Transparency Talk

Category: "Donor-Advised Funds" (8 posts)

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

JeanneBell-e1490280555818







Jeanne Bell

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

This post also appears in The Nonprofit Quarterly.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Jockeying for the Frame

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

Which Data Do We Need?

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

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

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

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

Best Practice vs. Regulation

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

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

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

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

--Jeanne Bell

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

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

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

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

Register or learn more here.

Book Review: 'Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count'
April 18, 2019

Daniel X Matz is manager and content developer for Candid's GlassPockets.org portal. This review first appeared in Philanthropy News Digest's PhilanTopic blog.

Daniel X MatzBack in 2016, Bill Gates, in the context of his partnership with the Heifer Foundation to donate 100,000 chickens to people around the world living on $2 a day, blogged about how raising egg-laying fowl can be a smart, cost-effective antidote to extreme poverty. As Phil Buchanan tells it in Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count, the idea, however well-intentioned, attracted scorn from some quarters, including Bolivia, where the offer was declined — after it was pointed out that the country already produces some 197 million chickens a year. The episode is a pointed reminder that being an effective philanthropist isn't as easy as it might seem.

"If you want to effect lasting change — to move the needle — then you need to dig in and think long-term."

And Buchanan ought to know; as the founding CEO of the Cambridge-based Center for Effective Philanthropy for the past seventeen years, he has worked closely with more than three hundred foundations and scores of individual givers, exploring the landscape of American giving, distilling lessons learned (both successes and failures), and highlighting what works and what doesn't. (Spoiler alert: there's no single answer as to how to give "right," but few are better positioned than Buchanan to frame the question.) In this slim volume, he lays out a framework that can help anyone engaged in philanthropy to be more thoughtful, open-minded, and willing to learn, adapt, and keep trying.

As Buchanan sees it, anyone can be an effective philanthropist, and there is no one best practice to that end, other than to be as engaged as one can be. While much of the advice he shares is better suited for the well-heeled donor or the program officer at an established foundation (those with the time and resources to think through larger issues, consider options, and evaluate methods for learning from their giving), the panhandler's dictum applies: you don't need to be a Rockefeller to help a fella, and you don't need to be a tech billionaire to carve out a smart, sustainable path for your own giving. Certainly, to give is better than not to give, and if all you have the time to do is to write a check, do that. But if you want to effect lasting change — to move the needle, as it were — then you need to dig in and think long-term.

Phil BuchananPhil Buchanan

According to Buchanan, digging in means setting goals, weighing strategies for achieving those goals, evaluating the effectiveness of your giving, and, armed with that information, going back for more. Buchanan's work with CEP has given him special insight into how philanthropists approach their giving, and he's nut-shelled a range of smart propositions designed to help individuals and institutions think more clearly about how and where they give. Take his four types of givers:

  • The charitable banker broadly gives because of precedent or simply because they're asked to, but not really having a goal or focus that informs that giving.
  • The perpetual adjuster always changes who and what they fund but never having a sense of whether that giving is doing any good.
  • The partial strategist connects some of the dots in terms of goals, strategy, and effectiveness, but still keeps much of his/her giving unaligned with those goals (think of the family foundation that strategically works to reduce hunger in its community but allocates half its grants to the unrelated interests of board members).
  • The total strategist is all in on finding approaches that work and is rigorously willing to test strategies toward achieving clear goals.

While most givers start out as charitable bankers, Buchanan wants them to become as strategic as they can be, spending their time, talent, and treasure "maximizing [their] chances of making a difference."

Being strategic isn't quite the same as being on target, however, and the balance of Giving Done Right is a broad-brush effort to tease out the key ingredients of effective philanthropy. For instance:

  • Stop thinking you know everything. "The most effective givers open themselves to the possibility that others are in a better position to identify solutions." Not only do givers need to up their game with respect to understanding the problem they hope to solve, they also need to deepen their understanding of the communities and nonprofits actually doing the work.
  • Stop re-inventing the wheel. "The best givers share what they're learning openly with other funders and those they fund." Chances are you're not the first to want to solve an intractable problem; effective philanthropy means building on what others have learned, supporting their efforts when they work, and collaborating to find new paths when they don't.
  • Take the time to find the right fit. Not every family needs its own foundation; for some a checkbook at the kitchen table will do just fine, for others it's a giving circle, a community foundation, a donor-advised fund, an LLC, or a programmatically focused, professionally staffed foundation. And while Buchanan sees the opacity of DAFs and LLCs as a thorn in the side of the sector's embrace of openness (and conversely views independent foundations as the dark horse in leveraging transparency across the sector) here, the key is understanding which vehicle works best with your goals, and then getting to work.

