Transparency Talk

Category: "Environment" (8 posts)

Meet Our 100th GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Daphne Moore, Communications Director, Walton Family Foundation
March 27, 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.

The Walton Family Foundation (WFF) is a family-led foundation in operation since 1987. The children and grandchildren of founders, Sam and Helen Walton, lead the foundation and work to create access to opportunity for people and communities. WFF works in three areas: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in its home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta.

The Walton Family Foundation is our newest and 100th foundation to join GlassPockets. Daphne Moore, communications director, explains why transparency is a key aspect of WFF’s long-term approach to grantmaking.

GlassPockets: Congratulations on being the foundation that got us to the 100th profile mark! And to start on a transparent note, I also want to acknowledge and thank the Walton Family Foundation for marking its participation with an investment in the field by supporting enhancements to our GlassPockets platform, including the development of a new tiered framework so that foundations can more easily chart a path to working transparently. What can you tell us about why the Walton Family Foundation is prioritizing transparency, both at the foundation and at the field level?  

Daphne Moore: Thank you! The new, tiered framework is a smart approach to encouraging participation, and we were eager to be part of its development because the tiers make it easier to get started. Transparency can serve three valuable purposes: Transparency increases trust, something that is important when working with grantees as well as other funders and partners; it helps find alignment and where we can work together with others while lessening the duplication of efforts; and it helps to foster feedback from grantees and other collaborators encouraging new ideas and fresh thinking. It is a “push and pull” dynamic. The foundation has become more proactive in telling its own story. But that alone is one-sided. It’s also important for us to pull others into our work. The best ideas can come from anywhere, so we want to stay open to new thinking from all over and create pipelines to tap into that thinking.

Daphne Moore


Daphne Moore

GP: Family foundations cite a number of barriers to working transparently. Some say that they are reluctant to turn toward transparency because of a fear of risk to the family, while for others it can have more to do with an organizational culture that thinks of the foundation as "private family business." How did transparency become one of the values WFF leaders embraced?  

DM: In 2017, as we passed our 30th anniversary as a foundation, we wanted to articulate our mission, vision and values in a fresh way and in a way that resonates with our staff, our grantees and other stakeholders. We launched an effort to revisit and reflect on what drives our work. Board members and other Walton family members played a big part in that process by participating in interviews, workshops and even forming an advisory committee. We also sought and received significant input from a broad group of stakeholders – both internal and from grantees and sector leaders. We launched new language defining our mission and vision along with a simple, yet powerful, set of values. You can read about them on our website. One of those values is being OPEN. We want to be open about who we are and to ideas from anywhere. Platforms like GlassPockets are definitely part of living out that value.

GP: We often hear concerns that transparency takes a lot of time and resources. Why would you say transparency and openness should be a priority? How have you benefitted from your efforts to open up your work?  

DM: The more we ingrain transparency in our work, the less effort it becomes. It’s a muscle that you develop over time. Transparency takes a lot of the mystery out of philanthropy. That’s a good thing. It makes sense to be open about the strategy that goes into our grantmaking, who we’re working with and what we’re working for. We believe those closest to the problems we’re trying to solve are also those closest to the solution. The more we can provide insight into the work, the better we get at carrying out our mission and the better the chances of success.

GP: How did the GlassPockets self-assessment process help you improve or better understand your organization's level of transparency, and why should your peers participate? And related to this, you are joining as part of the new, advanced transparency level. Were the new GlassPockets Transparency Levels helpful or motivating to you?  

DM: GlassPockets is not the only way to be a transparent organization, but it’s a great way to put a stake in the ground and signal to both internal and external audiences that transparency matters and is important. The process showed us that transparency isn’t as complicated as we sometimes think, and the important thing is to start. The new Transparency Levels make participation less intimidating and foster a sense that this is truly a journey. We hope the levels inspire others to take our approach – just get started!

GP: The Walton Family Foundation website has quite a few entry points for visitors to learn about your work and what you're learning from it. You have sections devoted to stories, another to sharing knowledge, and another to communicating compelling facts via online flashcards. Can you talk about this framework and how you distinguish between each type of content, and why each is important to advancing your work?  

