Transparency Talk

Category: "Reporting Commitment" (19 posts)

“Plugging In” to the Power of Philanthropy’s Big Data: Building a path for foundations to join the Reporting Commitment
September 30, 2014

(Suki O'Kane is the director of administration at the Walter and Elise Haas Fund.)

Okane-150The Walter & Elise Haas Fund (W&EHF)  clocks in as the 19th member of Foundation Center’s Reporting Commitment. The journey there was filled with creativity, innovation, collaboration, and some clever lines of code. Along the way, we reaffirmed our commitment to philanthropic transparency, began reporting  real-time grants data, raised the profile of our grantmaking with communication to big data initiatives, and — now — want to make the same possible for  our peers: the technology we developed to accomplish these good things has been published as a free, open source plug-in for WordPress called Open hGrant. This source code provides a way for foundations to share their grantmaking activity with the world, in real time, while also allowing the funder to publish it in searchable form on its own web site.  That’s right, you can have a searchable database of your grants activity, and a reporting mechanism all in one.

What motivated our foundation to do these things?

We reaffirmed our commitment to philanthropic transparency, began reporting real-time grants data, raised the profile of our grantmaking with communication to big data initiatives, and — now — want to make the same possible for our peers.

To a large degree, sharing what we do and know while learning from others is simply a habit of mind at W&EHF. Our executive director Pam David champions cross-sector work and community cooperation. Our grantmaking leverages public-private partnerships and collaborations to produce results that no single actor could accomplish alone.

Initiatives like the Reporting Commitment attract us for their ability to help us make sense of the philanthropic landscape. They help us answer perennial questions about who is doing what, where. We coupled this habit with our intent to increase the transparency of our work — among our teams and trustees, with the communities we serve, and with our peers.

Hearts and minds we had. All we were missing were bits and bytes. Oh, that.

How did we get it done?

It might not be a surprise to hear that the technological solutions for publishing grant data to the web are, to put it mildly, diverse. Even when we find a searchable grants index on the web, we can be fairly sure it’s not presented in an easily accessed format. Our taxonomies differ from those of our peers. Our websites are developed on different platforms. We focus on different data outcomes. These factors made a common, off-the-shelf solution seem out of reach.

When we sat down with our long-term partners at Mission Minded to brainstorm how to grapple with this, one thing became clear: whatever we found to crack the techno-nut of real-time grants data reporting should be simple and shareable.  We were well aware of the tendency in our field to develop solutions to common challenges in isolation, with proprietary tools. Brad Smith’s post to the PhilanTopic blog takes this on directly, a “data dilemma” by his reckoning, with some bold recommendations for philanthropy.

Foundation Center also had a critical resource to share with us: the hGrant microformat. One of the critical engines of Foundation Center’s data initiatives, this way of marking up grants data on the web is open to any individual or institution seeking to collect, catalog, map, and analyze giving. We welcomed Foundation Center to the project team and set about creating a technology tool that allowed any other grantmaker of any size to openly publish giving data to the web in a searchable, standardized way.  

The result is Open hGrant for WordPress, a simple plug-in for philanthropy’s Big Data that is spurring a new community of funders to participate in transparency and open data initiatives. We encourage our peers to investigate this free tool or to watch a recent demo from the Grants Managers Network.

To learn how your organization can help build a richer data set that drives effective collaboration, strategic decision making, and a more engaged philanthropy sector, contact Foundation Center for more information about the Reporting Commitment or reach out to the growing community of hGrant users for support.

-- Suki O'Kane

The Foundation Center and MacArthur Foundation Join IATI – Open Philanthropy Meets Open Global Development
December 23, 2013

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

FalkensteinThe Reporting Commitment, an initiative by 15 of the largest foundations in the United States to be more transparent in how they share data on their grantmaking, launched a year ago in October. Since then, those 15 foundations have been joined by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the VNA Foundation. These organizations have committed to a level of transparency and scrutiny never before seen in the philanthropic sector. But why? Some foundations are interested in communicating out what good works they are doing and sharing lessons learned; some are hoping to improve their organizational intelligence through the sharing of better and more timely data, and others are hoping to be more effective, efficient and targeted in both their grantmaking and collaboration efforts. Not that these ideas are mutually exclusive.