Ultimately, transparency is at the heart of Giving Done Right, where "clarity, openness, and honesty about goals and strategies, as well as the nitty-gritty of what the giver is learning about what works and what doesn't" are tools that givers of all sizes need at the ready. Effective givers willingly use openness to strengthen relationships between funders, communities, and collaborators, help mitigate redundancy, build consensus, and solve problems.

Giving Done RightBuchanan also has a few dragons to slay, and Giving Done Right starts and ends with an exhortation for givers of all sizes to ignore the misguided lessons embraced by a new generation of wealthy donors. First and foremost is the assumption that nonprofits would be more effective if they were run like for-profit businesses. No one likes bloat or ineffectiveness, but as Buchanan notes, most nonprofits are bare-bones operations that rather miraculously squeeze water from the proverbial stone day in and day out. What's more, most for-profit businesses aren't as efficient as they'd have us believe, relying on a solitary metric — quarterly profit — to measure their success. In addition, Buchanan scolds those who see nonprofits' reliance on philanthropy as "dependency." Without philanthropic support, he writes, tongue firmly in cheek, how would a children's charity keep the lights on, by putting the kids to work? And in any case, he reminds us, the nonprofit sector overall generates nearly $1.7 trillion in annual revenue ($1 in every $10 of U.S. GDP), with 70 percent of that derived from fees and services.

Similarly, Buchanan has no patience for foundations that demand that their nonprofit grantees spend time and money evaluating the impact of their services while being unwilling to fund such work, or for fixating on "overhead" as a measure of nonprofit effectiveness while too often ignoring the full-spectrum cost involved in delivering nonprofit services. And while he's willing to concede that what a successful business tycoon knows about getting rich might (might) provide some insight into how to be an effective philanthropist, it's more likely than not to cloud one's judgment. After all, if the world's problems could be solved by a vigorous application of business acumen, why haven't they?

In Buchanan's view, givers are much more likely to be effective by taking the time to learn what they don't know and proceeding from there. Not everyone embraces that idea. As David Callahan's The Givers showed, the growth of big philanthropy in an era where government is less willing and less capable of affecting social change has become a hotly contested issue. In January, Buchanan, along with Rob Reich (co-director of Stanford's Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society), Ben Soskis (Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute), and Anand Giridharadas (Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World) engaged in a debate on Twitter during which they laid out their views with respect to the role of philanthropy in present-day America, its influence (both positive and negative) on our politics, and the tendency of Big Anything to generate a handful of winners and lots of losers. That debate is echoed in Giving Done Right, with Buchanan staking out a middle ground where philanthropy is celebrated as a reflection of American idealism and pluralism, where giving is good and smarter giving is better, and where the willingness of philanthropists and nonprofits (the unsung heroes of our more perfect union) to work together to solve seemingly intractable problems is to be commended.

-- Daniel X Matz

More of Daniel's book reviews touching on philanthropy, the arts, and the social sector, can be found on Philanthropy News Digest's Off the Shelf.

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

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have helped GlassPockets reach the milestone of 100 published profiles by publicly participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dawn

Dawn Hawk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Janet Camarena

IRS Warns Donor-Advised Funds May Face New Restrictions
February 28, 2018

Lauren Haverlock, CPA, has practiced public accounting since 2004. As a senior manager at Moss Adams LLP, she provides compliance and consulting services to all types of exempt organizations, including public charities and private foundations.

Lauren Haverlock - 150

In recent years, donor-advised funds (DAFs) have gained popularity as a philanthropic tool. The National Philanthropic Trust reports that in 2016, charitable assets under management in DAFs exceeded $85 billion—representing a record amount.

DAFs offer donors a flexible giving option when they want a charitable deduction with administrative simplicity, a long-term distribution of funds, and less transparency than is common with private foundation grants.

But the IRS has indicated that organizations and individuals may be taking advantage of DAFs. Because of this, the IRS has provided a notice warning of tightening its restrictions on the funds.

Background

A DAF is a separately-identified and managed account that’s operated by a section 501(c)(3) public charity—a sponsoring organization—on the original donor’s behalf.

Once a donor contributes to a DAF, the sponsoring organization has legal control over the use and reporting of the funds. The organization then invests the funds until the donor advises they be distributed. Donors often need to follow specific guidelines when advising about fund distribution, but a sponsoring organization has ultimate control.

