Transparency Talk

Category: "Promising Practices" (75 posts)

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Chris Langston, President & CEO, Archstone Foundation
August 8, 2019

GlassPockets Road to 100

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.

Since its inception in 1985 as a healthcare conversion foundation, Archstone Foundation has responded to the implications of changing demographics by supporting innovative responses to the emerging and unmet needs of older adults. The Foundation has funded a wide range of grantees making important contributions in critical, yet often overlooked areas of need.

Today, the Foundation focuses its grantmaking on four major areas:

  • Enabling older adults to remain in their homes and communities;
  • Improving the treatment of late-life depression;
  • Developing innovative responses to the family caregiving needs of older adults; and
  • Expanding the health care and broader workforce needed to care for, and serve, the rapidly growing aging population.

Archstone Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. In this interview with GlassPockets’ Janet Camarena, Chris Langston, President & CEO of the Archstone Foundation, explains why transparency is central to its philanthropic efforts.

GlassPockets: Archstone Foundation was born out of a healthcare conversion, when a nonprofit HMO became a for-profit corporation. Do you think transparency is more important for healthcare conversion foundations to demonstrate that these dollars are being used for public good? Or are there other reasons that you are prioritizing philanthropic transparency?

Langston_hi_Staff_Photos_3.0_165_165_c1_c_t_0_0
Chris Langston

Chris Langston: I’m sure the public is more interested in what’s going on with healthcare conversion foundations, as the funds are more clearly a public trust because they derived from the tax advantages given to the nonprofit parent. As an older, smaller conversion, the public has long since forgotten the origin of the endowment, but what we do is still supported by the taxpayers granting favorable treatment to the endowment. Nevertheless, to my mind, conversions or foundations born of a wealthy individual’s gift (or other source) have the same obligation to transparency. Foundations are granted tremendous autonomy in what and how they do their work and, beyond some very broad IRS regulations, are only accountable to their boards. As a consequence, I think that we owe the public great visibility into what we do and how we do it. I believe that the great diversity of foundations is a strength in the sector, and I oppose external mandates regarding subject matter, limited lifespan, payout rates, or other aspects of foundation discretion. So, the only remaining constraint is public scrutiny of our process and our work.

GP: We often hear concerns that transparency takes a lot of time and resources, so it's really more relevant for large foundations. Why would you say transparency and openness should be a priority for even foundations comprised of a small team? How have you benefited from your efforts to open up your work?

CL: I see the GlassPockets standards as a floor and not one that takes a great deal of effort to keep shiny. We share through our website our current grants, our strategic plans, our governance documents, and financial reports. Even small foundations need to have these tools and structures and sharing them digitally is no burden. These things change relatively slowly and in the modern era are relatively easy to keep up to date.

Moreover, I’ve worked at two other foundations previously, one which started as not very transparent because of inattention to communicating to the public and one which had historically gone to great lengths to be opaque – the Atlantic Philanthropies during its anonymous giving phase. In neither case did our lack of transparency make our work better – I think it made it worse. We got less constructive engagement from the field, we got less alignment between us and grantees, and we didn’t benefit from the extra energy that comes from knowing that your successes and failures are going to be visible for all to see.

GP: Your commitment to openness includes maintaining a responsive grantmaking program with an open RFP that can be submitted on an ongoing basis. At a time when many foundations are putting up walls by shifting to invite only grantmaking, this is notable in that you are maintaining this kind of openness with a very small program team made up of three officers. Why has it been important to maintain the open RFP, and what is your advice to keeping it manageable for lean teams?

CL: Actually, we are right now reviewing our responsive grantmaking program and could very well stop or constrain it. While having an open RFP mechanism is one kind of openness, I am more committed to having an open-door policy. I think it is a legitimate strategic decision as to whether a foundation takes grant applications by invitation only, has a monthly letter of intent review (as we currently do), or something in between. What’s more important is that there be regular opportunities whereby grantseekers can learn from foundation staff about foundation priorities and strategies for change and where foundation staff can learn about the needs and interests of nonprofits in the field and the people in need.

”The GlassPockets process is a thoughtful and well-structured way of getting started in opening up to the public, what largely belongs to the public, even if it is held in trust for them by us on the inside.”

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

CL: The GlassPockets process is a thoughtful and well-structured way of getting started in opening up to the public, what largely belongs to the public, even if it is held in trust for them by us on the inside. Providing the information helps you in many ways – it helps you be sure that you even have all the tools, policies, and procedures of a modern nonprofit (e.g., conflict of interest, committee charters, etc.). It helps you whenever you have a twinge of conscience at the thought of making something public, in so far as that is telling you that you are doing something that you don’t feel good about – something that doesn’t pass the “would you want to see it on the front page of the paper test.” And the process is part of creating a culture of openness and honesty among and between board, staff, and grantees. Creating this kind of culture is an enormous project undermined by fear, norms of silence, and power differentials – but I think it is critical for effective grantmaking.

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

CL: Having earned a GlassPockets designation now at a second organization, it is this issue that really interests me – how can we take further steps in transparency. While it is scary and a long-term project to build a shared understanding and the will to change, I hope to make much more information public – for example, grant proposals (at least the funded ones), evaluations, board minutes, budgets, and more. The federal grantmaking process at the National Institute of Health already does much of this. When I think about government processes, I expect all of that transparency and more -- and yet government is at least nominally subject to the control of the voting public. Since foundations do not make their grantmaking or staffing decisions subject to elections, shouldn’t we be even more transparent than government?

Fundamentally, the issue is that among funders and nonprofits, we spend a lot of time not just “reinventing the wheel” but more accurately, reinventing the flat tire. It is not that there is more knowledge or skill on one side or the other of the grantmaking table, it’s that there isn’t enough truth and light illuminating the conversation. And as the party with the power of the purse, it is incumbent on us to go first to change the dialogue if we want to have better results.

--Chris Langston & Janet Camarena

Transparency Levels Go Live on GlassPockets
July 25, 2019

6a00e54efc2f80883301b7c90b6cb7970b-150wi
Janet Camarena

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Candid.

Earlier this year, we announced a new Transparency Level framework on GlassPockets that would recognize grantmakers for having Core, Advanced, or Champion-level transparency practices based on how detailed the websites are for each profiled foundation. This announcement coincided with GlassPockets reaching its 100th publicly shared profile when the Walton Family Foundation joined and doubled down on their commitment to transparency by supporting GlassPockets in developing the new tiered-approach to transparency. Now, for the first time in the history of the platform, these levels are publicly visible when viewing the funders profiled on the site.