At the heart of the Reporting Commitment is a set of standards by which the participating foundations have agreed to report their data. 1) The grant data must be reported at least quarterly; 2) the grant data must include the details of the geographic area being served using the Foundation Center’s geographic taxonomy--the Geotree--so the data can be reported consistently; and 3) the foundations must all report their data using the Foundation Center’s html-based reporting standard, hGrant.

Egrant_reporterhGrant is just one approach to joining the Foundation Center’s eReporting program; another part of the program is eGrant Reporting wherein nearly 1,000 foundations provide data in an Excel format through standard report queries via one of the Center’s grants management software partners. We are working closely with many of our partners to include hGrant as a reporting output option as well.

IATIGiven our experience with data standards, the Center was invited to join the Technical Advisory Group of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), an initiative to create an XML-based data standard to capture data on global development flows, primarily those of governments and international agencies. The goal of this work was to bring together organizations committed to working together to increase the transparency of capital flows benefitting aid on a global scale. In developing this standard, IATI has been careful not to duplicate the great work already being done by other organizations such as the Organization for Economic Co-Operative Development, which produces statistics about past aid flows. Instead, the IATI standard builds on this foundational work and tries to improve the timeliness and accessibility of such data.

Realizing that government and multilateral/bilateral data does not tell the whole story of aid flows, many NGOs have also joined the IATI community. Additionally, two foundations have joined the initiative, including early adopter the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and, most recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation Center is very excited to report that we are officially the 200th organization to join IATI, through the help of the John
D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
. The MacArthur Foundation, one of the original participants of the Reporting Commitment, realized that it wanted to have a voice in international global development, as did the Hewlett Foundation and Gates Foundation. Rather than MacArthur reporting directly to IATI, creating redundancy in their workflows, the Foundation Center worked to enable MacArthur’s Reporting Commitment hGrant feed to be simultaneously converted into the IATI XML standard and, as a result, it is now reported on the IATI registry. We are pleased to be able to help the MacArthur Foundation more fully engage in the global development conversation, and this is just one of the ways the Foundation Center is working to help philanthropy open up its data.

The Foundation Center is dedicated to increasing knowledge on philanthropy through the timeliness and transparency of data, as can be seen via our recent efforts around:

Much like the MacArthur Foundation wanting to get its information out to both peer foundations and the global development community, the Foundation Center is looking for ways to help other foundations be more strategic, gain access to more timely data, better understand where they sit in the sector in relation to their peers, and create opportunities for knowledge sharing and learning.  We'll be announcing some new foundations joining the Reporting Commitment soon. Our work with hGrant and IATI is just another step down that road to helping foundations become a part of the open data movement. Come join us!

If you want to learn more about the Foundation Center’s eReporting program, IATI or anything else in this blog, please contact me at JAF@foundationcenter.org.

-- Jeff Falkenstein


 

Meet the New Glasspockets Web Site
November 14, 2013

(Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the Center's Glasspockets effort.)

Janet CamarenaToday we are launching a redesigned and enhanced Glasspockets web site that I hope readers to this blog will enjoy exploring or rediscovering. Our goal remains the same as when the site launched in 2010: to champion greater philanthropic transparency in an online world. But the site today is a very different one, much improved by walking the transparency and accountability talk — thanks to our efforts to create a user experience that responds to direct feedback from our stakeholders.

You might be wondering if we really still need Glasspockets to champion transparency at all. And to that I would respond with a resounding "yes." It may be surprising to people to learn that — despite the digital age in which all knowledge seems available at the swipe of a finger on a mobile device — according to our latest data, fewer than 10% of foundations even have a web presence. Many assume that this is probably due to the large quantity of small, unstaffed family foundations that comprise many of the nation's foundations. However, even when we just looked at foundations with assets greater than $100 million, nearly 30% of those also did not have web sites. 

We recognize it's hard for grantmakers to know where to begin with transparency, so with the redesign, grantmakers will more easily be able to find tools they can use and steps they can take to increase their level of transparency in an online world.

So, it is clear, that many who practice institutional philanthropy prefer to do so in "stealth mode," which makes it very challenging from a field-building perspective since it is impossible to comprehensively map the ecosystem for fields and sub-fields. This makes life difficult for grantmakers and grantseekers alike, who then must rely on personal networks rather than complete data sources to connect with colleagues, compare notes, and identify potential solutions that are not replicating someone else's experimentation.