DAFs and Private Foundations

Private foundations also use DAFs in a variety of ways. Many uses clearly relate to charitable planning, but some are less transparent—including the following:

  • Using a DAF that exists within a community foundation to support the foundation’s initiatives
  • Granting DAFs to another community foundation that offers grant support services for which the foundation doesn’t have its own internal structure
  • Using DAFs to obscure charitable giving. Since the Form 990-PF is public, a grant to a DAF would show up as such on the 990-PF while obscuring the DAF’s recipient
  • Giving funds to a nonqualified recipient. A foundation can bypass giving restrictions—and the additional steps necessary for validating using their grants—by providing a donor-advised fund instead
  • Employing DAFs to help meet minimum distribution requirements—or avoid complex set-aside rules—when it might otherwise fall short

Next Steps from the IRS

In Notice 2017-73, issued in December 2017, the IRS and Treasury Department are considering regulations addressing perceived abuses of DAFs, including some of the above issues. The notice limits the following areas:

Prohibiting Donor Sponsorship or Membership Benefits. The notice prohibits distribution from DAFs that subsidize the donor’s participation in a charity-sponsored event or membership in a charity. This is because the benefit is more than incidental. DAF donors or advisors can only receive an incidental benefit from DAF distributions.

If the prohibited distribution occurs, the donor would be taxed 125%. The fund manager who permitted the transaction would be taxed 10%.

Giving Relief when Distributions Apply to DAF Donors’ Pledges. A charity may use DAF distribution funds to relieve a pledge obligation from the DAF’s donor because the DAF doesn’t provide the donor with a benefit that’s more than incidental.

The guidance provides an example of a benefit that’s incidental and permissible. This rule stems from the difficulty of assessing if the outstanding pledge existed before the donor granted the DAF. To be permissible, a benefit must meet the following criteria:

  • The recipient didn’t reference the pledge when making the DAF distribution
  • The donor didn’t receive additional benefits from the distribution
  • The donor didn’t take charitable contribution deduction, even if the grantee sent them an acknowledgement 

Circumventing Public Support. Donors may no longer be able to use a DAF to anonymize their contribution to a public charity. The notice indicates that the IRS may treat a distribution from a DAF as an indirect contribution from the donor—or donors—that funded the DAF.

If a public charity funds another public charity, the income is considered unlimited public support. If the IRS then treats the DAF as a donation from the original donor, public support could be limited—which could reclassify the charity as a private foundation.

The charity would also face additional donation tracking requirements based on the original DAF donor, and may need to disclose the donor on the Form 990’s Schedule B.

Provide Your Input

The IRS has requested comments on how foundations use DAFs. Comments and data pulled from Form 990-PF reporting could determine the IRS’s future actions in the area.

Specifically, the IRS wants to know:

  • How private foundations use DAFs in support of their charitable purpose
  • Whether a private foundation’s transfer of funds to a DAF should only be treated as a qualifying distribution if the DAF-sponsoring organization agrees to distribute the funds for charitable purposes—or to transfer the funds to its general fund—within a certain timeframe.

Comments may be submitted by March 5, 2018, to notice.comments@irscounsel.treas.gov, or to the following address:

Internal Revenue Service

CC:PA:LPD:PR (Notice 2017-73) Room 5203

P.O. Box 7604, Ben Franklin Station

Washington, DC 20044

Please include “Notice 2017-73” in the subject line. Comments will be available for public inspection and copying.

The Future of DAFs

We expect the popularity of DAFs will continue to grow—especially as the tax landscape evolves. DAFs continue to be a great philanthropic tool for individuals and foundations, so restricting their use could have a wide impact. If you have strong opinions on the matter, now’s the time to let the IRS know.

--Lauren Haverlock, CPA

Trend to Watch: Using SDGs to Improve Foundation Transparency
September 19, 2017

(Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center. )

Janet Camarena PhotoAs Foundation Center's director of transparency initiatives, one of the most interesting parts of my job is having the opportunity to play "transparency scout," regularly reviewing foundation websites for signs of openness in what is too often a closed universe. Some of this scouting leads to lifting up practices that can be examples for others on our Transparency Talk blog, sometimes it leads to a new transparency indicator on our assessment framework, and sometimes we just file it internally as a "trend to watch. "

Today, it's a combination of all three; we are using this blog post to announce the launch of a new, "Trend to Watch" indicator that signals an emerging practice: the use of the Sustainable Development Goals to improve how foundations open up their work to the world.