DM: Each section of our website showcases different aspects of the work we do. They open windows into the organization. With our Stories section – our blog – we’re trying to highlight the work of our grantees and the people committed to making a positive change in their communities. There’s such a broad scope to our work and some very powerful stories to tell. The blog also gives Walton family members, our leadership team and our program officers an opportunity to share their experiences and perspective on what we do, how we do it and why we do it. The Knowledge Center provides an opportunity for us to highlight what we have learned and what we’re learning from others. To have the greatest impact, we need to know what works, what doesn’t and how to be better in our grantmaking. Our Strategy, Learning and Evaluation Department takes a strategic approach to learning, which guides our decision making and planning. Through flashcards, we aim to break down complex issues into ‘snackable’ segments that can be easily consumed at a glance and shared on social media. The newest element of our website is one we’re excited about. We have launched a searchable online grants database, so visitors will be able to learn more about grants we have made going back 30 years.

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

DM: We’re thinking about doing this in several ways. First, and most directly related to GlassPockets, we expect to continue to add indicators to our profile. Look for us to do this throughout the next year. Another way is rethinking how we describe our work. When you’re focused on tackling some of the biggest challenges, you tend to focus on process and policy. You have to do that – it’s how you create systemic change. But process and policy are not what drives our work. It’s people – students, teachers, farmers, fishermen, entrepreneurs and artists. It’s also the Walton family members that lead us and the values that motivate them to want to create positive change for people and communities. So look for more about what drives the foundation and the impact that changes lives today and lasts for generations.

--Janet Camarena

New Online Portal Opens Up Ocean Conservation Philanthropy
April 20, 2017

(Amanda Dillon is Knowledge Services Manager for Foundation Center. A version of this article was first written for Alliance magazine.)

Amandadillon-150x150_125_125_s_c1Ocean conservationists and their supporters can now easily track funding for marine protection activities through a new online portal, FundingtheOcean.org.

The site aims to break down knowledge barriers and democratize access to critical information needed to drive ocean conservation philanthropy worldwide by centralizing access to essential data, resources, and tools.

With funding support from six major foundations, Foundation Center unveiled the portal this month. It offers free access to data on philanthropic, U.S. federal, bi/multilateral aid grants, and crowdsourced information about grassroots marine conservation organizations, enabling users to see data on who is working on ocean conservation around the world.

TW_General_440x220_v4Current figures indicate that while the ocean covers 71 percent of the earth's surface, less than one percent of all philanthropic funding has gone to support it since 2009. 

“This is a critical moment for the ocean,” said Bradford K. Smith, president of Foundation Center. “The decisions we make now will shape the ocean’s future, and the future of the lives and livelihoods of those that depend on it.”

With FundingtheOcean.org, users will be able to find funders, recipients and grants conveniently displayed by geographic area.  This data can help spur collaboration and maximize conservation efforts.  For example, users could potentially benchmark open data on marine protection funding to help them learn from the successes and failures of their peers; identify new ideas and approaches; and increase access to and awareness of conservation efforts.

Additionally, the website features eight case studies and a curated report collection featuring major conservation funders, including the Walton Family Foundation and the Packard Foundation, so that users can learn more about what’s working and what we’re learning about funding the ocean.

For more information: www.fundingtheocean.org

--Amanda Dillon

Transparency Talk Welcomes Arcus Foundation to Glasspockets
March 29, 2017

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.) 

Arcus foundation logoWe are pleased to welcome Arcus Foundation to our community of foundations that have publicly commited to working transparently. By taking and sharing the “Who Has Glass Pockets?” (WHGP) self-assessment, Arcus is contributing to a growing collection of profiles that serve as a knowledge bank and transparency benchmarking mechanism.

Arcus, with its offices in New York and Cambridge, United Kingdom, advocates for global human rights and conservation movements: “Together, we learn from each other and take bold risks on groundbreaking ideas that drive progress toward a future of respect and dignity for all.”

“We strive to apply a high level of transparency in our operations and in our relationships with grantees, partners and other stakeholders.’”

