Transparency Talk

Category: "Leadership" (19 posts)

Eye on: Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim
July 30, 2015

(Caroline Broadhurst is deputy chief executive officer at The Rank Foundation and through the Clore Social Leadership Programme was a visiting fellow at the Foundation Center. This is part of her series about the motivations of U.K. donors who have signed the Giving Pledge. For more about Dr. Ibrahim and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Mohammed Ibrahim“Lucky” is how Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim describes himself when recounting his journey from his Nubian upbringing in Sudan to his work as an international philanthropist and entrepreneur.  Dr. Ibrahim grew up in an African community, but has lived most of his adult life in Britain with his wife Hania, a retired radiologist for the National Health Service.  Always one to work hard, Dr. Ibrahim attributes his good fortune to being in the right place at the right time, and the encouragement he received from his parents to excel academically.  Dr. Ibrahim received a Ph.D. in Mobile Communications from Birmingham University in the north of England and worked within the telecommunications sector for several years before leading the telecommunications company, Cellnet (now O2).  The business had gone where others had feared to tread, and by bringing the mobile phone industry to the African continent, made its 100 shareholders millionaires overnight.

When Dr. Ibrahim sold the business in 2005 he shifted his focus to philanthropy.  Proudly African, he wanted to influence transparency in governance.  He set up the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2006 “to focus on the critical importance of leadership and governance in Africa.” The foundation has two key projects: the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which ranks the performance of individual governments in terms of safety, rule of law, economic opportunity and human development (Mauritius  currently holds the top spot with 81.7%); the second is the Ibrahim Prize, which celebrates and awards strong leadership among former African presidents and heads of state. The Prize is expected to exceed the value of the Nobel Prize, with an initial award of $5 million, plus $200,000 annually for life to the former president or head of state who demonstrates outstanding leadership qualities. In 2014, Namibia’s president, Hifikepunye Pohamba, won the prize.

In addition to the Index and the Prize, the Mo Ibraham Foundation hosts the Ibrahim Forum, a space to share the thought leadership agenda on African issues; the Forum also offers fellowships to the younger generation. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation is not a grantmaking body. Dr. Ibrahim’s daughter, Hadeel Ibrahim, is the founding Executive Director, and works alongside an impressive advisory board, which includes former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson

Known to the media as “Africa’s Bill Gates,” Dr. Ibrahim is now focusing on the transformation of Africa’s fortunes, based on good governance and leadership, rather than good luck.

--Caroline Broadhurst

Leadership and the Lessons of Change
April 21, 2014

(Grant Coates is President and CEO of The Miles Foundation, a Fort Worth-based foundation seeking to foster a thriving local community through innovative investments in education, economic opportunity, and leadership development. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's GrantCraft blog.)

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” - W. Edwards Deming

Grant_Coates_headshotI love this quote, because it reflects the necessity of change to stay relevant, but also our inherent reluctance to take that step forward. At The Miles Foundation this past year, we’ve certainly pushed ourselves to implement changes we believe will help propel us forward and build stronger partnerships – even when it has felt a little uncomfortable.

The great part of change, though, is what you learn through the process of transformation. With our first-ever Annual Report, a fresh website and new grantee stories published (along with an inaugural social media presence), our intentional focus on transparency and connectivity has been an exciting and informative journey.

One of the areas in which we have concentrated much of our efforts and gained significant insight is our grantee selection process – a key focus area noted in the GrantCraft and Glasspockets guide “Opening Up: Demystifying Funder Transparency.”

What we received through the exercise of revising our grantee selection process – in addition to a more efficient, effective, and transparent approach – was a welcome revelation about the important role of leadership in our grantee partnerships.

This discovery began as we examined each of our grantee selection phases, so that we could clearly delineate (for our grantee candidates and ourselves) the specific evaluative criteria for each. Our three distinct phases included:

  • An on-site evaluation, which allows us to see, feel, and touch the grantee organization – observing how it functions on a daily basis, experiencing what the environment is like, and interacting one-on-one with its staff members;
  • A letter of interest, which enables us to efficiently sort through initial grant inquiries based on a set number of criteria, and select those that fit with our mission and funding profiles; and
  • A full application evaluation, which prompts us to ask detailed questions about the organization, its proposed program, and how it will measure success, to determine whether the grantee is an ideal partnership candidate.

For each of these selection phases, we identified qualification criteria, and ensured that certain evaluative factors carried more weight than others. Heavily weighted criteria, such as a nonprofit’s track record of achievement, an innovative program idea, or a well-designed plan could influence our likelihood of funding a particular program.