Sustainable Development GoalsThe United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. There are a total of 17 goals, such as ending poverty, zero hunger, reduced inequalities, and climate action. Written deliberately broad to serve as a collective playbook that governments and private sector alike can use, they can also serve as a much needed shared language across philanthropy and across sectors to signal areas of common interest, and measure shared progress.

And let's face it, as foundation strategies become increasingly specialized and strategic, explaining the objectives and the nuances can become a jargon-laden minefield that can make it difficult and time consuming for those on the outside to fully understand the intended goal of a new program or initiative. The simplicity of the SDG iconography cuts through the jargon so foundation website visitors can quickly identify alignment with the goals or not, and then more easily determine whether they should devote time to reading further. The SDG framework also provides a clear visual framework to display grants and outcomes data in a way that is meaningful beyond the four walls of the foundation.

Let's take a look at how some foundation websites are using the SDGs to more clearly explain their work:

Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF)

One of my favorite examples is from a simple chart the Silicon Valley Community Foundation shared on its blog, because it specifically opens up the work of its donor-advised funds using the SDGs. Donor-advised funds are typically not the most transparent vehicles, so using the SDGs as a framework to tally how SVCF's donor-advised funds are making an impact is particularly clever, refreshing, and offers a new window into a fast-growth area of philanthropy.

A quick glance at the chart reveals that quality education, good health and well-being, and sustainable cities and communities are the most common priorities among Silicon Valley donors.

GHR Foundation

A good example of how the SDGs can be used as a shared language to explain the intended impact of a grant portfolio is from GHR Foundation in Minnesota. I also like this example because it shows how the SDGs can be effectively used in both global and domestic grant portfolios. GHR uses the SDG iconography across all of its portfolios, as sidebars on the pages that describe foundation strategies. GHR's "Children in Families" is a core foundation grantmaking strategy that addresses children and families in need on a global scale. The portfolio name is a broad one, but by including the SDG iconography, web visitors can quickly understand that GHR is using this program area to address poverty, hunger, as well as lead to outcomes tied to health and well-being:

GHR is also able to use the SDG framework to create similar understanding of its domestic work. Below is an example from its Catholic Schools program serving the Twin Cities:

Through the visual cues the icons provide, I can quickly determine that in addition to aligning with the quality education goal, that this part of GHR's portfolio also addresses hunger and economically disadvantaged populations through its education grantmaking. This could also signal that the grantmaker interprets education broadly and supports the provision of wrap-around services to address the needs of low-income children as a holistic way of addressing the achievement gap. That's a lot of information conveyed with three small icons!

Tableau Foundation

The most sophisticated example comes to us from the tech and corporate grantmaking worlds--the Tableau Foundation. Tableau makes data visualization software, so using technology as a means to improve transparency is a core approach, and they are using their own grantmaking as an example of how you can use data to tell a compelling visual story. Through the interactive "Living Annual Report" on its website, Tableau regularly updates its grantmaking tallies and grantee data so web visitors have near real-time information. One of the tabs on the report reveals the SDG indicators, providing a quick snapshot of how Tableau's grantmaking, software donations, and corporate volunteering align with the SDGs.

As you mouse over any bar on the left, near real-time data appears, tallying how much of Tableau's funding has gone to support each goal. The interactive bar chart on the right lists Tableau's grantees, and visitors can quickly see the grantee list in the context of the SDGs as well as know the specific scale of its grantmaking to each recipient.

If you're inspired by these examples, but aren't sure how to begin connecting your portfolio to the Global Goals, you can use the SDG Indicator Wizard to help you get started. All you need to do is copy and paste your program descriptions or the descriptive language of a sample grant into the Wizard and its machine-learning tools let you know where your grantmaking lands on the SDG matrix. It's a lot of fun – and great place to start learning about the SDGs. And, because it transforms your program language into the relevant SDG goals, indicator, and targets, it may just provide a shortcut to that new strategy you were thinking of developing!

What more examples? The good news is we're also tracking SDGs as a transparency indicator at "Who Has Glasspockets?" You can view them all here. Is your foundation using the SDGs to help tell the story of your work? We're always on the lookout for new examples, so let us know and your foundation can be the next trend setter in our new Trend to Watch.

-- Janet Camarena

An Insider’s Guide to Giving Day
November 28, 2016

(Mike Berkowitz and Daniel Kaufman are co-founders and principals at Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies. Whitney Caruso is a director at Third Plateau. They are the authors of the recent report, “Beyond the dollars: the long-term value of giving days for community foundations.”)