This month, Arcus became the 87th foundation to join WHGP.  As a way of welcoming Arcus to the Glasspockets community, we’d like to highlight some of the ways in which this foundation openly shares its environmental and social justice work.

First, Arcus has pledged a rare commitment to openness in its transparency statement that is part of the website’s introduction to Arcus’ work.

The foundation uses its website to explain its grantmaking process,  shares expectations for grantees, and offers a searchable grantee map and database.  A short video invites and informs prospective grant applicants.

Other ways that Arcus lives up to its transparency statement is by opening up its knowledge via  grantee impact stories, reports, and a foundation blog.  Additionally, the foundation discloses more than a decade of its financial information

Enjoy exploring the work that Arcus is doing for social justice and the environment.  Perhaps it will inspire your foundation to become #88!  Does your foundation have glass pockets?  Find out

 --Melissa Moy

Eye On: Giving Pledger & Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg
February 9, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Sheryl Sandberg and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Sheryl Sandberg photoThis Bay Area philanthropist is passionate about gender equity and continues to “lean in” for women.

Sheryl Sandberg’s education and professional experience have helped cultivate her philanthropic interest in empowering women, global health and poverty, and the environment.

Through a recent public filing, we learned that the Facebook Chief Operating Officer, 43, has donated $31 million worth of Facebook shares to the Sheryl Sandberg Philanthropy Fund, a donor-advised fund at Fidelity Charitable.

Based on Sandberg’s giving interests, the majority of this latest gift will likely support women’s empowerment, particularly Sandberg’s own initiative, Lean In, and the Lean In Foundation, which are both committed to “empower[ing] all women to achieve their ambitions.” 

Spurred by the success of Sandberg’s bestselling, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, the Lean In Foundation seeks to inspire and support women through its online community, free expert lectures, and local peers groups called Lean In Circles.

Sheryl Sandberg:

  • Facebook Chief Operating Officer since 2008
  • Became first female board member at Facebook in 2012
  • Author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
  • Founder of Leanin.org
  • 2015 Forbes Magazine rankings: #16 America’s Richest Self-Made Woman; #8 The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women; #1741 Billionaires
  • TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2013 and 2012
  • Board member: Walt Disney Company, Women for Women International, the Center for Global Development, and V-Day
  • Resides in Menlo Park, California
  • Personal net worth is $1.3 billion

Professional Path to Philanthropy

While studying economics as an undergraduate at Harvard University, she met her mentor and thesis adviser Larry Summers.  She graduated with honors in 1991, the same year that Summers became chief economist at the World Bank.  As Summers’ research assistant for two years at the World Bank, Sandberg worked on various health projects in India, including Hansen’s Disease, AIDS and blindness.  

After earning her MBA at Harvard, Sandberg again teamed up with Summers, who was now Deputy Treasury Secretary under President Clinton.  As Summer’s chief of staff, Sandberg focused on debt forgiveness in developing countries; she continued in her role when he became Treasury Secretary. 

In 2001, Sandberg joined Google, where she helped develop the tech company’s philanthropic work, while heading its advertising and sales operations. 

“We wanted to do things that matter, not that were easy…We wanted to innovate, and we wanted to be disruptive,” Sandberg said of Google’s business and philanthropic principles during an annual gathering of philanthropists. 

Sandberg expanded Google’s giving principles so that it extended outside typical philanthropic boundaries, where charity generally stays within communities.  By focusing on worldwide issues – such as global health and poverty and climate change – Google’s philanthropic work could have a greater impact.

“We wanted to do things that matter, not that were easy…”

Since 2008, Sandberg has been a tremendous force at Facebook, where she helped the tech company scale its operations and expand globally.  By 2012, Facebook made its initial public stock offering, and Sandberg became the first woman on the company’s board of directors.

In addition to overseeing sales and business development, marketing and communications, Sandberg also expanded Facebook’s philanthropy.  Under her leadership, Facebook also highlighted organ donation; the addition of the status button helped spike the number of organ donor registrations.