Each GlassPockets profile now comes complete with a transparency badge denoting the level that funder has attained. We encourage foundations to proudly display this badge on their websites as a way to demonstrate their commitment to transparency. You can get your badge here. Visitors to “Who Has Glass Pockets?” can also sort by transparency level to see which foundations comprise each. This sort feature also lists foundations by the number of transparency indicators they currently have, making it possible to quickly determine which foundations lead the pack when it comes to their online transparency practices.

Currently, the distinction of which foundation has the most transparent website goes to Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), so a big congratulations to RBF for living its values when it says that it “is committed to sharing information to promote understanding of its mission and to advance the work of its grantees. The RBF values transparency, openness, and accountability, and has long provided detailed information about its history, program strategies, grants, impact, governance, operations, and finances.” The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Wallace Foundation, the Brazil Foundation, currently round out the top four foundations on GlassPockets based on the variety of types of data that is shared on their websites.

Badge-array-w-descriiption-2019-07

The transparency levels are designed to motivate foundations to continue to improve their transparency practices over time, as well as to use the data GlassPockets has collected to create suggested pathways for how transparency can evolve over time. The Core-level transparency practices are a natural entry point for new participants and reveal the data that is most commonly shared by foundations, which tends to be information about what the foundation does. Advanced transparency practices reveal not just what a foundation does, but also reveals how they do it by sharing information about a foundation’s operations. And Champion-level transparency practices push the current boundaries of what most foundations share online.

If it’s been a while since you’ve updated your GlassPockets profile, or reviewed your website’s transparency practices, now is an excellent time to do so, and you might just level up!

Explore GlassPockets Now

--Janet Camarena

Meet Our #OpenForGood Award Winner: An Interview with Lee Alexander Risby, Head of Effective Philanthropy & Savi Mull, Senior Evaluation Manager, C&A Foundation
June 19, 2019

1




Lee Alexander Risby

This post is part of the Glasspockets’ #OpenforGood series done in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight. The series explores new tools, promising practices, and inspiring examples showing how some foundations are opening up the knowledge that they are learning for the benefit of the larger philanthropic sector. Contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #OpenForGood. View more posts in the series.

C&A Foundation is a European foundation that supports programs and initiatives to transform fashion into a fair and sustainable industry that enables everyone – from farmer to factory worker – to thrive. In this interview, Lee Alexander Risby and Savi Mull share insights with GlassPockets' Janet Camarena about how the foundation’s practices support learning and open knowledge.

GlassPockets: Congratulations on being one of our inaugural recipients of the #OpenForGood award! The award was designed to recognize those foundations that are working to advance the field by sharing what they are learning. Can you please share why you have prioritized knowledge sharing at the C&A Foundation and how this practice has helped you to advance your work?

2




Savi Mull

Savi Mull: For almost five years, C&A Foundation has been dedicated to transforming the fashion industry into a force for good. A large part of that work includes instilling transparency and accountability in supply chains across the industry. From the start, we also wanted to lead by example by being transparent and accountable as an organization, sharing what we were learning whilst on this journey, being true to our work and helping the rest of the industry learn from our successes and failures.

Lee Alexander Risby: Indeed, from the beginning, we made a commitment to be open about our results and lessons by publishing evaluations on our website and dashboards in our Annual Reports. After all, you cannot encourage the fashion industry to be transparent and accountable and not live by the same principles yourself. Importantly, our commitment to transparency has always been championed both by our Executive Director and our Board.

Savi: To do this, over the years we have put many processes in place.  For example, internally we use after-action reviews to gather lessons from our initiatives and allow our teams to discuss honestly what could have been done better in that program or partnership.  We also do third party, external evaluations of our initiatives, sharing the reports and lessons learned. This helps us and our partners to learn, and it informs initiatives and strategies going forward.

The Role of Evaluation Inside Foundations

GP: Your title has the word “evaluation” in its name and increasingly we are seeing foundations move toward this staffing structure of having staff dedicated to evaluation and learning. For those foundations that are considering adding such a unit to their teams, what advice do you have about the structures needed to create a culture of learning across the organization and avoid the creation of one more silo?

SM: I believe it is essential to have this type of function in a foundation to drive formal learning from and within programs. But at the same time, it is an ongoing process that cannot be driven by one function alone. All staff needs to be responsible for the learning that makes philanthropy effective – not just evaluators.

LAR: To begin, we were deliberate in building a team of evaluation professionals to promote accountable learning. We started hiring slowly and built the team over time. What I looked for with each new member of the team, and I am always looking for, is an evaluator with more than just skills, they also need the influencing, listening, communication and negotiating skills to help others learn. Evaluations have little effect without good internal and external communication.

”For us, it was important to be a critical friend, listener, and enabler of learning and not the police.”

The evaluation function itself has also evolved over the last five years. It started off as a monitoring, evaluation and learning function (MEL) and is now Effective Philanthropy. From the start, the function was as not set up as an independent department but created to help programmatic teams in the design of appropriate monitoring and evaluation for the programs, and facilitators and advisors on strategy. However, it has not always been a straight-forward process from the inside. In the first years, we had to spend a lot of time explaining and persuading staff of the need for evaluation, transparency and learning and the benefits of doing so. We wanted to avoid a strong independent evaluation function as that can reduce learning by placing too much emphasis on accountability. For us, it was important to be a critical friend, listener, and enabler of learning and not the police.

SM: So, the first bit of advice is that evaluators should be supportive listeners, assisting programmatic teams throughout the design and implementation phases to get the best results possible. They should not come in just at the end of an initiative to do an evaluation.

LAR: The second piece of advice is on positioning, support, and structure of evaluation within a foundation.  Firstly, it is critical to have is to have the buy-in of the leadership and board for both evaluation and transparency. And secondly, the evaluation function must be part of the management team and report to the CEO or Executive Director. This gives reporting and learning the appropriate support structure and importance.

The third piece of advice is to consider not creating an evaluation function, but an effective philanthropy function. Evaluation is done for learning, and learning drives effectiveness in grant-making for better results and long-term impacts on systems.

SM: The final piece of advice is to take guidance from others outside your organization. The whole team has consulted broadly with former colleagues and mentors from across the evaluation community as well as experienced philanthropic professionals. Remember you are part of a field with peers whose knowledge and experience can help guide you.

