Transparency Talk

Candid @ PEAK2021 Online
May 3, 2021

PowellNikki
Nikki Powell

Nikki Powell is a content development associate at Candid.

This blog also appears on GrantCraft.

Across eight days in May, PEAK Grantmaking will be hosting their 2021 conference online. Candid is proud to have several presentation opportunities at the event, which kicks off the celebration of PEAK's 25th anniversary. We hope you'll join the sessions that intrigue you and use the hashtag #Peak2021Online to stay plugged in to what's happening at the conference.

Here's where you can find Candid during PEAK2021 Online:

TUESDAY, MAY 4  |  1:30PM
Creating Organizational Effectiveness and Resiliency Pilot Programs for a Post-pandemic World (featuring Jacob Harold)
What You Know Shouldn't Be About Who You Know (featuring Janet Camarena)
TUESDAY, MAY 4  |  3:00PM
Confessions of a DEI Data Junkie (Eva Nico)
TUESDAY, MAY 11  |  3:00PM
Philanthropy and COVID-19: Diving into the Data (featuring Grace Sato and Cathleen Clerkin)
THURSDAY, MAY 13  |  12:30PM
Holding Ourselves Accountable: Measuring Progress Toward Equitable Grantmaking (featuring Katherine Neiheisel)

VIRTUAL EXHIBIT BOOTH

Swing by our virtual exhibit booth to watch our cool video, check out our resources, and chat with Candid staff who are experts in a variety of technology, data, research, and social sector topics!

See the full PEAK2021 Online schedule and register today!

Saying “No” Gracefully: What Grantmakers Should Know
March 25, 2021

EllenFlax
Ellen Flax

Ellen Flax served as the director of a public foundation and as a program officer and consultant at several large family foundations and now works as a philanthropy consultant. Follow her on Twitter @ellenflax or get in touch at ellen@ellenflax.com

What do 2-year-olds and foundation professionals have in common? 

They both say “no” frequently. 

Toddlers have no problem saying “no.” They tend to chant the word many times in a row, often while stomping their feet or throwing a mini temper tantrum. 

Grantmakers, too, often say “no.” Indeed, due to limited resources, they are forced to say “no” far more often than they can say “yes.”  But unlike a toddler, many feel uncomfortable sayingno,” and for good reason. 

“The mere act of rejecting a grant application reinforces the power dynamic and power imbalance between a funder and a nonprofit organization.”

We know (or should know!) that the mere act of rejecting a grant application reinforces the power dynamic and power imbalance between a funder and a nonprofit organization.  While many have shifted to calling the organizations that we fund “grantee partners” as a way of making this relationship less transactional, at the end of the day, funders are consistently playing with a better hand of cards than are grant applicants. 

We also know (or should know!) that every grant application—even if it is completed on a common application platform, or “only” needs to be 500 words in length—represents a real investment of time and effort by a nonprofit and its staff.  And truth be told, the online application systems favored by funders for their efficiency (for the funder’s efficient operations, mind you) have actually increased the workload of nonprofits and their grant writers, who now have to spend countless hours figuring out ways to trim 10 characters or 10 words from an otherwise perfectly fine paragraph so it can fit into an arbitrarily sized answer box.

We also know (or should know!) that every “no” might cause one or more of a nonprofit’s staffers to lose a job, lead to the abrupt end of a successful or worthy program (and the attendant impact on program participants), or, in a worst-case scenario, the collapse of an organization. In an ideal world, the one that foundation professionals believe is the hallmark of a good or strong organization, a nonprofit should have a pipeline of other and/or new potential funders available, or seek multiple grants simultaneously, to support a program. Yet, if the nonprofit is the victim of a string of unlucky breaks, including a pandemic, it may nonetheless wind up in the red, despite taking all the right steps to raise funds and be financially responsible. 

So, what, if anything, can funders do to say “no” in a way that respects the time, effort, and dignity of grantseekers?

Let’s start with the timing of rejection notices. Foundations typically send out rejection letters at the end of a complete grant cycle, after their Board or other decision makers have approved a docket. This is often months after an application was submitted, and perhaps even months after there was a decision to not advance a set of proposals to the next round of review, never mind before the Board gives final approval.  If funders opted to provide notices of rejection in real time, as their internal processes winnow down the number of applications subject to final consideration, they would, at the very least, provide nonprofits with more timely information, enabling them to better plan for contingencies and/or refine their development efforts. 

We should also rethink the contents of the rejection letter. The typical communique is anodyne at best, praising the organization for its good work, and noting that due to heavy competition (which is likely true) that it was not selected for a grant. In an ideal world, a rejection notice should be customized to each applicant, spelling out the reasons for the rejection, and contain an offer for direct feedback about their proposal from a foundation professional. For example, the Bush Foundation’s rejection letter provides applicants with a link to sign up for a one-on-one appointment with a program officer to discuss why their proposal was turned down.  

Like Bush, there are some funders that are able to provide customized assessments—they are fortunate to have sufficient staff time, as well as a reasonably-sized applicant pool. For most funders, however, this type of individualized feedback is aspirational, but not practical, due to limited staff, other competing work priorities, and a large volume of proposals. Further, the unspoken but must-be-acknowledged reality is that fund decision-makers, staff and board members alike, don’t always apply consistent criteria when evaluating and approving grant proposals—and no one wants to be put in the position of telling an applicant that their submission was rejected for a subjective reason.  

On the other hand, if there is, indeed, an objective reason for the rejection, such as a poor evaluation plan or the project falls outside the foundation’s area of interest, then we should do our best to communicate that information proactively. 

If such individualized feedback is not possible, then funders should use other vehicles to share what went into their decision-making process.  This could be in the form of a webinar, a podcast, a blog post, infographics, or a white paper. 

“Nonprofit organizations and funders are necessary partners in the grand human effort to improve our society.”

