Transparency Talk

Category: "California" (42 posts)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

-- Eric Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: Blue Shield of California Foundation shares Health Care research through live webcast
November 5, 2013

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

Herman-100Foundations produce reports and issue briefs every day—and we love them for it. However, not everyone has the time or inclination to read every worthwhile report that funders work so hard to produce. Some foundations take it upon themselves to find new and proactive ways to share their new-found knowledge with stakeholders, colleagues, practitioners and policymakers who can effect change in the field.

The Blue Shield of California Foundation hosted an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on October 23 to discuss findings and issues raised in its latest report on a timely topic, “Building Better Health Care for Low-Income Californians,” which was developed as part of its Strengthening the Safety Net program.

The foundation’s event at the National Press Club featured a panel discussion with experts in health care delivery, community health centers and health law and policy. Guests who could not attend in person could watch the event online through live webcast, and the program concluded with a question-and-answer session that was open to those attending virtually or in person. The recorded webcast is now available online:

Watch the video»

One particularly memorable moment was when an attendee asked the panelists what kind of research on health care policy they would like to see undertaken in the future. One panelist, Dr. Ron Yee, chief medical officer of the National Association of Community Health Centers, said he would like to understand how co-pays and deductibles will affect low-income patients accessing the health care system, which was also a question raised by an audience member. Dr. Yee commented, “I know from the front line, how my patients handle their money, the little money they have… Even a $10 co-pay is a big deal for my patients.” 

“You know we’re getting serious when we’re talking about money."

Peter Long, president & CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation remarked, “You know we’re getting serious when we’re talking about money. You know it’s not a theoretical conversation anymore, when people are talking about payment, and about what it looks like, and the end outcomes.… To me that’s very successful, in a progression of a conversation, when we’re starting to get to a point where you take human aspiration and needs, their real experience, and then what the heck do we do with them.”

Another panelist, Dr. Kavita Patel of the Brookings Institution, noted in closing, “I’m very excited to see this study escape the traditional research/beltway/policymaker circles. It is one of the few studies that has this generalizability for regular viewing audiences. What’s wonderful about that is…that movement will often precede policy changes or the public sector doing something.”

On the Blue Shield of California Foundation’s web page for “Building Better Health Care for Low-Income Californians” you can find the PowerPoint presentation from the event and an executive summary of its October 2013 research report. You can also download the entire report and find other issue briefs and research on health care in the foundation’s extensive publications section.

To gain audiences and knowledge beyond each individual funder’s own connections, we encourage all foundations to post their research, reports, white papers and case studies on the Foundation Center’s IssueLab website, which aims to gather, index and share the collective intelligence of the social sector. For those interested in health care policy, be sure to delve into IssueLab’s new special collection of research on the Affordable Care Act.

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Webinar Series: Transparency and Technology Tools for Grantmakers
October 23, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

Rebecca Herman PhotoPublic expectation about what information is made available online is increasing at a rapid pace—whether you are operating in the public sector, the private sector or the social sector. For grantmakers, emerging online technologies and platforms also provide an array of new opportunities to be transparent about their approaches to philanthropy and the impact of their work.

Over the past few months, in partnership with California Philanthropy and the James Irvine Foundation, Glasspockets offered three webinars to help foundations take advantage of online tools and resources that address timely issues in philanthropy. Our Glasspockets webinar series for grantmakers explored how harnessing the power of transparency can facilitate greater collaboration, reduce duplication of effort, build stronger relationships with stakeholders, and cultivate a community of shared learning:

Check out these webinar recordings for tips on the newest transparency tools:

Equipping Your Foundation for the Age of Transparency and Big Data, presented by Foundation Center President Bradford K. Smith

Webinar1screenshotFINAL

Watch the webinar»

Are you ready for big data? Big data—the gathering of unprecedented amounts of digital information to understand trends and predict future behavior—is fundamentally changing the way we understand the world and make decisions. This webinar explores how grantmakers can use big data to inform their work. He also discusses how revolutionary changes in technology-fueled transparency, data access and data mining will have a profound impact on foundations of all sizes.

Sample tip: The field of philanthropy resembles an archipelago—islands that are far too isolated from each other, especially in this era of data-sharing. Foundations’ urge to be unique (and create their own “island”) creates disadvantages when it comes to harnessing big data, since each grantmaking program is speaking its own language. Stop trying to be unique!