Opening Up Pain Points

GP: One of the reasons the committee selected C&A Foundation to receive the award is because of your institutional comfort level with sharing not just successes, but also being very forthright about what didn’t work. We often hear that foundation boards and leaders are worried about reputational issues with such sharing. What would you say to those leaders about how opening up these pain points and lessons has affected C&A Foundation’s reputation in the field, and why it’s worth it?

LAR: I would say this. The question for foundation boards and leaders is straightforward: do you want to be more effective and have an impact? The answer to that will always be yes, but it is dependent on learning and sharing across the organization and with others. If we do not share evaluations, research or experiences, we do not learn from each other and we cannot be effective in our philanthropic endeavors.

"There is a benefit to being open, you build trust and integrity – success and failure is part of all of us."

The other question for boards and leaders is: who does philanthropy serve? For us, we want to transform the fashion industry, which is made up of cotton farmers, workers in spinning mills and cut and sew factories, consumers and entrepreneurs, to name a few – they are our public. As such we have the duty to be transparent to the public about where we are succeeding and where we have failed and how we can improve. We do not think there is a reputation risk. In fact, there is a benefit to being open, you build trust and integrity – success and failure is part of all of us.

SM: Adding to what Lee has said, being open about our failures not only helps us but the entire field. Some of our partners have felt reticent about our publishing evaluations, but we always reassure them and stress from the beginning of an evaluation process that it is an opportunity to understand how to they can improve their work and how we can improve our partnership, as well as a chance to share those lessons more broadly.

Learning While Lean

GP: Given the lean philanthropy staffing structures in place at many corporate foundations, do you have any advice for your peers on how those without a dedicated evaluation team might still be able to take some small steps to sharing what they are learning?

SM: Learning is a continuous process. In the absence of staff dedicated to evaluation, take baby steps within your power, such as implementing after-action reviews, holding thematic webinars, or doing quick summaries of lessons from grants and/or existing evaluations from others. If the organization’s leadership endorses learning, these small steps are a good place to start.

GP: And speaking of lean staffing structures, a concern we often hear is that a funder creating a culture of learning leads to an increased burden on grantees who are then asked for robust evaluations and outcomes measures that no one is willing to pay for. Does C&A Foundation include funding for the evaluations and reporting or other technical assistance to mitigate the burden on grantees?

SM: The foundation has a Monitoring and Evaluation Policy that lays out the role of the programmatic staff and partners as well as of the dedicated Effective Philanthropy Team. C&A Foundation partners are generally responsible for the design and execution of self-evaluation - to be submitted at the end of the grant period. External evaluation budgets are covered by the foundation and do not pose a financial burden on partners at all. They are included in the overall cost of an initiative, and when needed we have an additional central evaluation fund that is used to respond to the programmatic team’s and partner’s ad hoc demands for evaluations and learning.

The Effective Philanthropy team does provide technical assistance to partners and foundation staff upon request. The guidance ranges from technical inputs related to the theory of change development to the design of baseline and mid-line data collection exercises. The theory of change work has been really rewarding for partners and ourselves. We all enjoy that part of the work.

GP: Learning is a two-way street and foundations are both producers and consumers of knowledge. Let’s close this interview with hearing about a noteworthy piece of knowledge you recently learned thanks to another foundation or organization sharing it, and how it helped inform your work.

Learning Leads to Effectiveness

C-a-foundation (1)LAR: In the moving from a more traditional MEL approach to effective philanthropy we looked at the work of other foundations. This included learning from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and others. We had discussions with a number of peers in the field. We also asked Nancy MacPherson (formerly Managing Director of Evaluation at Rockefeller) and Fay Twersky (Director of Effective Philanthropy at Hewlett) to review our Effective Philanthropy strategy when it was under development. Their feedback and advice helped a lot. In the end, we decided to begin to build out the function in a similar way to the Hewlett Foundation. But there are some differences. For example, our evaluation practice is currently positioned at a deeper initiative level, which is related to the field context where there is a significant evidence gap across the fashion industry that needs to be filled. Concomitant to this is our emphasis on piloting and testing and that goes hand-in-hand with the demand for evaluative thinking, reporting, and learning.

Our team has also been influenced by our own successes and failures from previous roles. That has also inspired us to embrace a slightly different approach.

SM: In terms of where we are at the moment, we still oversee performance monitoring, evaluation, and support to the program teams in developing theories of change and KPIs; but we are also building out organizational learning approach and are in the process of hiring a Senior Learning Manager. Lastly, we are piloting our organizational and network effectiveness in Brazil, which is being led by a colleague who joined the foundation last year.

LAR: We are also in the midst of an Overall Effectiveness Evaluation (OEE) of C&A Foundation’s first 5-year strategy. In general, this is not a type of evaluation that foundations use much. As well as looking at results, the evaluators are evaluating the whole organization, including Effective Philanthropy. For me as an evaluator, it has been really rewarding to be on the other side of a good question.

We are learning from the OEE as we go along and we decided to create ongoing opportunities for reporting/feedback from the process rather than waiting until the very end for a report. This means that program staff can be engaged in proactive discussions about performance and emerging lessons in a timely way. The OEE is already starting to play a vital role to inform the development of the next 5-year strategy and our organization. But you will surely hear more on that evaluation process later as it will be published. There is always room for improvement and learning never stops.

--Lee Alexander Risby and Savi Mull

Candid Announces Inaugural #OpenForGood Award Winners
May 30, 2019

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Candid.

This post is part of the Glasspockets’ #OpenforGood series done in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight. The series explores new tools, promising practices, and inspiring examples showing how some foundations are opening up the knowledge that they are learning for the benefit of the larger philanthropic sector. Contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #OpenForGood. View more posts in the series.

Open For Good Awardees and Committee MembersLeft to Right: Meg Long, President, Equal Measure (#OpenForGood selection committee); Janet Camarena, Director, Transparency Initiatives, Candid; Awardee Savi Mull, Senior Evaluation Manager, C&A Foundation; Awardee Veronica Olazabal, Director, Measurement, Evaluation & Organizational Performance, The Rockefeller Foundation; Clare Nolan, Co-Founder, Engage R + D (#OpenForGood selection committee).

Yesterday as part of the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations Learning Conference, Candid announced the inaugural recipients of the #OpenForGood Award, which is designed to recognize and encourage foundations to openly share what they learn so we can all get collectively smarter. The award, part of a larger #OpenForGood campaign started in 2017, includes a set of tools to help funders work more transparently including a GrantCraft Guide about how to operationalize knowledge sharing, a growing collection of foundation evaluations on IssueLab, and advice from peers in a curated blog series.