For example, when I served as the director of a foundation and lacked the ability to respond to each applicant individually, I created a short podcast based on the trends we observed from our latest round of grants, as well as some general tips related to creating a better proposal. This was particularly critical after the foundation changed its priorities in one of our areas of giving, and was able to refine its preferences only after reviewing proposals and learning how the field was actually implementing these types of programs. We shared a link to this recording, which was posted on Box, with the organizations we rejected. While saying “no” was still difficult, the podcast enabled us to provide some level of feedback to the applicants, and indicated that we truly acknowledged the time and effort that these organizations dedicated to their grant writing and program planning.

Nonprofit organizations and funders are necessary partners in the grand human effort to improve our society. When they say “no” to a request, funders owe it to their partners to do so in such a way that is respectful, promotes learning, and provides greater transparency in an often-opaque field.

Philanthropy is contributing billions to Indian development, but who is counting?
February 26, 2021

Arif
Arif Ekram

Arif Ekram is Global Partnerships Manager, Candid.

This blog also appears in the Candid blog.

It is an exciting time for Indian philanthropy, especially for institutional philanthropy in India. The sector has come a long way since 1892, when the Tata group established one of India’s first philanthropic trusts, the JN Tata Endowment. In recent times, Indian billionaires have joined the Giving Pledge led by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates, and an increasing number of high net-worth Individuals have been making significant contributions to Indian development.

Another notable aspect of Indian philanthropy is the rise of giving by India’s growing middle class, thanks to a flourishing Indian economy. According to some estimates, India has added millions new donors in the last decade. Although many of these donors use traditional informal channels, a large portion have started to use formal and innovative channels to funnel their contributions. Retail giving—crowdsourcing philanthropic funds from ordinary citizens—is becoming popular and supporting some of India’s largest NGOs (nongovernmental organizations). Corporations also play an important role in the sector. India is the first country in the world to make corporate giving mandatory. Total spending by companies has increased steadily since the law came into effect. Over the last several years, CSR (corporate social responsibility) spending by the top 100 Indian companies has exceeded $3 billion and is expected to keep growing.

Philanthropy-in-India-website-homepage-header-1200x539
Taking all of these sources of giving together, philanthropy is one of the largest players in the mix of development actors of India. But who is counting its contribution?

One might be tempted to think that Indian philanthropy would be the most data savvy in the world. After all, Indian data and software engineers and programmers compete and often dominate at the highest level worldwide. Ironically, the country’s philanthropic sector suffers from an acute shortage of data availability and transparency. Often contained in their own bubbles, philanthropic actors of India usually do not know who is doing what and where, who is contributing to which program area, which population groups are getting help from which high net-worth donors, foundations, or corporations, and where their money could most complement government actions. Similarly, international foundations that fund or want to fund programs in India often see only a partial picture as they support projects in India. The lack of data results in inefficiency, redundancy and an incredible loss of opportunity to collaborate within the sector and with other development actors outside philanthropy. As a result, millions of lives across India that philanthropy could help remain out of reach.

One might think that the shortage of data, at least, is not a problem when it comes to grants made by international foundations. After all, these foundations’ contributions must be reported to the government’s publicly accessible portal under the Foreign Contribution Regulations Act (FCRA). Sadly, the lion’s share of the reported data remains largely unusable. The lack of a data standard renders the data useless. To make the FCRA data useful, one must go through a thorny data-massaging process, which is time-consuming and expensive. Even then, a large part of the data remains hopelessly inadequate for any useful application.

India-grant-distribution
Although corporate philanthropy and CSR, one of the biggest sources of data in Indian philanthropy, easily clear the bar set by FCRA data, they fall distinctly short in answering many critical questions important to the sector. The very general project descriptions and broad categorizations fail to provide important details imperative for the sector’s efficiency: Where and how has the money has been spent? Was the recipient an NGO or another type of organization? What thematic area and geographic location do the recipients operate in? Is the corporation running its own programs?

So how do you address some of these problems? For one, you could gather all the data available in multiple sources, clean it up, index it using a common standard and taxonomy, analyze it, and then make it available for all for free on a data visualization platform. Well, that is precisely what we did when we created the Philanthropy in India portal. The portal includes grants made by both Indian foundations and international foundations, high net-worth individuals, corporations, charities, and official donors. We have analyzed these grants to provide snapshots of the sector in an effort to answer some of the primordial questions of Indian philanthropy, such as who is doing what and where, what issues are getting funding, what issues may need more attention, and where funding gaps exist.

India-number-of-grants
The funding map section of the portal provides access to disaggregated grants data so that philanthropic actors can have a better understanding of how their dollars can make greater impact while minimizing redundancy and encouraging potential collaboration between different organizations. The portal also provides access to knowledge created by and for the sector and the latest updates on Indian philanthropy. Philanthropy in India is a one-of-a-kind tool designed to address some of the data challenges that the sector experiences now.

The portal, of course, has limitations, which are directly related to data quality and availability. For example, we have very little data on grants made by Indian foundations; giving by Indian foundations is one of the largest gaps in the portal. Also, the number of grants reported in a year can vary widely as philanthropic actors’ data reporting may differ from year to year. As a result, we cannot run some much needed key analysis, including trend analysis, of Indian philanthropy. In other words, the portal is as good as the data on it. As more quality data becomes available, the more helpful it will be for Indian philanthropy. Hence, we welcome all philanthropic actors working in India to share their data with us. Not only because sharing data can enrich the portal for them but also because it can help the sector become a better version of itself.

Spending down? Don’t forget your knowledge!
January 14, 2021

Ashleigh Halverstad Headshot
Ashleigh Halverstad

Ashleigh Halverstadt is the former senior evaluation and learning officer of the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, a spend-down foundation that concluded operations in December 2020. In this role, she worked with program staff and grantees to design and implement evaluation strategies, forged partnerships with field-building initiatives to advance philanthropic evaluation practice generally, and, in the Foundation’s final years, led knowledge management efforts culminating in the launch of a Candid Legacy Collection.

