaries explaining our programs, or evaluations of strategies — were not as a rule being made public. Occasionally, either because someone asked or because we really wanted to raise awareness regarding a particular issue, we would share something. For the most part, however, we just weren't reaching out. Now we are.

“The reasons to do so are obvious. Both potential grantees and other funders need to know what we're doing so they can build on our successes and learn from our failures. To the extent one deems it important to collaborate — and I deem it very important — people need to know what we are doing (and vice versa) so we can find each other. Finally, and this is more unique to the foundation world, the fact that we are formally unaccountable makes it imperative to share what we are doing and invite people who may be affected by it to tell us what they think.

“It sounds simple, but making an organization transparent is actually pretty complicated, and our effort is still a work in progress. Identifying what to make public turned out to be the easy part. The next step is to create processes to make that happen, which is harder than you think. And after that, we still need to build a website that enables people easily to find what we're sharing. There is already a lot more on our website than in the past, but we have a lot of work still to do to make sure everything is fully accessible.

“We have also extended the general notion of openness to our grantees. When we support a project that results in the creation of some kind of work or data, we're requiring that, as a condition of the grant, the material be open-licensed and made easily available on a public website whenever possible.

Occasionally, either because someone asked or because we really wanted to raise awareness regarding a particular issue, we would share something. For the most part, however, we just weren't reaching out. Now we are.

“Already, some of the information we've shared has produced reactions. We recently wrote about our reasons for ending a strategy called the Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative (NMI), which in turn generated a quite productive public debate. NMI was intended to help donors give more effectively by providing information about which nonprofits were performing well and which were not, thus creating a competitive marketplace for funding. Unfortunately, it didn't work as we had hoped. Our grantees — all high performing organizations themselves — did exactly what we asked, but donors did not respond as we had hoped and assumed. The ensuing public debate drew a lot of attention to the general question of how to encourage donors to base their giving on the effectiveness of the organizations they're supporting. At some point, members of the staff commented wryly about how this increased transparency stuff was time-consuming. I replied that we need to view this as part of our regular work: it's time well spent to better convey our message and what we're learning.

“To other funders who ask why they should be transparent, my response is: Why shouldn't you be? It can't be that you're afraid of criticism because, first, you're unaccountable, and, second, criticism is often useful. Not always, of course, but you'll never know unless and until you invite it. Take care not to unfairly hurt others while being transparent, of course, but once you've done that, there's no reason not to share.”

--Nancy Albilal

IssueLab’s Collection Offers Important Example for the Field of Philanthropy
June 17, 2014

(Ned Schaub is principal at Ned Schaub Consulting – Social Change Strategy, and has collaborated with palliative care organizations and leaders around the country for a decade. He helps organizations, including foundations and their grantees, articulate the social change they will achieve, and related sustainability, business, and strategic plans.)

1390262883Almost a decade ago I had the good fortune to be asked by a foundation to look into potential grantmaking in the fields of hospice and palliative care, which led to a master’s thesis about palliative care grantmaking and the advancement of the field. I was struck then by the relatively limited ways that foundations working in the field collaborated, and the degree to which many foundations had no idea what palliative care was.

Certainly a lot has changed in the last ten years, but after seeing IssueLab’s newly launched collection, Improving Access to Palliative Care, I had to wonder what might have happened if this collection of documents had existed then? How much faster might the foundation I worked for have investigated the possibilities, and how much more compelling might the opportunities for social change and return on grantmaking investment have been?

Many in the field of palliative care are working hard to foster greater transparency between healthcare professionals and patients, making choices more obvious and decision-making easier for patients and their families. This represents a real shift from the traditional model where doctors held most, if not all, the decision-making authority.

Many in the field of palliative care are working hard to foster greater transparency between healthcare professionals and patients, making choices more obvious and decision-making easier for patients and their families. This represents a real shift from the traditional model where doctors held most, if not all, the decision-making authority. Fittingly, this new collection of palliative care documents from IssueLab also does the same for philanthropy, encouraging greater transparency about what we have learned from years of work in the field of palliative care, potentially helping to make funding choices more obvious and decision-making easier for grantmakers.

The collection includes more than eighty documents that bring together “evidence and insights about the millions of people who are denied access to palliative care and what organizations worldwide are doing to help them.” It was made possible by support from Atlantic Philanthropies, which has invested $58.5 million in palliative care over the last decade and is now considering the best ways to extend its legacy as it prepares to close its doors in 2020.

The documents included in the collection represent knowledge gained by Atlantic, other foundations, practitioners, and nonprofits – as opposed to strictly clinical or academic research entities. The documents offer a vivid demonstration of just how much hard work has gone into advancing palliative care and make obvious the different ways that foundations have contributed to creating change in this field. It is a rich collection, which groups the documents into categories indicated by three key questions about palliative care: Who is affected? What are common barriers? What are some recommended solutions?

While the collection is an asset to the field of palliative care advancement generally speaking, it also has special significance for palliative care philanthropy going forward. Because of the way it has been set up it serves as rich repository for those seeking to initiate palliative care grantmaking, as well as for foundations already working in the field that want to make deeper impact and work in more strategic and sustainable ways. By focusing on what has already been realized by philanthropy – which is represented so vividly in this collection – there is a real opportunity to beat the learning curve and ensure greater return on investment with foundation dollars.  

