Transparency Talk

Category: "Effectiveness" (84 posts)

How Family Foundations Are Opening Up: Part II
January 31, 2019

Elaine Gast Fawcett of PhilanthropyCommunications.com is a philanthropy writer and communications strategist who has managed multi-million dollar grant programs for foundations, is a certified multigenerational family trainer with 21/64, and a Contributing Editor to the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP). This post is the second of a two-part look at some of the key findings about transparency in family foundations from a new NCFP report.

Elaine Gast Fawcett
Elaine Gast Fawcett

Last week I started by identifying some of the key ways in which family foundations are working more transparently than in the past. Strengthening relationships was core to the two practices I identified: being accessible to grant applicants and learning from listening to the community. Here are a few more helpful examples and practices from the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities.

Transparency is…Credibility to Bring Voice to Issues

When Stefan Lanfer came to the Barr Foundation in 2008, it was just over a decade old, and did all of its grantmaking anonymously. “In 2009, Barr’s trustees decided it was time to be more open and transparent about the foundation’s work,” he says.

What drove the decision? “Mission. The board saw the potential to bring more value beyond its grant dollars alone—to elevate the voices and work of our partners, and also to use our own voice to contribute to public debates about the issues we focus on.”

The shift to greater transparency took time. One of the foundation’s core values is humility. For its many years as an anonymous funder, the prevailing view was that “attention ought to be on the community leaders and issues at hand, not us,” says Lanfer, who was tasked with leading the foundation’s communications efforts. “We weren’t interested merely in increasing visibility for Barr. We wanted to know how to use communications to further our mission.”

“We realized there are times when the Barr Foundation lending its voice can be significant to issues affecting our city and region,” he says. “It can spark, frame, and help shift important conversations.”

For example, like many cities, Boston has experienced a huge real estate boom along its waterfront, says Lanfer. “Over the last 10 years, development along Boston’s waterfront has exploded. Meanwhile media coverage and public debate has principally focused on the merits or concerns about individual projects—and not on growing concerns that Boston’s waterfront could end up being walled off from public use. In this context, Barr’s president, Jim Canales, wrote an Op Ed that ran in the Boston Globe, calling for a new conversation, and a different approach. He called for greater ambition and vision to create a waterfront that all can access and enjoy for generations.”

That one Op-Ed precipitated a significant increase in media coverage of the topic. At the same time, Barr launched a new special initiative focused on the waterfront, which has since awarded over $11 million. Yet, it was a willingness to add its voice to the conversation, says Lanfer, that had that first, important amplifying effect. “It drew more attention to the cause and created a momentum that wasn’t there before, and has only continued to build.”

Transparency is…Sharing Mistakes in the Spirit of Learning

“When we started thinking about transparency, it was when we were looking at ways to help communities develop and how they could become more resilient, flexible, and intuitive in their own ways,” says Richard Russell, board member of The Russell Family Foundation (TRFF). “We looked at what was making a difference in the waters of Puget Sound. What we learned was that more than 50 percent of the pollution of Puget Sound comes from the communities surrounding it, and that those communities have a lack of consciousness that they live next to this incredible fjord and are dumping everything in there.”

“We asked ourselves: what is our theory of change? What will make a difference down the road?” says Russell. “We saw an opportunity to build trust and convene community. The more we can be open with each other, the better the quality of our connection.”

One of the ways to be open is to share mistakes, he says. “In our culture, mistakes are taboo. Yet revealing mistakes can be a source of strength,” he says. “We all think we have to protect ourselves. Yet a lot of our nervousness or fears around that are misguided.”

“My parents (George and Jane Russell, founders of TRFF) believed that you can advance progress so much faster if you got the right people in the room and got out of their way. If you try to keep people out of the room or hide mistakes that people are inevitably going to make, it injects more tension into relationships,” says Russell.

In the spirit of its founders, TRFF posts its mistakes. In fact, for years, one of the most it ever posted was on a failed program related investment that it had made to a nonprofit. “The video featured interviews with the executive director of the nonprofit, interviews with me from TRFF, what we had learned, and how we the foundation processed these lessons learned across the silos,” says CEO Richard Woo.

“People don’t learn from each other if they aren’t open,” says Russell. “One of the most valuable things we’ve been able to do as a community leader is to convene people on issues that they aren’t talking about—to get people to let their hair down and talk openly. We all need to be a learning organization.”

Transparency is…Opening Up Online

A website is a minimal transparency tool, says Patrick Troska. “At a minimum, people should be able to find you and get in touch with you, not have their question go into some black hole. We do exist in the public trust and are supposed to be responding to the public—and if we’re not doing that, what are we doing?”

“I hope these stories will inspire family foundations to look at their own transparency practices, and how family foundations—and the communities they serve—can benefit from increased openness.”

Recently, the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota revamped its website to be more community focused. There are now photos from the community, blog posts written by foundation staff and other guest writers, staff contact information, and funding guidelines. The foundation is even considering an interactive map showing where they fund.

The Perrin Foundation in New Haven, Connecticut also recently redeveloped its website. “When we started the process, we found we weren’t as transparent online as we thought we were,” says president Laura McCargar. “On our previous site, we had listed our board chair, but no other board members. We talked about grantmaking areas, but didn’t talk about how we encourage folks to build relationships. We listed our grant partners, but no financials.”

While it’s been a somewhat challenging process to redevelop the website, the “opportunity to discuss together how we publicly represent ourselves has been invaluable.” She says one of the discussion points was about how board members individually wish to be represented on the site. “Some felt photos might make it too much about the family, and others felt it would keep us too much behind a veil if we didn’t put photos up. These are important conversations to have.”

Ultimately, consistent with the GlassPockets transparency self-assessment, it’s up to a family foundation board, perhaps with staff, to decide on the right level of transparency for them, and why. I hope these stories will inspire family foundations to look at their own transparency practices, and how family foundations—and the communities they serve—can benefit from increased openness.

Want more? Download the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide, Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities, which encourages donors, boards, and staff of family foundations (and other giving vehicles) to purposefully consider their choices regarding transparency in grantmaking, governance, and operations. This guide includes a list of questions family foundations can ask themselves as a board to think deeply and develop a transparency strategy.

