Transparency Talk

Category: "Knowledge Sharing" (118 posts)

Opening Up Emerging Knowledge: New Shared Learning from IssueLab
May 23, 2019

Janet Camarena is the director of transparency initiatives at Candid.

This post is part of the Glasspockets’ #OpenForGood series in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight. The series explores new 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.

Balloons1024x512

Though it’s hard to believe, we are already almost halfway through 2019! Given that midpoints are often a time to reflect and take stock, it seemed good timing to mine the knowledge that the field has shared in IssueLab to see some examples of a few of the reports and lessons learned that our GlassPockets foundations have shared over the last six months. Scanning the recent titles, some themes immediately jumped out at me that seemed to be a focus of research across the field, such as racial and gender equity, global trends, and impact measurement.

This is also a good reminder that IssueLab helps make your knowledge discoverable. Though I’m highlighting seven recent publications here, I only had to visit one website to find and freely download them. Acting as a “collective brain” for the field, IssueLab organizes the social sector’s knowledge so we can all have a virtual filing cabinet that makes this knowledge readily available. If it’s been a while since you uploaded your knowledge to IssueLab, you can add any of your publications to our growing library here. It’s a great way to make your knowledge discoverable, mitigate the knowledge fragmentation in the field, and make your foundation live up to being #OpenForGood.

And, speaking of #OpenForGood, our inaugural awards designed to encourage more knowledge sharing across the field will be announced at the upcoming GEO Learning Conference during lunch on May 29th. If you will be at GEO, join us to learn who the #OpenForGood knowledge sharing champions will be! And remember, if you’ve learned something, share something!

Opening Up Evaluations & Grantee Reports

“It’s a refreshing reinvention of the traditional grantee report, placing priority on collecting and sharing the kinds of information that will be helpful to other practitioners, rather than just the data that the funder might need.”

Foundations pilot initiatives all the time, but do they share what they learned from them once the evaluation is all said and done? And what about all the potentially helpful data filed away in grantee reports? This first cluster of new reports opens up this kind of knowledge:

  • Creative City (published by Animating Democracy, Funded by the Barr and Boston Foundations, April 2019) The Creative City pilot program, created by the New England Foundation for the Arts in partnership with the Barr Foundation, supported artists of all disciplines for art in Boston that would serve to drive public imagination and community engagement. Artists, funders, and administrators alike will find much to learn from this report about how to rethink arts in the context of people and place. One compelling example is the Lemonade Stand installation, created by artists Elisa H. Hamilton and Silvia Lopez Chavez, which made the rounds of many Boston neighborhoods, and attracted many people with its bright yellow kiosk glow. Though it looked on the surface like a lemonade stand, it was actually an art installation inviting the community to connect by exchanging stories about how they turned lemons into lemonade.
  • Giving Refugees A Voice: Independent Evaluation (MacroScope London, Funded by the C&A Foundation, March 2018-February 2019) The C&A Foundation supported the Giving Refugees a Voice initiative, designed to improve working conditions for Syrian and other refugees in the Turkish apparel sector using social media monitoring technology. The pilot initiative used social media monitoring technology to analyze the public Facebook posts of millions of refugees associated with the apparel sector in Turkey. The purpose of this analysis was to galvanize brands, employers, and others to take actions and make changes that would directly improve the working conditions for Syrian people in Turkey. This impact report forthrightly reveals that though the social media efforts were an innovative way to document the scale of the Syrians working informally in the Turkish apparel industry, the pilot fell short of its goals as there was no evidence that the social media analysis led to improved working conditions. Rather than keep such a negative outcome quiet, the C&A Foundation publicly released its findings and also created a blog summary about them earlier this year outlining the results, what they learned from them, and what would be helpful for stakeholders and partners to know in an easy-to-read outline.
  • Grantee Learnings: Disability (Published by Ian Potter Foundation, December 2018) The information documented in this publication has been taken from the final reports of disability-serving grantees, which were submitted to The Ian Potter Foundation following the completion of their projects. The Ian Potter Foundation routinely shares out grantee learnings for each of its portfolios as a way to support shared learning among its existing and future grantees, and this is the most recent of these. The report is easily arranged so that other disability services providers can benefit from the hard-won lessons learned of their peers when it comes to likely areas of shared challenges such as staffing, program planning, working with parents and partners, scaling, evaluation measurement, and technology use. It’s a refreshing reinvention of the traditional grantee report, placing priority on collecting and sharing the kinds of information that will be helpful to other practitioners, rather than just the data that the funder might need.

Lessons Learned from Scholarship & Fellowship Funding

Donors looking to make a difference using scholarships and student aid to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion have two new excellent sources of knowledge available to them:

  • Delivering on the Promise: An Impact Evaluation of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program (Published by American Institutes for Research, Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, May 2019) This report shares findings from an impact evaluation of the Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) program and reflects on findings from implementation evaluations conducted on the program since its inaugural year. The GMS program is an effort designed to improve higher education access and opportunity for high achieving low-income students of color by reducing the cost of entry. The program also seeks to develop a new and diverse generation of leaders to serve America by encouraging leadership participation, civic engagement, and the pursuit of graduate education and careers in seven fields in which minorities are underrepresented—computer science, engineering, mathematics, science, education, library science, and public health. It discusses the extent to which the program has made an impact, and offers concluding thoughts on how the Foundation can maximize its investment in the higher education arena. A central argument of this report is that philanthropic activities like the GMS program can indeed play a crucial role in improving academic outcomes for high-achieving, disadvantaged students.
  • Promoting Gender Equity: Lessons From Ford’s International Fellows Program (Published by IIE Center for Academic Mobility Research & Impact, Funded by Ford Foundation, January 2019) As part of its mission to provide higher education access to marginalized communities, the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP) sought to address gender inequality by providing graduate fellowships to nearly 2,150 women—50% of the IFP fellow population—from 22 countries in the developing world. This brief explores how international fellowship programs like IFP can advance educational, social, and economic equity for women. In addition to discussing the approach, the program took in providing educational access and opportunity to women. The brief looks at two stories of alumnae who have not only benefitted from the fellowship themselves, but who are working to advance gender equity in their home communities and countries. Activists, advocates, and practitioners can draw upon the strategies and stories that follow to better understand the meaning of gender equity and advance their own efforts to achieve social justice for women and girls worldwide.