Philanthropic Work

With her strong background in global issues, economics and philanthropy, it’s not surprising to see the evolution of Sandberg’s philanthropic philosophy.

Sandberg and her late husband, David Goldberg, founder and CEO of SurveyMonkey, joined the Giving Pledge in 2014.  Like Giving Pledge movement leaders Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the couple pledged to donate the majority of their wealth during their lifetime.

The couple frequently advocated for gender equity and openly spoke about their support for shared earning/shared parenting marriage, whereby spouses equally share financial, family and parenting responsibilities.

Goldberg passed away in an accident in 2015.  In a heartfelt letter, Sandberg shared the importance of men leaning into their families.  Even in her grief, her passion for gender equity is evident, and she points to the benefits of gender equity for both men and women.

Sandberg has regularly leveraged her passion and influence to support causes she cares about.  In the Bay Area, Sandberg is co-chair of the Stand Up for Kids campaign, which supports the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

The Menlo Park resident sits on the board of directors for Women for Women International, which helps women survivors of war become self-sufficient through microloans and job training; Center for Global Development, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit thinktank focused on international development; and V-Day, a global movement dedicated to ending violence against women and girls.  Sandberg is also on the board of the Walt Disney Company.

In 2013, Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation gave $415,000, according to tax returns. The gifts included $250,000 to Women for Women International; $80,000 to Stanford University for the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research; $50,000 to V-Day; $25,000 to support the Open Field Foundation’s publication of “The Truth About a Woman’s Nation: Powerful, but Powerless”; and $10,000 seed money for the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, a gender-focused research-and-action organization.

Empowering Women

Sandberg’s engagement in gender equity issues dates back to her Harvard days when she co-founded Women in Economics and Government.  Today, she regularly speaks on gender inequities, from TED talks to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.  In 2015, Sandberg addressed U.S. Air Force Academy cadets on gender bias in the military.

In 2014, Sandberg and Lean In sponsored the Ban Bossy, a TV and social media advocacy campaign dedicated to banning the word “bossy” due to its perceived negative impact on young girls.  Celebrities including Beyonce, actress Jennifer Garner and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice contributed to the campaign’s video spots.

With her growing portfolio of philanthropic interests, from Lean In to her Fidelity fund, Sandberg is well positioned to be a major voice on gender and economic equality and the environment for years to come.

In the spirit of openness and transparency, it will be interesting to see if Sandberg, like her boss Mark Zuckerberg, will open up about the how and why of her philanthropy.  Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan recently launched the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative detailing the couple’s philanthropic plans.

Given Sandberg’s passion for global change and empowering women, we look forward to seeing her next philanthropic milestones and how she continues to inspire others.  

--Melissa Moy

5 Questions for Bill McKibben, Co-Founder, 350.org
April 22, 2015

(Bill McKibben is the co-founder of 350.org. He spoke with Kyoko Uchida of Philanthropy News Digest; this interview, part of the "5 Questions" series, was originally featured on the PND blog.)

Forty-five years after the first Earth Day in 1970, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have stalled and the planet faces the potentially devastating effects of accelerating climate change. At the same time, calls for educational and philanthropic institutions to rid themselves of investments in fossil fuel companies have gotten louder and a grassroots divestment movement has emerged from college campuses across the country.

PND asked noted environmental activist and author Bill McKibben about the impact of the fossil fuel divestment movement, the role of philanthropy in the fight against climate change, and the prospect that something meaningful will come out of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year.

Bill-mckibben-co-founder-350.org_full_imagePhilanthropy News Digest: The name of the organization you co-founded, 350.org, refers to the goal of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the current level of 400 parts per million to 350 ppm — a level, according to climatologist James Hansen and others, that is necessary to preserve conditions on Earth similar to those which prevailed as humans evolved and flourished. Where do things stand as of 2015? And do we have any chance of meeting the 350 ppm target?