On December 31, 2020, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation concluded operations, following 64 years of grantmaking and a 2009 decision to spend down its assets. Throughout its life, and particularly during the spend-down years, the Foundation invested in knowledge creation. As our operations drew to a close, we preserved much of this work in a Legacy Collection hosted through Candid’s knowledge management platform, IssueLab.

S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation logoBuilding and sharing knowledge was a hallmark of the education and environment strategies that animated the Foundation’s 12-year spend down. Like many “systems change” funders, we were working to address entrenched problems of mind-boggling complexity. We knew we could not act—or learn—alone if we wanted to make progress. Solutions only come into focus when social sector actors learn from and with others, especially those closest to the ground.

As our sunset approached, we wondered: What would come of the knowledge we’d produced and supported? During the spend down, we invested more than $80 million in research and evaluation related to our strategic initiatives, and we published a few dozen resources of our own. We worked hard to share knowledge through our website and email distribution, and, more importantly, through our partners. But we knew our website wouldn’t live forever (it is currently expected to remain live for at least one-year post-sunset) and that we wouldn’t be around to support the ongoing knowledge dissemination efforts of our partners.

S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Legacy Collection
After much consideration, we decided against establishing a formal, comprehensive archive of all our records (read more about that here). We felt a responsibility, however, to create a permanent, publicly accessible home for our knowledge products—and that led us to IssueLab. IssueLab is one of the social sector’s largest open repositories, which already makes it a sensible place to store things. Plus, when a resource is added to IssueLab, it also gets disseminated through knowledge aggregators such as WorldCat (the world’s largest library catalog) as well as other Candid properties and partners. When we learned that Candid was launching the Legacy Collection service, specifically designed for organizations that are closing their doors, we knew it was a good fit.

What did it take to actually do it? I spent much of the last year leading the creation of the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Legacy Collection in close partnership with Lisa Brooks, director of knowledge management systems at Candid. For the benefit of anyone considering a similar undertaking, this piece offers a behind-the-scenes look at the process we worked through, and some of the lessons learned along the way.

Compiling knowledge products. First things first: What were we going to put in this collection? We knew it would include all self-published works as well as reports from evaluations of our major initiatives. I took responsibility for compiling these resources; in my role as senior evaluation and learning officer, sitting within a team that also held responsibility for communications, I was deeply familiar with these products and knew right where to find them.

But what else? We supported grantees in countless knowledge-building efforts over the years, but we never had a system for gathering and storing the products of their work. The fastest way to find these resources would have been to ask program staff. But we knew staff didn’t have the bandwidth in our final year of operations to track down all of the knowledge products that had been developed with our funding.

So, we decided to leave it up to staff discretion. Rather than create a Foundation-wide policy about what to include, we invited program staff to identify the resources they felt would be most valuable to highlight—and to submit those resources to me via a shared spreadsheet. I hosted a workshop to orient staff to the Legacy Collection and followed up with written instructions and supporting materials (e.g., draft email copy for reaching out to grantees about the opportunity).

Participation varied, with staff submitting anywhere from 0 to 30 resources. Some expressed a desire to contribute but simply did not have the bandwidth. Others required a little nudging. Many had questions about what was eligible for inclusion, what was worthy of inclusion, how to handle intellectual property, and more. I worked with staff (and in some cases, grantees) one-on-one to navigate their individual circumstances, a process that proved to be more time-consuming than I anticipated.

Lesson learned: Relying on the institutional memory of staff to inventory knowledge products is not an efficient strategy—but it was the best one we had. If we had known years ago that we would be building a Legacy Collection, we could have developed a policy about what would be included and a knowledge management system to support it. For example, we could have collected grantee knowledge products through our grants portal as standard practice, or tagged knowledge-building grants in our database for easy searchability later.

“If we had known years ago that we would be building a Legacy Collection, we could have developed a policy about what would be included and a knowledge management system to support it.”

Respecting intellectual property. As we began to compile knowledge products, one of the tricky things I ran into immediately was the matter of intellectual property. Many of our grantees copyright their work. Copyright law protects against the unauthorized distribution of a knowledge product. This means IssueLab can link to a copyrighted knowledge product, but holding a copy of that knowledge product on its servers without permission can be problematic. Linking to a resource is fine—until that link breaks—so we wanted the contents of our collection to be hosted on IssueLab wherever possible.

We felt a deep responsibility to ensure that we were treating our grantees—and their intellectual property—with respect. Although our standard grant agreement enables the Foundation to use or publish grant-funded work products at its discretion, we didn’t feel right about including grantees’ knowledge products in the Legacy Collection without their consent. We decided to seek grantee approval for every product we wanted to include. In most cases, grantees were delighted to be featured because they want their work to be as widely disseminated as possible. Still, this process added a layer of work for everyone involved and extended our timeline for finalizing the contents of the collection.

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation ToolkitLesson learned: Copyright often runs counter to our goals in the social sector! Many organizations opt to use open licensing for their work instead (more on our own journey with this below). And some funders encourage their grantees to use open licensing. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has an excellent tool kit on this subject. If we had put an open knowledge policy in place at the Foundation early in the spend down, we would have been better equipped to build the Legacy Collection and to engage with grantees about the various tools available to support easy, permanent access to their knowledge products.

Building and designing the collection. While I coordinated with staff internally to gather knowledge products and grantee approvals, I worked with Lisa to process the incoming materials and create the collection.

Importing knowledge products to a collection is not quite as simple as just uploading the files; someone has to manually develop metadata for each record (i.e., data about the file—publication date, author, abstract, etc.). Candid offers several options for document integration, ranging from do-it-yourself to full service. We opted for full service: I provided Lisa with the files, and her team generated the metadata, which saved me a lot of time. I did review and edit the metadata, though, and in a few cases, I had to consult with program staff or grantees to get it right.

“Importing knowledge products to a collection is not quite as simple as just uploading the files.”

As the collection started to come together, Lisa and I began to meet regularly to talk about thorny issues and how to handle specific files, and to make decisions about the customization of the collection. We created pages describing the Foundation and the collection’s treatment of intellectual property, developed a taxonomy for the contents, and configured the search function. It was a true partnership—Lisa has deep expertise in knowledge management, and it was a luxury to have her sound advice and guidance throughout.