We recognize it's hard for grantmakers to know where to begin with transparency, so with the redesign, grantmakers will more easily be able to find tools they can use and steps they can take to increase their level of transparency in an online world.

Earlier this spring we conducted a user survey, asking questions about the impact of the Glasspockets initiative as well as questions pertaining to the site's content and navigation. We specifically invited the 50 foundations that had used and shared publically our "Who Has Glass Pockets?" assessment tool, our Glasspockets partners, as well as those who had served as guest bloggers to Transparency Talk to give us their input. What we learned from the helpful feedback of the respondents was very encouraging:

  • 100% of respondents believed that it was either somewhat or very important that foundations move toward greater transparency and openness
  • Strengthening credibility and public trust were the most popular reasons grantmakers cited for increasing transparency
  • Nearly 60% reported that Glasspockets had spurred them to increase their level of online transparency by sharing more content
  • More than half of survey takers told us that Glasspockets had helped them make transparency a priority with their staff or board.

We also received helpful feedback in terms of how to think about reorganizing the site, including requests to:

  • Streamline the site so users could more easily find tools to help them with transparency
  • Make the definition of and steps to transparency clearer
  • Offer webinars aimed at how to approach transparency
  • Offer more case studies of how foundations are using new technology platforms to increase openness.

As you explore the new site you will see that this feedback very much informed our approach. For example, we are now presenting Glasspockets with a framework that helps foundations easily chart their transparency course, with a clearer path to participate in and learn from our "Who Has Glass Pockets?" profiles, a helpful step-by-step approach to transparency, recorded webinar content, and greater use of infographics to make the data more accessible and fun.

New features include an interactive knowledge base of "Who Has Glass Pockets?" transparency profiles, an easy to share PDF of the transparency Heat Map, and an infographic presentation providing an overview of how philanthropy is harnessing social media for greater participation and transparency. Have you ever wondered which foundations have the most Twitter or Facebook activity, or the most YouTube subscribers? Take a look and find out. 

A forthcoming how-to foundation transparency guide done in collaboration with GrantCraft will further help users navigate improving foundation transparency practices. 

You will also find important staples from the original site:

  • Eye on the Giving Pledge offers an in-depth picture of how more than 100 of the world's wealthiest people are participating in the Giving Pledge, in which they have promised to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
  • Foundation Transparency 2.0 returns in a streamlined format and lets visitors explore the online communications tools that foundations use and provides direct access to foundation blogs, Twitter feeds, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, and many other digital platforms.
  • The Reporting Commitment shows how America's leading foundations are meeting the challenges of our time. Users can track grants information in near-real-time through interactive maps and download data in open, machine-readable form.

Foundations and their grantees are tackling some of the world’s most complex issues that have no easy answers.  This is good news since it means that foundations are not shying away from the big issues of our time such as climate change, poverty, access to water, and attempting to cure currently incurable diseases. Through the redesigned Glasspockets our hope is that foundations will come to realize transparency is not a burden, but a helpful strategy that serves to accelerate the change they are trying to bring about in the world.

So, have a look around and then leave a comment or send out a tweet. Let us know what you think.

-- Janet Camarena

How the Reporting Commitment Leverages Philanthropy's Efforts to Solve Pressing Social Problems
August 26, 2013

(Leila Walsh is director of communications for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a private foundation with investments in criminal justice, education, public accountability, and research integrity.)

Walsh-200When the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) evaluates its grants, we measure our success against a variety of metrics designed to answer one fundamental question: Are we actually making a difference? When the answer is "yes," we are eager to do more of what's working and share our successes. If the answer is "no," we must learn from the experience and tell others about the results so they can learn from our failures. The Reporting Commitment is an important part of that process. It provides a forum to share grant information openly, transparently, and in real time. Along with the 16 other participating foundations, we will report our grants on a regular basis. You will see the groups that we are supporting as well as the amount, duration, and purpose of the grants.

We joined the effort because we believe the Reporting Commitment is helping to accelerate and better leverage philanthropy's efforts to address some of society's most persistent problems. It makes it easier to track overlapping interests and allows us to find ways to collaborate as part of a thorough and systemic effort.