--Elaine Gast Fawcett

How Family Foundations Are Opening Up
January 24, 2019

Elaine Gast Fawcett of PhilanthropyCommunications.com is a philanthropy writer and communications strategist who has managed multi-million dollar grant programs for foundations, is a certified multigenerational family trainer with 21/64, and a Contributing Editor to the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP). This post is the first of a two-part look at some of the key findings about transparency in family foundations from a new NCFP report.

Elaine Gast Fawcett
Elaine Gast Fawcett

When it comes to transparency, family foundations, by and large, choose the level of their liking or opt to remain “under the radar.” Yet as the public and the nonprofit sector call for greater funder openness and transparency, more family foundations are wondering: how transparent should we be, and why? Will transparency lead to greater effectiveness? Or are there some circumstances where it serves our mission more to stay mums-the-word?

While there is a wide range of transparency practices in family philanthropy, there are more stories of the field swinging toward openness. I interviewed a number of family foundations for the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities. Here are a few stories that show how family funders are thinking and acting when it comes to transparency, and what has come as a result.

Transparency is…Being Accessible to Grant Applicants

“When we think about our approach, we don’t use the word transparency—it’s just what we do,” says Jean Buckley, president of the Tracy Family Foundation in Illinois, and daughter of the founders R.T. and Dorothy Tracy.

“From a grantmaking perspective, we’ve always strived to be transparent in our process—communicating clearly on our website how to apply and when we make funding decisions,” she says. Beyond that, the Tracy Foundation encourages grant applicants to consult with the foundation program manager to strengthen their applications and increase their chances of getting funded.

“We see so many applications that come in and need a lot of work. By making ourselves accessible to grant applicants, we can give them tips on making their proposals better. It also helps our program manager get to know the organization, and prepare to communicate to the board.”

She acknowledges that a foundation can’t have that level of communication with applicants without a dedicated staff. It takes time to dedicate those resources. Yet, at the end of the day, she says, it saves time. “I used to spend my time reading through countless applications, sending emails and follow up emails. And more than half the time, it would postpone funding,” she says. “Now that applicants have these pre-conversations with our program officer, the applications are clearer, and our discussions now are so much more efficient at board meetings. It’s improved our process and saved everyone time,” she says.

Buckley does acknowledge that there are challenges to transparency, particularly in small towns. “We live in a rural area, and no one wants to feel like they are bragging about giving away money,” she says. “Privacy can also be an issue. The more ‘out there’ the foundation is, people always want something from you, and there’s a good chance you’ll get stopped in the grocery store,” she laughs.

It’s a chance she is willing to take. “Without transparency, funders can miss out on opportunities and connections and learning. We all learn so much from each other,” says Buckley.

”It’s not like we sit around and talk about how to be more transparent. We’re open, honest people running a foundation, trying to make the communities we work in a better place. To do that requires us to be transparent, to engage in thoughtful communication with ourselves and others.” – Jean Buckley, Tracy Family Foundation

Transparency is…Listening and Building Authentic Relationships

Authenticity and transparency go hand in hand, says Patrick Troska, executive director of the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota. It requires a different set of skills to do it right and well, and it takes time and effort.

Philanthropists have historically been more directive and less in the role of listener, he says. “We realized we needed to stop talking and authentically listen. That’s how we built relationships. We were transparent about our guiding values and that we wanted to be in true partnership with the community. Even using the word partners as opposed to grantees intimates a different way of being.”

First, foundation staff assessed themselves individually and as an organization using a tool called the Intercultural Development Inventory assessment. “We needed to understand how we show up in the community when it comes to race, diversity and equity—what are the biases and lenses we bring, how much space do we take up based on our level of privilege, and how can we, as a predominantly white staff, authentically work in a persons of color community? Understanding this was an important first step. It showed us who we are, what we needed to do differently, and what types of behaviors we would need to start to practice.”

“Next, we had conversations with anyone who would talk with us: community leaders, faith leaders, teachers, principals, students, business leaders, and more. We asked them: what are your hopes, your dreams for your community? What do you most want for this community?”

“Then? We listened.”

This wasn’t always easy or comfortable. Troska remembers a moment at a community meeting when an angry leader shouted at foundation staff. “Who are you to be in our community, she said. We knew we needed to sit there and listen. And we came back the next week, and the next week, and listened more. We could have gotten defensive or run away. But we stayed and practiced a set of skills and actions that helped us show up differently.”

“We now have a strong set of allies—folks who want to be a part of the work we’re doing. A new set of leaders emerged from those conversations we had early on. We’re now seen as a more trusted partner in the community, all because of the work we did to be more open to what the community had to say.”

Learn more about transparency trends in philanthropy in my next post, or by downloading the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide, Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities.

--Elaine Gast Fawcett

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

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Janet Camarena

“Because It’s Hard” Is Not an Excuse – Challenges in Collecting and Using Demographic Data for Grantmaking
August 30, 2018

Melissa Sines is the Effective Practices Program Manager at PEAK Grantmaking. In this role, she works with internal teams, external consultants, volunteer advisory groups, and partner organizations to articulate and highlight the best ways to make grants – Effective Practices. A version of this post also appears in the PEAK Grantmaking blog.

MelissaFor philanthropy to advance equity in all communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, it needs to be able to understand the demographics of the organizations being funded (and declined), the people being served, and the communities impacted. That data should be used to assess practices and drive decision making.

PEAK Grantmaking is working to better understand and build the capacity of grantmakers for collecting and utilizing demographic data as part of their grantmaking. Our work is focused on answering four key questions:

  • What demographic data are grantmakers collecting and why?
  • How are they collecting these demographic data?
  • How is demographic data being used and interpreted?
  • How can funders use demographic data to inform their work?

In the process of undertaking this research, we surfaced a lot of myths and challenges around this topic that prevent our field from reaching the goal of being accountable to our communities and collecting this data for responsible and effective use.

Generally, about half of all grantmakers are collecting demographic data either about the communities they are serving or about the leaders of the nonprofits they have supported. For those who reported that they found the collection and use of this data to be challenging, our researcher dug a little deeper and asked about the challenges they were seeing.