Both document integration and design were complicated by the fact that we were adding material to the collection on a rolling basis up until the Foundation closed. Keeping track of it all was a real challenge, with an inventory that ultimately exceeded 200 items. It also meant that Lisa and I had to revisit the metadata and the taxonomy for the collection multiple times.

Lesson learned: The process of building and designing the collection would have been much simpler if I could have just handed our knowledge products over to Candid in a single batch, and then dealt with metadata and design issues all at once. Real life doesn’t work like that. We built our Legacy Collection inventory iteratively over the course of six months. This required careful organization and constant communication with Lisa to keep track of all the moving pieces.

Open Publishing Policies and Principals
An open knowledge policy and procedure for handling and sharing knowledge products funded and/or produced by your organization.

Applying open knowledge practices. Creation of the Legacy Collection provided an opportunity for us to think deeply about our self-published work and how to make it as freely, easily, and permanently accessible as possible. We benefited immensely from Candid’s thought leadership and resources in this space, and we became advocates for open knowledge. In our final year of operations, we implemented open licensing and digital object identifiers (DOIs) for all of our self-published work.

Prior to 2020, most of our publications made no mention of copyright. I thought this meant they could be distributed and used in any way. But as I later learned from Lisa, original work is automatically protected by copyright when it’s created, even if it’s not marked with a copyright symbol. Without knowing it, we had copyrighted all of our work as “all rights reserved” by default—in direct contradiction to our goals! Since we wanted our resources and lessons learned to be as widely disseminated as possible, we decided to apply Creative Commons licenses to all of our self-published work. Details about the licenses we chose are available here.

Equally important, we wanted this body of work to live on beyond 2020. We don’t know how long its shelf life will be, but as long as folks find it useful, it should be accessible. DOIs make this possible. A DOI provides a unique, permanent, unbreakable link for a digital knowledge product—a real dream for an organization like ours that won’t be around to maintain URLs. I’ve become an evangelist for DOIs and can’t understand why we’re not all using them, especially since Candid provides them for free! DOIs have been ubiquitous in academia for years because they make knowledge products easier to discover and track online. We decided to assign DOIs to all of our publications.

I’m really proud that we implemented open licenses and DOIs, but doing it in our final year of operations was a little tricky. Most of our work was already published by the time we put these decisions into effect, and though not strictly necessary, we made the effort to go back and update each document to include information about its license and DOI. Our communications firm graciously accepted the charge, but for their sake, I wish I’d surfaced the issue earlier.

Lesson learned: Creative Commons licenses and DOIs are incredibly valuable tools for sharing and preserving knowledge, yet they’re underutilized in the social sector. They’re especially essential for organizations that are going out of business and won’t be around to field intellectual property inquiries or maintain URLs. Considering that these practices are free and easy to implement, we should all be using them—and the sooner we start, the easier it will be.

Reflecting on what we’ve built. Now that you’ve had a behind-the-scenes tour of what it took to create the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Legacy Collection, you may be wondering: Was it worth all the trouble? The answer is a resounding YES! Sure, we encountered a few bumps along the way, but the time and resource investments were minimal compared to the benefits of preserving the knowledge we’ve built during our spend down. Contrary to its title, we didn’t create the Legacy Collection to pay homage to the Foundation’s legacy. We did it because we believe that knowledge is power—and that we have a responsibility to make it accessible to all.

Headwaters Foundation Joins GlassPockets
December 3, 2020

Brenda-Solorzano_2020_5764_websize-e1606835694594-600x600
Brenda Solorzano

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Brenda Solorzano, Chief Executive Officer, Headwaters Foundation

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have joined us in building a movement for transparency that now surpasses 100 foundations 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.

Headwaters Foundation works side-by-side with Western Montanans to improve community health. Its vision is a Western Montana where all people, especially the region’s most vulnerable, are healthy and thriving.

In recognition that the resources of the Headwaters Foundation belong to the communities it serves, its philanthropic investments are designed with community at the center of the work. The foundation supports efforts that address the social determinants of health issues that keep Western Montanans from being healthy. Investments by the foundation prioritize two vulnerable communities, children living in poverty and American Indian communities. Through 2023 its granting programs include:

  • Strategic Initiatives: Supporting multi-year, multi-faceted strategic initiatives that build community capacity to collaboratively address the issues that keep Western Montanans from being healthy
  • GO! Grants: Quick turnaround, high impact, low stress grants for mission aligned organizations in rural Western Montana
  • Policy Grants: Focused on research, policy development and grassroots advocacy, these investments inform Montana health policy conversations

Headwaters Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. In this interview with GlassPockets’ Janet Camarena, Brenda Solorzano, CEO of the Headwaters Foundation, explains why transparency is key to its philanthropic approach.

GlassPockets: 2020 has been a very unpredictable and challenging time for us all, and much of what is happening in philanthropy today stems from responding to multiple crises unfolding from the pandemic and from a nation reckoning with racial injustice. How is Headwaters responding to these unprecedented times, and how has your thinking about transparency, openness, and funder accountability informed your approach?

Brenda Solorzano: The current crises are forcing philanthropy to re-visit why and how we do our work, including us at Headwaters. At Headwaters, we start from a place of trusting that communities know best about the challenges they face and the solutions needed. This is the lens we applied when the dual crises hit Montana. We turned to our grantees and asked them what they needed. They told us they needed resources to address the significant food access and childcare issues elevated by the pandemic. So that is what we provided. They also shared the need to shift their grant priorities and timelines, so we did that too. The basic theme here is that we listened to our grantees and the communities they serve. There is no greater accountability for a funder than to listen to your grantees. This is true always, regardless of whether we are living in a pandemic or not. And while we always take this approach to our work, these times pushed us to ask ourselves what else we could be doing in regards to transparency and accountability. The decision to participate in GlassPockets came as a result of this exploration. It had been on my radar for a while but the crises lit a fire to finally get it done.