The three winning foundations each demonstrate an active commitment to open knowledge and share their evaluations through IssueLab, an open repository that is free, searchable, and accessible to all. Selected by an external committee from a globally sourced nomination process, the committee reviewed the contenders looking for evidence of an active commitment to open knowledge, creative approaches to making knowledge shareable, field leadership, and incorporating community insights into knowledge sharing work.

And the Winners Are…

Here are some highlights from the award presentation remarks:

C and A FoundationC&A Foundation
Award Summary: Creativity, Demonstrated Field Leadership, and Willingness to Openly Share Struggles

The C&A Foundation is a multi-national, corporate foundation working to fundamentally transform the fashion industry. C&A Foundation gives its partners financial support, expertise and networks so they can make the fashion industry work better for every person it touches. Lessons learned and impact for each of its programs are clearly available on its website, and helpful top-level summaries are provided for every impact evaluation making a lengthy narrative evaluation very accessible to peers, grantees and other stakeholders. C&A Foundation even provides such summaries for efforts that didn’t go as planned, packaging them in an easy-to-read, graphic format that it shares via its Results & Learning blog, rather than hiding them away and quietly moving on as is more often the case in the field.

The Ian Potter FoundationIan Potter Foundation
Award Summary: Creativity, Field Leadership, and Lifting Up Community Insights

This foundation routinely publishes collective summaries from all of its grantee reports for each portfolio as a way to support shared learning among its existing and future grantees. It’s a refreshing reinvention of the traditional grantee report, placing priority on collecting and sharing the kinds of information that will be helpful to other practitioners, rather than questions to satisfy the typical ritual of a grant report that goes something like submit, data enter, file away never to be seen, and repeat.

Beyond being transparent with its grantee learning and reports, the Ian Potter Foundation also recently helped lift the burden on its grantees when it comes to measurement and outcomes. Instead of asking overworked charities to invent a unique set of metrics just for their grant process, foundation evaluation staff took it upon themselves to mine the Sustainable Development Goals targets framework to provide grantees with optional and ready-made outcomes templates that would work across the field for many funders. You can read more about that effort underway in a recent blog post here.

The Rockefeller FoundationThe Rockefeller Foundation
Award Summary: Field Leadership, Consistent Knowledge Sharing, and Commitment to Working Transparently

The Rockefeller Foundation can boast early adopter status to transparency and openness—it  has had a longstanding commitment to creating a culture of learning and as such was one of the very first foundations to join the GlassPockets transparency movement and also to commit to #OpenForGood principles by sharing its published evaluations widely. Rockefeller Foundation also took the unusual step of upping the ante on the #OpenForGood Pledge aiming for both creating a culture of learning and accountability, with its monitoring and evaluation team stating that: “To ensure that we hold ourselves to a high bar, our foundation pre-commits itself to publicly sharing the results of its evaluations - well before the results are even known.” This ensures that even if the evaluation reports unfavorable findings, the intent is to share it all.

In an earlier GlassPockets blog post, Rockefeller’s monitoring and evaluation team shows a unique understanding of how sharing knowledge can advance the funder’s goals: “Through the documentation of what works, for who, and how/under what conditions, there is potential to amplify our impact, by crowding-in other funders to promising solutions, and diverting resources from being wasted on approaches that prove ineffectual.”  Rockefeller’s use of IssueLab’s open knowledge platform is living up to this promise as anyone can currently query and find more than 400 knowledge documents funded, published, or co-published by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Winners will receive technical support to create a custom Knowledge Center for their foundation or for a grantee organization, as well as promotional support in knowledge dissemination. Knowledge Centers are a service of IssueLab that provides organizations with a simple way to manage and share knowledge on their own websites. By leveraging this tool, you can showcase your insight, promote analysis on your grantees, and feature learnings from network members. All documents that are uploaded to an IssueLab Knowledge Center are also made searchable and discoverable via systems like WorldCat, which serves more than 2,000 libraries worldwide, ensuring your knowledge can be found by researchers, regardless of their familiarity with your organization.

Why Choose Openness?

The #OpenForGood award is focused on inspiring foundations to use existing and emerging technologies to collectively improve the sector. Today, we live in a time when most expect to find the information they need on the go, via tablets, laptops, and mobile phones, just a swipe or click away. Despite this digital era reality today only 13 percent of foundations have websites, and even fewer share their reports publicly, indicating that the field has a long way to go to creating a culture of shared learning. With this award, we hope to change these practices. Rather than reinvent the wheel, this award and campaign encourages the sector to make it a priority to learn from one another, share content with a global audience, so that we can build smartly one another’s work and accelerate the change we want to see in the world. The more you share your foundation's work, the greater the opportunities to make all our efforts more effective and farther reaching.

Congratulations to our inaugural class of #OpenForGood Award Winners! What will you #OpenForGood?

--Janet Camarena

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

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

GlassPockets Road to 100

This post is part of our “Road to 100 & Beyond series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have helped GlassPockets reach the milestone of 100 published profiles by publicly participating in the “Who Has GlassPockets? self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, promising practices in transparency, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

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

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

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

 

Ellertonmandy20152
Mandy Ellerton

How Feedback Calls Work

We use a systematic approach for feedback calls:

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

 

What’s Going Well

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

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

 

What We’re Working On

We still have room to improve our feedback calls:

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

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

--Mandy Ellerton

GlassPockets Announces New Transparency Levels: Leveling Up Your Practices
March 28, 2019

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Candid.

6a00e54efc2f80883301b7c90b6cb7970b-150wi
Janet Camarena

It's an exciting moment for us here at GlassPockets, and for the field of philanthropy, as we’ve just reached the milestone of 100 foundations committing to work more transparently by participating and publicly sharing their “Who Has GlassPockets?” transparency self-assessment profiles on our website. Yesterday, the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) officially became our 100th participant. What you are seeing today is the result of a diligent process that started last summer, as WFF continually worked to improve the openness of its website. With clear pathways to connect directly with staff members, a knowledge center containing lessons learned as well as packaged “flashcards” containing easily shareable bits of information, and a new searchable grants database spanning its 31-year history, WFF is not starting small when it comes to openness. Transparency can be tricky territory for family foundation donors who may be more accustomed to privacy and anonymity when it comes to their giving, so it’s particularly exciting for us to reach the milestone of 100 published profiles thanks to a family foundation enthusiastically embracing a more transparent approach.