But we quickly began to see that one critical factor continued to rise above the rest. We found that effective leadership was the one element that was consistently present in successful programs, and thus, we concluded, would be one of the most significant indicators of a program’s potential for success and therefore our likelihood of funding.

It is easy to assume that every successful organization has it, but leadership often is what separates the “good” from the “great.”

Leadership is somewhat of an obvious success metric, but it’s hard to quantify, outside of past performance and experience. It is easy to assume that every successful organization has it, but leadership often is what separates the “good” from the “great.” The presence of powerful leadership is almost tangible – it’s a spirit that employees exude, a confidence that the organization embodies, and an impact that’s measurable – true leadership is, in short, a game-changer in the grantee selection process.

What can leadership do? It can drive a program agenda, inspire better results, and maintain accountability to a standard of excellence. Surely, we have seen that without strong leadership at the executive or management levels, even the best-laid plans can be thwarted. And so, leadership is now one of the key criteria we use when evaluating our potential partners.

Perhaps this discovery should not have been as much of a surprise. At The Miles Foundation, we believe in the power of leadership, as it’s one of our three core funding profiles. And as we move forward, our emphasis on leadership, both in our funding and our grantee selection process, will undoubtedly continue to grow.

Regardless, this past year has taught us that change is a good thing. For The Miles Foundation, we’ll embrace our continued path of transformation and discovery, with the hope that each revelation along the way will help guide us, and make us stronger, for the future.

-- Grant Coates

Part 2: Top 10 Lessons Learned on the Path to Community Change
June 25, 2013

(Robert K. Ross, M.D. is President and CEO of The California Endowment. Yesterday he shared three aha moments from the Endowment’s first two years of work in its Building Healthy Communities plan.)

Ross-100Okay, at times I step back and look at the BHC initiative and wonder—could we have made it more complicated? 14 sites. Multiple grantees in each site. A core set of multiple health issues. Multiple state-level grantees. And the expectation that the parts will add up to something greater and catalyze a convergence that builds more power and leads to greater impact.

But then again, supporting an agenda for social and community change does require multiple strategies, operating in alignment: the use of data, message framing and story-telling; innovative models; a variety of influential messengers; convening and facilitating champions; “grassroots and treetops” and coordination; meaningful community engagement. Power-building requires multiple, aligned investments.

Our Top Ten Lessons for Philanthropy

Finally, I want to share some lessons with partners in philanthropy regarding planning and implementing a community-change initiative. As we engaged in the planning process of BHC, we tried in earnest to stick by a key aphorism, one I learned from colleague and mentor Ralph Smith at the Annie E. Casey Foundation: make new mistakes.

The track record of community change work by philanthropy is not a work of art. Tapping into the wisdom of institutions such as the Aspen Institute, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Skillman Foundation, the Marguerite Casey Foundation, and the Northwest Area Foundation, we incorporated the lessons of success and struggle from our colleagues in the field. Learning from these and other colleagues, we were able to avoid hitting major rocks as our BHC ship sailed out of harbor. So, we learned the following:

Community engagement in planning processes will be simultaneously exhilarating and messy.

1. Take time to plan, and plan to take the time. We embarked on a 9 month community engagement process in the 14 BHC sites, and we ended up taking 12-15 months. Nobody died, and nobody got fired. Community engagement in planning processes will be simultaneously exhilarating and messy. If it is going too smoothly and too well, then something may be terribly wrong – like the possibility that a foundation is not receiving candid, meaningful input from local leaders. If it is bumpy and messy and getting to consensus, and clarity is taking much longer than originally planned, it may very well mean that you are gaining the trust of leaders to raise thorny, difficult issues. As a general rule, we just took the time that was needed for local leaders to develop their local BHC plans, and we did not pit BHC sites against one another to race by the foundation’s clock. Community leaders want a compass more than they want a clock.

2. Don’t lead with the money. The issue of whether to announce “how much” the dollar commitment is in a foundation initiative is a tricky path. On the one hand, a major dollar-commitment announcement by a foundation can provide excitement, anticipation, and mobilize civic and community support. On the other hand, “leading with the money” can instigate all manner of posturing, control issues, manipulation, and political grantsmanship among potential grantees. We decided to quietly announce the breadth and scope of our commitment -- $1 Billion over a ten-year period in local and statewide policy funding – but veered away from formally announcing precise budget commitments in each site. In other words, we wanted to send a message that our commitment was serious without leading the conversations with grant dollar puppetry.