Some of the challenges that were brought to the forefront by our research were:

PEAK Grantmaking reportChallenge 1: Fidelity and Accuracy in Self-Reported Data
Data, and self-reported data in particular, will always be limited in its ability to tell the entire story and to achieve the nuance necessary for understanding. Many nonprofits, especially small grassroots organizations, lack the capability or capacity to collect and track data about their communities. In addition, white-led nonprofits may fear that lack of diversity at the board or senior staff level may be judged harshly by grantmakers.

Challenge 2: Broad Variations in Taxonomy
Detailed and flexible identity data can give a more complete picture of the community, but this flexibility works against data standardization. Varying taxonomies, across sectors or organizations, can make it difficult to compare and contrast data. It can also be a real burden if the nonprofit applying for a grant does not collect demographic data in the categories that a grantmaker is using. This can lead to confusion about how to report this data to a funder.

Challenge 3: Varying Data Needs Across Programs
Even inside a single organization, different programs may be collecting and tracking different data, as program officers respond to needs in their community and directives from senior leadership. Different strategies or approaches to a problem demand different data. For instance, an arts advocacy program may be more concerned with constituent demographics and impact, while an artist’s program will want to know about demographics of individual artists.

Challenge 4: Aggregating Data for Coalitions and Collaborations
This becomes even more complex as coalitions and collaborative efforts that bring together numerous organizations, or programs inside of different organizations, to accomplish a single task. The aforementioned challenges are compounded as more organizations, different databases, and various taxonomies try to aggregate consistent demographic data to track impact on specific populations.

These are all very real challenges, but they are not insurmountable. Philanthropy, if it puts itself to the task, can tackle these challenges.

Some suggestions to get the field started from our report include

  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Pilot systems for data collection, then revisit them to ensure that they are working correctly, meeting the need for good data, and serving the ultimate goal of tracking impact.
  • Fund the capacity of nonprofits to collect good data and to engage in their own diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
  • Engage in a conversation – internally and externally – about how this data will be collected and how it will be used. If foundation staff and the nonprofits they work with understand the need for this data, they will more willingly seek and provide this information.
  • For coalitions and collaborative efforts, it may make sense to fund a backbone organization that takes on this task (among other administrative or evaluation efforts) in support of the collective effort.
  • Work with your funding peers – in an issue area or in a community – to approach this challenge in a way that will decrease the burden on nonprofits and utilize experts that may exist at larger grantmaking operations.
  • Support field-wide data aggregators, like GuideStar or the Foundation Center, and work alongside them as they try to collect and disseminate demographic data about the staff and boards at nonprofits and the demographics of communities that are being supported by grantmaking funds.

Grantmakers have the resources and the expertise to begin solving this issue and to share their learning with the entire field. To read more about how grantmakers are collecting and using demographic data, download the full report.

--Melissa Sines

It’s Not You, It’s Me: Breaking Up With Your Organization’s Inequitable Funding Practices
March 21, 2018

Erika Grace “E.G.” Nelson is a Community Health and Health Equity Program Manager at the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. E.G. recently led the Center through an equity scan of its Request for Proposal (RFP) policies and procedures.

Erika Nelson photo“It’s not you; it’s me” is possibly the most cliché break-up excuse, but for many funders, it really is their own policies and procedures that undermine their ability to find community soulmates. Perhaps you have had conversations with community members who have said that they found out about your funding opportunity too late, were too busy to apply, or, worse yet, were rejected even though their project sounds like a great fit based on the conversation you are currently having with them. The reality is that funders typically enact policies that are convenient for themselves, as opposed to what makes sense for grantseekers, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) fall by the wayside of expediency. As a result, organizations with the most social and fiscal capital have the best shot at receiving awards.

Have you ever taken the time to think about how your funding portfolio might look differently if your RFP process was designed to be more equitable and inclusive? We recently completed an equity scan, and here is a bit about how this reflection has led to changes in our RFP process.

“Funders typically enact policies that are convenient for themselves, as opposed to what makes sense for grantseekers.”

At the Center for Prevention, our goal is to improve the health of all Minnesotans by tackling the leading causes of preventable disease and death – commercial tobacco use, physical inactivity, and unhealthy eating. While Minnesota has one of the best overall health rankings in the nation, we see huge gaps in health outcomes when considering factors such as race, income, and area of residence.

We also know that communities are aware of what they need to be healthy, but organizations established by and for marginalized communities tend to face greater barriers than well-resourced, mainstream organizations in getting what they need. We wanted to remove as many barriers from our application process as possible so that we could find and support more community-based and culturally-tailored approaches to addressing health needs. To begin identifying these barriers, our team reflected on challenges identified by communities we work with and walked through our application process from beginning to end using an equity lens. As a result, we have implemented several systemic changes to move towards our vision of a truly equitable process.

Bringing the Funding Opportunities to the Community

BCBS_Center_Prevention_vert_blueWe began our journey by thinking about funding opportunities. Before an organization can even apply for funding, it needs to know that an opportunity exists. Through community conversations, we learned that many organizations were unfamiliar with our resources and work. We recommended that project teams develop a tailored outreach plan for each funding opportunity, with specific outreach to organizations or sectors we considered to be key stakeholders or who had been markedly absent in previous rounds. Moving forward, we also have a goal of literally meeting folks where they are at – town halls, cultural events, on social media – to share our work and funding opportunities.

As a result, here are some ways we shifted how we engage with community organizations through our RFP process:

  • Time. Once applicants find out about an opportunity, they need to apply, which takes some time. We learned that some potential applicants prioritized other opportunities because they didn’t have the staff capacity to apply for multiple opportunities concurrently. The easiest solution to this problem was to give applicants more time, so we extended our open application period. In our case, we went from no set minimum to at least six weeks.
  • Assistance. We also wanted to make sure that applicants could make informed decisions about how to prioritize staff time, so we opened up new channels for discussing funding opportunities. We made sure that every application had a designated point person for answering questions from the public, and even piloted some creative ways to interact with the community in advance of the submitted application, such as an “office hours” hotline where anyone could call in and ask questions. The number of inquiries was manageable and allowed applicants to receive guidance on whether their projects were a good match before they invested time in applying. Follow-up survey data showed that this strategy paid off because applicants reported that they understood our funding objectives and that the time they invested in applying was appropriate for the potential award.
  • Accessibility. We are also working towards using more accessible language to articulate the merits of a viable proposal. We now run a readability test on all RFP language before publication, with the goal of using language that is no higher than an eighth grade reading level. Such tests have helped us remove jargon, and improve comprehension by professionals outside of public health as well as by non-native English speakers.