Sharing Knowledge about the Social Sector

Foundations invest in knowledge creation to better understand the ecosystem of the social sector, as well as to address critical knowledge gaps they see in the fields in which they work. Thanks to these titles being added to IssueLab, we can all learn from them too! Here’s a couple of recent titles added to IssueLab that shed new and needed light on the fields of philanthropy and nonprofits:

  • Philanthropy in China (Published by Asian Venture Philanthropy Network, Funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, April 2019) Philanthropy is now a global growth industry, but philanthropic transparency norms in other parts of the world are often lacking, so knowledge can be scarce. Philanthropy in China today is expanding and evolving rapidly, so filling in these knowledge gaps is even more pressing. This report presents an overview of the philanthropy ecosystem in China by reviewing existing knowledge and drawing insights from influential practitioners. It also provides an analysis of the key trends, opportunities as well as a set of recommendations for funders and resource providers who are inspired to catalyze a more vibrant and impactful philanthropy ecosystem in China.
  • Race to Lead: Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector (Published by the Building Movement Project, Funded by New York Community Trust, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, Community Resource Exchange, New York Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust, Center for Nonprofit Excellence at the United Way of Central New Mexico, North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, Russ Finkelstein, February 2019) This report is part of the Race to Lead series by the Building Movement Project, seeking to understand why there are still relatively so few leaders of color in the nonprofit sector. Using data taken from a national survey of more than 4,000 people, and supplemented by numerous focus groups around the country, this latest report reveals that women of color encounter systemic obstacles to their advancement over and above the barriers faced by white women and men of color. Another key finding in the report is that education and training are not enough to correct systemic inequities—women of color with high levels of education are more likely to be in administrative roles and are more likely to report frustrations about inadequate and inequitable salaries. Building Movement Project’s call to action focuses on systems change, organizational change, and individual support for women of color in the sector.

Is this reminding you that you have new knowledge to share? Great—I can’t wait to see what you will #OpenForGood!

--Janet Camarena

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phil BuchananPhil Buchanan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Daniel X Matz

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

Designing for Impact: Using a Web Redesign to Improve Transparency, Equity, and Inclusion
April 11, 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, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

Na Eng
Na Eng

Na Eng is the communications director at the McKnight Foundation, a private family foundation based in Minneapolis.

The McKnight Foundation is proud to be among the early group of foundations that joined the GlassPockets movement and has benefited from its tools and resources. As GlassPockets crosses the threshold of 100 foundation transparency profiles on its website, I wanted to share a personal reflection on how McKnight approaches transparency on our website, and how GlassPockets has been part of that journey.

When I decided on a redesign of our website about a year ago, I knew that there was a great body of knowledge we could tap into by reviewing GlassPockets tools and content, so I scheduled a call with Janet Camarena, who leads the website and initiative to encourage greater foundation transparency. In this new version of our web presence, I wanted to design for transparency from the start. GlassPockets didn´t disappoint, and Janet offered a helpful perspective from her years of observing the paths and barriers faced by our peers on the road to transparency.

While the word transparency can sometimes feel like a clinical term, Janet explained that transparency and openness can humanize institutions through the power of storytelling, and we all know foundations have powerful stories about the impact of their grantees. When I asked her about the common tendency of foundations to embrace a stance of humility, she nodded. She said she often hears that humility can stand in the way of embracing a “GlassPockets approach,” preventing us from seeing storytelling as an act of public service, rather than as self-serving content.

This conversation reaffirmed for me one of the core benefits of foundation transparency: when the public knows more about what foundations fund and how they approach their work, trust is built, advancing the entire field of philanthropy, the nonprofits we support, and our collective impact.

GlassPockets Road to 100

How McKnight Advances Transparency with its Website

A key purpose for our foundation website is pragmatic and impactful transparency. With our web developer, Visceral, we tried to make our site as fun to peruse and simple to navigate as possible, and we packed it with information to help people conduct practical business. For example, we now include all the details on how to seek funding, how to reserve a meeting space, and even the investments we make in our impact investing portfolio. We also have a robust, easy-to-search grants database, which makes us a rarity among national funders. According to the GlassPockets’ Transparency Challenge, only about one of every 100 foundations shares current grants data online. Lists of grants, combined with compelling images and vignettes throughout the site, help others to better understand our organization’s mission.

In addition, I’ve come to realize that providing more information does not necessarily achieve greater transparency. It’s as essential to offer an updated, accurate representation of work—and that means clearing the clutter. (Consider the KonMari method of thanking what no longer has value, and then letting go.) External websites should not be used as an internal digital archiving system. We’ve learned that dated content often caused confusion about our current purpose and identity. However, for scholarly use, we do archive older reports with IssueLab, which has an impressive open knowledge-sharing system.