GlassPockets: Your website outlines a community-driven, collaborative approach to problem solving. There is growing interest in participatory approaches to grantmaking as one way to mitigate traditional grantee-grantmaker power dynamics that can get in the way, as well as to better learn and value community expertise. Can you share some thoughts about how this approach is leading the foundation in different, more effective directions than otherwise might have been the case with a traditional philanthropic approach?

“The benefits of these elements are that grantees start from a place of partnership and buy-in when they are in control of defining the problem and solution.”

Brenda: Philanthropy has a long history of top-down approaches. This includes defining the problems and solution, determining success, and freedom to shift on a whim. And while there may be some merits to these approaches, they often do not support the critical community work that could more effectively address the big social challenges we face, especially during times of crises. Before I address the benefits of this approach, I want to call out a few points. First, doing work in this way requires ceding power and control by foundation staff and board. It also requires relationship building with grantee partners that is grounded in more than the money. Finally, it requires a shared vision for the change that is desired. The benefits of these elements are that grantees start from a place of partnership and buy-in when they are in control of defining the problem and solution. Grantees are also more honest in sharing when there is a mutual definition of success because they have insight in to how the foundation will define success and have a trusting relationship to work through any challenges that may arise.  Another benefit is that by doing the work this way, grantees can focus on their mission critical work and not have to spend time demystifying the traditional grant application process. From a personal perspective, the way we do the work at Headwaters is more fulfilling than the traditional approaches I took in my previous 15 plus years of grantmaking.

GlassPockets: One of the biggest barriers we encounter when it comes to foundations embracing a more transparent approach is a lack of understanding of the return on the investment of time and effort.  Can you share a story about how opening up and illuminating the work that you are doing has helped you to better achieve your organization’s goals, or advanced your work in some unanticipated way?

“The lack of transparency in philanthropy creates far more unnecessary work on the part of grantees and foundation staff than if you spent some time creating more transparent ways of communicating.”

Brenda: I would counter the narrative by sharing that the lack of transparency in philanthropy creates far more unnecessary work on the part of grantees and foundation staff than if you spent some time creating more transparent ways of communicating. I’ll share a story that exemplifies this. When we launched our grantmaking programs, I met with many nonprofit leaders wanting to access funds from this new foundation. During a meeting with one of these local nonprofit leaders. I shared our website, which includes a clear description of our strategy and grantmaking priorities. I also shared that all of our grantmaking programs were on the website and that there were no other “behind closed door” funds. After reviewing the materials, she came back to me and said that it was clear to her that her organization and their work were not a fit for funding. She noted that she appreciated the clarity and directness of my communication because she would no longer keep pursuing funding from us since it was clear they did not fit into any of the funding programs. She noted that she has a yearly plan to meet with funders or apply for funding from any foundation that she thinks she has even a slight chance of getting funds from. She recognizes that playing this game results in a lot of her time chasing dollars she may not get, but feels that is what foundations’ lack of clarity cause her to do. She crossed us off her yearly foundation visit and thanked me for giving her time to focus on things that had better return on investment for her mission-critical work. I appreciated that I would not have to take another meeting with her and instead could prioritize time with mission- and strategy-aligned grantees.

GlassPockets: How did the GlassPockets self-assessment process help you improve or better understand Headwater's level of transparency, and why should your peers participate?

Brenda: As a trust-based funder, we are continuously asking ourselves how we can better live the values of humility, equity and transparency. The GlassPockets assessment made it clear that we have a long way to go to maximize how we live the value of transparency. I felt pleased that we met some of the expectations, but I quickly realized that there is more information we should be sharing with our grantees and the communities we serve. As a result of this learning, we have added a transparency goal for 2021 and will be building a work plan, so when we re-do our GlassPockets assessment next year, we will rate better than our current assessment indicates. This was a good learning process for me and I realized that relying on my gut to measure our level of transparency was seriously flawed.  I’d encourage my colleagues to do their own GlassPockets assessment because it will clearly identify areas of improvement needed to truly be a transparent funder.

GlassPockets: The Headwaters Foundation is active in the Trust-Based Philanthropy movement. Can you share a bit with us about the Trust-Based approach, why Headwaters is participating, and how transparency and openness play a role within that effort?

“I’d encourage my colleagues to do their own GlassPockets assessment because it will clearly identify areas of improvement needed to truly be a transparent funder.”

Brenda: In any kind of relationship, it is difficult to have a trusting relationship without transparency. This applies to a funder/ grantee relationship and it is why transparency is so critical within the Trust-Based Philanthropy (TBP) approach.  As mentioned above, TBP is grounded in centering values of equity, humility and transparency. These values are critical if foundations aim to have trusting relationships with grantees and/or are hoping to rebalance the power dynamic between themselves and their grantees.

While transparency is a key component of TBP, it is only part of what TBP is all about. TBP is an approach that also requires centering relationships with grantees, collaborating with humility and curiosity, sharing and ceding of power by foundations, and centering equity by changing practices that perpetuate inequities. The theory of TBP is that having a philanthropic approach with all of these components will lead to more effective community-led change efforts that could more effectively create a just society.

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

Brenda: To start with, we need to do better at meeting the GlassPockets criteria around foundation transparency. This will be the low hanging fruit, but something we must improve. A couple of other areas I’d like Headwaters to explore is how we can be more transparent about how we manage and invest our endowment. We are also looking at how we can do better in sharing what we are learning from our work and how to share it with key audiences including grantees, the communities we serve, and the field of philanthropy.

New tool makes giving during a pandemic easier
October 21, 2020

Rebecca-Moffett-243x243-1
Rebecca Moffett

Rebecca Moffett is Chief Strategic Planning Officer, Vanguard Charitable.

This blog also appears in Candid blog.

NAVi helps donors understand the COVID-19 giving landscape, ensuring their relief efforts make an impact.