3. Date logic models, but get married to learning. There is no doubt that engaging in the disciplined exercise of how you think – and how community leaders believe – positive change and results will happen is a sound practice. But it is also important to recognize that community change and positive results in the context of complex social and political systems often defy tidy, linear models. If you want to get married, it is wiser to commit to the process of active, dynamic, real-time learning. We provided logic model training for leaders in the 14 BHC sites, with varying levels of effectiveness across the sites; we have been clear, however that learning is not optional, either for grantees or our own program staff.  

4. Be transparent about desired results. There are written and unwritten axioms about the need for philanthropy to be completely community driven in community-change work. Our experience is that this thinking is a truism without being entirely true. For starters, our foundation is legally chartered as a health foundation, and although we employ a broad definition of the word “health”, there are limitations and constraints about what we can and cannot fund. This issue led to some considerable tensions within the foundation (at the board and staff level), as well as with grantees and stakeholders, about prioritized community needs that were outside the scope of our health mission. The most obvious and recurrent tension-generating themes, in the context of a pervasive economic recession, were issues of economic development, job creation, and mortgage foreclosure across the sites. The battles over if and how we should enter “the space” of economic development as a health foundation were intense and emotional. We ultimately landed on a framework (utilizing mission-investing in our investment portfolio) for how to move forward without “mission drift”, and have been communicating our approach to our own program staff and stakeholders, but it has not been easy. But the worst of all worlds would have been to promise community leaders a course of action that we would either abandon or renege upon later on. We decided to stick to our mission and results (the right move, however discomforting for foundation-community relations).  

5. Be dogmatic about the results, but flexible about the strategies. The work of community change is noble, but funders cannot afford to fall in love with the process of the work at the expense of meaningful results and impact. Once community leaders and funders agree on a set of outcomes, objectives, or results, these must represent the “true north” on the compass. In the BHC planning and early implementation, we gave community leaders and organizations in the BHC planning process a blank slate on strategies, but insisted on being results driven and logic-model supported. The good news is that across our 14 BHC sites, there is community and resident ownership about the priorities and the strategies to achieve healthier community environments for young people. While these strategies vary, we are seeing growing convergence as the sites engage and learn from one another.

6. Listening is a form of leadership. Irish poet David Whyte underscores the importance of “leadership through conversation.” We have been quite intentional about active listening at all stages of the planning and implementation, and being mindful of closing the feedback loop with community leaders and grantees. We utilized a fairly simple “what we said, what they said, what we heard, what we’ll do” format. At the conclusion of the one-year planning process, our past Board Chair (Tessie Guillermo) and I co-authored and co-videotaped messages to the 14 sites summarizing the key themes and priorities we heard from community leaders in the sites, and what to expect in support from our foundation in the months ahead. We have now begun to bring site leaders together twice annually with foundation staff, so that leaders and staff can share stories of progress, struggles, and inspiration. All of this in service of the all-too critical “t-word”: trust. Trust is the mother’s milk of community change efforts by philanthropy, and active, engaged listening is the foundation.

7. Make “patient” grants, and “urgent” grants. Investors engaged in place-based, community change efforts encounter several tensions to manage. Among them is the tension of patience versus urgency. As efforts such as the Harlem Children’s Zone, Market Creek Plaza in Southeast San Diego, the Skillman Foundation’s work in Detroit, and the Dudley Street Initiative in Boston have demonstrated, positive community change takes time. A two- or three-year grant just won’t do it, and most successful efforts require 7, 10, or 12 years of “patient money.” The most thoughtful investments on this front involve leadership development, organizational capacity building, and collaborative efficacy; but “impact” yield from these investments will typically take years to bear fruit. “Urgent” money involves investing in short-term campaigns or capital projects where tangible results are realized within 12-18 months. Community change, place-based philanthropy will require both types of investments, and too heavy a bias or tilt towards “patient” investments will leave the investor and the partnership vulnerable to allegations that some money has been spent, some meetings have occurred, but nothing “tangible” has been produced. As a result, confidence in the effort will dissipate. Our BHC effort in the early going has been appreciative of the need to simultaneously make “patient” and “urgent” (which we also call “early wins”) grants.