Digital Accessibility & Linguistic Inclusion

Transparency also requires understanding the needs of diverse audiences and making digital inclusion a priority. When we set out for our site to be more user-friendly for people who are hard of hearing or blind, we commissioned an accessibility audit. And rather than rely on web-based scanners, we asked people who had the relevant disabilities to evaluate its accessibility level. Among the changes, we added closed captioning to all our videos, at little cost. We’ve since expanded closed captioning to more than a dozen languages, all spoken in our home state of Minnesota, including Hmong, Laotian, Somali, Oromo, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, and others.

A website can leave people behind or it can inspire more people to advance the mission.

Our efforts toward digital inclusion, which enable transparency for people with different physical and linguistic abilities, are ongoing. We still have much to learn. We´re now learning more about the technical needs of people in low-bandwidth zones in the developing world, rural communities, and even in pockets of metro areas. When most digital communications are designed for able-bodied English language speakers who have access to high-speed internet, significant population groups are cut off from the ideas and opportunities we offer, and we’re deprived of the chance to connect with people who have so much to contribute to advancing our mission.

Our society often thinks of discrimination in terms of individual actions, giving scant attention to systemic barriers. These are insidious obstacles created and maintained, often unintentionally, even by people of goodwill—simply because they’re not aware of the impact of these barriers on those who are not just like them.

The website of an organization that has the power to distribute resources, bestow awards, and select new staff and partners can be an instrument for perpetuating or disrupting inequity. And when a foundation has important ideas to spread—in our case, ideas about advancing a just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive— a website can leave people behind... or it can inspire more people to advance the mission.

Thankfully, we have movements like GlassPockets urging us all to move toward more pragmatic, inclusive, and impactful transparency.

--Na Eng

Don’t “Ghost” Declined Applicants: The Ins and Outs of Giving Applicant Feedback
April 4, 2019

Mandy Ellerton joined the [Archibald] Bush Foundation in 2011, where she created and now directs the Foundation's Community Innovation programs. The programs allow communities to develop and test new solutions to community problems, using approaches that are collaborative and inclusive of people who are most directly affected by the problem.

GlassPockets Road to 100

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, promising practices in transparency, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

I’ve often thought that fundraising can be as bad as dating. (Kudos to you lucky few who have had great experiences dating!) Lots of dates, lots of dead ends, lots of frustrating encounters before you (maybe) find a match. All along the way you look for even the smallest sign to indicate that someone likes you. “They laughed at my joke!” or, in the case of fundraising, “they seemed really excited about page five of last year’s impact report!” Not to mention the endless time spent doing online searches for shreds of information that might be useful. This reality is part of the reason why Bush Foundation was proud to be among the first 100 foundations to participate in GlassPockets. We believe that transparency and opening lines of communication is critical to good grantmaking, because both in dating and in fundraising, it can be heartbreaking and crazymaking to try and sort out whether you have a connection or if someone’s “just not that into you.” If only there was a way to just “swipe left” or “swipe right” and make everything a little simpler.

“We believe that transparency and opening lines of communication is critical to good grantmaking.”

I’m not proposing a Tinder for grantmaking (nor should anyone, probably, although hat tip to Vu Le for messing with all of us and floating the idea on April Fool’s Day). But over the past several years, Bush Foundation’s Community Innovation program staff has used a system to provide feedback calls for declined applicants, in the hopes of making foundation fundraising a little less opaque and crazymaking. We use the calls to be transparent and explain why we made our funding decisions. The calls also help us live out our “Spread Optimism” value because they allow us to help and encourage applicants and potentially point them to other resources. This is all part of our larger engagement strategy, described in “No Moat Philanthropy.”

 

Ellertonmandy20152
Mandy Ellerton

How Feedback Calls Work

We use a systematic approach for feedback calls:

  • We proactively offer the opportunity to sign up for feedback calls in the email we send to declined applicants.
  • We use a scheduling tool (after trying a couple different options we’ve landed on Slotted, which is relatively cheap and easy to use) and offer a variety of times for feedback calls every week. Collectively five Community Innovation Team members hold about an hour a week for feedback calls. The calls typically last about 20 minutes. We’ve found this is about the right amount of time so that we can offer feedback calls to most of the declined applicants who want them.
  • We prepare for our feedback calls. We re-read the application and develop an outline for the call ahead of time.
  • During the call we offer a couple of reasons why we declined the application. We often discuss what an applicant could work on to strengthen their project and whether they ought to apply again.
  • We also spend a lot of time listening; sometimes these calls can understandably be emotional. Grant applications are a representation of someone’s hopes and dreams and sometimes your decline might feel like the end of the road for the applicant. But hang with them. Don’t get defensive. However hard it might feel for you, it’s a lot harder for the declined applicant. And ultimately, hard conversations can be transformative for everyone involved. I will say, however, that most of our feedback calls are really positive exchanges.
  • We use anonymous surveys to evaluate what people think of the feedback calls and during the feedback call we ask whether the applicant has any feedback for us to improve our programs/grantmaking process.
  • We train new staff on how to do feedback calls. We have a staff instruction manual on how to do feedback calls, but we also have new team members shadow more seasoned team members for a while before they do a feedback call alone.