When we started with a handful of foundations and fewer than two dozen transparency indicators, it was more experiment than movement. Now that we’ve aggregated data on transparency trends among 100 participating foundations, it’s a good opportunity to pause and reflect on what we are learning from this data that could inform the way forward to a more transparent future for philanthropy.

Transparency Indicators Evolve

GlassPockets Road to 100

Earlier this year I observed that a promising trend we are seeing in the field is that more foundations are developing sections of their websites devoted to explaining how they work, what values they hold dear, and in some cases, how these values inform their work and operations. Among the 100 foundations that have taken and publicly shared their transparency assessments, 42 percent are now using their websites as a means to communicate values or policies that demonstrate an intentional commitment to transparency. As a result we recently added transparency values/policies as a formal indicator to our GlassPockets assessment. But once you have developed such a values or policy statement, how does a foundation live up to it?

That’s where we hope our “Who Has GlassPockets?” assessment will continue to help foundations create a roadmap to transparency. The assessment is not static and has evolved with the field. When we started in 2010, there were 23 transparency indicators based on an inventory of thousands of foundation websites. As we continue to observe website transparency trends, the assessment has now grown to 27 indicators. Aside from the newest indicator for transparency values/policies, based on the kinds of information that foundations are now starting to share, some other new indicators we added since inception are strategic plans, open licensing policies, and use of the Sustainable Development Goals framework(SDGs). And we expect that as the field continues to evolve, this list of indicators will grow as well.

As the list has grown longer, foundations frequently ask us which indicators are the right ones to start with. Some also tell us that they want to participate, but not until they have at least half or even three-quarters of the indicators on the list. Though we applaud striving to be more transparent, the intent of GlassPockets was never that it be considered a “one-size-fits-all” approach, or that we expected that a majority of the indicators be in place to participate. Rather, that the GlassPockets exercise would serve to surface it as a priority, help the foundation evolve its transparency over time, and ideally would be a process the institution revisits on a regular basis, updating the GlassPockets profile with more and more indicators as transparency improves.

New Transparency Levels and Badges

So to help foundations better understand how to get started and how to grow transparency practices over time, we analyzed the data we have been collecting, and some patterns about how transparency evolves in philanthropy are now becoming clearer. We also conducted advisor interviews with a number of GlassPockets participants to better understand what would be most motivational and helpful in this regard. After reviewing everything we’ve learned so far, we have identified three levels through which foundations pass as they chart their course to greater transparency – these represent core, advanced, and champion-level transparency practices that you can view on this chart.

Explore how the Transparency Indicators relate to each level

Core-level transparency practices represent data most commonly shared by participating foundations and are the best place for new participants to begin. Advanced-level transparency practices open up the way you work to the world and represent information shared by about 50 to 70 percent of participating foundations. Champion-level transparency practices, in place at fewer than half of participating foundations, represent information-sharing that is pushing existing boundaries of foundation transparency.

These new levels represent an optional guide that can be helpful to follow but it is not intended to be viewed as a formal set of requirements. As has always been the case, any foundation at any stage of its transparency journey is welcome to participate and chart its own course. However, to motivate participation and progress, GlassPockets will begin awarding Transparency Badges based on the transparency level attained. These badges will appear on the GlassPockets profile, and will also be made available for use on the foundation’s website. Since it is not a one-size-fits-all, all participating foundations will automatically receive the Core GlassPockets transparency badge, and those who attain Advanced (10-18 indicators) or Champion level (19 or more indicators) will receive a badge denoting the appropriate designation.

Learn About the Transparency Badges

On the Level

Based on the new levels described above, GlassPockets will soon be adding the new Transparency Badges to each profile. So, if it’s been awhile since you reviewed your “Who Has GlassPockets?” profile, or if you’re looking for motivation to improve your transparency, now’s the time to review your existing profile, or submit a new one to see how your foundation stacks up. For existing GlassPockets participants, May 28th is the deadline to review your profile and get any updates or changes in to us before we start making the transparency levels and badges visible on the GlassPockets website the week of June 3rd. To update your profile, you can fill out any new links or corrections on this submission form, or simply email me your changes. As always, new profiles can be added at any time and you can learn more about that process here.

And last, but certainly not least, big thanks and cheers to our existing GlassPockets participants for helping us reach this milestone, and a big welcome to those who will help us reach the next one!

-- Janet Camarena

Meet Our 100th GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Daphne Moore, Communications Director, Walton Family Foundation
March 27, 2019

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have helped GlassPockets reach the milestone of 100 published profiles by publicly participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

The Walton Family Foundation (WFF) is a family-led foundation in operation since 1987. The children and grandchildren of founders, Sam and Helen Walton, lead the foundation and work to create access to opportunity for people and communities. WFF works in three areas: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in its home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta.

The Walton Family Foundation is our newest and 100th foundation to join GlassPockets. Daphne Moore, communications director, explains why transparency is a key aspect of WFF’s long-term approach to grantmaking.

GlassPockets: Congratulations on being the foundation that got us to the 100th profile mark! And to start on a transparent note, I also want to acknowledge and thank the Walton Family Foundation for marking its participation with an investment in the field by supporting enhancements to our GlassPockets platform, including the development of a new tiered framework so that foundations can more easily chart a path to working transparently. What can you tell us about why the Walton Family Foundation is prioritizing transparency, both at the foundation and at the field level?  

Daphne Moore: Thank you! The new, tiered framework is a smart approach to encouraging participation, and we were eager to be part of its development because the tiers make it easier to get started. Transparency can serve three valuable purposes: Transparency increases trust, something that is important when working with grantees as well as other funders and partners; it helps find alignment and where we can work together with others while lessening the duplication of efforts; and it helps to foster feedback from grantees and other collaborators encouraging new ideas and fresh thinking. It is a “push and pull” dynamic. The foundation has become more proactive in telling its own story. But that alone is one-sided. It’s also important for us to pull others into our work. The best ideas can come from anywhere, so we want to stay open to new thinking from all over and create pipelines to tap into that thinking.

Daphne Moore


Daphne Moore

GP: Family foundations cite a number of barriers to working transparently. Some say that they are reluctant to turn toward transparency because of a fear of risk to the family, while for others it can have more to do with an organizational culture that thinks of the foundation as "private family business." How did transparency become one of the values WFF leaders embraced?  

