Transparency Talk

Category: "Graphics" (16 posts)

Glasspockets Find: Irvine Infographic Shares Insights of Arts Innovation Fund
December 12, 2012

Irvine infographic - home_feature_aifThe James Irvine Foundation has just released the findings from its Arts Innovation Fund (AIF) initiative via a very user-friendly, concise, interactive infographic.  Launched in 2006, Irvine invested more than $24 million to support 28 innovative projects led by 19 of California’s foremost arts organizations.  AIF nurtured experimentation to explore the gap between traditional arts programming and the changing expectations of audiences—and to better adapt to this new environment.

And speaking of the changing expectations of audiences, and adapting to a new environment, this new infographic demonstrates that the Irvine Foundation is walking its own talk in this “easy-on-the-eye” approach to knowledge sharing.  The interactive infographic serves as a terrific model for how foundations can think about incorporating more graphics and less text to increase accessibility and usability of important matters like lessons learned, challenges faced by grantees, and summaries of specific grants.  You can examine the interactive overview, read commentary by Irvine Arts Program Director Josephine Ramirez, and access or download the full report.  Each of these media also provides links to video insights and case studies detailing each of the AIF-funded projects.

Is a grantmaker you know using graphics and interactive online tools to creatively and compellingly share its knowledge?  Let us know.

-- Mark Foley

Glasspockets Find: Hewlett’s New Interactive Grants Tool
November 27, 2012

Grants_exploreThese are interesting times, with an accelerating push by some foundations to introduce creative ways to share their data.  A recent entry in the mix is a new interactive grants tool from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.  Allowing exploration of the Foundation’s grants and grantmaking trends over time, online visitors can visualize data set to their own customized preferences.  After adjusting various filters, for example, one can visually discover that the foundation awarded $5.68 million in general support for performing arts in the form of 71 grants between $50,000 and $100,000 each during 2010-2012—and all the recipients were in North America.  Learn more about how to use the interactive grants tool by watching this instructional video.  The foundation also follows the best practice of inviting feedback for its new tool.

--Mark Foley

Give me your tired, your hungry, your poor…your grants data (Part 1)
October 18, 2012

(Jeff Falkenstein is vice president of data architecture at the Foundation Center.)

Falkenstein-100To say that Jeff Raikes’ announcement of the launch of Markets for Good  was big news is an understatement. Raikes’ call to improve the philanthropic information infrastructure and support the quality of and access to data speaks to the core of the Foundation Center’s mission and vision. The Center, along with fifteen partner foundations, recently made a big announcement of its own when it launched the Reporting Commitment, a movement to improve the transparency of, and reduce duplication among, foundations through the adoption of common reporting standards and a consistent geographic taxonomy. Needless to say, these two developments have the potential to significantly impact the future of the philanthropic sector.

One of the biggest challenges of our work -- and the critique of our products and services we hear most often -- is directly related to the fact that it’s difficult to get our hands on foundation data quickly enough to make these tools as useful as they need to be for program officers, researchers, academics, grantseekers, and others.

For over fifty years, the Foundation Center has aggregated information on U.S. foundations pulled from publicly available 990-PF tax returns, annual reports, press releases, foundation Web sites, and other information sources. In addition to offering this data through the Foundation Directory Online, the Center features it in its many research reports and issue-based portals, and has taken steps to incorporate it into grants management software as well as reports and portals developed with a number of foundations and other partners. Much of the value the Center adds to the information we collect comes from an intensive review of hundreds of thousands of grants made by foundations from around the world. The Center also identifies the recipients of those grants: who they are, what they do, where they (generally) work, and which populations they (generally) serve. Additional analysis is done to understand the purpose of the grant, the subject area funded, the type of support provided, the specific population and geographic area served by the grant, and the strategy behind it.

One of the biggest challenges of our work -- and the critique of our products and services we hear most often -- is directly related to the fact that it’s difficult to get our hands on foundation data quickly enough to make these tools as useful as they need to be for program officers, researchers, academics, grantseekers, and others. Our response to this criticism has been to encourage foundations to report their grants data directly to us. In 1998, the Center established its eGrant Reporting program, a set of standards for foundations to report data electronically to the Center via participating grants management software systems or through a self-created Excel file. Using the grants management software of their choice, foundations can generate Excel spreadsheets of their grants in a standardized format and e-mail them directly to us. Receiving grants information electronically in a consistent format enables the Center to process and publish the data in a more timely fashion, while giving foundations more control over how the Center represents their grantmaking and communicates their work to the world. The nearly seven hundred and fifty foundations currently participating in this program are able to report their grants in near-real-time and have that data uploaded to all the Foundation Center products and platforms where the data is featured. But while the program has been an important first step toward greater transparency in the sector, we’ve only scratched the surface.