 

What’s Going Well

The feedback calls appear to be useful for both declined applicants and for us:

  • In our 2018 surveys, respondents (n=38) rated the feedback calls highly. They gave the calls an average rating of 6.1 (out of 7) for overall helpfulness, 95% said the calls added some value or a lot of value, and 81.2% said they had a somewhat better or much better understanding of the programs after the feedback call.
  • We’ve seen the number of applications for our Community Innovation Grant and Bush Prize for Community Innovation programs go down over time and we’ve seen the overall quality go up. We think that’s due, in part, to feedback calls that help applicants decide whether to apply again and that help applicants improve their projects to become a better fit for funding in the future.
  • I’d also like to think that doing feedback calls has made us better grantmakers. First, it shows up in our selection meetings. When you might have to talk to someone about why you made the funding decision you did, you’re going to be even more thoughtful in making the decision in the first place. You’re going to hew even closer to your stated criteria and treat the decision with care. We regularly discuss what feedback we plan to give to declined applicants in the actual selection meeting. Second, in a system that has inherently huge power differentials (foundations have all of it and applicants have virtually none of it), doing feedback calls forces you to come face to face with that reality. Never confronting the fact that your funding decisions impact real people with hopes and dreams is a part of what corrupts philanthropy. Feedback calls keep you a little more humble.

 

What We’re Working On

We still have room to improve our feedback calls:

  • We’ve heard from declined applicants that they sometimes get conflicting feedback from different team members when they apply (and get declined) multiple times; 15% of survey respondents said their feedback was inconsistent with prior feedback from us. Cringe. That definitely makes fundraising more crazymaking. We’re working on how to have more staff continuity with applicants who have applied multiple times.
  • We sometimes struggle to determine how long to keep encouraging a declined applicant to improve their project for future applications versus saying more definitively that the project is not a fit. Yes, we want to “Spread Optimism,” but although it never feels good for anyone involved, sometimes the best course of action is to encourage an applicant to seek funding elsewhere.

I’m under no illusions that feedback calls are going to fix the structural issues with philanthropy and fundraising. I welcome that larger conversation, driven in large part by brave critiques of philanthropy emerging lately like Decolonizing Wealth, Just Giving and Winners Take All. In the meantime, fundraising, as with dating, is still going to have moments of heartache and uncertainty. When you apply for a grant, you have to be brave and vulnerable; you’re putting your hopes and dreams out into a really confusing and opaque system that’s going to judge them, perhaps support them, or perhaps dash them, and maybe even “ghost” them by never responding. Feedback calls are one way to treat those hopes and dreams with a bit more care.

--Mandy Ellerton

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

A New Year, a New Transparency Indicator: Coming Soon—Transparency Values & Policies
January 3, 2019

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

Janet Camarena PhotoWhen GlassPockets started nine years ago, it was rare to find any reference to transparency in relation to philanthropy or foundations. The focus of most references to transparency at the time were in relation to nonprofits or governments, but seldom to philanthropy. When we set out to create a framework to assess foundation transparency, the “Who Has GlassPockets?” criteria were based on an inventory of current foundation practices meaning there were no indicators on the list that were not being shared somewhere by at least a few foundations. Not surprisingly, given the lack of emphasis on foundation transparency, there were few mentions of it as a policy or even as a value in the websites we reviewed, so it didn’t make sense at the time to include it as a formal indicator.

GlassPockets Road to 100A lot has changed in nine years, and it’s clear now from reviewing philanthropy journals, conferences, and yes, even foundation websites that awareness about the importance of philanthropic transparency is on the rise. Among the nearly 100 foundations that have taken and publicly shared “Who Has GlassPockets?” transparency assessments, more than 40 percent are now using their websites as a means to communicate values or policies that aim to demonstrate an intentional commitment to transparency. And demonstrating that how the work is done is as important as what is done, another encouraging signal is that in many cases there are articulated statements on new “How We Work” pages outlining not just what these foundations do, but an emphasis on sharing how they aim to go about it. These statements can be found among funders of all types, including large, small, family, and independent foundations.

We want to encourage this intentionality around transparency, so in 2019 we are adding a new transparency indicator asking whether participating foundations have publicly shared values or policies committing themselves to working openly and transparently. In late January the “Who Has GlassPockets?” self-assessment and profiles will be updated reflecting the new addition. Does your foundation’s website have stated values or policies about its commitment to transparency? If not, below are some samples we have found that may serve as inspiration for others:

  • The Barr Foundation’s “How We Work" page leads with an ethos stating “We strive to be transparent, foster open communication, and build constructive relationships.” And elaborates further about field-building potential: “We aim to be open and transparent about our work and to contribute to broader efforts that promote and advance the field of philanthropy.”

  • The Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation’s Mission and Core Values page articulates a long list of values that “emerge from the Foundation’s long history,” including a commitment to forming strategic alliances, working honestly, “showing compassion and mutual respect among grantmakers and grantees,” and ties its focus on transparency to a commitment to high standards and quality: “The Foundation strives for high quality in everything it does so that the Foundation is synonymous with quality, transparency and responsiveness.”

  • The Ford Foundation’s statement connects its transparency focus to culture, values around debate and collaboration, and a commitment to accountability: “Our culture is driven by trust, constructive debate, and leadership that empowers innovation and excellence. We strive to listen and learn and to model openness and transparency. We are accountable to each other at the foundation, to our charter, to our sector, to the organizations we support, and to society at large—as well as to the laws that govern our nonprofit status.”

  • An excerpt from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Information Sharing Approach” page emphasizes collaboration, peer learning, and offers an appropriately global view: “Around the world, institutions are maximizing their impact by becoming increasingly transparent. This follows a fundamental truth: that access to information and data fosters effective collaboration. At the foundation, we are embracing this reality through a continued commitment to search for opportunities that will help others understand our priorities better and what supports our decision making. The foundation is also committed to helping the philanthropic sector develop the tools that will increase confidence in our collective ability to address tough challenges around the world…..We will continually refine our approach to information sharing by regularly exploring how we increase access to important information within the foundation, while studying other institutional efforts at transparency to learn lessons from our partners and peers.”