Bill McKibben: Where we stand is the CO2 level in the atmosphere climbs 2 ppm annually — and the Arctic and the Antarctic are dealing with preposterous changes that even the most pessimistic scientists thought would take many decades to arrive, oceans are acidifying, and the cycle of floods and droughts is deepening. If we managed to get off fossil fuels with great haste — if we worked at the outer edge of the possible — then by 2100 forests and oceans would have sucked up enough carbon that we'd be moving back toward 350 ppm. Much damage would be done in the meantime, but perhaps not civilizational-scale damage. But that window is small, and closing. 

Is divestment the best way for philanthropy to support action on the climate, or should it be doing something else?

PND: 350.org's Fossil Free campaign aims to convince educational and religious institutions, governments, and other organizations that serve the public good to divest their investment portfolios of fossil fuel companies. One frequently heard criticism of the campaign is that it is trying to put out a fire with a garden hose. That is, getting a few dozen or hundred institutional investors to divest their portfolios of fossil fuels will have no measurable impact on the activities of large energy companies — or on other investors who may see an opportunity as those stocks are sold. What's wrong with that argument?

350logoBM: If it was all anyone was doing, it would not be enough, not even close. Of course, we're also fighting against new pipelines and coal mines, and for the rapid spread of renewable energy. But divestment is one of the things that knits it together — it's been the vehicle for spreading the news that these companies have four times the carbon in their reserves than any scientist thinks we can safely burn. That's why everyone, up to the president of the World Bank, has hailed divestment as a crucial part of the fight.

PND: Private foundations, including the two largest in the world, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK-based Wellcome Trust, have been the target of divestment campaigns mounted by a group here in the U.S. called Divest-Invest Philanthropy and, in the UK, by the left-leaning Guardian newspaper. Is divestment the best way for philanthropy to support action on the climate, or should it be doing something else?

BM: It doesn't preclude them from doing other things — indeed, since fossil-free portfolios are outperforming the broader market, it will give them more resources to do those things. But it is a necessary thing for them to do. Otherwise their investments will only work against their own programs, as dozens of top scientists have tried to tell Wellcome and Gates.  

We're focused on grassroots organizing because the fossil fuel industry is sprawling and protean, and we need to be as well. Call it the fossil fuel resistance — it's the fastest spreading movement on the planet, which is good, because this is the first truly global crisis.

PND: A handful of leading conservation organizations, including the Nature Conservancy, argue that the best way to change the behavior and practices of large energy companies is to engage and make them partners in the fight against climate change. What is your response to that argument?

BM: It's not serious. There's no sign of any of these companies abandoning their core business models as a result of engagement; they're only interested in more greenwashing. That became clear when the Rockefeller Brothers Fund divested in September 2014. They had worked for a decade to "engage" Exxon — which is the family company — and failed completely. I don't think it's actually what TNC is doing, but if it is, it's a bad idea. 

PND: 350.org is known for a distributed, grassroots organizing model in which local campaigns are run by independent, loosely affiliated organizations. Is that kind of decentralized model the right model for a movement with such large ambitions? And will we see a meaningful climate change agreement come out of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year?

BM: We're focused on grassroots organizing because the fossil fuel industry is sprawling and protean, and we need to be as well. Call it the fossil fuel resistance — it's the fastest spreading movement on the planet, which is good, because this is the first truly global crisis.

We'll see a little more progress than we did in Copenhagen — because there is a movement now in various countries that is pushing leaders to act. But whatever happens in Paris is not going to solve the problem — it will be one small step along the way.

--Kyoko Uchida

Rolling Out a Platform to Provide Diversity Data
November 12, 2014

(Danielle Deane is director at Green 2.0 and principal at The Raben Group.)

DanielleDeanTransparency and accountability are great goals but without data, it is like a stool with two legs. Good luck with that.  Consistent, visible data and goals keep us on a stable platform, and allows organizations and leaders to learn, build and improve. Data about who is leading and working in organizations is just as important as financials and environmental or social change indicators to understanding how an NGO or foundation works and its responsiveness to community needs.