8. Story-telling is part of the doing. The two-most under-appreciated and under-invested themes in social-change philanthropy are power-building and story-telling. Having been at the helm of a large-asset foundation for more than a decade, I am guilty-as-charged on this front; in retrospect, I would gladly trade in half of the (often expensive) academic and research-oriented reports we have commissioned in my twelve years as CEO for more compelling, interesting, and impactful “stories” of community-level change that illuminate the path towards a healthy, more vibrant community. Story-telling by community leaders, youth, or community-based organizations can be powerful tools on multiple fronts: local residents and youth experience the power and passion of their own voice; local media are inspired to re-tell the story in a way that scales up the audience; policymakers pay greater heed and attention to the issue being raised; civic engagement and participation is served; cynicism, disengagement, and disempowerment are reduced. Utilizing multiple forms of story-telling, from social media to flip-cam videos to traditional approaches, we have been assertive in support of community leaders and youth on this front, and it has been inspiring to witness.

Why build, preserve, and protect our respective brands and reputations if we are not going to spend it? Spend that damn brand.

9. Spend the damn brand. Institutional philanthropy is risk-averse. We tend to worry and fret about how our institutional brand, reputation, and civic standing might be sullied by associating with potentially controversial efforts or organizations, and as a general rule, we keep our heads and our profile low. But we have discovered, in the early years of the BHC effort, that thoughtful, surgical application of our civic standing and reputation matters to community leaders – and that they want us to spend “it” on their behalf. Sometimes it comes in the form of convening a meeting, writing and placing an op-ed, placing a phone call to a civic leader, or taking out a full-page ad on an issue in the local newspaper. We have done this with regards to healthy food options for youth and families, health insurance coverage for the uninsured, gang prevention and intervention strategies, and school health efforts. There is a school of thought among philanthropy that our job as funders is “to make the grant and get out of the way.” We would argue that our job is to achieve our respective missions, and by any means necessary. On occasion, this requires stepping out of character on behalf of grantees, and utilizing our voice as well. Why build, preserve, and protect our respective brands and reputations if we are not going to spend it? Spend that damn brand.

10. A Highly Engaged Board. In the earliest planning stages of BHC with our Board of Directors, the Board made it clear that they understood the value and importance of a ten-year commitment, but they also made three points clear. The first was the importance of honesty, candor, and trust about the progress of the effort. The second was a complete commitment to an evaluation approach framed by “learning through impact.” And thirdly, they wanted to be engaged for the purposes of learning, and governance, but not micromanagement. We accomplished the latter by organizing our quarterly Board meetings in or near a BHC community site at least three times a year, and each Board member accepted an assignment of one community site for more in-depth and richer learning. Board members share their observations over dinner at our Board meetings.

In closing, we have found the work of community change to be an exhilarating journey in pursuit of our health mission. We have gained an appreciation of the importance of the “right brain-left brain balance” in this work: having a Theory of Change, and Logic Models, and metrics are important, but trust-building, power-building, and the spiritual dimension of the work constitutes the real glue to hold partners and relationships together over the long haul. And finally, a special note of thanks and appreciation to those foundations who have traversed this path before us, sharing tidbits of lessons and wisdom so that we can “make new mistakes” in the battle for community improvement and health justice.

--Robert K. Ross, M.D.

Part 1: Aha Moments on the Road to Building Healthy Communities
June 24, 2013

(Robert K. Ross, M.D. is President and CEO of The California Endowment.)

Ross-100We are now two-plus years into the implementation of The California Endowment’s 10-Year Building Healthy Communities plan, and I can safely say that it has been the two most exciting years of my career in community and public health. It has already been quite a ride.

This is the first of periodic reports we will produce to share our progress, observations, mistakes, and lessons along the way as we support the efforts of community leaders to create healthier environments for young people in distressed and underserved communities.

Building Healthy Communities – we call it BHC for short – is a commitment of our Board of Directors to a two-pronged strategy. We have “dropped anchor” in fourteen distressed California communities for a 10-year period to work in partnership with community leaders to improve the health and life chances of young people. In addition, we are supporting change at the regional and state levels through funding advocacy, organizational capacity building, and communications on our key health issues.

Watch the video »

It is our intent to have these place-based and "bigger than place" strategies complement one another, and for the moving parts to develop a powerful synergy. At the local level, the BHC communities are engaging multiple sectors to develop innovative efforts to advance health. As these innovative strategies emerge, we’re looking for ways to scale the ideas up through policy change and communications at the state and regional levels. Through acting on multiple levels with complementary strategies, we expect to make a greater contribution than if we were to work only at the place level or only through supporting statewide advocacy. This is central to our theory of change. In a sense, it is fair to consider BHC as a “place-based plus” community change campaign.