  • The Walter and Elise Haas Fund connects its transparency focus to its mission statement, and its transparency-related activities to greater effectiveness: “Our ongoing commitment to transparency is a reflection of our mission — to build a healthy, just, and vibrant society in which people feel connected to and responsible for their community. The Walter & Elise Haas Fund shares real-time grants data and champions cross-sector work and community cooperation. Our grantmaking leverages partnerships and collaborations to produce results that no single actor could accomplish alone.”

  • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s statement emphasizes the importance of transparency in creating a culture of learning: “The foundation is committed to openness, transparency and learning. While individually important, our commitments to openness, transparency, and learning jointly express values that are vital to our work. Because our operations—both internal and external—are situated in complex institutional and cultural environments, we cannot achieve our goals without being an adaptive, learning organization. And we cannot be such an organization unless we are open and transparent: willing to encourage debate and dissent, both within and without the foundation; ready to share what we learn with the field and broader public; eager to hear from and listen to others. These qualities of openness to learning and willingness to adjust are equally important for both external grantmaking and internal administration.”

These are just a few of the examples GlassPockets will have available when the new indicator is added later this month. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed for updates.

Happy New Year, Happy New Transparency Indicator!

--Janet Camarena

Evolving Towards Equity, Getting Beyond Semantics
December 17, 2018

Mona Jhawar serves as learning and evaluation manager for The California Endowment.

Mona JhawarIn my previous post, I reflected on The California Endowment’s practice of conducting a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Audit and how it helps us to stay accountable to intentionally integrating and advancing these values across the foundation.

We started this practice with a “Diversity and Inclusion” Audit in 2008 and as part of our third audit in 2013, The California Endowment (TCE) adjusted the framing to a “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” Audit. This allowed us to better connect the audit with how the foundation viewed the goals of our strategy and broadened the lens used through the audit process.

While this could be viewed as a semantic update based on changes in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, by 2016 our audit results reflected how TCE described both our core values that lead with principles of DEI and the ultimate outcome of our work that point towards health equity and justice for all. And although we didn’t make a corresponding change to reflect this shift in what the audit specifically assesses, select findings from our most recent audit highlight how not only diversity, but how equity is also being operationalized within the foundation.

Getting beyond the numbers

In some ways, the most straightforward entry point for DEI discussions is to first examine diversity by assessing quantitative representation within the foundation at the board and staff level, among our partners, contractors, vendors, and investment managers. Though it’s a necessary beginning, reporting and reflection, however, cannot stop with counting heads.  While our audit may have started as a way to gauge inclusion through the lens of diversity, it’s become clear that collecting and examining demographic data sets the stage for critical conversations to follow.

Part of the inherent value of reflecting on diversity and representation is in service of getting beyond the numbers to discover what questions the numbers inspire. Questions such as:

  • Who’s missing or overrepresented and why?
  • What implications could the gaps in lived experiences have on the foundation, the strategies used and how our work is conducted?
  • What are the underlying structures and systems that shape the demographics of the foundation and of the organizations with which we partner?

It’s these types of questions about our demographics and diversity that help move us beyond discussions about representation into deeper discussions about equity.

The audit has been a valuable point of reflection and action planning over the past several years. It’s a comprehensive process conducted in partnership with evaluation firm, SPR, that spans an extensive number of sources.

Towards Equity and Inclusion

As TCE pursues our health equity goals, we’ve been able to define and distinguish key differences between diversity, equity, and inclusion. While diversity examines representation, we define equity as promoting fair conditions, opportunities, and outcomes. We also define inclusion as valuing and raising the perspectives and voices of diverse communities to be considered where decisions are being made. For future audits, we’re looking to refine our DEI audit goals to more explicitly focus on equity and inclusion across both our grantmaking efforts and to even more deeply examine our internal policies, practices, and operations. However, here are a few examples from our latest audit that highlight how equity and inclusion currently show up across the foundation outside of our grantmaking.

Equity in hiring

  • Recognizing the impact of structural racism and mass incarceration, TCE followed the lead of partners working to “ban the box” and the Executives’ Alliance for Boys and Men of Color to change hiring practices. TCE now utilizes a Fair Chance Hiring Policy that opens the door for hiring qualified applicants with a conviction or an arrest and shares open positions with anti-recidivism organizations.

Inclusion and equity in investments

  • In the spirit of inclusion, the criteria for our Program Related Investments (PRIs) integrate whether the PRI will engage the community it is intended to benefit as well as whether the investment will address a known health inequity or social determinant of health.
  • In recognition of structural racism leading to higher rates of incarceration within communities of color, in 2015 TCE announced that we will no longer invest in companies profiting from for-profit prisons, jails, or detention centers.

Equity in vendor selection

  • Operationalizing equity also requires considering how facility operations align with organizational values. In line with our divestment from for-profit prisons, an RFP process identified a vendor-nonprofit team that encouraged hiring formerly incarcerated and homeless community members within our onsite café. We remain committed to this approach.

The Work Ahead

We’ve accomplished a great deal. At the same time, as we evolve towards becoming an equity organization there are areas where we need to put more of our attention.

To move beyond articulating values and to get to deeper staff engagement, audit feedback suggests more staff resources are needed to connect individual functions and roles to our DEI values, including through our performance review process, particularly among non-program staff.

Connected to developing a greater vision regardless of department affiliation, we will soon embark to engage staff across the entire organization to develop a more deeply shared racial equity analysis of our work.  As part of this effort, our board is participating in racial equity trainings and adopted a resolution to utilize a racial equity lens as the foundation develops our next strategic plan.  Building on what we’re learning through our audits, in 2019 we’ll launch this effort towards becoming a racially equitable health foundation that will intentionally bring racial equity to the center of our work and how we operate.