Over the last few years, the Center has been working with its foundation and grant management software partners to make it easier for foundations to report their data to us in a more timely fashion. In 2010, the Center acquired Grantsfire and hGrant, an HTML-based micro-format grant reporting system, and adapted it to fully complement our existing eGrant reporting program. Grant feeds published by any foundation using the hGrant Reporting program are available to the public, for free, at, the Center’s transparency-focused Web site. Indeed, the hGrant system is at the heart of the Reporting Commitment initiative announced by the Center and its fifteen foundation partners.

But the hGrant system is only a start. In the coming months, the Center will be developing xGrant, an XML-based machine-readable version of our eGrant Reporting standard that will allow for a more flexible and easily adapted standard beyond the current hGrant micro-format. We will also be surveying our software vendor partners about their preferred export method. Why offer three ways to report grants data? Because we recognize that foundations do things differently and have varying degrees of capacity, and we want to give them every opportunity to report their grants data in the most convenient way possible.

What’s more, we are working to refine the eGrant reporting standard to align with other global reporting standards, including those developed by the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Why is this important? Because in order to get a holistic picture of how and where philanthropy complements international aid/ bilateral organization/donor government financial flows, our standard needs to align with existing standards. To that end, we invite any and all standard-setting organizations and bodies to share their standards and taxonomies with us so we can map them to the eGrant standard. Creating “crosswalks” between standards will allow for deeper analysis of the full spectrum of development flows and contribute to greater collaboration among public, private, and philanthropic actors.

To demonstrate the usefulness of submitting data to the Center in a standard format, we have been providing participating foundations with free maps of their grants -- maps that can be shared with their boards, staff, or deployed on their Web sites. Maps aside, we firmly believe that foundations which share their grants data via the eGrant Reporting program are also joining a larger conversation around transparency and open data, are putting themselves in a position to teach and learn from each other, and, as articulated by my colleague Larry McGill in the latest issue of Alliance magazine, are taking a significant step toward working more collaboratively and effectively.

New and powerful tools like WASHfunders, a Web portal for funders working to address the world’s water crisis, and Philanthropy In/Sight Human Rights, an interactive mapping tool that displays grant funding for human rights issues, as well as studies like European Funding for Women and Girls are just a few examples of the ways in which foundations and funder coalitions are harnessing taxonomies and standards to forge a shared understanding of their work. The Foundation Center is delighted to contribute to this effort by offering products and services that can help funders and funder coalitions achieve their goals in this area. We encourage you to join us.

--Jeff Falkenstein

Interested in becoming part of the eGrant Reporting community?  We’re glad to have you on board. Either leave a comment below or contact Jeff at

Taking the Foundation Annual Report Exercise to the Next Level: Blue Shield of California Foundation’s Experience
September 12, 2012

(Peter Long, Ph.D. is the President of Blue Shield of California Foundation and Christine Maulhardt is its Communications Manager.)

Peter LongChristine Maulhardt

A strange thing happened this year when we kicked off planning for our new annual report - everyone got excited. In the past, annual report planning generated multiple meetings and produced groans around the office. Repackaging numbers and grant descriptions and flattening our programs, grantees, and impact into two dimensions was never a popular exercise. We can all agree that making audited financial statements have pizzazz is nearly impossible. Annual reports should do more than simply report numbers of grants, dollars provided, and laundry lists of accomplishments. Annual reports should share the data, stories, and vision of an organization.

At Blue Shield of California Foundation, we use our annual report to simultaneously reflect on our work and share our vision for the future. While we’re doing these things, we also want our viewers to have a unique experience. This is why we’ve transitioned from a traditional print annual report to online interactive reports. Not only are we saving trees and embracing technology, we’re also attempting to draw our audiences into an experience that will stay with them much longer. By using pictures, videos, interactive maps, and links, we want viewers to get a holistic and authentic look at what we do and understand why we do it.

2011 Annual ReportToo often, foundations present metrics and data and use jargon to explain our work. For foundation staff, it can seem normal to talk about a 57 percent increase in organizational capacity and a 114 percent return on investment. These data are impressive when given in the context of grant investments, yet remain abstract to the vast majority of people. Data are only numbers until you provide meaning and context. As part of our transparency, foundations need to be authentic and accessible. Grant dollars and evaluation statistics are clearer when they are supported by the stories of people and communities.

Our goal for this year’s annual report was to turn the abstract into the authentic. We used photos to put a face to the hundreds of thousands of Californians who gained health care coverage over the year. We showed the health center, school, and community organization staff collaborating to prevent violence in their community. And we showed how a victim of domestic violence regained her confidence and her community. Working in the domestic violence and health care fields can create challenges to authenticity when telling the stories of those benefitting from our funding. Privacy of service recipients is both a legal and safety issue for our grantees (community health centers and domestic violence service providers). In our annual report we created characters that are composites of the clients served by these organizations every day. These composites were developed in consultation with our program staff who, through site visits, meetings, and long-standing relationships with grantees, have a deep understanding of the realities of our clients in a wide array of communities. Some may find irony in creating authenticity through made-up characters, but protecting individuals’ privacy and safety is our utmost concern.