In the spirit of the knowledge sharing that is one of the central aspects of Glasspockets and Transparency Talk, I will lift up three “aha” moments we’ve had so far, followed tomorrow by a second post listing key lessons for philanthropy.

Aha #1: The message matters
As we all know, when one talks about the “social determinants” -- the roles that poverty, education, and housing play in health status -- outside the public health world, eyes glaze over. We experienced this communication gap early as local communities strived to decipher our jargon-laden list of 10 targeted outcomes and 4 Big Results. Our communications team, inspired by the engagement of community leaders and residents in the planning process, took this obstacle head-on, and have created what I believe is one of the first successful decodings of the social determinants research: Health Happens Here.

Health-happens-here-250Health doesn’t just happen in a doctor’s office; health happens where we live, work, learn and play.

If you put the phrase Health Happens Here on a photo of a healthy school lunch, or a bike path, or a father and daughter hugging each other, we immediately communicate the norms change we are promoting. We took this message a step further by incorporating it into our internal structures. In looking at our grant-making, we found that 80% of our grants were focused around three areas: neighborhoods, schools and prevention. This led us to create three themes – Health Happens in Neighborhoods, Health Happens in Schools and Health Happens with Prevention – that have become the essential building blocks for our work. In fact, we call them campaigns, another use of language that communicates our intent as a foundation to use our brand to push for policy and systems change. And we are investing in aggressive media strategies to promote this message—through television, radio, print and social networking and through partnerships with influential messengers including First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Oz, and Jamie Oliver. A simple, compelling message carried by influential messengers, can shape a new narrative of change.

Aha #2: Trust young people to lead
Early in our BHC process, we chose to bring young people into leadership roles in BHC. Little did I know that this decision would not only impact community efforts but would impact how we view our work. Young people and adults view health issues differently, and it makes perfect sense to engage young people directly in developing strategies to improve their health. It makes sense but in the past, we didn’t. We operated like most adult organizations and didn’t engage young people in our thinking.

We’ve seen first hand that young people can be powerful leaders for social change. When they tell their stories through the arts, spoken word, social networking and journalism, they compel action. They are not only about our future; they are leaders of today.

Now that we have taken this step, we’re learning a lot. Young people brought to our attention the scandalous epidemic of suspensions and expulsions in our schools, and helped us understand how this issue connects to their health. Young men of color led us to a greater understanding of the role of trauma in the lives of youth growing up in homes and neighborhoods plagued with violence and gangs, and lifted up the need for social/emotional health and healing. And we’ve seen first hand that young people can be powerful leaders for social change. When they tell their stories through the arts, spoken word, social networking and journalism, they compel action. They are not only about our future; they are leaders of today. We’re evolving into an organization informed by adult and youth perspectives.

In addition to the numerous youth organizing and development efforts in the sites, I’ve created a “President’s Youth Council,” consisting of 14 youth leaders across the state, who meet with me at least twice annually in my role as President & CEO. In this way, I have the privilege of  hearing directly from youth leaders themselves about the progress and struggles of BHC, and how our foundation can be more responsive to and supportive of young people’s distressed neighborhoods. I believe this represents a fundamental culture change that will influence our work in the years to come.

As of this writing, BHC youth leaders, working in coalitions with the organizations that support them, have begun to rack up a series of policy victories that will put a check on the epidemic numbers of school suspensions, calling for alternative, common-sense discipline practices (like restorative justice approaches) that keep kids in school. This was an issue, by the way, that was nowhere on our radar screen in the early planning of BHC. It emerged from the youth voices in the BHC sites.

Aha #3: Build power, not just knowledge and innovation  
Frederick Douglass said that power concedes nothing without demand. The world doesn’t change because of the release of new data. It responds or concedes when people demand change.

Institutional philanthropy tends to worship at one of two altars: new knowledge, and innovation. Both are overrated, over-hyped, and over-subscribed to in our field.

Institutional philanthropy tends to worship at one of two altars: new knowledge, and innovation. Both are overrated, over-hyped, and over-subscribed to in our field. It can be argued that the primary value of philanthropy to civic society is the issue of problem-solving at scale. In a wonderfully linear, logical, and intellectually-driven world, good data, research, and new knowledge would be king. But that is not the world we live in. Recently, I noted that the state legislature in North Carolina effectively banned the use of scientific projections on global warming-induced tidal changes because they stand to impede the path of business development. More recently, the NRA-led prohibition against gun violence research by the CDC was recently challenged by President Obama after Newtown. I wish these represented isolated events, but history has shown that good science is frequently set aside by political and economic forces to the detriment of civic society.