Leveling the Playing Field of Community Relationships

Our team also considered the role relationships play in evaluating proposals. We approached equity from two angles. We set limits on which and when “outside information”— knowledge we have about a project that didn’t come from the application—can be shared during proposal review. We also started reaching out to new applicants to discuss their work more deeply. Our familiarity with mainstream organizations and those we have previously funded can influence how we evaluate an application, and in some cases lead to an unfair advantage for groups that already have many advantages.  So these limits on “outside information” were put in place to level the playing field, as well as to begin to strengthen relationships with organizations that were new to us. These conversations helped us to fill in gaps in our understanding that we may unconsciously fill in for organizations we are already familiar with.

“We now run a readability test on all RFP language before publication…to remove jargon, and improve comprehension.”

Transparent Evaluation Processes

We felt transparency in our decision-making process could only improve the quality of proposals. One way we have done this is by making scoring rubrics available to applicants. We also began providing tailored feedback to each declined applicant on how the proposal could have been stronger in hopes that it will improve future submissions. Though we have yet to determine what impact this will have in the future, we can say that applicants have been appreciative and found this feedback to be useful.

Hope and More Work to Be Done

While we don’t yet have much data to analyze post-implementation, we have noticed a few positive outcomes. We have seen a great increase in applications from greater Minnesota in particular, demonstrating that our targeted outreach is increasingly effective. Our funding awards to projects by and for people of color have also doubled in one of two opportunities we have analyzed since implementation. Despite this progress, we continue to wrestle with how to develop scoring tools that better reflect our values. 

The above are just some examples of how we have begun to identify and address equity barriers in our process that may be helpful for others. If your foundation is considering something similar, here are some things we learned from our experience that may be helpful for you.

  • Leadership & Promising Practices. As with any new process implementation, support from leadership is critical. If you are met with resistance, keep in mind that funders typically want to emulate best and promising practices in philanthropy, and sharing what other funders are doing around diversity, equity, and inclusion can be highly motivating.
  • Checks & Balances. It is also important to keep in mind that old habits die hard. It is not necessarily because team members are resistant to change, but simply need to get into the routine of doing things differently. For that reason, be sure that you build in checks and balances along the way to ensure that all who touch your RFP process have the opportunity to identify pain points along the way while also upholding equity commitments.
  • No One Size Fits All. Keep in mind that there is not one model that will work for everyone, and much in the same way, not all the communities you serve will be pleased with the changes you make. So, keep asking for and responding to feedback from community and know that correcting mistakes is part of improvement and part of ensuring our processes continue to be ones that facilitate, rather than undermine, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

--Erika Grace “E.G.” Nelson

New on Glasspockets: Open Knowledge Feature Added to Glasspockets Profiles
March 19, 2018

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives for Foundation Center

Janet Camarena photoWho has glass pockets when it comes to knowledge? Answering this question using our Glasspockets profiles just became a lot easier, thanks to a new feature we’ve added to emphasize the importance of creating a culture of shared learning in philanthropy. Beginning today, Glasspockets profiles are featuring a tie-in with our ongoing #OpenForGood campaign, designed to encourage open knowledge sharing by foundations.

All Glasspockets profiles now have a dedicated space to feature the knowledge that each foundation has contributed to IssueLab, which is a free, open repository that currently provides searchable access to nearly 24,000 knowledge documents. Currently, 67 of the 93 profiles on Glasspockets showcase recently shared reports on IssueLab. For example, looking at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund's Glasspockets profile reveals that it is participating in the #OpenForGood movement; a window appears on the right side of its profile featuring the latest learning the foundation has shared on IssueLab.

"Sharing your knowledge via open repositories is openness that is good for you and good for the field."

This window on shared knowledge is a dynamic feed generated from our IssueLab database, so if you have published evaluations or other publications to share that are not showing up in your profile, simply go to IssueLab to upload these documents, or contact our Glasspockets team for assistance. And if your foundation invested specifically in monitoring and evaluating results, you can share those evaluations in our new IssueLab: Results. To acknowledge your efforts for sharing your recent evaluations, your foundation will receive an #OpenforGood badge to display on your website and on your Glasspockets profile to signal your commitment to creating a community of shared learning.

Though not a formal part of the transparency assessment, the #OpenForGood feature makes profile users aware of the kinds of learning that are available from participating foundations. Besides linking to the two most recent reports, a shortcut is also provided linking the user to a landing page of all of that foundation’s available knowledge documents.

OFG Everyone Learns GroupSince Glasspockets began, the transparency self-assessment has tracked whether foundations make available a central landing page of knowledge on their own websites, and that will continue to be included moving forward. So what’s the difference here? Opening up your knowledge on your own website is great for people who already know about your institution and visit your website, but it doesn’t really help to spread that knowledge to peers and practitioners unaware of your work. The fragmentation of knowledge across thousands of websites doesn’t do much to accelerate progress as a field—but that’s where open repositories like IssueLab come in.

Open repositories have several things going for them that truly live up to the idea of being #OpenForGood. First of all, any report you make available on IssueLab becomes machine-readable, so it can more easily be used and built upon by others doing similar work. Secondly, once a resource has been added to IssueLab, it becomes part of the sector’s collective intelligence, feeding through an open protocol system, which integrates with systems like WorldCat in 10,000+ public libraries, which means students, academics, journalists, and the general public can easily find the knowledge you’ve generated and shared, even if they’ve never heard of IssueLab, Foundation Center, or your organization. Once in the system, your knowledge resources can also be issued something called a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), so you can track access and use of that knowledge in an ongoing way.

The easiest way to think of it is that sharing your knowledge via open repositories is openness that is good for you and good for the field. So how about it? What will you #OpenForGood?

--Janet Camarena

Open for Transformational Change: How Foundation Transparency Sets the Stage for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice
February 14, 2018

Whitney Tome is the executive director of Green 2.0, a campaign dedicated to increasing the racial diversity of mainstream environmental NGOs, foundations and federal government agencies through data transparency, accountability, and increased resources.