What Do We Know? Tapping the Social Sector’s Collective Intelligence, presented by Gabi Fitz, Director of Knowledge Management Initiatives, The Foundation Center

Webinar2screenshotFINAL

Watch the webinar»

Our collective intelligence is one of our most valuable offerings as a field. Access to quality research provides the social sector with the ability to improve programs and strengthen funding initiatives. How can you amplify the impact of the knowledge you create, fund, and produce? This webinar addresses how social sector research can help your organization fulfill its mission; it also provides an introduction to IssueLab, the Foundation Center’s free database of more than 13,000 white papers, case studies, and evaluations.

Sample tip: How can you make your knowledge more accessible? In addition to putting your research on your website and disseminating it to your networks, add a copy to IssueLab—a resource that we see as the public library of the social sector. You many also consider open licensing for your research, so that it to be used more widely. Make sharing research your default, not the exception!

Transparency 2.0: Foundations in the Age of Social Media, presented by Jereme Bivens, former Digital Strategy and Emerging Media Manager, The Foundation Center

Webinar3screenshotFINAL

Watch the webinar»

Learn how social media tools can help you improve information flow, interact with partners and stakeholders, and operate more transparently. This webinar shares proven techniques to stay on top of industry trends, participate in mission-related conversations, communicate effectively with your teammates, and reduce your e-mail and meeting schedule. The webinar also discusses organizations who are leading in social media, as well as new tools to track and measure your social media campaigns.

Sample tip: Google Analytics gives you information about how many people visit your website, where they are coming from, which pages they went to, and even more. For instance, are they accessing your website from a mobile device, even though your website is not mobile-friendly? There is also a new section in Google Analytics to help you identify which social media platforms are getting people to your website.

If you are interested in other transparency tools, let us know! We thank our Glasspockets webinar series sponsor, The James Irvine Foundation, and our webinar partners: Northern California Grantmakers, San Diego Grantmakers and Southern California Grantmakers.

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: The James Irvine Foundation's 2012 Annual Report Highlights Engagement
August 1, 2013

Irvine-logoThe James Irvine Foundation just released its 2012 Annual Report. The report continues the tradition it began with its previous reports by also serving as a performance assessment for the overall work of the foundation.   

James E. Canales highlights engagement as central to this year’s report and a driver for their grantmaking in 2012. “When people engage in their communities, in their work, in their state, good things can happen. At The James Irvine Foundation, where our mission is to expand opportunity for the people of California, this idea of engagement – and working to improve Californians’ prospects to engage – has often been core to our work, no matter the program area. This seemed more so than ever in 2012, during our 75th anniversary as a foundation.”

As in prior years, this year’s report is entirely online allowing readers to “engage” actively with the content. The report features an Introduction as well as four distinct areas: Program Impact, Leadership, Finance and Organization, and 2012 Grantmaking. The report makes great use of infographic and data visualization displays by organizing information into easily digested graphics throughout all of the areas and can serve as a helpful example of how to present investment returns, staff and board demographics, program impact data, anniversary content, and social network statistics. Engage with the Irvine Foundation's 2012 Annual Report online.

The James Irvine Foundation just released its 2012 Annual Report. The report continues the tradition it began with its previous reports by also serving as a performance assessment for the overall work of the foundation.   

James E. Canales highlights engagement as central to this year’s report and a driver for their grantmaking in 2012. “When people engage in their communities, in their work, in their state, good things can happen. At The James Irvine Foundation, where our mission is to expand opportunity for the people of California, this idea of engagement – and working to improve Californians’ prospects to engage – has often been core to our work, no matter the program area. This seemed more so than ever in 2012, during our 75th anniversary as a foundation.”

As in prior years, this year’s report is entirely online allowing readers to “engage” actively with the content. The report features an Introduction as well as four distinct areas: Program Impact, Leadership, Finance and Organization, and 2012 Grantmaking. The report makes great use of infographic and data visualization displays by organizing information into easily digested graphics throughout all of the areas and can serve as a helpful example of how to present investment returns, staff and board demographics, program impact data[JC1] , anniversary content, and social network statistics.  Engage with the Irvine Foundation's 2012 Annual Report online.


 [JC1]Natasha, can you please hyperlink each of these things I’m mentioning so it jumps to the right part of the annual report for each of these.  Let me know if you have trouble finding any of them.

Part 2: Top 10 Lessons Learned on the Path to Community Change
June 25, 2013

(Robert K. Ross, M.D. is President and CEO of The California Endowment. Yesterday he shared three aha moments from the Endowment’s first two years of work in its Building Healthy Communities plan.)

Ross-100Okay, at times I step back and look at the BHC initiative and wonder—could we have made it more complicated? 14 sites. Multiple grantees in each site. A core set of multiple health issues. Multiple state-level grantees. And the expectation that the parts will add up to something greater and catalyze a convergence that builds more power and leads to greater impact.