We joined the effort because we believe the Reporting Commitment is helping to accelerate and better leverage philanthropy's efforts to address some of society's most persistent problems. It makes it easier to track overlapping interests and allows us to find ways to collaborate as part of a thorough and systemic effort. The Reporting Commitment also provides an opportunity to identify funding gaps, which is also critical because it gives us a better understanding of what hasn't been tried. When we discover ideas that are untested, we examine them through a rigorous evaluation process and then scale them if they prove to be effective. By examining all angles of a problem and all possible solutions, we are able to maximize opportunities for impact.

The Wall Street Journal recently called LJAF's entrepreneurial, data-driven approach to philanthropy "The New Science of Giving." We harness data and promote open access to information through each of our initiative areas. Here are a few examples of such projects:

  • LJAF's Criminal Justice team has developed and is piloting a risk assessment tool that uses data and analytics to help predict whether an individual will come back to court, whether he or she will commit a new crime, and whether he or she will commit a new crime of violence.
  • LJAF's Public Accountability team is supporting low-cost, randomized controlled trial evaluations of social programs that help government better compare and contrast among competing policy options and concentrate resources on what works.
  • LJAF's Research Integrity initiative is improving the reliability and validity of scientific evidence by investing in organizations that are committed to improving openness, transparency, and quality of research.

Because we recognize the power of data and measurable outcomes, we support the Reporting Commitment and encourage other foundations to join it. By collectively being transparent about our work and impact, we have a greater chance of producing innovative, effective solutions that will indeed make a difference and improve the lives of individuals and society as a whole.

--Leila Walsh

Explore grants by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation
and the 16 other participating foundations»

What’s The Story, Data?
July 10, 2013

(Kyle Reis, after twenty-five years at the Ford Foundation, has just joined the nonprofit social enterprise TechSoup Global as Senior Director of Global Data Services and East Coast Representative. When not busy raising three daughters or reading Emily Dickinson poems, he spends his time thinking about the intersection of data, design, and social change.)

Reis-100Data are not sexy.

There, I’ve said it. The sentence proves the point. Data are. Data is. Data, hmm. Personally, I love data. But we all know what invariably happens when the ‘D’ word comes up in conversation other than at a hackathon or Google staff party. Our eyes glaze over, we nod that, yes, this is indeed the era of Big Data, and then excuse ourselves to freshen our drink.

But let me clarify. It’s not that I love data per se. The data point, ‘New Jersey,’ does not, thankfully, excite me. What I do love, however, is what can come of data, particularly when it gets big and varied. Often, a surprising thing happens: the data get interesting. Really interesting. Even more importantly, the data become meaningful. Individual data points begin morphing into larger concepts like, say, The Law of Large Numbers. Now we’re talking sexy. I would even go so far as to call the Law of Large Numbers awesome! See for yourself:

Law of Large Numbers

OK. So, formulas aren’t sexy either. But, in layman’s terms, what this tells us is that, as we get more and more data (e.g., rolls of a die, Google “flu” searches, grants approved by foundations), the data become more predictable and informative. Data points bond together and in so doing undergo a kind of metamorphosis in our perception. They begin to reveal previously hidden truths, to show surprising patterns and correlations, and to surface anomalies. If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers or studied the concept of positive deviance, you know how much we can learn from that which deviates from the norm. Here’s a quote from the Positive Deviance Initiative that touches on this topic, and sounds a lot like something that would be of interest to foundations:

“Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.”

When cultivated and well-presented, this “data metamorphosis” takes on a new resonance for one simple reason: it begins to reveal stories.

We all love stories. Stories resonate. Stories delight. Stories move us. For foundations, stories are vital to our work. Stories of need or injustice, of action or inaction. Not only can stories help us decide who to fund, but also what results from our funding. However, for philanthropy’s stories to move others to action, they must have data.

Data help us unearth facts that, in turn, help us learn about organizations and the impact their work has on the communities they serve.

Why data, you might ask. Isn’t the folksy anecdote that moves us to action good enough? In the past, the answer might have been yes because supporting an organization that’s doing good is better than not supporting one. But this is no longer sufficient. The needs are too big for us to be funding all but the best organizations. So how do we find these organizations? Using data. Data matter. Data help us unearth facts that, in turn, help us learn about organizations and the impact their work has on the communities they serve.