Most importantly, our annual report looked at the experiences of an entire community and showed how our foundation is tackling a slice of their reality. Communities have needs that are bigger and different than what one foundation’s theory of change can accomplish. Foundations must be willing to be part of an eco-system that is dynamic and accept that grants will have successes and challenges that you may never foresee. We put forth a story of a community in 2015 - a date that is just around the corner. Inevitably the story will change between now and then, but we felt that was a risk worth taking to show our vision.

Transparency isn't a once a year exercise accomplished by an annual report. Stories and numbers of impact should be assessed impartially and shared regularly. Social media has helped our foundation give life to data for real-time impact. This allows us to make our annual report a narrative that is more memorable and focuses attention on the broader vision of our organization. Storytelling unlocks the meaning of data and keeps the focus on the end result - how foundations can improve lives and communities.

-- Peter Long & Christine Maulhardt

Glasspockets Find: HIP’s New Infographic Highlights 2011 Impact
February 8, 2012

Hispanics in Philanthropy - 2011 HighlightsWith a moniker like HIP, there's a certain predisposed obligation to produce snazzy, eye-catching web content.  And that's just what Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) has done with its new Building Capital for Latino Communities information graphic (aka "infographic").  With graphic visualization, HIP has provided an interesting and compelling summary that highlights its reach and impact during 2011.  A year's worth of data and activity has been compressed to showcase HIP's "Building Capital" theme—knowledge capital, financial capital, and human capital—while simultaneously featuring HIP facts, HIP grantees, and HIP events.  The infographic concludes by explaining that its achievements in 2011 form the basis for Game Changers: Ideas and Investments for the Next Decade, a "2012 series of briefing papers, events and forums [that will seek] to answer the question: How do we increase the size and impact of philantropic investments in Latino communities?"

Infographics serve as yet another transparency device, one that can present a complex set of data in a visual format that can be quickly and easily processed.   Have you used infographics to tell your story?

-- Mark Foley

Integrating a Network Mindset into Grantmaking: Part 2
March 1, 2011

Beth Kanter is the author of Beth's Blog, one of the longest running and most popular blogs for nonprofits, and co-author of the highly acclaimed book, The Networked Nonprofit, published by J. Wiley in 2010.

This is the second of a two-part blog post that explores "network weaving" skills. In Part 1, we looked at how grantmakers can incorporate these activities into daily practice. This second post explores how to use social networking tools to visualize your network, examines why changing our practice is so hard, and looks at how grantmakers can overcome the challenge.

Beth Kanter

Visualize your network. An important technique is to visualize your network. Steve Waddell, in talking about the value of mapping networks for systemic change, asserts that maps are most useful as tools to generate discussion about "what is," "what can be," and "what needs to change." Looking at your network map while thinking of gaps can be an insightful step.

Mapping Your LinkedIn Network

Recently LinkedIn created this free social network analysis mapping tool that lets you see your LinkedIn network and better understand relationships between you and your network. The most powerful feature of the map is that allows you to peer into your network, notice connections, and to remind yourself of people you know but may not have thought about in years.

As an exercise, we used the mapping to visualize our networks and ask these questions:

  • What patterns do you see?
  • What surprises you?
  • What might you do differently with your network?

I learned a lot by browsing through the visual network. My network is dense because I'm connected to a lot of well-connected people. What surprised me most about my map was how densely connected the nonprofit technology field was. Viewing my whole network in this visual format helped me remember people who I haven't been in touch with and their knowledge.

Using the map with a specific question about a gap is far more valuable exercise. I make a lot of referrals and I tend to get in ruts, but using the LinkedIn map as a spark to think of new people was useful.

Why Is It So Hard?

During the discussion, we all agreed that incorporating network weaving tasks into daily work requires conscious effort, especially if these activities are not called out specifically in a staff performance plan. One grantmaker shared that they have indicators around growing their professional network and have begun to celebrate staff members using social networking tools to do so. For example, a staff person recently received special recognition for reaching over 1,000 followers on Twitter.

There are a few personal and organizational challenges:

Information Overload: The issue is about being able to shift between connectedness and solitude. Once we are able to do this in discrete ways, we can avoid the feeling of anxiety that might come from being confronted with a lot of unstructured information.

Time Consuming: Learning new skills does take time to develop a habit, and then it becomes less time consuming because you don't have to think about the skill so much. Stephen Covey says it takes 23 days to make habit. One way to start is to focus on a new network weaving skill each month. Write it down on a sticky note, put it on your computer, and try to use that skill once a day.

Steep Learning Curve: Learning curves become steep when we try to take on too much at once. Try to break down the task. Also, having a peer group or a colleague who is learning the skill with you helps with motivation.

Few Incentives: How many of you have "network weaving" as a formal part of our jobs? Network weaving tasks are not typically linked to KPI, or even the informal on the job learning techniques that are such an important part of network weaving.

Internal Systems: Several grantmakers mentioned that their systems for sharing information internally—information that isn't necessarily confidential—cause them to do "double duty" if they want to share with the field.

How have you put a network mindset into practice? What online tools have you used? What are the barriers and how have you overcome them?

— Beth Kanter

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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."

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