Just as importantly, the collection is a model for how foundations could better support the gathering of key information, related to their work. It seems that foundations are more likely to reflect, and to invest time and resources, when they are leaving a particular field or closing their doors altogether. While such reflection is valuable, foundations could be learning more from one another and advancing more highly strategic grantmaking with greater collective impact if they built such thoughtfully organized repositories well before they ended their efforts. So much information-gathering and decision-making carried out by foundations is recorded in internal documents that are never shared beyond staff, consultant, and board teams. What if more of these documents were made public through outlets like IssueLab?

-- Ned Schaub

Sharing What We've Learned: Evaluation Spending
May 5, 2014

(Fay Twersky is Director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.)

Twersky-150“We are conducting a scan of foundation practices so that we can inform our own efforts about… Would you be willing to talk with us about your foundation practices?” Fill in the blank. It might be about foundation strategy development, due diligence practices, grant monitoring, grantee relationships, board materials, evaluation practices, organizational learning approaches, and the list goes on. Several times each week, I receive this kind of request from other foundation colleagues or from the consultants they hire. I have also made these calls myself and commissioned many such scans from consultants. The results of these efforts can be useful and informative. They can give us new ideas and useful benchmarks.

The problem is that these scans are rarely shared. There are lots of reasons given for why—“it was just a quick scan,” “it was just for internal purposes,” “It would take too much time to verify all of the information and we just wanted to get a directional sense of the field.” And so forth. All of these are real reasons. I’ve even used a few of them myself over the years. But I’ve come to think that it is a bad habit we have developed in the foundation world and that we all lose out because of this bad habit. We lose the ability for accumulated knowledge, for benchmarking practices, and for catalyzing dialogue about how foundations work and why.

I am trying to break the habit. I am going to try to share the information I gather in the scans I conduct or commission at the Hewlett Foundation, beginning with this brief scan we conducted to benchmark spending on evaluation. Last year, our Board asked how much should we be spending on evaluation. It was a reasonable question. As I was preparing to answer the question, I wanted to draw on the latest benchmarking data for evaluation spending. Only there was none. The last published spending benchmark was several years old, published by the Evaluation Roundtable in 2010 using data from 2009. And the evaluation world was changing rapidly. Many more foundations were building evaluation functions and I wanted more recent data.

So I conducted my own brief scan, contacting colleagues who lead strong evaluation functions and asked them about their spending levels. I incorporated those benchmarks as points of comparison and folded it into additional analysis that we conducted with the Hewlett Foundation’s own data, and prepared a memo to answer our Board’s question. As part of our November 2013 board meeting, we had a discussion about how much we should be spending on evaluation, and the Board endorsed our recommendations.

I am sharing a distillation of this memo. The memo is not perfect. The scan is not comprehensive. My colleagues offered all sorts of caveats about the information they provided. But it was useful for us. And I share it now in case it is useful for others.

-- Fay Twersky

Inviting Grantees to the Table
April 1, 2014

(Austin Long is a manager at the Center for Effective Philanthropy and leads relationships with funders using CEP's assessment tools. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and to funder boards and staff on topics of grantee, donor, and foundation staff feedback. This post originally appeared on the CEP blog.)

Long CEP headshot 150x150In a recent blog post from my colleague at the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Kevin Bolduc, he shared inspiring examples of two funders trying something a bit different: sharing the results of their Grantee Perception Reports (GPR) in-person with their grantees. While we often see foundations sharing their GPR results publicly, it is all too rare that grantees are invited to join the conversation when CEP engages in discussions about the results with staff and boards.

This past October, I had the opportunity to discuss the results of one foundation’s GPR with both its staff and grantees, and I wanted to share more about the experience. My hope is that it may encourage other funders to consider these unconventional but incredibly valuable opportunities to connect with grantees.

The Whitman Institute (TWI) cites its mission as investing in “the power of relationships, constructive dialogue and the connections they generate to trigger problem solving and creative approaches.” As a result, an important part of surveying their grantees was communicating back to them about what the Institute learned.

It was an ideal opportunity to hear insightful and specific suggestions from grantees—both anonymously from the Grantee Perception Report results but also delivered there.

After receiving its Grantee Perception Report in August of 2013 and participating in a conversation between CEP, the board and staff shortly thereafter, TWI decided that its annual grantee convening in October would be the ideal time to facilitate a further dialogue about the feedback.

On a sunny weekend in Santa Cruz, about 100 grantees, other funders, and stakeholders from all over the country came together for TWI’s annual convening and to discuss the GPR findings. In keeping with TWI’s values, the goal of the day was not only for me to report back to grantees about TWI’s exceptionally positive feedback and ratings compared to other funders, but also to facilitate a dialogue about what to do next.

It was an ideal opportunity to hear insightful and specific suggestions from grantees—both anonymously from the GPR results but also delivered there—about how the Institute could strengthen their work together. Standing in front of the room, it was amazing to see some grantees actually defending TWI in some areas where it was rated relatively less positively; grantees also reinforced what they felt to be TWI’s strengths, and shared personal perspectives on the key opportunities to improve.

For the second half of the meeting, TWI asked groups of grantees to formulate ideas and discuss next steps about acting on the GPR recommendations. Grantees had very insightful suggestions to share, illustrating what I consider to be one of the most valuable aspects of this type of meeting—the opportunity for a funder to hear specific suggestions and ideas from the individuals and organizations that it has chosen to help them create impact. These group conversations allowed TWI to accelerate its ability to act on the guidance from the report.

Of course, it’s not possible for every funder to convene all of its grantees and stakeholders in one place. But for TWI, it was about much more than simply having the right people together in the same location; it was about using open dialogue and grantee feedback to build stronger relationships and meaningfully improve the ability of the Institute to achieve its vision.

Now isn’t that a conversation worth having?

-- Austin Long

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