DM: In 2017, as we passed our 30th anniversary as a foundation, we wanted to articulate our mission, vision and values in a fresh way and in a way that resonates with our staff, our grantees and other stakeholders. We launched an effort to revisit and reflect on what drives our work. Board members and other Walton family members played a big part in that process by participating in interviews, workshops and even forming an advisory committee. We also sought and received significant input from a broad group of stakeholders – both internal and from grantees and sector leaders. We launched new language defining our mission and vision along with a simple, yet powerful, set of values. You can read about them on our website. One of those values is being OPEN. We want to be open about who we are and to ideas from anywhere. Platforms like GlassPockets are definitely part of living out that value.

GP: We often hear concerns that transparency takes a lot of time and resources. Why would you say transparency and openness should be a priority? How have you benefitted from your efforts to open up your work?  

DM: The more we ingrain transparency in our work, the less effort it becomes. It’s a muscle that you develop over time. Transparency takes a lot of the mystery out of philanthropy. That’s a good thing. It makes sense to be open about the strategy that goes into our grantmaking, who we’re working with and what we’re working for. We believe those closest to the problems we’re trying to solve are also those closest to the solution. The more we can provide insight into the work, the better we get at carrying out our mission and the better the chances of success.

GP: How did the GlassPockets self-assessment process help you improve or better understand your organization's level of transparency, and why should your peers participate? And related to this, you are joining as part of the new, advanced transparency level. Were the new GlassPockets Transparency Levels helpful or motivating to you?  

DM: GlassPockets is not the only way to be a transparent organization, but it’s a great way to put a stake in the ground and signal to both internal and external audiences that transparency matters and is important. The process showed us that transparency isn’t as complicated as we sometimes think, and the important thing is to start. The new Transparency Levels make participation less intimidating and foster a sense that this is truly a journey. We hope the levels inspire others to take our approach – just get started!

GP: The Walton Family Foundation website has quite a few entry points for visitors to learn about your work and what you're learning from it. You have sections devoted to stories, another to sharing knowledge, and another to communicating compelling facts via online flashcards. Can you talk about this framework and how you distinguish between each type of content, and why each is important to advancing your work?  

DM: Each section of our website showcases different aspects of the work we do. They open windows into the organization. With our Stories section – our blog – we’re trying to highlight the work of our grantees and the people committed to making a positive change in their communities. There’s such a broad scope to our work and some very powerful stories to tell. The blog also gives Walton family members, our leadership team and our program officers an opportunity to share their experiences and perspective on what we do, how we do it and why we do it. The Knowledge Center provides an opportunity for us to highlight what we have learned and what we’re learning from others. To have the greatest impact, we need to know what works, what doesn’t and how to be better in our grantmaking. Our Strategy, Learning and Evaluation Department takes a strategic approach to learning, which guides our decision making and planning. Through flashcards, we aim to break down complex issues into ‘snackable’ segments that can be easily consumed at a glance and shared on social media. The newest element of our website is one we’re excited about. We have launched a searchable online grants database, so visitors will be able to learn more about grants we have made going back 30 years.

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

DM: We’re thinking about doing this in several ways. First, and most directly related to GlassPockets, we expect to continue to add indicators to our profile. Look for us to do this throughout the next year. Another way is rethinking how we describe our work. When you’re focused on tackling some of the biggest challenges, you tend to focus on process and policy. You have to do that – it’s how you create systemic change. But process and policy are not what drives our work. It’s people – students, teachers, farmers, fishermen, entrepreneurs and artists. It’s also the Walton family members that lead us and the values that motivate them to want to create positive change for people and communities. So look for more about what drives the foundation and the impact that changes lives today and lasts for generations.

--Janet Camarena

Meet Our Newest GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Dawn Hawk, Chief Operating Officer, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation
March 26, 2019

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have helped GlassPockets reach the milestone of 100 published profiles by publicly participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

Philanthropic Ventures Foundation (PVF), a grantmaking public charity, was established in 1991 to test new approaches to grantmaking. PVF has developed an expertise in “grassroots giving” through which it aspires to transform philanthropy, making it more responsive and collaborative to better meet community needs. In partnership with grassroots leaders, PVF identifies needs that can be met with philanthropic support, and then devises program ideas to help tackle the issues head on. From this drive to address unmet needs came the idea of immediate-response grants, in which PVF provides funds within a 48-hour turnaround. These immediate-response grant programs have benefitted teachers as well as social workers and juvenile court judges who work with youth in foster care.

Philanthropic Ventures Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. Dawn Hawk, chief operating officer, explains why transparency is an essential component of PVF’s community and relationship-focused approach to grantmaking.

GlassPockets: Why is transparency an important value to informing how Philanthropic Ventures Foundation operates?

Dawn Hawk: For PVF, transparency is more than displaying organizational policies. Transparency is relationships with our partners – our grantee partners and donors. Transparency is related to trust. It takes one to develop the other. And trust comes from deeply understanding the work and challenges of our grantees.

Because our grantees’ success is important to us, we visit them regularly, we learn from them, and we help them tell their story, via our blog, newsletter, and social media. One key role we play for our donor advised funds is to advise our donors on giving with impact, and we want to introduce them to nonprofits with outstanding leadership and fresh ideas. Thus we feel it is important to profile our grantees on our website and in conversations.

We aren’t focused on transparency around what we will fund as we haven’t conducted a strategic thinking process that sets our funding areas in stone. We are more focused on modeling a risk-taking approach, and advocating for more responsiveness from our foundation colleagues, to free up the time our nonprofit partners now spend on writing proposals.

Dawn

Dawn Hawk

GP: Since you are in the unique role of both grantmaking and fundraising, that gives you a unique vantage point. What is one or two pieces of information you wish more foundations would have transparently on their websites?

DH: All organizations searching for support want to be able to determine if their work is a fit for a foundation’s giving focus, so having open program guidelines clearly stated is key. One of the most difficult statements for a grantseeker to understand is “we do not accept unsolicited proposals” and PVF will never state that. To us transparency also means accessibility. If you are doing good work, we want to know about it, which is why we pride ourselves on being out in the community more than in our offices, and when in the office we always pick up the phone.

And yet, PVF also struggles with communicating our “giving focus” on our website because we provide such a wide range of services: giving creative grantmaking advice to our donor advised fund clients; modeling responsive grantmaking through our immediate response grant programs for teachers and social workers; administering awards programs for innovative startup partners wishing to make an impact without establishing a stand-alone foundation; serving as a fiscal depository for projects that do not yet have their tax-exempt status but are otherwise ready to begin their charitable work.