But then again, supporting an agenda for social and community change does require multiple strategies, operating in alignment: the use of data, message framing and story-telling; innovative models; a variety of influential messengers; convening and facilitating champions; “grassroots and treetops” and coordination; meaningful community engagement. Power-building requires multiple, aligned investments.

Our Top Ten Lessons for Philanthropy

Finally, I want to share some lessons with partners in philanthropy regarding planning and implementing a community-change initiative. As we engaged in the planning process of BHC, we tried in earnest to stick by a key aphorism, one I learned from colleague and mentor Ralph Smith at the Annie E. Casey Foundation: make new mistakes.

The track record of community change work by philanthropy is not a work of art. Tapping into the wisdom of institutions such as the Aspen Institute, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Skillman Foundation, the Marguerite Casey Foundation, and the Northwest Area Foundation, we incorporated the lessons of success and struggle from our colleagues in the field. Learning from these and other colleagues, we were able to avoid hitting major rocks as our BHC ship sailed out of harbor. So, we learned the following:

Community engagement in planning processes will be simultaneously exhilarating and messy.

1. Take time to plan, and plan to take the time. We embarked on a 9 month community engagement process in the 14 BHC sites, and we ended up taking 12-15 months. Nobody died, and nobody got fired. Community engagement in planning processes will be simultaneously exhilarating and messy. If it is going too smoothly and too well, then something may be terribly wrong – like the possibility that a foundation is not receiving candid, meaningful input from local leaders. If it is bumpy and messy and getting to consensus, and clarity is taking much longer than originally planned, it may very well mean that you are gaining the trust of leaders to raise thorny, difficult issues. As a general rule, we just took the time that was needed for local leaders to develop their local BHC plans, and we did not pit BHC sites against one another to race by the foundation’s clock. Community leaders want a compass more than they want a clock.

2. Don’t lead with the money. The issue of whether to announce “how much” the dollar commitment is in a foundation initiative is a tricky path. On the one hand, a major dollar-commitment announcement by a foundation can provide excitement, anticipation, and mobilize civic and community support. On the other hand, “leading with the money” can instigate all manner of posturing, control issues, manipulation, and political grantsmanship among potential grantees. We decided to quietly announce the breadth and scope of our commitment -- $1 Billion over a ten-year period in local and statewide policy funding – but veered away from formally announcing precise budget commitments in each site. In other words, we wanted to send a message that our commitment was serious without leading the conversations with grant dollar puppetry.

3. Date logic models, but get married to learning. There is no doubt that engaging in the disciplined exercise of how you think – and how community leaders believe – positive change and results will happen is a sound practice. But it is also important to recognize that community change and positive results in the context of complex social and political systems often defy tidy, linear models. If you want to get married, it is wiser to commit to the process of active, dynamic, real-time learning. We provided logic model training for leaders in the 14 BHC sites, with varying levels of effectiveness across the sites; we have been clear, however that learning is not optional, either for grantees or our own program staff.  

4. Be transparent about desired results. There are written and unwritten axioms about the need for philanthropy to be completely community driven in community-change work. Our experience is that this thinking is a truism without being entirely true. For starters, our foundation is legally chartered as a health foundation, and although we employ a broad definition of the word “health”, there are limitations and constraints about what we can and cannot fund. This issue led to some considerable tensions within the foundation (at the board and staff level), as well as with grantees and stakeholders, about prioritized community needs that were outside the scope of our health mission. The most obvious and recurrent tension-generating themes, in the context of a pervasive economic recession, were issues of economic development, job creation, and mortgage foreclosure across the sites. The battles over if and how we should enter “the space” of economic development as a health foundation were intense and emotional. We ultimately landed on a framework (utilizing mission-investing in our investment portfolio) for how to move forward without “mission drift”, and have been communicating our approach to our own program staff and stakeholders, but it has not been easy. But the worst of all worlds would have been to promise community leaders a course of action that we would either abandon or renege upon later on. We decided to stick to our mission and results (the right move, however discomforting for foundation-community relations).  

5. Be dogmatic about the results, but flexible about the strategies. The work of community change is noble, but funders cannot afford to fall in love with the process of the work at the expense of meaningful results and impact. Once community leaders and funders agree on a set of outcomes, objectives, or results, these must represent the “true north” on the compass. In the BHC planning and early implementation, we gave community leaders and organizations in the BHC planning process a blank slate on strategies, but insisted on being results driven and logic-model supported. The good news is that across our 14 BHC sites, there is community and resident ownership about the priorities and the strategies to achieve healthier community environments for young people. While these strategies vary, we are seeing growing convergence as the sites engage and learn from one another.