And that’s why initiatives like the Reporting Commitment are so important. Though it might seem small that sixteen foundations – including some of the largest in the country – have begun publishing their grants data in an open, accessible fashion - the truth is this is big news. Here’s what these records look like:

RWJF
In just nine months these 16 foundations have made available to the public more than 10,000 grants totaling $9 billion. Now imagine what this data set could look like in two or three years’ time, with several hundred foundations contributing tens of thousands of grants totaling tens of billions of dollars. Then imagine these same foundations and others working to improve people’s lives downloading this data and mashing it up with Census, World Bank, or other information. Or using word clouds and other visual tools to reveal beautiful patterns. Or mapping the geographic-area-served data to see if funding is reaching the places of greatest need. And then, if you will, imagine this data being used in ways we can’t yet dream. This metamorphosis of data could be spectacular, and the impact of what we do with this knowledge would be tangible.

So here is my call to all funders: join the Reporting Commitment. Send in your data so that you and others can use it to tell the stories that are out there waiting for the data to find them. Do this and you, too, will come to love data as I do.

How Data Can Help Create Better Communities: A Re-Cap
May 16, 2013

(Natasha Isajlovic-Terry is the Reference Librarian at the Foundation Center-San Francisco)

Nit-100Data is everywhere these days, spilling out over the sides of its containers, and busting out at every seam. The world is literally teeming with it. At the BayNet Libraries Annual Meeting, we learned from Dr. Jonathan Reichental, why this is: “We are grappling with the volume of data in the world because we now collect the same amount of data every three days as we did throughout the entire year in 2003.” This was just one thing I learned from Dr. Reichental’s talk “How Data Can Help Create Better Communities.” Reichental is no stranger to data: He currently serves as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the city of Palo Alto. It sounds like they’re doing some pretty nifty tricks with big, open-data down there. If you’re interested, it’s happening up here too as San Francisco just hired its first CIO.

Data espouses positive effects when it is shared, or, to put it in more familiar terms, when we are transparent with it.

Dr. Reichental’s talk focused on how government data can be used to improve communities. Data mined from government sources is often mashed-up with data from other free sources, such as Google, to strengthen the quality of data. For example, Palo Alto mashed its data on street quality ratings with Google Street View to create Palo Alto StreetViewer; a tool used to visualize ratings to make decisions about infrastructure improvement.

Data is used in many different ways in the social sector. We know that nonprofits collect and analyze their data to measure the effectiveness of their services, and that strategic nonprofits use open data to better position their outreach and services. The same is true for foundations, but these applications are often conducted within the silos of the organizations. Data espouses positive effects when it is shared, or, to put it in more familiar terms, when we are transparent with it.

Reichental mentioned the following six things about government use of open data (outlined in a summary by Sarah Rich):

  • It  is the liberation of peoples’ data
  • To be useful, data needs to be consumable by machines
  • Data has a derivative value
  • Data eliminates the middleman
  • Data creates deeper accountability
  • Open data builds trust

Three of these things stood out to me in a major way as beneficial for foundations too: derivative value, accountability, and trust.

When data is made available to the public, other organizations can use the same data in interesting and powerful ways. Think about all those fantastic mashups they do on Glee, but with data sets! An example Dr. Reichental shared is the use of public health ratings in Yelp reviews to strengthen the overall value of reviews. I don’t need to repeat the fact that foundations sit on a “treasure trove” of information as they require nonprofits to report all sorts of useful data. Can you imagine the derivative benefits if they shared this information with the world?

When government shares data publicly it creates deeper accountability. Dr. Reichental used the example of how the government is sharing their data through USAspending.gov, which in turn creates greater accountability as the public can now see where and how their money is spent. The same is true for foundations. This is why we have form 990/990-PF. Some foundations are now going beyond the 990-PF and opening up their grants data via the new Glasspockets Reporting Commitment.

The last thing Dr. Reichental mentioned about data, the fact that it builds trust, is the most compelling thing for foundation transparency, and it goes hand-in-hand with accountability. Being transparent means you have nothing to hide, so conversely, when we aren’t transparent, the public assumes that we do have something to hide. The trust component is perhaps the biggest reason why the government decided to share data publicly. The government was collecting it all along, but it wasn’t until recently that they decided to free it. Now, five years into the Obama administration we have over 400,000 data sets available via data.gov.

Data isn’t going anywhere except up and out. We are heading in a direction where sharing data publicly will be expected and touted as part of the common good. In the case of foundations, sharing data may actually increase the value of the work.