Enter Green 2.0. Launched earlier this year, Green 2.0 advocates for improved diversity in the mainstream environmental movement. Partnering with GuideStar, a highly regarded information service  that organizes and provides data on over one and half million nonprofit organizations, and the D5 Coalition, an unprecedented coalition of leading philanthropy associations and foundations committed to taking on the critical issue of diversity, we rolled out a groundbreaking diversity data tracking effort. The effort brings a set of uniform and simple data standards to help nonprofits and foundations voluntarily report and collect information about their organization’s demographics for board members, staff and volunteers. The voluntary program within the GuideStar Exchange is the only program of its kind that encourages nonprofit transparency, allows nonprofits to supplement public information available from the IRS, and allows tracking on a scale we haven’t seen before — with the potential to reach 1.8 million nonprofits.  The need for this especially in the environmental field is clear.

The Green 2.0 effort brings a set of uniform and simple data standards to help nonprofits and foundations voluntarily report and collect information about their organization’s demographics for board members, staff and volunteers.

Green 2.0 recently released the comprehensive report "Diversity in Environmental Institutions: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations and Government Agencies" commissioned from Professor Dorceta Taylor. The report documents the problematic "green ceiling"— the failure of mainstream environmental organizations to keep up with the changing face of America. Although people of color comprise about 38% of the U.S. population, they occupy, on average less than 12% of staff at these organizations. The numbers at the board level are even lower – for example on average 95% of mainstream NGO boards are white; 85 % of foundation boards are white.  These numbers have not budged much over the last decade, though a promising trend is that white women have seen significant gains below the board level.

To quote one foundation leader, Steven Heintz, the president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund:

“As a funder we believe it is important to understand both the diversity of the organizations we fund and how they engage diverse perspectives in their work….We are excited to participate in the GuideStar Exchange effort and encourage others to do so. This builds on the work of many organizations over the past few years, and we are particularly appreciative of the efforts of GuideStar, D5, and Green 2.0 to make this happen.” (Statements from other leaders are here.)

Green 2.0’s website features the ten foundations that have made a commitment to transparency on Glasspockets, and have indicated that they disclose diversity data or have statements regarding their commitment to transparency.

In addition to bringing attention to diversity across these organizations, we also want to provide the best practices that many groups need to improve their environments. With that in mind, we are building on the work that Glasspockets has done in encouraging greater foundation transparency. The resources webpage of Green 2.0’s website features the ten foundations (among those that are ranked within the top 50 environmental funders by the Foundation Center) that have made a commitment to transparency on Glasspockets, and have indicated that they disclose diversity data or have statements regarding their commitment to transparency.

Our success will come through our growing list of strategic partners that similarly view diversity as an integral part of today’s corporate and nonprofit business models. Our success will also come through our work with you.

Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in philanthropy will help organizations better achieve their missions. So, what can you do? Three things:

  • Nonprofits and funders, pledge to submit your data on GuideStar
  • Funders, share your transparency profile on Glasspockets
  • Let your grantees know you encourage them to submit their data. For environmental NGOs and foundations, we hope to have organizations pledge to submit data by the end of this year (2014), and submit data in early 2015.
  • Everyone, share your success stories and strategies with us at www.diversegreen.org

Foundations have a key role to play in ensuring that we see dramatically better diversity numbers in five years than what we’ve seen over the last decade. Shining a light on the challenges and solutions will lead to that improvement. We look forward to your support.

-- Danielle Deane

Glasspockets Find: MacArthur Foundation Videos Illuminate Program Strategies
September 18, 2013

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

We all can't be experts in every field—but we can communicate in ways that makes our intentions clear. Let's say you hear that a foundation is interested in the same issue your work is addressing: girls' education. But girls' education could refer to subsidizing pre-kindergarten in the U.S., awarding college scholarships for young African women, researching improved STEM education, or any number of other programs. The trick to understanding a foundation's goals is to get down to the specifics, without getting lost in a morass of jargon or hours of research.

The MacArthur Foundation is experimenting with using video to explain their program strategies, including Investing in Girl's Secondary Education in Developing Countries. In this four-minute video we are given an explanation of the program goals, why the foundation has chosen to concentrate on this specific need, and the larger global initiatives that tie in to their program strategy:

Watch the video»

A strength of video as a communications tool is that the visuals illustrate the foundation’s values, bringing their program goals to life. Another virtue is that the delivery of the information is usually a personal narration told in straightforward language. We all have read our share of foundation strategy documents that seem written only for specialists. On camera, people are less likely to speak in academic lingo—making it is easier for the program staff to convey their passion for the issue, and thus easier for those on the outside to see and understand what is going on inside foundation portfolios.