We at Vanguard Charitable are proud to introduce the Nonprofit Aid Visualizer (NAVi), a free new mapping resource available to anyone interested in supporting COVID-19 relief.

When word of the coronavirus pandemic spread and the United States began to realize its magnitude, Vanguard Charitable started to see a sharp rise in granting dollars for COVID-19 relief.

While I’m not sure any of us could ever be fully prepared for a global pandemic, our donors were uniquely situated to make a charitable impact. Through their donor-advised fund (DAF) accounts, they had immediate access to charitable dollars and supported charities responding directly to the pandemic. Between March and September 2020, more than $80 million in Vanguard Charitable grants were sent to more than 4,000 charities supporting COVID-19 relief efforts.

Navi

Additional charitable resources needed

Although we provide resources to support our donors, such as a pre-vetted list of organizations providing COVID-19 relief, we knew additional support might be needed. We reached out to our donors and asked how we could better help them make a charitable impact.

Part of the feedback we received was expected: Our donors wanted to make a significant impact when supporting COVID-19 relief efforts. We also heard something new, however. Giving in a pandemic, where information and need are evolving, came with its own challenges. We found that 79 percent of our donors surveyed wanted more resources to give to COVID-19 relief in their local communities, and 50 percent wanted more opportunities in geographic areas most severely impacted by the pandemic.

NAViTM makes giving simpler

To answer those needs, we created a new tool: The Nonprofit Aid Visualizer, or NAViTM.

This tool is an interactive charity locator that combines several sources of data. The data, provided by the Surgo Foundation, Candid’s information on COVID-19 grants and nonprofit organizations, and the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, is displayed in custom software built by the geospatial services firm Azavea.

To enable donors to sort through the data quickly, we included filters based on cause area and need. These filters quickly and easily zero in on the specifics donors might want to support. For example, you can widen your search to include charities by location or cause areas, or limit your search by filtering for the hardest-hit locations or the highest vulnerability factors, such as socioeconomic status, epidemiology, or healthcare system considerations.

Ease of use

NAViTM is easy to use, and open to all individuals for free. When visiting NAVi, start at the top of the screen to set the filters or enter information to begin a charity search. NAViTM generates a list of charities based on the COVID-19 incidence rate and community vulnerability filters applied. Once the charity list is generated, it can be saved to reference later.

Thanks to donor feedback, we’ve been able to help people interested in supporting COVID-19 relief efforts and support our mission to increase philanthropy and maximize its impact over time. We hope this new tool helps make your charitable-giving decisions easier.

For more information and to access NAViTM, visit vanguardcharitable.org/map.

Packed with Facts: F.M. Kirby Foundation’s Grants Summary & Map
October 6, 2020

PowellNikki
Nikki Powell

Nikki Powell is the Content Development Associate for Candid.

Figuring out foundation funding can befuddle grantseekers and grantmakers alike. What do they fund? What are their most recent grants? Does my organization have a chance? Are we on their radar? Have they historically funded in areas that could inform our own grantmaking?

Questions like these are easier for potential partners to answer when a funder lays bare their grantmaking history like the F.M. Kirby Foundation (FMKF) has on its Candid-hosted website’s Funding Map and Grants Summary page, which details their giving back to 2006 all the way through 2020. On the summary page, they have included total funding across program areas, the percentage that each area makes up in its giving, and the total number of grants awarded in each area. The summary is simple, clear to read, and provides a wealth of information about the foundation, its program priorities, and where they are trying to make a difference.

Visitors can then take a deeper dive into FMKF’s funding via its Candid-supported Foundation Map—free to all eGrant reporters.

Screen Shot 2020-10-06 at 3.35.20 PMF.M. Kirby Foundation's Interactive Grants Map

A lot of foundations are transparent about this type of information, but the way FMKF has presented it in a single summary page that then allows the user to easily drill down for more details is user-friendly and data rich. Grantseekers and potential collaborators don’t have to go looking for the numbers or guess at how funding priorities have shifted over time. You can see with one glance where FMKF’s money is going and, if you click through, you get a brief description of what each grant was spent on.

This type of data visualization is a great step in the right direction for transparency and openness in foundation funding. To find out more about how F.M. Kirby Foundation is demonstrating its transparency and accountability to the field visit its Who Has GlassPockets? profile. And, to learn more about how to get your own foundation grants displayed on a free, interactive map visit Candid's Updater page.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve seen other great examples of foundation visualizations that improve funder transparency!

What We Don’t Know About COVID-19 Funding, and How You Can Help
September 29, 2020

Grace Soto author pic
Grace Sato

Grace Sato is Director of Research, Candid.

This blog also appears in Candid blog.

Candid began tracking philanthropic gifts for COVID-19 on February 3, 2020—two weeks after the Centers for Disease Control confirmed the first U.S. case and as evidence of the pandemic’s disastrous scale was mounting. Recently, in partnership with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, we documented $11.9 billion in global philanthropy for COVID-19 in the first half of the year. Coronavirus giving has continued, and, to date, Candid has identified roughly $14 billion.

IMAGE 4 Adam Nieścioruk on UnsplashFunding for the pandemic is larger than anything we’ve seen since we began collecting real-time data about disasters and humanitarian crises. And yet we know that there’s more global COVID-19 philanthropy we haven’t captured.

Why Does it Matter?

We hope that sharing real-time data about where funding is going will allow funders to put their grantmaking in context, coordinate their responses with others, and ensure impacted communities are not inadvertently left behind. This information also helps those who are doing crucial work on the ground understand what other efforts are underway and identify potential partners for their work. We display the data on our free, public coronavirus page and disaster philanthropy map.

IMAGE 1 covid-funding-jan-june-2020

How Does Candid Collect COVID-19 Data?

We gather real-time data from publicly available, primarily English-language sources, including news articles, press releases, websites, and membership reports. Our technology scans roughly 300,000 news articles every day, identifying grants and donations made by funders and high-net-worth individuals. In addition, Candid receives data directly from funders who report details about their grantmaking to us. It’s a massive data collection and processing effort, involving dozens of colleagues who search, code, load, and create and improve systems for processing and displaying information on tens of thousands of COVID-19 grants/commitments and the individuals and organizations involved.