6. Listening is a form of leadership. Irish poet David Whyte underscores the importance of “leadership through conversation.” We have been quite intentional about active listening at all stages of the planning and implementation, and being mindful of closing the feedback loop with community leaders and grantees. We utilized a fairly simple “what we said, what they said, what we heard, what we’ll do” format. At the conclusion of the one-year planning process, our past Board Chair (Tessie Guillermo) and I co-authored and co-videotaped messages to the 14 sites summarizing the key themes and priorities we heard from community leaders in the sites, and what to expect in support from our foundation in the months ahead. We have now begun to bring site leaders together twice annually with foundation staff, so that leaders and staff can share stories of progress, struggles, and inspiration. All of this in service of the all-too critical “t-word”: trust. Trust is the mother’s milk of community change efforts by philanthropy, and active, engaged listening is the foundation.

7. Make “patient” grants, and “urgent” grants. Investors engaged in place-based, community change efforts encounter several tensions to manage. Among them is the tension of patience versus urgency. As efforts such as the Harlem Children’s Zone, Market Creek Plaza in Southeast San Diego, the Skillman Foundation’s work in Detroit, and the Dudley Street Initiative in Boston have demonstrated, positive community change takes time. A two- or three-year grant just won’t do it, and most successful efforts require 7, 10, or 12 years of “patient money.” The most thoughtful investments on this front involve leadership development, organizational capacity building, and collaborative efficacy; but “impact” yield from these investments will typically take years to bear fruit. “Urgent” money involves investing in short-term campaigns or capital projects where tangible results are realized within 12-18 months. Community change, place-based philanthropy will require both types of investments, and too heavy a bias or tilt towards “patient” investments will leave the investor and the partnership vulnerable to allegations that some money has been spent, some meetings have occurred, but nothing “tangible” has been produced. As a result, confidence in the effort will dissipate. Our BHC effort in the early going has been appreciative of the need to simultaneously make “patient” and “urgent” (which we also call “early wins”) grants.

8. Story-telling is part of the doing. The two-most under-appreciated and under-invested themes in social-change philanthropy are power-building and story-telling. Having been at the helm of a large-asset foundation for more than a decade, I am guilty-as-charged on this front; in retrospect, I would gladly trade in half of the (often expensive) academic and research-oriented reports we have commissioned in my twelve years as CEO for more compelling, interesting, and impactful “stories” of community-level change that illuminate the path towards a healthy, more vibrant community. Story-telling by community leaders, youth, or community-based organizations can be powerful tools on multiple fronts: local residents and youth experience the power and passion of their own voice; local media are inspired to re-tell the story in a way that scales up the audience; policymakers pay greater heed and attention to the issue being raised; civic engagement and participation is served; cynicism, disengagement, and disempowerment are reduced. Utilizing multiple forms of story-telling, from social media to flip-cam videos to traditional approaches, we have been assertive in support of community leaders and youth on this front, and it has been inspiring to witness.

Why build, preserve, and protect our respective brands and reputations if we are not going to spend it? Spend that damn brand.

9. Spend the damn brand. Institutional philanthropy is risk-averse. We tend to worry and fret about how our institutional brand, reputation, and civic standing might be sullied by associating with potentially controversial efforts or organizations, and as a general rule, we keep our heads and our profile low. But we have discovered, in the early years of the BHC effort, that thoughtful, surgical application of our civic standing and reputation matters to community leaders – and that they want us to spend “it” on their behalf. Sometimes it comes in the form of convening a meeting, writing and placing an op-ed, placing a phone call to a civic leader, or taking out a full-page ad on an issue in the local newspaper. We have done this with regards to healthy food options for youth and families, health insurance coverage for the uninsured, gang prevention and intervention strategies, and school health efforts. There is a school of thought among philanthropy that our job as funders is “to make the grant and get out of the way.” We would argue that our job is to achieve our respective missions, and by any means necessary. On occasion, this requires stepping out of character on behalf of grantees, and utilizing our voice as well. Why build, preserve, and protect our respective brands and reputations if we are not going to spend it? Spend that damn brand.

10. A Highly Engaged Board. In the earliest planning stages of BHC with our Board of Directors, the Board made it clear that they understood the value and importance of a ten-year commitment, but they also made three points clear. The first was the importance of honesty, candor, and trust about the progress of the effort. The second was a complete commitment to an evaluation approach framed by “learning through impact.” And thirdly, they wanted to be engaged for the purposes of learning, and governance, but not micromanagement. We accomplished the latter by organizing our quarterly Board meetings in or near a BHC community site at least three times a year, and each Board member accepted an assignment of one community site for more in-depth and richer learning. Board members share their observations over dinner at our Board meetings.