Whitney Tome photoPhilanthropy invests billions of dollars into charitable causes each year. According to Foundation Center, foundations gave an estimated $59.28 billion in 2016. That’s a tremendous amount of capital. For better or worse, the field of philanthropy is a leader in determining what’s important and how social change happens. Whoever holds the purse also holds the power. And with power comes responsibility for foundations to set the gold standard, especially for diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ).

In my role as executive director of Green 2.0, I spend a lot of time helping foundations better understand how improved foundation transparency around DEIJ can position philanthropy to lead by example instead of just playing catch up, or worse, just going through the motions. Though we focus on the environmental field, what we have learned in the process can serve as a helpful example for all of philanthropy because every sector has been influenced by the power and privilege that exist in our society.

“Being transparent about the demographics of foundation staff and boards…can spur a review of recruitment and hiring process to reduce implicit biases.”

So what have we learned?  The environmental movement, in particular, has failed to adequately represent people of color. In 2014, Green 2.0 commissioned “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations” report authored by Dr. Dorceta Taylor, which found that while people of color are 36% of the U.S. population, they only comprise 12% of foundation staff in the world of environmental funding. And ample studies have shown that communities of color are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards. Green 2.0 envisions a different, more diverse movement that wins environmental battles for those most impacted. To catalyze transformational change, Green 2.0 works to increase the racial and ethnic diversity in the mainstream environmental movement. We call for data transparency, accountability, and increased resources to ensure NGOs and foundations are diverse.

As the sustained drumbeat to improve workplaces and increase opportunities for talented people of color, Green 2.0 engages with environmental NGOs and foundations by calling on them to share their demographic data year after year. This is not just transparency for transparency’s sake. We find there are direct benefits to this kind of transparency that spurs change for the better as outlined below. But there is still lots of room for improvement.

Since 2014, only 12 of the Top 40 environmental foundations have answered the call. Given the benefits of transparency to the DEIJ movement, it is important that both GuideStar and Glasspockets encourage disclosures pertaining to diversity data in their respective profiles. In the case of Glasspockets, the transparency self-assessment covers disclosures about both diversity values statements and demographic data, and what we have learned here is it remains a challenge for the field as a whole with fewer than half of participating foundations reporting any kind of values statement, and fewer than 10 percent disclosing any demographic data at all.  And out of a universe of more than 86,000 foundations, only 500 foundations have willingly submitted their demographic data to GuideStar via their profile page demonstrating that this is a challenge for all foundations. 

Commitment means:

  • Being transparent about the demographics of foundation staff and boards. Greater transparency can spur a review of recruitment and hiring process to reduce implicit biases but also allow foundations to identify the full range of organizations they should be supporting.
  • Encouraging grantees to submit their diversity data and communicate how they are working on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice both internally and externally. As funders, foundations are uniquely suited to holding grantees accountable for advancing a more diverse environmental movement.
  • Recognizing your role as leaders in the field that influence the whole. When foundations make a move and engage deeply on issues, others follow suit. Foundations have an opportunity and responsibility to show the field the value of diversity through its action and set the standard on recruiting, attracting, and retaining talented people of color.

In order to see transformational change, foundations need to make a real commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, internally. That’s more than providing lip service to the value of diversity. It is rather embedding equity and justice in the practices, policies and procedures of the organization and for foundations also into their grantmaking. Ask your foundation simple questions that may result in complex but informative answers as a start:

  • Are you tracking the data of your staff and board?
  • Do you have an organizational vision and/or mission around diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice?
  • Is there authentic leadership on DEIJ issues and are they holding the organization and themselves accountable for change?
  • Are your internal policies for attracting, recruiting, hiring, promoting and retaining staff transparent, equitable and consistently implemented?
  • Are you assessing your organizational culture and making constant adjustments to achieve your vision?
  • Are you tracking the demographic makeup of your grantees? Are you sharing those statistics with program officers? Are you using this to inform future grantmaking?

Several foundations have made or are starting to ask these questions, but many are not public about them.  From sharing the demographic data of their grantees to intentional recruiting and hiring staff of color, these foundations are changing their focus and what they fund. One foundation has been collecting the demographic data of their staff and grantees for several years; and sharing that data with grantees and program officers. This data gives program officers insight into where the dollars are going, how to shift their portfolio over time, and for their grantees they can now compare themselves to other organizations in the field. As a foundation, they have engaged in more DEIJ conversations internally and externally from how they support racial equity through funding to how they support the internal DEIJ work of grantees. This has spurred important conversation and reflection about funding, commitment, and action that this foundation is digging into and learning from every year. More need to start this conversation and be public about the answers that they are coming to.

Green 2.0 will continue to advance enduring change in the environmental movement broadly but we call on foundations to dedicate the time and resources needed to change the face of philanthropy to one that is more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and just.

--Whitney Tome

Through a Glass a Little Less Darkly: Looking Back, Looking Forward 2017-2018
January 17, 2018

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

Janet Camarena PhotoIn the spirit of Glasspockets, before we completely erase the past and close the books on 2017, we wanted to identify the highlights of the year from a transparency perspective. Here are last year’s moments and trends that made me think that transparency and openness are not just catching on, but starting to lead to a more permanent culture of transparency, which may signal continued progress in 2018:

E_SDG_Logo_UN Emblem-02#10 - SDGs Catch On: The 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. 2017 saw foundations increasingly aligning their funding with the SDGs, and some even using it as a shared language across philanthropy and across sectors to signal areas of common interest, and measure shared progress. 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, and some started taking advantage of this in 2017 to help explain the reach of their work. The GHR Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Tableau Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation each offer inspiring examples of how the SDGs can be used to increase philanthropic transparency, and ultimately understanding of the public good generated from their activities.

Amanda Flores-Witte Photo# 9 - Pain Points See the Light of Day: I noticed a greater willingness among grantmakers to publish reports and blogs not just to enumerate the successes, or business as usual activities, but to also candidly open up about the struggles and pain points along the way. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but some particularly inspired me:

  • A great example comes to us from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s storytelling series on Medium about its adventures in public arts funding. Given the project challenges, Mandy Flores-Witte shared on Transparency Talk that a trusted colleague advised them against opening up about the challenges they encountered, but they saw what could be gained by telling the story from various stakeholder perspectives, and as a result, ended up also producing a great example of why philanthropy needs more storytellers. (Yes, I know I’m cheating a bit here because this is from a 2016 series, but it’s so good that I’m including it anyway!)
  • In terms of formal publications, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation published a very detailed report analyzing the impact of a large-scale, multi-year and multi-sector initiative designed to end and prevent chronic homelessness. Among the report’s findings was the fact that homelessness actually increased during the grant period. At a less learning-focused foundation, this might have been enough to quash its publication.
  • Hanh Cao Yu photoThe California Endowment’s (TCE) chief learning officer, Hanh Cao Yu, lived up to her title by enumerating TCE’s mistakes in a Transparency Talk blog about the pain points the foundation encountered on the road to a health policy systems change.