While PVF’s immediate response grant programs and awards programs provide an easy entry point for grantseekers who fit the eligibility guidelines, there is no streamlined way for a grantseeker to understand the giving focuses of our many donor advised funds. This is a common problem with community foundations. We’d love to open this discussion and hear how our fellow community foundations address this. For PVF we make a point to profile the work of outstanding leaders and programs working in the community, as these are the programs we also hope will inspire and motivate our donors to give support. At a time when local grassroots solutions are more important than ever, we feel it is our role to inform donors about important, critical work happening in their back yard and to encourage them to “give local."

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

DH: It has been helpful to become aware of all the avenues of transparency. The featured categories allow a foundation to conduct a self-audit to be able to present a more complete profile of their work. Since the GlassPockets assessment looks at a number of indicators across the whole foundation, deciding to do the assessment helped us to focus on transparency as a team. We are viewing the GlassPockets process as an ongoing process – we are on the road!

GP: Do you have any examples of how being a transparent funder has led you to become more effective in your philanthropy?

DH: Of course, having transparent up front information about what you fund will answer a grantseekers’ questions, and minimize the research time a nonprofit must invest. And making ourselves transparent and accessible helps us better understand their time constraints and how to structure our grantmaking processes in a way that supports our partners rather than creates a burden. As a result, we prioritize streamlined application processes out of respect for our grantees’ time and to free them up to focus more on their mission than on fundraising. In essence, transparency and accessibility lead to processes based on empathy and respect. PVF has always allocated a modest amount of grant funding to enable us to model responsive grantmaking, giving critical intervention funding when it is needed, making grants without formal applications from nonprofits, and providing support based on knowledge of the program and its impact.

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

DH: In our role as an intermediary, transparency is also about helping to create a culture of learning among our donors. We continually work with our donor advised fund clients to keep them informed about local issues, such as the inequality gap, lack of housing, and displacement. We convene nonprofits and funders around these issue areas, providing forums for engagement where they can meet as equals to discover and advance new ideas to address our biggest problems, and we share these discussions online.

We help donors with a funding goal – for example, to support young people to implement community service projects – to turn these funding ideas into long-running, high-impact programs with open applications – like the Bay Area Inspire Awards Program which we have administered for five years. And of course we always endeavor to make our program application process streamlined and the decision announcement timeline short!

--Janet Camarena

Open Road Alliance Joins GlassPockets
February 21, 2019

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Maya Winkelstein, Executive Director, Open Road Alliance

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have helped GlassPockets reach the milestone of 100 published profiles by publicly participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

Open Road Alliance (ORA) is a private philanthropic initiative that serves the social sector by keeping impact on track in an unpredictable world. Open Road was founded in 2012 by psychologist and philanthropist Dr. Laurie Michaels to address the need for contingency funds and the absence of risk management practices in philanthropy. ORA provides both short- and long-term solutions to unexpected challenges that arise during project implementation, so that impact and finite resources can be maximized across the social sector. To meet immediate needs, ORA offers fast, flexible funding to nonprofits and social enterprises facing discrete, unexpected roadblocks during project implementation.

In addition to its investment portfolio, Open Road promotes the long-term, sector-wide adoption of better risk management practices. In collaboration with peers, ORA conducts research, develops tools, and generates data on approaches to financial and non-financial risk management.

Open Road Alliance is among our newest GlassPockets participants. Maya Winkelstein, executive director, explains why transparency is central to its philanthropic efforts.

GlassPockets: As a donor-advised fund (DAF), Open Road is voluntarily being more transparent than what's required, so why are you prioritizing transparency? Is it part of your strategy?

Untitled design
Maya Winkelstein

Maya Winkelstein: Transparency is key to our investment strategy and to our mission of Keeping Impact on Track. We believe that honest, transparent conversations - particularly in the donor-grantee relationship - are critical to mitigating risk and preserving impact.

As for being a DAF, we chose that structure because it’s very flexible and keeps our administrative costs down - meaning we can put more of our assets directly into our grant and loan portfolios. We’re focused on impact, the rest is just logistics!

GP: We often hear concerns that transparency takes a lot of time and resources, so it's really more relevant for large foundations. Why would you say transparency and openness should be a priority for even foundations comprised of a small team? How have you benefited from your efforts to open up your work?

MW: We believe in a customer service approach to philanthropy where our customers are
our grantees and potential grantees. This ethos is embodied in our customer service credo which outlines how we do business. We exist to serve them, not the other way around. I think this is how philanthropy should be -- no matter the size of your organization. Given this core ethos, it would be impossible for us to provide “good service” without transparency and honesty. That’s what makes it a priority for us.

We have also found that integrating transparency into our criteria, our decision-making process, timelines, expectations, and definitions of impact makes for more effective partnerships. Being honest accelerates relationship development and given that the organizations we work with are coming to us with a challenge laid bare, there’s a built in requirement and responsibility for mutual transparency and candor. It’s an invaluable piece of the Open Road puzzle.

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

MW: We are grateful to have the opportunity to participate in GlassPockets. Not only so that peers and partners have insight into Open Road, but the process afforded us the opportunity to evaluate how accessible we are to potential applicants or peers seeking resources. It has inspired us to include more ways to engage with Open Road on our contact page, and to highlight feedback received and how to give us feedback, by providing a link to our profile on GrantAdvisor.

GP: Feedback mechanisms are often something that foundations struggle with. Open Road Alliance has been able to provide such a mechanism by becoming an early adopter of GrantAdvisor, an open platform where grantees and applicants can anonymously review your foundation. Why is this important and what have you learned from your participation?

MW: We’re big fans of GrantAdvisor, and I’ve been lucky enough to serve as a member of their National Leadership Panel for three years. I think it’s a platform that’s long overdue. It’s important to us because anonymous feedback is honest feedback. GrantAdvisor.org offers the opportunity to hear directly from our most important stakeholders (i.e. grantees).

As an ED, I also use it as a management tool. I regularly check recent reviews to see how our investment team is doing - if we are living up to our customer service credo. If we get a bad review or critical feedback, we use that to have a conversation internally and assess if we need to make a change. Every enterprise needs unfettered feedback from its customers. GrantAdvisor gives us that.

GP: Since ideally, transparency is always evolving and there is always more that can be shared, what are some of your hopes for how Open Road Alliance will continue to open up its work in new ways in the future?

MW: As a small team we don’t always have the bandwidth to report on our impact. We’re currently in the process of hiring a data scientist who will be instrumental in analyzing our portfolio, the impact we’ve had on individual projects and the sector, and, frankly, what we could be doing better. With increased capacity, we’re looking forward to sharing that data more regularly!