Finally, as we continue to partner with and support community to fight for equity, there are several unanswered, imminent questions we’ll need to tackle. Within the walls of the foundation:

  • How do we hold ourselves to the same equity and inclusion principles that our partners demand of system leaders?
  • How do we confront the contradictions of how we operate as an organization rooted in a corporate or hierarchical design to share power with staff regardless of position, increase decision making transparency, and include those impacted by pending decisions in the same way we ask our systems leaders to include and respond to community?
  • With an interest in greater accountability to equity and inclusion, how do we not only tend to power dynamics but consider greater power sharing through foundation structures and current decision-making bodies both internally and externally?

Herein lies our next evolutionary moment.

--Mona Jhawar

Putting a Stop to Recreating the Wheel: Strengthening the Field of Philanthropic Evaluation
December 13, 2018

Clare Nolan is Co-Founder of Engage R+D, which works with nonprofits, foundations, and public agencies to measure their impact, bring together stakeholders, and foster learning and innovation.

Meg Long is President of Equal Measure, Philadelphia-based professional services nonprofit focused on helping its clients—foundations, nonprofit organizations, and public entities—deepen and accelerate social change.

2
Clare Nolan

In 2017, Engage R+D and Equal Measure, with support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation launched an exploratory dialogue of funders and evaluators to discuss the current state of evaluation and learning in philanthropy, explore barriers to greater collaboration and impact, and identify approaches and strategies to build the collective capacity of small and mid-sized evaluation firms. Our goal was to test whether there was interest in our sector for building an affinity network of evaluation leaders working with and within philanthropy. Since our initial meeting with a few dozen colleagues in 2017, our affinity network has grown to 250 individuals nationally, and there is growing momentum for finding ways funders and evaluators can work together differently to deepen the impact of evaluation and learning on philanthropic practice.

At the recent 2018 American Evaluation Association (AEA) conference in Cleveland, Ohio, nearly 100 funders and evaluators gathered to discuss four action areas that have generated the most “buzz” during our previous network convening at the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) conference and from our subsequent network survey:

1. Improving the application of evaluation in philanthropic strategy and practice.

2. Supporting the sharing and adaptation of evaluation learning for multiple users.

3. Supporting formal partnerships and collaborations across evaluators and evaluation firms.

4. Strengthening and diversifying the pipeline of evaluators working with and within philanthropy.

1
Meg Long

We asked participants to choose one of these action areas and join the corresponding large table discussion to reflect on what they have learned about the topic and identify how the affinity network can contribute to advancing the field. Through crowd-sourcing, participants identified some key ways in which action teams that will be launched in early 2019 can provide a value-add to the field.

1. What will it take to more tightly connect evaluation with strategy and decision-making? Provide more guidance on what evaluation should look like in philanthropy.

Are there common principles, trainings, articles, case studies, guides, etc. that an action team could identify and develop? Could the affinity network be a space to convene funders and evaluators that work in similar fields to share evaluation results and lessons learned?

2. What will it take to broaden the audience for evaluations beyond individual organizations? Create a “market place” for knowledge sharing and incentivize participation.

As readers of this blog will know from Foundation Center’s #OpenForGood efforts, there is general agreement around the need to do better at sharing knowledge, building evidence, and being willing to share what foundations are learning – both successes and failures. How can an action team support the creation of a culture of knowledge sharing through existing venues and mechanisms (e.g., IssueLab, Evaluation Roundtable)? How could incentives be built in to support transparency and accountability?

3. How can the field create spaces that support greater collaboration and knowledge sharing among funders and evaluators? Identify promising evaluator partnership models that resulted in collaboration and not competition.

Partnerships have worked well where there are established relationships and trust and when power dynamics are minimized. How can an action team identify promising models and practices for successful collaborations where collaboration is not the main goal? How can they establish shared values, goals, etc. to further collaboration?

4. What will it take to create the conditions necessary to attract, support, and retain new talent? Build upon existing models to support emerging evaluators of color and identify practices for ongoing guidance and mentorship.

Recruiting, hiring, and retaining talent to fit evaluation and learning needs in philanthropy is challenging due to education and training programs as well as changing expectations in the field. How can we leverage and build on existing programs (e.g., AEA Graduate Education Diversity Internship, Leaders in Equitable Evaluation and Diversity, etc.) to increase the pipeline, and support ongoing retention and professional development?

Overall, we are delighted to see that there is much enthusiasm in our field to do more work on these issues. We look forward to launching action teams in early 2019 to further flesh out the ideas shared above in addition to others generated over the past year.

If you are interested in learning more about this effort, please contact Pilar Mendoza. If you would like to join the network and receive updates about this work, please contact Christine Kemler.

--Clare Nolan and Meg Long

What Does It Take to Shift to a Learning Culture in Philanthropy?
November 20, 2018

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

This post also appears in the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog.

Janet Camarena PhotoIf there was ever any doubt that greater openness and transparency could benefit organized philanthropy, a new report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) about knowledge-sharing practices puts it to rest. Besides making a case for the need for greater transparency in the field, the report also provides some hopeful signs that, among foundation leaders, there is growing recognition of the value of shifting to a culture of learning to improve foundations’ efforts.

Understanding & Sharing What Works: The State of Foundation Practice reveals how well foundation leaders understand what is and isn’t working in their foundation’s programs, how they figure this out, and what, if anything, they share with others about what they’ve learned. These trends are explored through 119 survey responses from, and 41 in-depth interviews with foundation CEOs. A companion series of profiles tell the story about these practices in the context of four foundations that have committed to working more openly.