We hope to see this practice grow in 2018, and that when funders do issue such knowledge that they take the time to share it on an open repository like IssueLab, as part of our #OpenForGood campaign. This practice is a significant one because sharing this knowledge can save other practitioners and funders from repeating costly experimentation and prevents us all from working in the dark.

#8 - Foundation Transparency Movement Builds Globally: The need for greater foundation transparency is not unique to the United States. In fact, the majority of countries outside the United States lack the regulatory structure we have that requires foundation disclosures that we take for granted here, such as transparency about leadership, compensation, grantmaking activities, or even just to verify their very existence. In many regions, this has created urgency around voluntary transparency movements, and some picked up steam by creating their own transparency assessments. In 2017, Australia, Brazil, and New Zealand each launched movements designed to motivate institutional philanthropists to greater transparency. In the case of Australia, the foundations are approaching this from a storytelling lens. And national philanthropic associations in both Brazil and New Zealand, inspired by the “Who Has Glass Pockets?” assessment, developed self-assessments for their own members. Given the dearth of global philanthropic data, we predict more global associations will be emphasizing the importance of voluntary transparency in 2018.

Mac-1024x512-03#7 - Transparency Comes to Competition Philanthropy: While competitions are nothing new in philanthropy, transparency about the competition can often fall short. This was not the case with the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change, as they designed the competition with transparency in mind. The goal was to award $100 million to an organization aiming to make “real and measurable progress on a critical problem of our time.” In the end, after several rounds, the winner was announced at the end of 2017 as a joint effort between Sesame Workshop West and the International Rescue Committee to team up to serve the growing population of child refugees in the Syrian response region.

But an additional real winner in this example was also transparency. As is often the case with competition or even ordinary grant programs, the demand for worthy ideas far outstrips the supply of grant dollars. The potential solutions in the proposals are wasted since they usually do not see the light of day, and those agencies must then source new prospects, re-package those requests to other funders, or give up. In response to these realities, the MacArthur Foundation partnered with Foundation Center to bring greater visibility to those ideas, with three goals in mind: drive investment in proposals that merit it; facilitate collaboration and learning between organizations working on similar problems; and inspire funders and organizations working for change to do things differently. As a result, there is now an open database of solutions ready for others to learn from and support, the 100&Change Solutions Bank.

Relationships Matter Practices-1#6 - Transparency Recognized as Key to Effective Grantmaking: A common concern we often hear is that funders don’t want to just “do transparency for transparency’s sake”—they want to do it because it leads to better and more effective grantmaking. 2017 was notable in that several industry groups took up the charge and leveraged member and client experience to demonstrate how transparency leads to more effective philanthropy, which should help foundations justify spending time on transparency efforts in 2018. The National Center for Family Philanthropy featured webinars and a blog series to reinforce the idea that transparency is appropriate for family foundations too. In April, we were happy to see that transparency topped GuideStar’s list of practices philanthropy should adopt to overcome common challenges. And in November, the Center for Effective Philanthropy published Relationships Matter: Program Officers, Grantees, and the Keys to Success. And guess what? The report found that transparency is key to healthy grantee/grantmaker relationships and particularly well-suited to addressing the power imbalance inherent in the relationship. Now that the ROI question has been put to rest, we expect to see more foundations prioritizing transparency in 2018.

Reedyjenniferford-cropped#5 - No Moat Philanthropy: Listing transparency among a list of cultural values or stating that one’s institution is aiming to create a culture of openness is a good place to begin, but Jen Ford Reedy’s excellent blog series about the Bush Foundation’s efforts is a great reminder to the field not to start and stop with elegantly written values statements. The blog series shares detailed steps and strategies foundation leaders can use to move their foundation toward greater openness. Ford Reedy’s blog series also deserves attention because it offers the field helpful advice on how working more openly can serve to help the field become more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

Phil goals#4 - GrantAdvisor Breaks Through Insular Foundation Culture: Industries as diverse as restaurants, travel, retail, health, and even nonprofits have had the blessing and curse of receiving unfiltered user feedback via online review sites for many years now, so it’s hard to believe that until 2017 this was not the case for philanthropy. With the launch of GrantAdvisor.org in April, now foundations can view, for better or worse, what their stakeholders really think. Anyone can register to give feedback, and once a foundation receives more than five reviews their profile goes live on the site. Given the power dynamic, reviews are anonymous, and foundations are able to post responses. An engaging profile with emoji-symbols invites users to rate foundations on two principal metrics: the length of time it takes to complete a foundation’s application process, and a smiley/frowning face rating assessing what it’s like to work with the particular funder. So far, enough reviews have been submitted to provide 49 foundations with unfiltered feedback. And perhaps more importantly, more than 130 foundations have registered to receive alerts when feedback is posted, so it’s an encouraging sign that the field is listening. As more reviews get published, this will continue to scale in 2018, and it will be interesting to see the kinds of changes foundations make in response.

990-PF graphic#3 - Open Data & Open 990-PFs Set the Stage for Change: Open, machine-readable 990-PFs actually became a reality in 2016, but 2017 represented the first full year of their availability and allowed some interesting experimentation to take place. For the uninitiated, though the IRS 990 and 990-PFs have always been public documents, they weren’t made digitally available as open data until April 2016 when the IRS started making digitally available all electronically filed 990 and 990-PF documents. Since the data is now not only open, but digital and machine-readable, this means that anyone from journalists to researchers to activists can aggregate this data and make comparisons, correlations, and judgments about philanthropy at lightning speed, all without any input from foundations. Throughout 2017, agencies like Foundation Center, GuideStar, and academic research institutions that use data from the 990s to analyze the field experimented with the usability of the data for new analytic tools. Here at Foundation Center, we prototyped investment transparency and financial benchmarking tools, while others also experimented with using the new treasure trove of open data in innovative ways. For example, a start-up company called Foundation Financial Research is compiling 990-PF benchmarking data on foundation endowment investment performance. Though there are technical glitches to be worked out, it is likely that over time the data will become more reliable and comprehensive leading to more such comparative tools. A recorded webinar by Digital Impact reviewed the challenges and opportunities of this new age of open philanthropic data, and a webinar and blog series on Transparency Talk outlines specific considerations for private foundations.