In this MacArthur Foundation video, Jorgen Thomsen, Director of the Conservation & Sustainable Development program, explains what excites him about their current strategy and how it builds on and diverges from previous areas of focus:

Watch the video»

Which foundations have excelled at producing videos that illuminate their specific program goals? Let us know at glasspockets@foundationcenter.org.

-- Rebecca Herman

What Can Philanthropy Learn from Corporate Responsibility Rankings?
December 13, 2012

(Emily Keller is an editorial associate in the Corporate Philanthropy department at the Foundation Center. A version of this post originally ran on the Foundation Center’s PhilanTopic blog.)

CSR-globeAs philanthropy looks for examples outside of its own field for how to be more transparent and accountable to its stakeholders, it might benefit from seeing how the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement has measured best practices and facilitated disclosure for companies. Corporations have long collected data generated by and/or relevant to their operations – everything from sales figures, to permit applications, to industry trends and customer behavior. Increasingly, however, regulatory and watchdog groups are demanding that companies provide information about the impact of their activities on society and the environment.

Many corporations, here in the U.S. and around the globe, are disclosing a wide range of activities to ratings groups that are tracking a multitude of topics. But from climate change to human rights to corruption, we -- and they -- still have a long ways to go.

As the CSR movement has gained traction, indices and lists that seek to quantify and rank company activities according to sustainability principles have proliferated. Financial analysts, media groups, and independent consultancies today produce annual assessments of everything from the amount of carbon companies put into the atmosphere to the sustainability of their supply chain management and the diversity of their boards. Many consider transparency and disclosure in addition to performance. Their metrics, in turn, are often used by customers, investors, and prospective job candidates to determine their level of engagement with a particular company.

Earlier this year, the Foundation Center added a CSR tab to the company profiles in Foundation Directory Online that highlights nearly two dozen of these corporate sustainability ratings lists and presents basic information from them in a user-friendly format. The consolidation of ratings provides an additional level of visibility to corporate data.

But in an emerging field characterized by a multiplicity of definitions and standards, even simple numbers can be hard to make sense of. Using hundreds of data points and a unique methodology, SustainAbility, an independent think tank and strategy consultancy, has taken it upon itself to "rate the raters" in order "to better understand the universe of external sustainability ratings and to influence and improve the quality and transparency of such ratings." As the firm is quick to note, many of these lists have been introduced within the last five years and there's plenty of room for improvement.

With that in mind, here are a few of the more prominent ratings lists/indices:

Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. The Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, which are offered cooperatively by SAM Indexes and S&P Dow Jones Indices, were launched in 1999 to track the stock performance of the world's leading companies in terms of economic, environmental and social criteria. DJSI World tracks the top 10 percent of the 2,500 largest companies in the Dow Jones Global Total Stock Market Index, while DJSI North America tracks the top 20 percent of the 600 largest U.S. and Canadian companies. The evaluation process includes a survey customized for fifty-eight industry sectors covering disclosure of compensation, governance, workforce diversity, risk and crisis management, greenhouse gas emissions, waste generation, branding strategies and metrics, data privacy, talent attraction and retention, and other areas. According to the DJ Sustainability site, "The indexes serve as benchmarks for investors who integrate sustainability considerations into their portfolios, and provide an effective engagement platform for companies who want to adopt sustainable best practices."

Carbon Disclosure Project. Every year, the London-based Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers, produces a dense, chart-filled report detailing the progress of S&P 500 companies toward their greenhouse gas emission goals. Based on a detailed questionnaire (the data collection process is so complex that CDP runs a series of workshops around the world to help companies answer it), the 2012 report offers a three-tiered breakdown of GHG emissions totals by sector; a performance band from A to E assessing actions to promote climate change mitigation, adaptation, and transparency; and a disclosure score from 0 to 100 for the provision of data. Multiyear leaders in the rankings include Bank of America and Lockheed Martin in the performance category, and Cisco Systems, Gilead Sciences, and Spectra Energy in the disclosure category.