The best public health example of this issue is the 80-year-plus war against big tobacco. The medical and public health communities have had the science about the detrimental effects of tobacco use since the 1920’s; but big tobacco had the power. We lost the battle decade after decade, and it was not until we discovered the merits of political and grassroots advocacy which, in combination with the science, led to a strategy where we began to rack up some victories.

On a related front, philanthropy seems hopelessly in love with “innovation” as well.  In the corporate, for-profit world, innovation quickly scales through profit – the I-phone being a classic example. In the social sectors, innovation rarely paves the way towards scale on its own merits. Too many politically powerful forces are in play. Power, voice, and advocacy matter, and matter greatly. Data and innovation, without the recognition of political power and advocacy, is in vain. The school suspensions battle was a perfect illustration of this point, as youth leaders and youth advocacy organizations utilized suspension data that demonstrated a disproportionate impact on African-American and Latino young men as a result of the practices.

In Building Healthy Communities we’ve decided to be clear; we want to help community leaders and residents build the power they need to promote healthier places for young people. We want to support people and organizations that think power, act with power and demand change. Power concedes nothing without demand, and as Douglass added, it never has and it never will.

Tomorrow, in part 2 of this series, Dr. Robert Ross discusses 10 lessons learned on the path to community engagement.

--Robert K. Ross, M.D.

Glasspockets Find: Transparency and Impact Reporting at the James Irvine Foundation
August 23, 2012

The James Irvine FoundationThe James Irvine Foundation recently published its new 2011 Performance Report. This takes the ritual of the Annual Report to the next level both technologically and conceptually, as the Irvine Foundation has added the discipline of annually reporting on its overall foundation performance as part of the process of compiling the data that comprise its annual report.

"This online publication represents the latest evolution in our approach to reporting on our impact. While it includes many of the features of a traditional foundation annual report, our aim is to give viewers a deeper look at the Foundation’s progress toward its long-term goals. And this year we’re experimenting with a new online format to make it more inviting and accessible" says Daniel Silverman, Communications Director at Irvine.

The online report features an Introduction as well as four distinct areas: Program Impact, Leadership, Finance and Organization, and 2011 Grantmaking. The report makes great use of infographic and data visualization displays by organizing information into easily digested graphics throughout all of the areas. Take a look at Irvine Foundation's 2011 Performance Report online.

-- Natasha Isajlovic-Terry

What is Effectiveness in Foundation Work?
December 14, 2011

(Bill Somerville is Executive Director of the Philanthropic Ventures Foundation. This post is a response to a session on Foundation Transparency and Effectiveness, held in San Francisco, December 6, 2011, by the Center for Effective Philanthropy and the Foundation Center.)

Bill SomervilleFoundation critics say it isn't enough to have passion and caring about your work. You need to be effective. Maybe the retort is you can't be effective unless you have passion and caring in your work. Nonetheless, what does effectiveness mean?

At PVF effective means getting out of the office and finding people doing outstanding work -- and funding them. It means trusting these people and giving them money to spend at their discretion without requiring them to spend 25+ hours applying for funds, regardless if there is a common application form, as was advocated. It means not holding foundation processes sacred and getting money to people when they need it and not having them wait months for a decision.

Does transparency and glass pockets help effectiveness?Does transparency and glass pockets help effectiveness? I don't know. What difference does it make for people to know foundation salaries? If it does make a difference, then we are talking about accountability not effectiveness. Is the foundation accountable in being efficient, frugal, responsible, responsive and productive?

Foundations have a special place in the community in that they are answerable to themselves. They are independent and have maximum latitude to do their work. They have a unique asset in that their money is not political, not in competition with anything or anyone, and they have no ax to grind. So, what are the factors of excellence in the exercise of philanthropy? A question foundation personnel should ask themselves every day.

One is leadership. Foundations should exercise leadership in their willingness to venture where others haven't gone, to take risks, to think into the future rather than indulge themselves in endless paper. A leader is one who brings out the best in others. Isn't this what foundations should be doing?

Another factor of excellence is modesty. Money is the tool of philanthropy and money is power. Foundation personnel must understand that it is not their money nor is it their power. Foundations are investing funds in people and programs worthy of the investment. They are not "giving money away."

This commentary is meant to create a dialogue and stimulate other people to add their thoughts on what makes for effectiveness.