In closing, we have found the work of community change to be an exhilarating journey in pursuit of our health mission. We have gained an appreciation of the importance of the “right brain-left brain balance” in this work: having a Theory of Change, and Logic Models, and metrics are important, but trust-building, power-building, and the spiritual dimension of the work constitutes the real glue to hold partners and relationships together over the long haul. And finally, a special note of thanks and appreciation to those foundations who have traversed this path before us, sharing tidbits of lessons and wisdom so that we can “make new mistakes” in the battle for community improvement and health justice.

--Robert K. Ross, M.D.

Part 1: Aha Moments on the Road to Building Healthy Communities
June 24, 2013

(Robert K. Ross, M.D. is President and CEO of The California Endowment.)

Ross-100We are now two-plus years into the implementation of The California Endowment’s 10-Year Building Healthy Communities plan, and I can safely say that it has been the two most exciting years of my career in community and public health. It has already been quite a ride.

This is the first of periodic reports we will produce to share our progress, observations, mistakes, and lessons along the way as we support the efforts of community leaders to create healthier environments for young people in distressed and underserved communities.

Building Healthy Communities – we call it BHC for short – is a commitment of our Board of Directors to a two-pronged strategy. We have “dropped anchor” in fourteen distressed California communities for a 10-year period to work in partnership with community leaders to improve the health and life chances of young people. In addition, we are supporting change at the regional and state levels through funding advocacy, organizational capacity building, and communications on our key health issues.

Watch the video »

It is our intent to have these place-based and "bigger than place" strategies complement one another, and for the moving parts to develop a powerful synergy. At the local level, the BHC communities are engaging multiple sectors to develop innovative efforts to advance health. As these innovative strategies emerge, we’re looking for ways to scale the ideas up through policy change and communications at the state and regional levels. Through acting on multiple levels with complementary strategies, we expect to make a greater contribution than if we were to work only at the place level or only through supporting statewide advocacy. This is central to our theory of change. In a sense, it is fair to consider BHC as a “place-based plus” community change campaign.

In the spirit of the knowledge sharing that is one of the central aspects of Glasspockets and Transparency Talk, I will lift up three “aha” moments we’ve had so far, followed tomorrow by a second post listing key lessons for philanthropy.

Aha #1: The message matters
As we all know, when one talks about the “social determinants” -- the roles that poverty, education, and housing play in health status -- outside the public health world, eyes glaze over. We experienced this communication gap early as local communities strived to decipher our jargon-laden list of 10 targeted outcomes and 4 Big Results. Our communications team, inspired by the engagement of community leaders and residents in the planning process, took this obstacle head-on, and have created what I believe is one of the first successful decodings of the social determinants research: Health Happens Here.

Health-happens-here-250Health doesn’t just happen in a doctor’s office; health happens where we live, work, learn and play.

If you put the phrase Health Happens Here on a photo of a healthy school lunch, or a bike path, or a father and daughter hugging each other, we immediately communicate the norms change we are promoting. We took this message a step further by incorporating it into our internal structures. In looking at our grant-making, we found that 80% of our grants were focused around three areas: neighborhoods, schools and prevention. This led us to create three themes – Health Happens in Neighborhoods, Health Happens in Schools and Health Happens with Prevention – that have become the essential building blocks for our work. In fact, we call them campaigns, another use of language that communicates our intent as a foundation to use our brand to push for policy and systems change. And we are investing in aggressive media strategies to promote this message—through television, radio, print and social networking and through partnerships with influential messengers including First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Oz, and Jamie Oliver. A simple, compelling message carried by influential messengers, can shape a new narrative of change.

Aha #2: Trust young people to lead
Early in our BHC process, we chose to bring young people into leadership roles in BHC. Little did I know that this decision would not only impact community efforts but would impact how we view our work. Young people and adults view health issues differently, and it makes perfect sense to engage young people directly in developing strategies to improve their health. It makes sense but in the past, we didn’t. We operated like most adult organizations and didn’t engage young people in our thinking.

We’ve seen first hand that young people can be powerful leaders for social change. When they tell their stories through the arts, spoken word, social networking and journalism, they compel action. They are not only about our future; they are leaders of today.

Now that we have taken this step, we’re learning a lot. Young people brought to our attention the scandalous epidemic of suspensions and expulsions in our schools, and helped us understand how this issue connects to their health. Young men of color led us to a greater understanding of the role of trauma in the lives of youth growing up in homes and neighborhoods plagued with violence and gangs, and lifted up the need for social/emotional health and healing. And we’ve seen first hand that young people can be powerful leaders for social change. When they tell their stories through the arts, spoken word, social networking and journalism, they compel action. They are not only about our future; they are leaders of today. We’re evolving into an organization informed by adult and youth perspectives.