Newsweek Green Rankings. In contrast to DJSI's rankings of only the most sustainable companies, Newsweek ranks the five hundred largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. as well as the five hundred largest in the world, regardless of their sustainability record. And unlike the Carbon Disclosure Project's rankings, only 10 percent of the scores are based on disclosure, with the remainder split between environmental impact and management (a category that takes public controversies into account). The magazine (which recently was purchased by The Daily Beast site and is transitioning to an online-only format) includes more than seven hundred data elements in its survey of companies, including greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste disposal, water use, equity investment (companies are responsible for the impact of the companies they own), hazardous waste reduction, biodiversity protection, company operations, contractors and suppliers, and products and services. Based on a scale of 0 to 100, IBM (82.9) and Santander Brasil (85.7) topped the 2012 rankings.

The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity. Consulting firm and magazine publisher DiversityInc, which launched its diversity rankings in 2001, bases its ratings on the responses it receives to a 300-question survey. As the organization explains in the methodology section of its site: "Ratios between key factors in diversity management, such as demographics of managers compared with managers who received promotions and demographics of the workforce compared with people promoted into their first management positions, play a significant factor in determining point scores." Companies are rated by industry, and the rankings include thirteen different top-five and top-ten lists. Topping the list in 2012 were PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sodexo, Kaiser Permanente, AT&T, and Procter & Gamble.

Corporate Responsibility Magazine's 100 Best Corporate Citizens. Corporate Responsibility Magazine and the Corporate Responsibility Officer Association (CROA) began publishing their list, which is 100 percent based on verifiable publicly available information, in 2009. The rankings are driven by companies' performance in seven broad CSR categories -- environment, climate change, human rights, employee relations, corporate governance, philanthropy, and finance -- with some three hundred and eighteen data points tracked across those categories. Carbon Disclosure Project and Foundation Center data are incorporated into the assessments.

And that's just a sampling. Indeed, the diversity and number of CSR ratings lists now available can be overwhelming at times -- for consumers and investors, as well as for companies, which receive a plethora of detailed surveys and questionnaires from dozens of groups seeking to track their activities and do not always understand the reasons they are selected or omitted from a given list.

In an effort to standardize the ratings process, Ceres and the Tellus Institute, founders of the Global Reporting Institute (GRI), recently launched the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (GISR), which aims to establish best practices in the sustainability ratings field, with a focus on transparency of methodology, performance-based results, forward-looking indicators, relevance to market forces, integration of sustainability criteria into investment decisions, independence of raters, and an expansion in the scope of participating companies. The initiative hopes to release the initial draft of its standards in 2013.

In the meantime, the number and scope of CSR ratings lists continue to grow. Last year, the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, in partnership with the Reputation Institute, released its fourth annual list of the top fifty companies in the U.S. based on the public's perception of their corporate citizenship, governance, and workplace practices. And earlier this year, Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Vestas released their third annual Global Corporate Renewable Energy Index (CREX) report, which tracks voluntary demand for renewable energy among the world's largest companies.

Other entrants in the field include the UN Global Compact, which asks companies around the globe to embrace universal principles and partner with the United Nations in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption issues, and A Billion + Change, which seeks to mobilize billions of dollars of pro bono work and skill-based volunteerism by the end of 2013.

Is any of this work making a difference? I believe it is and, having compared some of the largest lists against our corporate FDO profiles, can see that many corporations, here in the U.S. and around the globe, are disclosing a wide range of activities to ratings groups that are tracking a multitude of topics. But from climate change to human rights to corruption, we -- and they -- still have a long ways to go.

What do you think? Is CSR a movement whose time has arrived? What can philanthropy learn from the CSR field? Are CSR ratings a useful tool for consumers, investors, and transparency advocates? And if not, how can they be improved? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

--Emily Keller

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  • 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."

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