--Natasha Isajlovic-Terry

The Power of Sharing: Why VNA Foundation Joined the Reporting Commitment
January 23, 2013

Rob DiLeonardi is Executive Director of the VNA Foundation in Chicago, where he manages its grantmaking program and daily operations. He is co-founder and former Chair of the Board of the Association of Small Foundations (ASF), a national organization of 2,900 grantmaking foundations holding over $60 billion in assets. He has a longstanding interest in foundation transparency and outcome sharing; VNA's website and annual reports have eight times received a Council on Foundations' Wilmer Shields Rich Award for Excellence in Communications.

Rob DileonardiDuring the two decades I've worked for and with small grantmaking foundations, I've addressed problems ranging from healthcare access to domestic violence to homelessness. One of the most vexing problems I've faced over the years, however, relates not to the subject matter of my grantmaking, but rather to the results of it. Time and again, I've helped develop a grantmaking program to address a particular problem, only to find out after the fact that another foundation was funding the identical issue, often with a remarkably similar approach, in the same or a nearby area. We were addressing the same need, often via the same method, but doing so in blissful isolation. In short, we were reinventing the wheel, sometimes only a few miles apart.

Similarly, our foundation's board and staff have often wondered about latest funding trends. With only a limited number of dollars in our coffers, we want to spend them in the most effective possible way. It would be helpful for us to know exactly where other philanthropic dollars were being directed, both geographically and programmatically, as this knowledge would aid us in filling a gap or funding a complimentary niche -- a favorite strategy to maximize the impact of our grantmaking.

For these reasons, over the years I've tried many different approaches to ensure that the staff of the VNA Foundation is aware of other funders' work and that they are aware of ours. We subscribe to many electronic and hard copy newsletters, periodicals, and reports. We attend local, regional, and national conferences and networking groups. We convene grantmakers and grantees around common challenges, and encourage dialogues about successes -- and failures -- in addressing them. And we work hard to make our website an interactive, timely, and appealing resource. Yet, despite these various efforts, both the grantmaking data we share and that which we receive is often either stale (months or sometimes even years old by the time it reaches end users) or lacking the key details to make it useful.

My interest, therefore, was quickly piqued when I learned of the Foundation Center-supported Reporting Commitment, and the opportunity for the VNA Foundation to become a participant in it. The Reporting Commitment finally allows foundations the opportunity, and the mechanism, to release grant information in a consistent, open, and frequent manner. Although the Commitment's founding participants were large foundations, as soon as I became aware of the initiative I knew there would be value in participation by foundations of VNA's size. Small to medium-sized foundations are far more common in number, size and grantmaking level than their larger brethren. In fact, small foundations account for approximately half of America's total foundation grant dollars, and often provide the kind of essential local support that impacts lives on a daily basis.

In addition, most observers judge foundations by their effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency, not their asset size. Participation by smaller foundations like VNA (foundation philanthropy being one of the few settings in which a $50 million bank account is considered "small") is key, in my opinion, to making the Reporting Commitment's impact felt in more than a handful of sectors.

I am delighted to say that the VNA board of directors immediately saw the value in our participation in the Reporting Commitment, and my colleagues at peer foundations are seeing the light as well. All across the country, every day, foundations large and small are working to bring about small miracles or serve as catalysts for systemic innovation. With the help of the Reporting Commitment, perhaps our field finally has a mechanism by which that work can effectively be shared with colleagues and the public alike.

-- Rob DiLeonardi

For Impact’s Sake: The Need for Transparency on Diversity & Equity in Philanthropy
November 7, 2012

(Kelly Brown is Director of the D5 Coalition, a five-year, effort to advance philanthropy’s diversity, equity and inclusiveness.)

Brown-100Philanthropy exists for the common good, and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion helps us live up to that value. In particular, thinking about equity in our grantmaking helps ensure that we are having the greatest impact on the issues identified in our unique missions—by targeting resources to the people in our constituencies with the greatest need.

But to really maximize our impact and hold ourselves accountable to our values, our constituencies, and each other, we also have to track who benefits from our grantmaking and be transparent about the results. If we can do that successfully, we can: 1) better understand whom we are reaching and whom we are missing—and adjust strategies accordingly; 2) leverage public policy or public dollars to fill gaps or create synergy; and 3) connect our work to the work of other foundations that focus on common issues or common consistencies.