In addition to the numerous youth organizing and development efforts in the sites, I’ve created a “President’s Youth Council,” consisting of 14 youth leaders across the state, who meet with me at least twice annually in my role as President & CEO. In this way, I have the privilege of  hearing directly from youth leaders themselves about the progress and struggles of BHC, and how our foundation can be more responsive to and supportive of young people’s distressed neighborhoods. I believe this represents a fundamental culture change that will influence our work in the years to come.

As of this writing, BHC youth leaders, working in coalitions with the organizations that support them, have begun to rack up a series of policy victories that will put a check on the epidemic numbers of school suspensions, calling for alternative, common-sense discipline practices (like restorative justice approaches) that keep kids in school. This was an issue, by the way, that was nowhere on our radar screen in the early planning of BHC. It emerged from the youth voices in the BHC sites.

Aha #3: Build power, not just knowledge and innovation  
Frederick Douglass said that power concedes nothing without demand. The world doesn’t change because of the release of new data. It responds or concedes when people demand change.

Institutional philanthropy tends to worship at one of two altars: new knowledge, and innovation. Both are overrated, over-hyped, and over-subscribed to in our field.

Institutional philanthropy tends to worship at one of two altars: new knowledge, and innovation. Both are overrated, over-hyped, and over-subscribed to in our field. It can be argued that the primary value of philanthropy to civic society is the issue of problem-solving at scale. In a wonderfully linear, logical, and intellectually-driven world, good data, research, and new knowledge would be king. But that is not the world we live in. Recently, I noted that the state legislature in North Carolina effectively banned the use of scientific projections on global warming-induced tidal changes because they stand to impede the path of business development. More recently, the NRA-led prohibition against gun violence research by the CDC was recently challenged by President Obama after Newtown. I wish these represented isolated events, but history has shown that good science is frequently set aside by political and economic forces to the detriment of civic society.

The best public health example of this issue is the 80-year-plus war against big tobacco. The medical and public health communities have had the science about the detrimental effects of tobacco use since the 1920’s; but big tobacco had the power. We lost the battle decade after decade, and it was not until we discovered the merits of political and grassroots advocacy which, in combination with the science, led to a strategy where we began to rack up some victories.

On a related front, philanthropy seems hopelessly in love with “innovation” as well.  In the corporate, for-profit world, innovation quickly scales through profit – the I-phone being a classic example. In the social sectors, innovation rarely paves the way towards scale on its own merits. Too many politically powerful forces are in play. Power, voice, and advocacy matter, and matter greatly. Data and innovation, without the recognition of political power and advocacy, is in vain. The school suspensions battle was a perfect illustration of this point, as youth leaders and youth advocacy organizations utilized suspension data that demonstrated a disproportionate impact on African-American and Latino young men as a result of the practices.

In Building Healthy Communities we’ve decided to be clear; we want to help community leaders and residents build the power they need to promote healthier places for young people. We want to support people and organizations that think power, act with power and demand change. Power concedes nothing without demand, and as Douglass added, it never has and it never will.

Tomorrow, in part 2 of this series, Dr. Robert Ross discusses 10 lessons learned on the path to community engagement.

--Robert K. Ross, M.D.

Sean Parker and the Perils of Stealth Philanthropy
June 17, 2013

(Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the Center's Glasspockets effort.)

Camarena_100I love weddings and I love philanthropy, so I have been following the fallout from Sean Parker’s wedding with growing interest over the last couple of weeks of unrelenting news coverage surrounding the big event. Mr. Parker is the co-founder of Napster and was also Facebook’s first president. To believe the tabloids, the nuptials involved an elaborate staging akin to those of sets for Lord of the Rings crossed with Game of Thrones all under the canopy of old growth redwoods in Northern California.

Unfortunately many new donors fear that philanthropic transparency will lead to being inundated with requests, and instead opt for treating philanthropy like a “stealth mode” operation.

Couple those images with the fact that he apparently did not secure the proper permits, and in the end made a “voluntary payment” to make the whole brouhaha go away (the California Coastal Commission can technically not levy fines), and you have the makings of story that any news cycle will love about billionaires being able to make up the rules as they go along. And that is where philanthropy enters the picture, as when Mr. Parker has tried to catch up to the story and correct the record, he refers to his foundation and its work supporting conservation efforts as a means to demonstrate his commitment to the environment. And given this history of philanthropic support for conservation, he also explains that his goal for the wedding was actually one in which the event would leave the forest in better shape than when he found it, with ample funds included for restoration. 