Paradise Papers graphic
Source: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

#2 - Paradise Leaked: I should preface this one by saying that Glasspockets remains committed to advocating for voluntary transparency and the inclusion of this particular item should not be taken to mean that we are shifting to advocating forced entry! The “Paradise Papers” refers to a set of 13.4 million financial documents, originating from the Bermuda-based law firm Appleby, detailing investments held in offshore accounts often in paradise-like locales. Leaked to German reporters from Süddeutsche Zeitung, who then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the documents name more than 120,000 people and companies, including many prominent individuals ranging from the likes of Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II, to celebrities like Madonna and Bono, and to government officials like U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The “Paradise Papers” also include offshore financial holdings of philanthropists like Open Society Foundations founder, George Soros and Simons Foundation founder, Jim Simons. You can read more here about that. But in terms of our work at Glasspockets, the headline to this story is not that high-net worth individuals hold large sums of money in offshore bank accounts—that is really old news. But coming on the heels of the Equifax leaks, which exposed vulnerabilities in one of the nation’s largest credit data reporting agencies and could impact upwards of 143 million American households, the subsequent Paradise Paper leaks further demonstrated that there is no longer any impenetrable fortress for our financial data. Couple these vulnerabilities with the interest in the activities of high-net worth individuals, and you have a perfect storm of motive and opportunity.

So, the take away here is not to live under the false sense of security that data systems can be reinforced and your offshore accounts are safe from prying eyes. Rather, assume that at some point, this will all be disclosed, so why not be proactive and explain long term philanthropic aims? There are valid reasons why donors establish funds and foundations outside of the United States, such as funding projects in countries where it doesn’t have diplomatic relations or for long-range planning so payout rates don’t force rash decisions. If these challenges, visions and strategies are not explained, others can fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. Many foundations have a history section of their website; the new era of leaks suggests that it may be time to add a future directions section. 2018 will likely bring more massive data breaches and leaks—are you ready?

Open Democracy Infographic1_tw#1 - Foundations Take a Stand: Traditionally, foundations are more comfortable writing checks to support others to take the microphone rather than using their institutional voice to speak out. 2017 saw a departure from this practice with many foundations finding their voice as a result of the current political climate. Funder groups banded together to issue open letters, CEOs blogged and foundation staff tweeted to reinforce commitment to issues or population groups that were in the political line of fire. Here at Foundation Center, we continued to improve our open, nonpartisan web portal that explores philanthropy’s role in U.S. democracy. Given the response of foundations in 2017, I’m betting we will see support for movement building of all Communications-network-logo-1-1persuasions grow this year. And speaking of speaking out, given this trend of foundations taking a stand, the Communications Network’s recent conference focused on just this topic and they have crafted some helpful tips on how to navigate institutional communications about politically charged issues of the day.

So, what am I missing?  The drawback of a list like this is that inevitably something that should be included gets left off.  And we want to continue to use this space to highlight emerging trends and excellent examples of transparency at work in philanthropy, so please share any thoughts, self-promotion, or suggestions below.  We have a whole year of blog content ahead of us to fill and welcome audience input.  Happy 2018!

-- Janet Camarena

How "Going Public" Improves Evaluations
October 17, 2017

Edward Pauly is director of research and evaluation at The Wallace Foundation. This post is part of the Glasspockets #OpenForGood series in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight. The series explores new research and tools, promising practices, and inspiring examples showing how some foundations are opening up the knowledge that they are learning for the benefit of the larger philanthropic sector. Contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #OpenForGood.

ED_finalAs foundations strive to be #OpenForGood and share key lessons from their grantees' work, a frequent question that arises is how foundations can balance the value of openness with concerns about potential risks.

Concerns about risk are particularly charged when it comes to evaluations. Those concerns include: possible reputational damage to grantees from a critical or less-than-positive evaluation; internal foundation staff disagreements with evaluators about the accomplishments and challenges of grantees they know well; and evaluators’ delays and complicated interpretations.

It therefore may seem counterintuitive to embrace – as The Wallace Foundation has – the idea of making evaluations public and distributing them widely. And one of the key reasons may be surprising: To get better and more useful evaluations.

The Wallace Foundation has found that high-quality evaluations – by which we mean independent, commissioned research that tackles questions that are important to the field – are often a powerful tool for improving policy and practice. We have also found that evaluations are notably improved in quality and utility by being publicly distributed.

Incentives for High Quality

A key reason is that the incentives of a public report for the author are aligned with quality in several ways:

  • Evaluation research teams know that when their reports are public and widely distributed, they will be closely scrutinized and their reputation is on the line. Therefore, they do their highest quality work when it’s public.  In our experience, non-public reports are more likely than public reports to be weak in data use, loose in their analysis, and even a bit sloppy in their writing.  It is also noteworthy that some of the best evaluation teams insist on publishing their reports.
  • Evaluators also recognize that they benefit from the visibility of their public reports because visibility brings them more research opportunities – but only if their work is excellent, accessible and useful.
  • We see evaluators perk up when they focus on the audience their reports will reach. Gathering data and writing for a broad audience of practitioners and policymakers incentivizes evaluators to seek out and carefully consider the concerns of the audience: What information does the audience need in order to judge the value of the project being evaluated? What evidence will the intended audience find useful? How should the evaluation report be written so it will be accessible to the audience?

Making evaluations public is a classic case of a virtuous circle: public scrutiny creates incentives for high quality, accessibility and utility; high quality reports lead to expanded, engaged audiences – and the circle turns again, as large audiences use evaluation lessons to strengthen their own work, and demand more high-quality evaluations. To achieve these benefits, it’s obviously essential for grantmakers to communicate upfront and thoroughly with grantees about the goals of a public evaluation report -- goals of sharing lessons that can benefit the entire field, presented in a way that avoids any hint of punitive or harsh messaging.