Candid already had processes in place to collect this information, honed over years of gathering data about disasters and humanitarian crises in partnership with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. Because of the unprecedented scale and impact of the global pandemic, we made COVID-19 an organizational priority and dedicated considerably more staff than usual to collecting and processing as much data about coronavirus funding as possible. Although we ramped up our efforts, we know there is much we are missing.

What We Don’t Know

We don’t know which organizations have received the vast majority of funding captured by our tracking efforts. The two largest recipients of coronavirus funding in Candid’s database are “Unknown Recipient” and “Multiple Recipients.” We simply lack enough information to be more specific. In some cases, funders announced multiple recipient organizations but didn’t disclose how much funding was allocated to each. In others, funders announced pledges, or plans to spend a certain amount on their coronavirus response, but haven’t yet shared how they’ve begun to spend those resources. In our analysis of funding in the first half of 2020, we were unable to identify a recipient for 85 percent of dollars granted or pledged by grantmaking institutions.

IMAGE 2 covid-top-recipients-sept-2020

We don’t know who has received payouts from special coronavirus funds. Candid has identified more than 945 COVID-19 response funds. These funds were created by community foundations, United Ways, and grantmaking entities in the U.S. and beyond. But our current data doesn’t reflect the hundreds of millions of dollars disbursed by these funds. Some grantmakers have yet to share information publicly about their disbursements. Some have listed recipient organizations without grant amounts or shared only aggregated totals. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough detail for Candid to include in our database and analysis.

Other organizations have begun transparently sharing their grantmaking on their respective websites with enough detail about the recipient organization, funding amount, and purpose for us to add that data to our database. (We see—and thank!—you, Smart Small LLC, All Together ATX Fund, and Innovia Foundation.) It is, admittedly, a challenge for us to actively search for this information on hundreds of organizations’ websites and why we invite funders to share their grantmaking data directly with us. When an organization posts grant details on its website, it communicates this important information to a specific audience, but sharing data with Candid communicates that information with the entire sector.

We don’t know who is benefiting from these funds. In our report, even when we excluded awards to unknown or multiple recipients, the analysis demonstrated that little institutional funding targeted Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. Among funders (excluding individual donors), only 5 percent of total dollars and 12 percent of awards explicitly identified BIPOC communities or BIPOC-serving recipient organizations—despite these populations being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Three percent of dollars were explicitly designated for women and girls, and only 1 percent of funding was explicitly designated for people with disabilities.

One reason for this may be that the source from which we collected the data didn’t identify information about the intended beneficiaries. When an award is described as a “coronavirus response grant,” Candid does not assume a specific population focus—other than what’s identified in our taxonomy as “victims of disaster.” (For more on Candid’s population-specific coding, especially in relation to racial equity, please see this related blog post.) To overcome this limitation, Candid and CDP also took into account what we know about the recipient organizations and their missions. For example, a general support COVID-19 grant to the Center for Black Women’s Wellness or 100 Black Men of America was included as funding explicitly designated for BIPOC communities. Still, the numbers remained low.

It may also be that, in the first half of the year, the largest COVID-19 donations were not targeted to vulnerable communities. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to advance COVID-19 treatments and vaccine development—critical, life-saving research needed to end the pandemic. This funding will, ideally, lead to benefits for vulnerable communities, but we can’t describe these grants as explicitly targeted to benefit them. And, as mentioned above, we can’t identify the recipients of 85 percent of the grants we’ve identified.

We don’t know as much about non-U.S. funding as we’d like. In our report, the global funding picture included donors in 38 countries and special administrative regions (including Hong Kong and Macao) to recipient organizations located in 52 countries, but we know we’re only scratching the surface.

IMAGE 3 covid-funding-map-sept-2020

Candid looks at news sources from around the world, but as a U.S.-based organization, we have the most access to data about the work of organizations in this country. Candid is building partnerships with organizations like Philanthropy Australia and Philanthropy Indonesia to build a global database of philanthropy. And to the extent that the information is in a form we can use, we’re also attempting to gather COVID-19 data collected via national and regional efforts around the world (such as 360Giving in the United Kingdom).

How You Can Help Improve the Data

If you’re with a foundation, community foundation, donor-advised fund, or other type of funder, there are several steps you can take.

Share information on your grantmaking with us. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Candid will be taking a second look at COVID-19 funding at the end of the year to see if there have been any changes in funding patterns since the first half of the year. To be meaningfully included in our analysis, you need only give us basic details about grants made: the recipient’s name, the recipient’s location (city and state/province), grant amount, and ideally, a grant description. Please be sure to include either the term "coronavirus" or "COVID-19" in your grant description.

Provide a detailed grant description describing the population group(s) you intend to reach. In general, a good grant description answers the questions WHAT, HOW, WHO, and WHERE. Our template for sharing grants data also provides space for you to explicitly specify population served. Funders know their work best; the more details you provide, the more accurately we can code and represent that work in our products and analysis.

Specify if you’re making a grant for general operating support. Nearly 800 foundations signed a pledge to provide flexible support for grantees during this time—including loosening or eliminating restrictions on current grants and making new grants as unrestricted as possible. So how much of COVID-19 funding is unrestricted (i.e., general support)? It’s a reasonable question but one that we’re not able to fully answer with the data we have. For one, Candid doesn’t have grantmaking data for many of the institutions that made this commitment. Also, the data we have may not explicitly be described as general support. Similar to the way we code grants for population groups, we don’t assume that a grant is for general operating support unless the funder identifies it as such.

If you know of a resource that would give us insight into non-U.S. COVID-19 funding, tell us. You can email us at coronavirus@candid.org.