Since Foundation Center’s launch of GlassPockets in 2010, we have tracked transparency around planning and performance measurement within the “Who Has Glass Pockets?” self-assessment. Currently, of the nearly 100 foundations that have participated in GlassPockets, only 27 percent publicly share any information about how they measure their progress toward institutional goals. Given this lack of knowledge sharing, we undertook a new #OpenForGood campaign to encourage foundations to publicly share published evaluations through the IssueLab open archive.

As someone who has spent the last decade examining foundation transparency practices (or the lack thereof) and championing greater openness, I read CEP’s findings with an eye for elements that might help us better understand the barriers and catalysts to this kind of culture shift in the field. Here’s what I took away from the report.

Performance Anxiety

UWW_MAIN_COV_border (1)While two-thirds of foundation CEOs in CEP’s study report having a strong sense of what is working programmatically within their foundations, nearly 60 percent report having a weaker grasp on what is not working. This begs the question: If you don’t know something is broken, then how do you fix it? Since we know foundations have a tendency to be success-oriented, this by itself wasn’t surprising. But it’s a helpful metric that proves the point of how investing in evaluation, learning, and sharing can only lead to wiser use of precious resources for the field as a whole.

The report also reveals that many CEOs who have learned what is not working well at their foundations are unlikely to share that knowledge, as more than one-third of respondents cite hesitancy around disclosing missteps and failures. The interviews and profiles point to what can best be described as performance anxiety. CEOs cite the need for professionals to show what went well, fear of losing the trust of stakeholders, and a desire to impress their boards as motivations for concealing struggles. Of these motivations, board leadership seems particularly influential for setting the culture when it comes to transparency and failure.

In the profiles, Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) President Stephen Heintz discusses both the importance of his board and his background in government as factors that have informed RBF’s willingness to share the kinds of information many foundations won’t. RBF was an early participant in GlassPockets, and now is an early adopter of the #OpenForGood movement to openly share knowledge. As a result, RBF has been one of the examples we often point to for the more challenging aspects of transparency such as frameworks for diversity data, knowledge sharing, and investment practices.

An important takeaway of the RBF profile is the Fund’s emphasis on the way in which a board can help ease performance anxiety by simply giving leadership permission to talk about pain points and missteps. Yet one-third of CEOs specifically mention that their foundation faces pressure from its board to withhold information about failures. This sparks my interest in seeing a similar survey asking foundation trustees about their perspectives in this area.

Utility or Futility?

Anyone who works inside a foundation — or anyone who has ever applied for a grant from a foundation — will tell you they are buried in the kind of paperwork load that often feels futile (which actually spawned a whole other worthy movement led by PEAK Grantmaking called Project Streamline). In the CEP study, the majority of foundation CEOs report finding most of the standard sources of knowledge that they require not very useful to them. Site visits were most consistently ranked highly, with the majority of CEOs (56 percent) pointing to them as one of the most useful sources for learning about what is and isn’t working. Grantee focus groups and convenings came in a distant second, with only 38 percent of CEOs reporting these as a most useful source. And despite the labor involved on both sides of the table, final grant reports were ranked as a most useful source for learning by only 31 percent of CEOs.

”Thanks to CEP’s research, we have evidence of real demand for a greater supply of programmatic knowledge.“

If most foundations find greater value in higher touch methods of learning, such as meeting face-to-face or hosting grantee gatherings, then perhaps this is a reminder that if foundations reduce the burdens of their own bureaucracies and streamline application and reporting processes, there will be more time for learning from community and stakeholder engagement.

The companion profile of the Weingart Foundation, another longtime GlassPockets participant, shows the benefits of funders making more time for grantee engagement, and provides a number of methods for doing so. Weingart co-creates its learning and assessment frameworks with grantees, routinely shares all the grantee feedback it receives from its Grantee Perception Report (GPR), regularly makes time to convene grantees for shared learning, and also pays grantees for their time in helping to inform Weingart’s trustees about the problems it seeks to solve.

Supply and Demand

One of the questions we get the most about #OpenForGood’s efforts to build an open, collective knowledge base for the field is whether anyone will actually use this content. This concern also surfaces in CEP’s interviews, with a number of CEOs citing the difficulty of knowing what is useful to share as an impediment to openness. A big source of optimism here is learning that a majority of CEOs report that their decisions are often informed by what other foundations are learning, meaning foundations can rest assured that if they supply knowledge about what is and isn’t working, the demand is there for that knowledge to make a larger impact beyond their own foundation. Think of all that untapped potential!

Of course, given the current state of knowledge sharing in the field, only 19 percent of CEOs surveyed report having quite a bit of knowledge about what’s working at peer foundations, and just 6 percent report having quite a bit of knowledge about what’s not working among their programmatic peers. Despite this dearth of knowledge, still fully three-quarters of foundation CEOs report that they use what they have access to from peers in informing strategy and direction within their own foundations.

Thanks to CEP’s research, we have evidence of real demand for a greater supply of programmatic knowledge. Now there is every reason for knowledge sharing to become the norm rather than the exception.

--Janet Camarena

Creating a Culture of Learning: An Interview with Yvonne Belanger, Director of Evaluation & Learning, Barr Foundation
November 8, 2018

Yvonne Belanger is the director of learning & evaluation at the Barr Foundation and leads Barr's efforts to gauge its impact and support ongoing learning among staff, grantees, and the fields in which they work.

Recently, Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives for Foundation Center, interviewed Belanger about how creating a culture of learning and openness can improve philanthropy. This post is part of the Glasspockets’ #OpenForGood series in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight. The series explores new 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.