“What is it that you don’t know, that if you knew it, would enable you to make important progress in your own work?”

Asking the Right Questions

A key difference between evaluations commissioned for internal use and evaluations designed to produce public reports for a broad audience lies in the questions they ask. Of course, for any evaluation or applied research project, a crucial precursor to success is getting the questions right. In many cases, internally-focused evaluations quite reasonably ask questions about the lessons for the foundation as a grantmaker. Evaluations for a broad audience of practitioners and policymakers, including the grantees themselves, typically ask a broader set of questions, often emphasizing lessons for the field on how an innovative program can be successfully implemented, what outcomes are likely, and what policies are likely to be supportive.

In shaping these efforts at Wallace as part of the overall design of initiatives, we have found that one of the most valuable initial steps is to ask field leaders: What is it that you don’t know, that if you knew it, would enable you to make important progress in your own work? This kind of listening can help a foundation get the questions right for an evaluation whose findings will be valued, and used, by field leaders and practitioners.

Knowledge at Work

For example, school district leaders interested in Wallace-supported “principal pipelines” that could help ensure a reliable supply of effective principals, wanted to know the costs of starting such pipelines and maintaining them over time. The result was a widely-used RAND report that we commissioned, “What It Takes to Operate and Maintain Principal Pipelines: Costs and Other Resources.” RAND found that costs are less than one half of 1% of districts’ expenditures; the report also explained what drives costs, and provided a very practical checklist of the components of a pipeline that readers can customize and adapt to meet their local needs.

Other examples that show how high-quality public evaluations can help grantees and the field include:

Being #OpenForGood does not happen overnight, and managing an evaluation planned for wide public distribution isn’t easy. The challenges start with getting the question right – and then selecting a high-performing evaluation team; allocating adequate resources for the evaluation; connecting the evaluators with grantees and obtaining relevant data; managing the inevitable and unpredictable bumps in the road; reviewing the draft report for accuracy and tone; allowing time for grantees to fact-check it; and preparing with grantees and the research team for the public release. Difficulties, like rocks on a path, crop up in each stage in the journey. Wallace has encountered all of these difficulties, and we don’t always navigate them successfully. (Delays are a persistent issue for us.)

Since we believe that the knowledge we produce is a public good, it follows that the payoff of publishing useful evaluation reports is worth it. Interest from the field is evidenced by 750,000 downloads last year from www.wallacefoundation.org, and a highly engaged public discourse about what works, what doesn’t, why, and how – rather than the silence that often greets many internally-focused evaluations.

--Edward Pauly

No Moat Philanthropy Part 5: The Downsides & Why It’s Worth It
October 6, 2017

Jen Ford Reedy is President of the Bush Foundation. On the occasion of her fifth anniversary leading the foundation, she reflects on efforts undertaken to make the Bush Foundation more permeable. Because the strategies and tactics she shares can be inspiring and helpful for any grantmaker exploring ways to open up their grantmaking, we have devoted this blog space all week to the series. This is the final post in the five-part series.

Reedyjenniferford-croppedEverything we do is a trade-off. Spending time and money on the activities described in this No Moat Philanthropy series means time and money not invested in something else. Here are some of the downsides of the trade-offs we have made:

It takes some operating expense.  It requires real staff time for us to do office hours in western North Dakota and to reformat grant reports to be shared online and to do every other activity described in these posts. We believe there is lots of opportunity to advance our mission in the “how” of grantmaking and weigh that as an investment alongside others. In our case, we did not have an increase in staff costs or operating expenses as we made this shift. We just reprioritized.

It can be bureaucratic.  Having open programs and having community members involved in processes requires some structure and rules and standardization in a way that can feel stifling. Philanthropy feels more artful and inspired when you can be creative and move quickly. To be equitably accessible and to improve the chance we are funding the best idea, we are committed to making this trade-off. (While, of course, being as artful and creative as possible within the structures we set!)

“We believe our effectiveness is fundamentally tied to our ability to influence and be influenced by others.”

Lots of applications means lots of turndowns.  Conventional wisdom in philanthropy is to try to limit unsuccessful applications – reducing the amount of effort nonprofits invest with no return. This is an important consideration and it is why many foundations have very narrow guidelines and/or don’t accept unsolicited proposals. The flip side, however, is that the more we all narrow our funding apertures, the harder it is for organizations to get great ideas funded. We’ve decided to run counter to conventional wisdom and give lots of organizations a shot at funding. Of course, we don’t want to waste their time. We have three strategies to try to mitigate this waste: (1) through our hotlines we try to coach unlikely grantees out of the process. (In our experience, nonprofits will often apply anyway – which suggests to us that they value having a shot – even if the odds are long.); (2) we try to make the process worth it. Our surveys suggest that applicants who do the programs with the biggest pools get something out of the process – (and we learn from the applicants even if they are not funded.); and (3) we try to make the first stage of our processes as simple as possible so folks are not wasting too much effort.

Relationships are hard!  Thinking of ourselves as being in relationship with people in the region is not simple. There are lots of them! And it can be super frustrating if a Bush staff member gives advice on a hotline that seems to be contradicted by the feedback when an application is declined. We’ve had to invest money and time in developing our CRM capacity and habits. We have a lot more work to do on this front. We will never not have a lot more work to do on our intercultural competence and our efforts to practice inclusion. Truly including people with different perspectives can make decisions harder as it makes decisions better.  The early returns on our efforts have been encouraging and we are committed to continuing the work to be more fully in relationship with more people in the communities we serve.

Conclusion

Overall, we believe a No Moat Philanthropy approach has made us more effective. When we are intentional about having impact through how we do our work — building relationships, inspiring action, spreading optimism — then we increase the positive impact we have in the region.

We believe our effectiveness is fundamentally tied to our ability to influence and be influenced by others, which demands trust, reciprocity and a genuine openness to the ideas of others. It requires understanding perspectives other than our own. It requires permeability.

While we arrived at this approach largely because of our place-based sensibility and strategic orientation toward people (see learning paper: “The Bush Approach”), the same principles can apply to a national or international foundation focused on particular issues. The definition of community is different, but the potential value of permeability within that community is the same.

--Jen Ford Reedy

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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
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    Foundation Center

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