Transparency and Information Sharing Matter, Especially In A Crisis

Having better information means organizations don’t have to make important decisions about where their resources are needed most in a vacuum, and that the sum of their efforts can add up to more than the parts. Dealing with the health, economic, and social consequences of this pandemic will require that every dollar spent has maximum impact. As a funder, the time you take to share information about your work makes a difference. Learn more about how you can contribute to the global database of philanthropy for COVID-19.

Transforming the “How” of Grantmaking in a Time of Crisis
August 20, 2020

EllyDavis
Elly Davis

Elly Davis is Programs and Knowledge Manager at PEAK Grantmaking.

Grantmaking includes three primary components: what we fund—program areas and impact; who we fund—the grantees we support; and how we fund—the grantmaking practices that are the focus of PEAK Grantmaking’s membership of more than 5,000 grants management professionals. 

As the calls for more responsive and streamlined philanthropy grow around the COVID-19 crisis, grants management professionals are leading organizational efforts to adapt processes, procedures, technology, and communications to be what the moment demands – responsive, agile, compassionate, and creative. 

“Grantmakers across the spectrum are considering how they might better support their grantees.”

Here’s what we’ve learned.  

PEAK has been convening our members for a series of virtual community conversations to understand how grants management practices are evolving to meet pressing needs. A poll of 370 members illuminated the degree of transformation happening in just a few weeks: 

  • 97 percent are considering changing grant practices, including changes to their application, due diligence and decision-making processes, reporting requirements, and more. 
  • 63 percent are considering changing grant priorities (who or what they fund). 

In those calls, and over on our discussion forums, hundreds of members have reported on practice changes underway, focusing on three critical areas: uninterrupted service, responsive communications, and increased flexibility 

How Grantmakers Moving to Remote Operations Are Avoiding Interruptions in Grant Processing 

With the sudden move to remote operations, a common concern is how to make the shift without interrupting or delaying getting grants out the door. Solutions include: 

  • Conducting site visits remotely through video conferencing software 
  • Reworking standard grant payment processes to move from paper letters and mailed checks that require printing and signature to paperless communications and ACH payments
  • Conducting remote grant review meetings with decision-makers by creating or revamping a scoring framework and building it into existing grants management systems 

How Grantmakers Are Redefining Their Communication Protocols with Communities and Grantees to Emphasize Humility, Transparency, and Listening 

Public statements to grantees evidence a groundswell of organizations using this moment to rethink their communications and reconnect with constituents in newly compassionate, collaborative, and transparent ways. 

Common themes and elements include: 

  • An update on funders’ remote work situations and commitment to continuing uninterrupted operations  
  • An invitation to grantees to reach out and share how the crisis is affecting them and the communities they serve 
  • A confession that there is no playbook for what we are experiencing, humility in the face of collective uncertainty, and commitment to listening deeply and acting collaboratively 
  • A clear and detailed explanation of how grant processes and requirements are changing to better support grantees and communities.  

How Grantmakers Are Rethinking Grant Requirements, General Operating Support, Risk, and Flexibility 

Grantmakers across the spectrum are considering how they might better support their grantees as they face increased demand, canceled events, and a shaky fundraising future.  

Our members are already: 

  • Converting existing grants to general operating support, especially for organizations on the frontlines of health care or social service response or those that have lost substantial earned revenue 
  • Offering support for technology or infrastructure so nonprofit staff can continue to work and deliver on their mission remotely 
  • Adding provisions to grant agreements that increase their grantees’ ability to adapt activities, outcomes, or timelines as their situations change 
  • Extending grant periods on existing grants and implementing new processes to make grant modifications easier to request and receive 
  • Streamlining all processes to reduce the burden on grantees managing applications, grant deliverables, reporting, etc. 
  • Coordinating across multiple funders to streamline communications and grant work 
  • Moving future-year grant payments to 2020 
  • Adjusting approved budget allocations to include more indirect costs 

“There is no question that grants management is undergoing a rapid and profound transformation.”

Change for Good? 

There is no question that grants management is undergoing a rapid and profound transformation, with widespread efforts to adapt quickly and effectively; and a commitment to leading organizational efforts to shift practices to be more responsive and flexible. 

The question—and opportunity—is whether this response will translate into permanent change once the crisis has passed.  

PEAK will be tracking the trajectory as we continue to navigate this crisis and beyond, as we continue to champion and support the advancement of more equitable, effective grantmaking practices. 

GlassPockets Finds – A Historical Look at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
August 7, 2020

PowellNikki
Nikki Powell

Nikki Powell is the Content Development Associate for Candid.

The history of foundations and philanthropic giving in the United States covers a lot of ground. Capturing it all in a format that is approachable, informative, and digestible is a daunting task, but one that the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has achieved with a new website feature. 

In an innovative approach to acknowledging and celebrating its history and evolution as a philanthropic organization, the foundation website features an interactive timeline of its history. The timeline starts on June 19, 1926, with the establishment of the foundation. “Endowed with 2,000 shares of General Motors stock, then valued at $320,000, the Foundation has since experienced significant growth, marking $3 billion in giving over our first 90 years. 

“Charles Stewart Mott Foundation took steps to promote greater transparency.”

The vignettes shared throughout the timeline provide a snapshot of some of the foundation’s key grants and place them in the context of the evolution of a leading grantmaking organization. Included is an entry regarding the Tax Reform Act of 1969, which contained major provisions affecting the way private foundations did business in the U.S. Upon passage of the Act, the Charles Stewart Mott foundation revised their articles of incorporation, clarifying future governance of the organization. The foundation took steps to promote greater transparency, such as publishing Facts on Grants and an annual report. It also supported efforts to build a national infrastructure for the philanthropic field, which bolstered its capacity, efficiency, and ability to advocate on behalf of the sector.  

Anniversaries and other milestones often encourage foundations to stop and reflect and consider how to sum up their legacy and history into a neat package. Such moments can lead to the creation of content like this that opens up greater understanding and appreciation for the work of the foundation. Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s timeline is a good example of how to use such content to increase knowledge of and help articulate the impact of the sector. 

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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, Candid 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 Candid.

    Questions, comments, and inquiries relating to guest blog posts may be
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