As a philanthropy observer, that was the sound bite that really grabbed my attention! Sean Parker has a foundation?  Who knew? I was aware of Mr. Parker’s excellent work on the crowdfunding platform Causes, and in fact, we have featured its good work on several occasions here at the Foundation Center, since it is a platform that has helped many nonprofits mobilize their networks to raise millions of dollars for charity. Given his efforts to build Causes soon after making it big with Facebook, it is clear he has made philanthropy, and the technology that can serve as its catalyst, a professional priority. 

What surprised me was the foundation part, as I had not previously heard of its work. So, I looked up the Sean Parker Foundation in our Foundation Directory Online database, which contains profiles of more than 100,000 grantmaking foundations, and I could not initially find any foundation there listing Mr. Parker as its donor, officer, or trustee. So, next I reached out to our data department to see if they had record of it and learned that it is indeed, a new foundation in the process of being added to our database. This means that the only source of public information on the foundation would be its 990-PF tax form, so I reviewed that to get a better idea of Mr. Parker’s philanthropic activities.

Unfortunately, given the nature of the turnaround with tax forms, the most current publicly available form only provides insights into the Sean Parker Foundation’s giving in 2011. At that time, this new foundation had approximately $1.8 million in total assets and had disbursed three grants totaling $225,000 and the funding was given to the Beckley Foundation to support a global initiative for drug policy reform, to Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for cancer research, and to the Bridge School to support education for developmentally disabled children. All worthy causes, but nothing to indicate his interest in conservation. 

Next I tried his Wikipedia entry, and found some good indication of his philanthropic interests there, and more details about Causes, but nothing more specific about the work of his foundation in the last year. I was able to find one recent gift attributed to Sean Parker through a Google search, which yielded a general donor list for Stand Up to Cancer, indicating either that his foundation’s work on cancer has continued, or that he has multiple giving vehicles through a donor-advised fund or supporting organization, which may serve to administer additional giving on his behalf through a community foundation or banking institution. 

This structure does not reduce the value of his grantmaking, but the lack of transparency for those vehicles make his good work invisible, which puts him at a distinct disadvantage now that he is on the defensive. As a tech pioneer, Mr. Parker could have simply used the online tools at his disposal and voluntarily disclosed his fund or foundation’s grantmaking details and strategies on his own web site, or provided greater detail about it on his Wikipedia profile.

Had he established a web site for his foundation with a list of recently awarded grants, his current giving would now be a matter of public record for all to see, including prying journalists and an unforgiving public. 

Although I cannot speculate as to why Mr. Parker hasn’t chosen to be more open about his foundation, the more private approach is not uncommon in philanthropy. Unfortunately many new donors fear that philanthropic transparency will lead to being inundated with requests, and instead opt for treating philanthropy like a “stealth mode” operation. However, the philanthropic record and reputation private foundations can build ultimately serve the philanthropist, particularly in occasions such as this. For if you don’t tell your own story, others will tell it for you. And more importantly, if no one knows you have a foundation, doesn’t that limit its capacity to do good?

Furthermore, in our work at Glasspockets.org, a web site committed to encouraging greater philanthropic transparency, we have found that online foundation transparency has the power to build public trust and credibility, improve relationships with grantees, facilitate greater collaboration, reduce duplication of effort, and cultivate a community of shared learning. 

The forest Mr. Parker and his bride selected as the setting for their nuptials is called the Ventana Wilderness. In Spanish Ventana means window, which seems fitting since thanks to news and digital media, we now all feel like we got to peek through the reception’s window. Too bad we didn’t have more of a view of his philanthropy leading up to this event, which may have made his efforts at damage control an easier task.

--Janet Camarena

Foundation Transparency: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
May 17, 2013

(Aaron Dorfman is executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). He frequently blogs about the role of philanthropy in society. Follow NCRP on Twitter @ncrp.)

Dorfman-100As I reviewed “Foundation Transparency: What Nonprofits Want,” the latest publication from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), I had an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. So I dug deep into the archives to find reports on the subject produced by the organization I now lead, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).

What I’m left with is a sense that, on the issue of transparency, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In May 1980, NCRP released Foundations & Public Information: Sunshine or Shadow? It was a scathing report that took foundations to task for their reticent approach to sharing information, and it launched a decades-long commitment by NCRP to promote increased transparency. The report explored why foundations should be accountable and transparent, and also the inadequate government requirements at that time. It ranked and scored 208 of the largest philanthropies using a rigorous methodology and found that 60 percent of foundations in the sample did not meet an acceptable standard of transparency. Just 4 percent were found to be “excellent.”