As a field, we have a dual problem with both collecting and sharing data on diversity and equity.

Realizing that kind of success, though, is a real challenge. As a field, we have a dual problem with both collecting and sharing data on diversity and equity. Foundations measure internal diversity and the impact of their grantmaking in many different ways—or not at all. And the foundations that do collect this kind of data share it to varying degrees—or not at all. These challenges make it difficult to assess the year-over-year progress of individual foundations, or to draw comparisons among foundations, or between philanthropy and the public sector.  

So what do we do about it? We have to establish a uniform data collection and reporting system, and encourage the whole field to use it. We’re excited by the renewed energy in the field to take on this challenge—the Reporting Commitment is a great recent example.

A key goal of D5 is to improve data collection and transparency as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Last month, we helped convene 15 leaders on this topic in philanthropy and academia to discuss a pilot project to pioneer a collection and reporting system. As this promising work continues—and expands—we will be able to share more information about how to participate.  

In the meantime, the field also has to do the research to figure out what policies and practices are, in fact, the most effective at fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s hard for us to call on foundations to track and be transparent about diversity and equity when we can’t say in the same breath: And if you aren’t happy with where you stand, here are the most effective steps you can take to address it.

To help on that front, D5 just commissioned three organizations to conduct research that will help identify the most effective policies and tools philanthropic leaders can draw upon to help drive meaningful change and also lay the groundwork for gathering the data needed to help track the field’s progress. For more information about the Insights on Diversity research, check out the press release here.

Being transparent about diversity and equity can be intimidating. But I hope the need for it will increasingly be viewed as a pathway to impact—not as an onerous task that could result in scolding if a foundation is behind where it would like to be. This is an opportunity to learn from each other, to find ways to better work together to serve common constituencies, and to better meet the needs of an increasingly diverse world.

--Kelly Brown

A New Reporting Commitment
October 9, 2012

Darin McKeever is a deputy director at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, leading the foundation’s Charitable Sector work as a member of the Global Policy & Advocacy division. He serves as an ambassador and primary point of contact within the philanthropic community, monitoring and helping develop foundation positions on policy and regulatory issues affecting the nonprofit sector, and managing relationships and grants with major nonprofit/philanthropic trade associations and research institutions.

Darin-McKeever-100At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we firmly believe transparency is a key ingredient in maximizing impact because it inspires new innovations and leads to opportunities for collaboration.

That's why we are pleased to join 14 other U.S. foundations today in announcing a new "Reporting Commitment" to better share information about our grants in an open format on the Foundation Center's Glasspockets.org web site.

We are going through exciting times - when “Big Data,” “Open Data,” and social media are revealing a path to new ways of working together in the social sector.

For many years, private foundations in the U.S. have been required to include lists of grants made in their annual filings to the Internal Revenue Service. However, because of filing deadlines as well as return preparation and digitization timelines, the lag between when a grant is approved and when the general public finds out about it can sometimes stretch to 18 months or more. In the annual filings, descriptions are also brief, often without key information like the location where funded activities take place. As a result, the purpose behind the grants can be opaque and making comparisons across foundations and over the course of years is challenging.

Over the last two years, the 15 participating foundations -- together with the Foundation Center -- have worked together to tackle these problems. Each organization has needed to reexamine policies, business processes, coding procedures, technical capabilities, and even culture. This is only a first step; we hope this effort lays the groundwork for further improvements in the precision and availability of information about grantmaking in the U.S.

Of course, widening the availability of grant data doesn't supplant the value of robust web sites, blogs, or the use of social media. The pressures to collect, organize, and publish information also bring additional costs and burdens -- for foundations, but also our grantees and partners. These are important considerations. The relative absence of standard ways of reporting grants or the results of activities makes all this especially challenging.

That's why last week we were also excited to announce our new "Markets for Good" effort , with our partners at the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and the progressive financial firm LiquidNet. In many ways, the new Reporting Commitment is a great illustration of what the Markets for Good initiative seeks to accelerate: easier and better ways for social sector organizations to get, share, and use information that contributes to improving lives and communities. Check out the video and join the conversation.

We are going through exciting times - when “Big Data,” “Open Data,” and social media are revealing a path to new ways of working together in the social sector. With the Reporting Commitment announced today, we are taking one more step down that path.

--Darin McKeever

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About Transparency Talk

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

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

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

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