Mike Berkowitz
Mike Berkowitz

Giving days can be incredible tools for place-based foundations to catalyze nonprofit fundraising. We have witnessed this up close through monitoring and evaluating 49 giving day campaigns as part of the Knight Foundation’s Giving Day Initiative and through advising the Sacramento Region Community Foundation on its BIG Day of Giving. We are also the authors of Knight Foundation’s Giving Day Playbook, a how-to guide with resources and recommendations for giving day organizers. Based on our experiences, however, we have also seen that just hosting a giving day is no guarantee of community impact.

Here are three key tips for foundations in accelerating community impact with giving days and other community-wide online fundraising campaigns:

Caruso Headshot
Whitney Caruso

1. Become a data hub. The power of big data to improve programs and accelerate social impact is becoming increasingly apparent. Giving days enable communities to collect large amounts of data from participating nonprofits and donors, which they can utilize to inform programs and ideas to improve their communities. In Miami, the community foundation is creating a map of the nonprofits and donors that participated in Give Miami Day in 2015. Community foundation staff have said that this will give them a firm understanding of where nonprofits and donors come from and enable them to identify gaps in services and more strategically engage specific neighborhoods. Going a step further, technology expert Amy Webb, speaking at Knight Foundation’s 2016 Media Learning Seminar, argued that community foundations have the potential to use data not just to map current community needs, but to predict them.

Daniel
Daniel Kaufman

2. Build local nonprofit capacity. This kind of fundraising does not necessarily come naturally to all organizations. Trainings are a central component of giving day organizers’ responsibilities and provided community foundations a chance to teach nonprofits important new skills. To build the capacity of nonprofits for the giving days and beyond, community foundations ran trainings on topics such as online fundraising, communications and branding, major donor cultivation and donor retention.

The Sacramento Region Community Foundation had a sophisticated training series for its Big Day of Giving. The “Boot Camp” series included sessions on building a GivingEdge profile, maximizing social media, engaging nonprofit donors and boards, and developing an eight-week work plan for the campaign. Post-event surveys in 2015 found that these trainings paid off, as nonprofits whose representatives attended all four sessions of the series raised 100 percent more than those that did not.

3. Build awareness of broader foundation efforts. Giving days should not operate in a vacuum, and community foundations increasingly tied the campaigns to their other strategic initiatives. For example, the Community Foundation of Grand Forks used its giving day in 2014 as part of an existing effort to engage the community around two issues (homelessness and limited access to health care) and two opportunities (adventure and public arts).

4. Connect fund holders to the broader community. Community foundations found the giving days to be a useful and exciting opportunity to engage fund holders. Thirteen community foundations enabled DAFs to donate through their giving days, resulting in 592 DAFs donating $3,556,129 to participating nonprofits.

Giving days are not for every foundation, so if a giving day does not align with your foundation’s goals, you may be better off skipping it than trying to get in on the campaign just because everyone else is. But as with most things in life, the more experience you have with giving days, the better you will be at using them to your organization’s full advantage—particularly if you see them as learning opportunities and track donation and marketing data to help shape future efforts.

Good luck, and happy holidays!

--Mike Berkowitz, Whitney Caruso, and Daniel Kaufman 

Glasspockets Find: Better transparency for community foundations’ donor-advised funds
December 20, 2011

The Community Foundation of Middle TennesseeDonor-advised funds (DAFs) are an increasingly popular vehicle for philanthropic donors. DAFs are often administered by community foundations and comprise a significant and growing portion of their management portfolios. Grantseekers who visit the Foundation Center often ask about how to learn more about the specifics of securing support from this below-the-radar source of funding, and the truth is many individuals like the privacy aspects a donor-advised fund can provide since little disclosure is required.

A colleague recently shared the 2010 report to the community of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. We both agreed that it did a nice job of providing, in a brief paragraph, some transparency for many of the foundations' DAFs. Here's a sample narrative for the Lady Bird Charitable Advised Fund, established in 2005:

"Lady Bird has been an involved civic leader in this community for decades. Most recently, "President Lady" led the Nashville Rotary Club through a campaign to double its endowment, while serving the Bredesen Administration as President of the Governor's Books from Birth Foundation, which has built on the Imagination Library Program created by Dolly Parton and currently provides free books to more than 170,000 children under age five in Tennessee."

Are there examples of donor-advised funds' transparency to which you would like to draw attention?

-- Mark Foley

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About Transparency Talk

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

    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

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