YvonneGlassPockets: More and more foundations seem to be hiring staff with titles having to do with evaluation and learning. You’ve been in this role at the Barr Foundation for just about a year, having come over from a similar role at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Why do you think roles like this are on the rise in philanthropy, and what are your aspirations for how greater capacity for evaluation and learning can benefit the field?

Yvonne Belanger: I think the spread of these roles in strategic philanthropy comes from increasing recognition that building a stronger learning function is a strategic investment, and it requires dedicated expertise and leadership. My hope is that strong evaluation and learning capacity at Barr (and across the philanthropic sector generally) will enable better decisions and accelerate the pace of social change to make the world more equitable and just.

GP: What have been your priorities in this first year and what is your approach to learning? More specifically, what is Barr’s learning process like, what sources do you learn from, how do you use the learnings to inform your work?

YB: At Barr, we are committed to learning from our efforts and continuously improving. Our programmatic work benefits from many sources of knowledge to inform strategy including landscape scans, academic research, ongoing conversations with grantees and formal site visits, and program evaluations to name a few. During this first year, I have been working with Barr’s program teams to assess their needs, to sketch out a trajectory for the next few years, and to launch evaluation projects across our strategies to enhance our strategic learning. Learning is not limited to evaluating the work of our programs, but also includes getting feedback from our partners. Recently, we were fortunate to hear from grantees via our Grantee Perception Report survey, including specific feedback on our learning and evaluation practices. As we reflected on their responses in relation to Barr’s values and examples of strong practice among our peers, we saw several ways we could improve.

GP: What kinds of improvements are you making as a result of feedback you received?

YB: We identified three opportunities for improvement: to make evaluation more useful, to be clearer about how Barr defines success and measures progress, and to be more transparent with our learning.

  • Make evaluations more collaborative and beneficial to our partners. We heard from our grantees that participating in evaluations funded by Barr hasn’t always felt useful or applicable to their work. We are adopting approaches to evaluation that prioritize grantee input and benefit. For example, in our Creative Commonwealth Initiative, a partnership with five community foundations to strengthen arts and creativity across Massachusetts, we included the grantees early in the evaluation design phase. With their input, we modified and prioritized evaluation questions and incorporated flexible technical assistance to build their capacity for data and measurement. In our Education Program, the early phase of our Engage New England evaluation is focused on sharing learning with grantees and the partners supporting their work to make implementation of these new school models stronger.
  • Be clearer about how we measure outcomes. Our grantees want to understand how Barr assesses progress. In September, we published a grantee guide to outputs and outcomes to clarify what we are looking for from grantees and to support them in developing a strong proposal. Currently, our program teams are clarifying progress measures for our strategies, and we plan to make that information more accessible to our grantees.
  • Share what we learn. To quote your recent GrantCraft Open for Good report, “Knowledge has the power to spark change, but only if it is shared.” To maximize Barr’s impact, we aim to be #OpenForGood and produce and share insights that help our grantees, practitioners, policymakers, and others. To this end, we are proactively sharing information about evaluation work in progress, such as the evaluation questions we are exploring, and when the field can expect results. Our Barr Fellows program evaluation is one example of this practice. We are also building a new knowledge center for Barr to highlight and share research and reports from our partners, and make these reports easier for practitioners and policymakers to find and re-share.

GP: Clearly all of this takes time and resources to do well. What benefits can you point to of investing in learning and knowledge sharing?

YB: Our new Impact & Learning page reflects our aspiration that by sharing work in progress and lessons learned, we hope to influence nonprofits and other funders, advance field knowledge, inform policy, and elevate community expertise. When you are working on changing complex systems, there are almost never silver bullets. To make headway on difficult social problems we need to view them from multiple perspectives and build learning over time by analyzing the successes – and the failures - of many different efforts and approaches.

GP: Barr’s president, Jim Canales, is featured in a video clip on the Impact & Learning page talking about the important role philanthropy plays as a source of “risk capital” to test emerging and untested solutions, some of which may not work or fail, and that the field should see these as learning opportunities. And, of course, these struggles and failures could be great lessons for philanthropy as a whole. How do you balance this tension at Barr, between a desire to provide “risk capital,” the desire to open up what you are learning, and reputational concerns about sharing evaluations of initiatives that didn’t produce the desired results?

YB: It’s unusual for Foundations to be open about how they define success, and admissions of failure are notably rare. I think foundations are often just as concerned about their grantees’ reputation and credibility as their own. At Barr we do aspire to be more transparent, including when things that haven’t worked or our efforts have fallen short of our goals. To paraphrase Jim Canales, risk isn’t an end in itself, but a foundation should be willing to take risks in order to see impact. Factors that influence impact or the pace of change are often ones that funders often have control over, such as the amount of risk we were willing to take, or the conceptualization and design of an initiative. When a funder can reflect openly about these issues, these usually generate valuable lessons for philanthropy and reflect the kind of risks we should be able to take more often.

GP: Now that you are entering your second year in this role, where are the next directions you hope to take Barr’s evaluation and learning efforts?

YB: In addition to continuing and sustaining robust evaluation for major initiatives across our program areas, and sharing what we’re learning as we go, we have two new areas of focus in 2019 – people and practices. We will have an internal staff development series to cultivate mindsets, skills, and shared habits that support learning, and we will also be working to strengthen our practices around strategy measurement so that we can be clearer both internally and externally about how we measure progress and impact. Ultimately, we believe these efforts will make our strategies stronger, will improve our ability to learn with and from our grantees, and will lead to greater impact.

 

Share This Blog

  • Share This

Subscribe to Transparency Talk

  • Enter your email address:

About Transparency Talk

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

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

    If you are interested in being a
    guest contributor, contact:
    glasspockets@foundationcenter.org

Categories