-- Bill Somerville

Another Way of Thinking about Accountability
October 25, 2011

(Michael Remaley is the director of Public Policy Communicators NYC and president of HAMILL REMALEY breakthrough communications. In a previous post for Transparency Talk, he wrote about identifying transparency benchmarks in foundation communications.)

More and more philanthropic professionals are accepting the idea that their organizations should be transparent and, in part because those who founded the organization took major tax benefits when it was established, have some accountability to the public. Many of our field's big thinkers are making a compelling case that public accountability in philanthropy should be a core value in our work. But when it comes to accountability, what if foundations and the public are talking about entirely different things?

New research from Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation presents evidence that the public and leaders across many sectors hold strikingly different ideas about what it means to be accountable. The report, "Don't Count Us Out: How an Overreliance on Accountability Could Undermine the Public's Confidence in Schools, Business, Government and More," is based on new public opinion research. It outlines the key dimensions of accountability as the public defines it and contrasts the public's perspective with prevailing leadership views. Although it isn't mentioned in the subtitle, the report explores the ramifications for foundations, too.

For philanthropic professionals, the implications are significant – both for their foundations and the institutions they support. There are several pros and cons in the research for those foundations already committed to transparency and accountability. For those foundations on the fence about accountability, the research reinforces the fact that the public expects institutions to be accountable, but raises questions about just what that means. 

There are several key points from the research that philanthropic professionals will want to consider:

Accountability requires ethics.

For foundations, the biggest "pro" in this research is that the public sees accountability first as a dimension of ethics and responsibility.  Foundations – especially those with an orientation toward accountability and transparency – will likely fair well with the public in this regard. On the "con" side, many leaders who see accountability measures as the principal way to ensure that their institutions meet their obligations to the public may be putting too much faith in how much the public values the setting of benchmarks, collecting data, measuring performance, disclosing information, and organizing system-wide reforms. Those mechanisms, while often valuable as management tools, fall far short of relieving the public's most potent concerns, especially their fears about an ethical decline in our society. Foundations that demonstrate they are acting responsibly and ethically will be thought by the public to be accountable more than those that simply talk about benchmarks.

More information does not equal more trust.

Typically, people know almost nothing about specific measures, and they rarely see them as clear-cut evidence of effectiveness. Many Americans are deeply skeptical about the accuracy and importance of quantitative measures. Most are suspicious of the ways in which numbers can be manipulated or tell only half the story. So on the "pro" side, this research is good news for those foundations that have become adept at getting their message out with personal stories of those affected by their programs. For those that are still trying to talk about their impact with lists of grants made and lots of data, the "cons" in this research may be quite jarring. Many members of the public feel confused and overwhelmed by the detailed information flying past them in the name of "disclosure" and "transparency." Many fear they are being manipulated by the complex presentations. More and more statistics do not reassure, so in fact, more information can actually lead to less public trust. It's not that they don't want accountability and information from foundations, but a whole lot of data (without any qualitative context) isn't reassuring to them.

Responsiveness is just as important as benchmarks.

For the public, being able to reach someone who listens to you and treats your ideas and questions respectfully is a fundamental dimension of accountability. This may be the biggest challenge for foundations in this research, since even the most transparent rarely open the door more than a crack to let the general public in to give feedback on the funding programs aimed at them. For most people, not being able to talk to someone is a signal that the institution doesn't genuinely care about those they serve. Foundations are particularly opaque to the public. The message is clear for those in philanthropy and other sectors who may fear being besieged by community input: the public wants a better balance and authentic mechanisms that allow them to be heard. On the "pro" side, those foundations that do seek community input and can demonstrate they are listening will likely be afforded a great deal of public trust. Foundations that rate well on the Foundation Center's Glasspockets measures of transparency, especially those dealing with grantee surveys and grantee feedback, can probably feel some relief that they will likely be considered accountable in the public's eyes.

The public expects to be held accountable, too.

For most Americans, the return to real accountability is not the job of leaders alone. Time and again, people in focus groups spoke about their own responsibilities and the near impossibility of solving problems without a broad base of responsibility at every level of society. Many foundations already get this. Institutions that embrace the idea of a public role in fostering institutional accountability must think creatively and proactively about how typical citizens can contribute their knowledge and actions to fulfill the organization's mission. The report emphasizes that giving people more and more information or giving them more and more choices without truly considering public priorities and concerns is likely to backfire.