The methodology included a heavily weighted assessment of whether foundations provided the kinds of information that nonprofits most desired, including information about grantmaking interests and policies, and how grant applications were evaluated and decisions made about which organizations to fund.

I see many parallel findings between that report and CEP’s excellent new report. A full 33 years later, nonprofits are still clamoring for more information about how foundations make funding decisions and they want clear and open communication about priorities. They want to know whether it’s worth their time to cultivate a relationship and pursue funding. And despite an explosion of glossy annual reports and fancy websites, leaders of grant-seeking organizations are still highly frustrated by the lack of clear communication about a central element of foundation activity, namely how foundations decide which organizations to fund.

Foundation Transparency surveyed 138 nonprofit leaders, and I was unsurprised to see many of the respondents reference a desire to know how foundations assess their own performance and the impact they have. It only seems fair that since foundations are requiring this from grantees, that they be willing to be accountable for articulating impact, too.

Some of the findings suggest to me that nonprofits really want foundations to function as true partners. For example, the fact that an overwhelming majority of respondents wanted to know more about what foundations are learning indicates that grantees want learning to go both ways.

The CEP report doesn’t explore the regulatory framework for foundation transparency, nor does it explore in-depth the arguments for why greater transparency may be warranted. But another report released this year does revisit those questions. The Philanthropy Roundtable published in March 2013 Transparency in Philanthropy: An Analysis of Accountability, Fallacy, and Volunteerism.

As I reviewed Foundations & Public Information in light of the Roundtable’s current offering, I was struck by how little the arguments in favor of greater foundation transparency have changed since 1980. The original NCRP report looks at the partially-public nature of philanthropy, which is revisited by the Roundtable (though our organizations obviously come down on different sides). The partially-public dollars argument asserts that because of the preferential tax treatment afforded to foundations, a high level of transparency and accountability is owed to the public and grantees. NCRP repeated and expanded on this argument in our 2009 publication Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best: Benchmarks to Assess and Enhance Grantmaker Impact.

In 1980, NCRP devoted some attention to why greater transparency is in the self-interest of foundations and how it might improve their effectiveness. This topic is explored robustly in the Roundtable’s new report, Criteria, and is touched on in the CEP report. Because I see additional regulation as unlikely in the near future, the link between effectiveness and voluntary transparency merits further exploration.

Speaking of regulation, there has been some increase in activity around this in recent years, though nothing has actually changed for more than 20 years in terms of mandated disclosures. Most philanthropy insiders are familiar with efforts by the Greenlining Institute to pass AB624, which would have required new disclosures for the largest foundations in California. Fewer are aware of quieter efforts by the Philanthropy Roundtable to pass legislation in several states banning efforts similar to AB624.

The last substantive change that shaped the current required information disclosure in the IRS form 990-PF can be traced to when NCRP worked with Senator Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.) to influence the IRS to change what it required in the form. Those changes contributed to helping the Foundation Center produce the best data available about the sector. An abbreviated version of how NCRP’s efforts on transparency evolved, including the Durenberger intervention with the IRS, can be found on page 10 of this look back at NCRP’s history.

What I’m left with is a sense that, on the issue of transparency, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Coincidentally, around the same time as I was reviewing the new CEP publication and beginning to think about crafting this blog post, Bob Bothwell invited me to join him on a Friday evening for a baseball game at Nationals Park. Bothwell was NCRP’s executive director from its inception in 1976 until 1998. I am reminded again of how important it is for those of us from a new generation who are leading nonprofits and foundations to intentionally nurture connections to our history, even while we attempt to take our organizations in new directions.

And in case you’re wondering, the Washington Nationals beat the Cincinnati Reds 1-0, and Jordan Zimmerman pitched a one-hitter.

--Aaron Dorfman

The Global Philanthropy Forum: 2013 Conference
April 15, 2013

A project of the World Affairs Council of Northern California, the Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF) aims to build a community of donors and social investors committed to international causes, and to inform, enable and enhance the strategic nature of their work. Each year, GPF hosts a conference for individuals who have made a significant commitment to international philanthropy, donors who have established family foundations and executives of corporate, private or public foundations based in the U.S. and overseas.

This year’s conference kicks off today and features a program agenda that includes topics that put transparency, technology, and open data center stage, such as “The Future We Make: Development in the Digital Age,” “Decision-Making in Philanthropy: A Science or an Art?,” and “Building an Information Infrastructure: Unlocking Data for Philanthropy.” Although attendance at the conference is by invitation only, GPF provides access, via live stream, to conference sessions as they happen, and via recorded video, once the programs have concluded. Access this year’s conference here.

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