Transparency Talk

Category: "Fellowships" (3 posts)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Hanh Cao Yu

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

No Moat Philanthropy Part 4: Beyond the Transactional
October 5, 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 are devoting our blog space all week to the series. This is the fourth post in the five-part series.

Reedyjenniferford-croppedWe have a grantmaking model that is based on the belief that, if we do it right, we will create more good by what we inspire than by what we directly fund. Principle #4 and #5 of No Moat Philanthropy are directly related to this, how connecting and sharing with others can advance your foundation’s mission.

Principle #4: Value every interaction as an opportunity to advance your mission

Our tagline and our strategy are one and the same: We invest in great ideas and the people who power them. We know that the only way anything happens is through people. Any place or field, therefore, is limited by the ambitions and the skills of the people in it.

The Bush Fellowship has been a flagship program of the Foundation for decades. We hear repeatedly from Bush Fellows that the experience changed what they thought was possible in their life and career. With the Bush Fellows program as our source code, we’ve been working for the past five years to ensure that all of our programs have the same effect. How can we encourage people to think bigger and think differently? How can we be a force for optimism?

This notion of a foundation being a force for optimism is not an obvious one. After all, we mostly tell people no. Last year, 95 percent of people who applied for the Bush Fellowship did not receive one. We’ve worked diligently to make sure all applicant interactions with us are helpful and encouraging, regardless of grant or fellowship outcome. And our surveys suggest the work is paying off. For example, 79 percent of declined Bush Fellowship applicants said the process increased their beliefs that they can accomplish “a lot.”

“If we do grantmaking right, we will create more good by what we inspire than by what we directly fund.”

To have this impact with each applicant, we:

Operate hotlines to speak with Bush staff. For our open programs, we have established hotlines for potential applicants. We will speak with people as many times as they desire to provide coaching on their idea or proposal. For applicants, this is a way to clearly understand what we are looking for and to vet ideas with us. For Bush staff, this is a way to provide coaching and encouragement to strengthen proposals and to influence activities beyond those we fund.

Give feedback about declined applications. We offer feedback to declined applicants for our major grant and fellowship programs because we see this as another valuable opportunity to provide coaching and encouragement. We have also witnessed applicants using the feedback to improve their plans and proposals, which benefits both them and us. This two-way dialogue also allows applicants to share how we can improve the process for them.

Find ways to support declined applicants. In the course of our processes, we learn about far more amazing people and organizations than we can actually fund. Therefore, we try to find ways to be useful to more than just the limited number of accepted applicants. For example, we consider declined Bush Fellowship finalists to be part of our “Bush Network” and invite them to bushCONNECT. We also provide declined Bush Prize finalists with a $10,000 grant. In our hiring process, we offer unsuccessful finalists the chance to meet with our hiring consultant for an individual coaching session. In addition, across all our programs and operations, we try to craft our applications and our processes so that the experience of applying adds value to an applicant’s thinking and planning.

Every interaction is an opportunity to influence and be influenced.  Every interaction is an opportunity for shared learning. And that brings me to our fifth and final principle…

Bush-altlogo-color Principle #5: Share as you go.

In the past five years, we’ve been working to get more of what we are thinking — and learning — out to the community. This has required adjusting our standards and prioritizing just getting something out, even if it is not glossy and beautiful. It has required a new, shared understanding with grantees and Fellows that their reports and reflections will be public, so as many people as possible can benefit from their experience. It has required designing our internal work — like strategy documents for the Board — with external audiences in mind so they are ready to share.

We believe that if we do it right, we can have as much and potentially more impact from sharing the stories and spreading the lessons from our grantees and Fellows as from the investments themselves. This belief is at the heart of all our communications (see learning paper: “Communications as Program”) and is also reinforced with specific tactics such as:

“We potentially have more impact from sharing the stories and spreading the lessons from our grantees and Fellows.”

Post grantee reports on our website. We introduced “Learning Logs” to make grant reports public, and we hope, to give them life and utility beyond our walls. We refer prospective applicants to relevant learning logs as they craft their proposals, and we hear from applicants that they have indeed learned from them. Grantees and Fellows also share that they read one another’s Learning Logs as a way to get new ideas for overcoming barriers.

Share lessons along the way. We are publishing learning papers (like this one) as we believe we have something useful to share. We intended this to lower the bar of who, when and how we share. Our learning papers are not beautiful. Most of them are not based on statistically significant evaluation methodologies. They simply document a staff effort to process something we are working on and to share our reflections.

Tie evaluation to audience analysis. We invest heavily in external evaluations of our work, but in doing so we have found that the end-product is often only useful to our staff and key stakeholders. Consequently, we introduced a different approach to thinking about evaluation with a sharing mindset. We use a framework to identify the audiences who might care about or benefit from the lessons of an evaluation, what questions are relevant to each group, and what form or output would be most useful to them.

Webinar to the max. Webinars are not a particularly novel activity; however, we view them as a core tool of permeability. We host a webinar at the beginning of every application period for Grant and Fellowship programs to explain the process and what we are looking for. We also host them when we have a job opening to discuss the role and what it is like to work here. We host them annually for our Foundation initiatives to explain what we are up to and where we are headed. Most webinars feature a staff presentation followed by an open Q&A with videos archived on our website for anyone who missed it.

If you’ve been reading this series all week, you might be wondering when I’m going to get to the downsides of No Moat Philanthropy. All new approaches have their pain points.  So, come back tomorrow and I’ll share our pain and why we believe it is worth it.

--Jen Ford Reedy

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