The "Don't Count Us Out" report is getting a lot of attention in policy circles. The Washington Post's education columnist Jay Mathews said, "Its message is vital. Accountability is a key word in our national debate… The Public Agenda/Kettering report may have exposed the greatest obstacle to getting our kids the educations they deserve." And The Nonprofit Quarterly said, "The authors suggest that there is one other area that needs equal attention: philanthropy, which they say has 'fewer true accountability mechanisms than any other field.' However, there is one dimension of accountability in which philanthropy may be the strongest: the 'publicly stated moral convictions of its leaders.' How to measure that will, perhaps, be the biggest challenge of all."

For foundation professionals involved in communicating the results of their organizations' work, the first thing to recognize is simply the different orientation of your audience. The second is to understand that people expect more than just statistics and analyses of results to feel that the foundation is indeed accountable. Many foundations are hesitant to allow outsiders to even have easy e-mail access to staff (another Glasspockets transparency measure). So allowing the public to give feedback on the programs that are directed at them may seem like a radical idea to some. Many foundations are already doing grantee surveys and allowing public commentary on their blogs. These are likely to go a long way in engendering trust with the public.

Many foundations have already realized that telling stories is a more effective means of communicating with people than rolling off statistics and spewing facts. When it comes to demonstrating our foundations' accountability, it may be time to consider the idea that bringing the public into the process is as important as enumerating outcomes.

-- Michael Remaley

Glasspockets Find: Transparent Leadership Change
September 20, 2011

California Wellness FoundationBecause foundations are institutions, it is often difficult to feel connected to the people behind the institutional walls, or "in the know" about internal changes that may affect those outside the foundation. But each and every one of them is composed of a group of individuals passionately working together -- at least in theory -- toward a common purpose, and each of these individuals is connected to networks outside the foundation that add value at the personal, organizational, and sector level.

Open letter from Gary L. Yates It is, therefore, admirable when someone like Gary L. Yates, president and CEO of The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF) for nearly 20 years, shares his intention to retire well in advance of the event with both his internal and external audiences via an open letter on the foundation’s web site. This letter goes beyond simply announcing the leadership change; Yates' message also discusses the implications this transition will have on the foundation's grantmaking program -- addressing head-on the questions in which grantees and other stakeholders have a vested interest. Change is inevitable, but made easier when preparations can be implemented based on foreknowledge. With a transparent change in leadership, TCWF is reassuring its various audiences. And in doing so, Yates reminds us that human relationships really are at the center of philanthropy.

-- Mark Foley

Glasspockets Find: Bronfman Philanthropies Chooses Transparency for Its Sunset Years
July 22, 2011

The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP) has announced the steps it has taken and will continue to take as it prepares to close in 2016.

In 2001, Charles Bronfman and his wife, Andrea--who passed away in 2006--chose 2016 as the year by which ACBP would, as Charles Bronfman and ACBP President Jeffrey Solomon write in an open letter on the foundation's web site, "accomplish the goal of ensuring that the missions of the organizations that ACBP has incubated wouldAs with any good investment, there is a time to invest and a time to exit. - Charles Bronfman and Jeffrey Solomon continue." "There has been little written about the dynamics, challenges, and choices that need to be addressed [when a foundation sunsets]," write Bronfman and Solomon in the letter. "[F]or those reasons, we will transparently document our process as it unfolds. We will also take responsibility for stimulating a wider and deeper conversation among donors and professionals in the philanthropic community about the philosophic, strategic, and day-to-day considerations that are involved, and our learning and experiences along the way."

Bronfman and Solomon go on to say that they have discussed ACBP's transition plans with grantees, including the support that will be available to them during the process, and that the foundation will continue to provide them with advice and back-office assistance on a regular basis. In addition, the foundation has retained outside advisors to help ensure that the missions of the incubated organizations will be preserved going forward; that the organizations will be in a position to not only survive but thrive; and that the people involved will be treated with sensitivity throughout the transition.

In April 2009, the Foundation Center released Perpetuity or Limited Lifespan: How Do Family Foundations Decide? The first large-scale examination of foundation lifespan planning, the study benchmarked the intentions, practices, and attitudes of nearly 1,100 active family foundations in 2008. With 90 percent of family foundations created since 1980, the report found that, while existing in perpetuity continued to be the norm, more than a third were either uncertain about their lifespan or planned to limit their lifespan.

By sharing experiences as they sunset in an honest and open manner, foundations like the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies can--and will--make an invaluable contribution to the field, providing guidance and important insights to many family foundations as they navigate their own transitions in leadership and service.

Please share your thoughts and comments!

-- Mark Foley

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About Transparency Talk

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

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

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

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    Foundation Center

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