--Janet Camarena

How Family Foundations Are Opening Up: Part II
January 31, 2019

Elaine Gast Fawcett of PhilanthropyCommunications.com is a philanthropy writer and communications strategist who has managed multi-million dollar grant programs for foundations, is a certified multigenerational family trainer with 21/64, and a Contributing Editor to the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP). This post is the second of a two-part look at some of the key findings about transparency in family foundations from a new NCFP report.

Elaine Gast Fawcett
Elaine Gast Fawcett

Last week I started by identifying some of the key ways in which family foundations are working more transparently than in the past. Strengthening relationships was core to the two practices I identified: being accessible to grant applicants and learning from listening to the community. Here are a few more helpful examples and practices from the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities.

Transparency is…Credibility to Bring Voice to Issues

When Stefan Lanfer came to the Barr Foundation in 2008, it was just over a decade old, and did all of its grantmaking anonymously. “In 2009, Barr’s trustees decided it was time to be more open and transparent about the foundation’s work,” he says.

What drove the decision? “Mission. The board saw the potential to bring more value beyond its grant dollars alone—to elevate the voices and work of our partners, and also to use our own voice to contribute to public debates about the issues we focus on.”

The shift to greater transparency took time. One of the foundation’s core values is humility. For its many years as an anonymous funder, the prevailing view was that “attention ought to be on the community leaders and issues at hand, not us,” says Lanfer, who was tasked with leading the foundation’s communications efforts. “We weren’t interested merely in increasing visibility for Barr. We wanted to know how to use communications to further our mission.”

“We realized there are times when the Barr Foundation lending its voice can be significant to issues affecting our city and region,” he says. “It can spark, frame, and help shift important conversations.”

For example, like many cities, Boston has experienced a huge real estate boom along its waterfront, says Lanfer. “Over the last 10 years, development along Boston’s waterfront has exploded. Meanwhile media coverage and public debate has principally focused on the merits or concerns about individual projects—and not on growing concerns that Boston’s waterfront could end up being walled off from public use. In this context, Barr’s president, Jim Canales, wrote an Op Ed that ran in the Boston Globe, calling for a new conversation, and a different approach. He called for greater ambition and vision to create a waterfront that all can access and enjoy for generations.”

That one Op-Ed precipitated a significant increase in media coverage of the topic. At the same time, Barr launched a new special initiative focused on the waterfront, which has since awarded over $11 million. Yet, it was a willingness to add its voice to the conversation, says Lanfer, that had that first, important amplifying effect. “It drew more attention to the cause and created a momentum that wasn’t there before, and has only continued to build.”

Transparency is…Sharing Mistakes in the Spirit of Learning

“When we started thinking about transparency, it was when we were looking at ways to help communities develop and how they could become more resilient, flexible, and intuitive in their own ways,” says Richard Russell, board member of The Russell Family Foundation (TRFF). “We looked at what was making a difference in the waters of Puget Sound. What we learned was that more than 50 percent of the pollution of Puget Sound comes from the communities surrounding it, and that those communities have a lack of consciousness that they live next to this incredible fjord and are dumping everything in there.”

“We asked ourselves: what is our theory of change? What will make a difference down the road?” says Russell. “We saw an opportunity to build trust and convene community. The more we can be open with each other, the better the quality of our connection.”

One of the ways to be open is to share mistakes, he says. “In our culture, mistakes are taboo. Yet revealing mistakes can be a source of strength,” he says. “We all think we have to protect ourselves. Yet a lot of our nervousness or fears around that are misguided.”

“My parents (George and Jane Russell, founders of TRFF) believed that you can advance progress so much faster if you got the right people in the room and got out of their way. If you try to keep people out of the room or hide mistakes that people are inevitably going to make, it injects more tension into relationships,” says Russell.

In the spirit of its founders, TRFF posts its mistakes. In fact, for years, one of the most it ever posted was on a failed program related investment that it had made to a nonprofit. “The video featured interviews with the executive director of the nonprofit, interviews with me from TRFF, what we had learned, and how we the foundation processed these lessons learned across the silos,” says CEO Richard Woo.

“People don’t learn from each other if they aren’t open,” says Russell. “One of the most valuable things we’ve been able to do as a community leader is to convene people on issues that they aren’t talking about—to get people to let their hair down and talk openly. We all need to be a learning organization.”

Transparency is…Opening Up Online

A website is a minimal transparency tool, says Patrick Troska. “At a minimum, people should be able to find you and get in touch with you, not have their question go into some black hole. We do exist in the public trust and are supposed to be responding to the public—and if we’re not doing that, what are we doing?”

“I hope these stories will inspire family foundations to look at their own transparency practices, and how family foundations—and the communities they serve—can benefit from increased openness.”

Recently, the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota revamped its website to be more community focused. There are now photos from the community, blog posts written by foundation staff and other guest writers, staff contact information, and funding guidelines. The foundation is even considering an interactive map showing where they fund.

The Perrin Foundation in New Haven, Connecticut also recently redeveloped its website. “When we started the process, we found we weren’t as transparent online as we thought we were,” says president Laura McCargar. “On our previous site, we had listed our board chair, but no other board members. We talked about grantmaking areas, but didn’t talk about how we encourage folks to build relationships. We listed our grant partners, but no financials.”

While it’s been a somewhat challenging process to redevelop the website, the “opportunity to discuss together how we publicly represent ourselves has been invaluable.” She says one of the discussion points was about how board members individually wish to be represented on the site. “Some felt photos might make it too much about the family, and others felt it would keep us too much behind a veil if we didn’t put photos up. These are important conversations to have.”

Ultimately, consistent with the GlassPockets transparency self-assessment, it’s up to a family foundation board, perhaps with staff, to decide on the right level of transparency for them, and why. I hope these stories will inspire family foundations to look at their own transparency practices, and how family foundations—and the communities they serve—can benefit from increased openness.

Want more? Download the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide, Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities, which encourages donors, boards, and staff of family foundations (and other giving vehicles) to purposefully consider their choices regarding transparency in grantmaking, governance, and operations. This guide includes a list of questions family foundations can ask themselves as a board to think deeply and develop a transparency strategy.

--Elaine Gast Fawcett

Share This Blog

  • Share This

Subscribe to Transparency Talk

  • Enter your email address:

About Transparency Talk

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

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

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

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

Categories