Transparency Talk

Category: "Research" (53 posts)

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

How Family Foundations Are Opening Up
January 24, 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 first 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

When it comes to transparency, family foundations, by and large, choose the level of their liking or opt to remain “under the radar.” Yet as the public and the nonprofit sector call for greater funder openness and transparency, more family foundations are wondering: how transparent should we be, and why? Will transparency lead to greater effectiveness? Or are there some circumstances where it serves our mission more to stay mums-the-word?

While there is a wide range of transparency practices in family philanthropy, there are more stories of the field swinging toward openness. I interviewed a number of family foundations for the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities. Here are a few stories that show how family funders are thinking and acting when it comes to transparency, and what has come as a result.

Transparency is…Being Accessible to Grant Applicants

“When we think about our approach, we don’t use the word transparency—it’s just what we do,” says Jean Buckley, president of the Tracy Family Foundation in Illinois, and daughter of the founders R.T. and Dorothy Tracy.

“From a grantmaking perspective, we’ve always strived to be transparent in our process—communicating clearly on our website how to apply and when we make funding decisions,” she says. Beyond that, the Tracy Foundation encourages grant applicants to consult with the foundation program manager to strengthen their applications and increase their chances of getting funded.

“We see so many applications that come in and need a lot of work. By making ourselves accessible to grant applicants, we can give them tips on making their proposals better. It also helps our program manager get to know the organization, and prepare to communicate to the board.”

She acknowledges that a foundation can’t have that level of communication with applicants without a dedicated staff. It takes time to dedicate those resources. Yet, at the end of the day, she says, it saves time. “I used to spend my time reading through countless applications, sending emails and follow up emails. And more than half the time, it would postpone funding,” she says. “Now that applicants have these pre-conversations with our program officer, the applications are clearer, and our discussions now are so much more efficient at board meetings. It’s improved our process and saved everyone time,” she says.

Buckley does acknowledge that there are challenges to transparency, particularly in small towns. “We live in a rural area, and no one wants to feel like they are bragging about giving away money,” she says. “Privacy can also be an issue. The more ‘out there’ the foundation is, people always want something from you, and there’s a good chance you’ll get stopped in the grocery store,” she laughs.

It’s a chance she is willing to take. “Without transparency, funders can miss out on opportunities and connections and learning. We all learn so much from each other,” says Buckley.

”It’s not like we sit around and talk about how to be more transparent. We’re open, honest people running a foundation, trying to make the communities we work in a better place. To do that requires us to be transparent, to engage in thoughtful communication with ourselves and others.” – Jean Buckley, Tracy Family Foundation

Transparency is…Listening and Building Authentic Relationships

Authenticity and transparency go hand in hand, says Patrick Troska, executive director of the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota. It requires a different set of skills to do it right and well, and it takes time and effort.

Philanthropists have historically been more directive and less in the role of listener, he says. “We realized we needed to stop talking and authentically listen. That’s how we built relationships. We were transparent about our guiding values and that we wanted to be in true partnership with the community. Even using the word partners as opposed to grantees intimates a different way of being.”

First, foundation staff assessed themselves individually and as an organization using a tool called the Intercultural Development Inventory assessment. “We needed to understand how we show up in the community when it comes to race, diversity and equity—what are the biases and lenses we bring, how much space do we take up based on our level of privilege, and how can we, as a predominantly white staff, authentically work in a persons of color community? Understanding this was an important first step. It showed us who we are, what we needed to do differently, and what types of behaviors we would need to start to practice.”

“Next, we had conversations with anyone who would talk with us: community leaders, faith leaders, teachers, principals, students, business leaders, and more. We asked them: what are your hopes, your dreams for your community? What do you most want for this community?”

“Then? We listened.”

This wasn’t always easy or comfortable. Troska remembers a moment at a community meeting when an angry leader shouted at foundation staff. “Who are you to be in our community, she said. We knew we needed to sit there and listen. And we came back the next week, and the next week, and listened more. We could have gotten defensive or run away. But we stayed and practiced a set of skills and actions that helped us show up differently.”

“We now have a strong set of allies—folks who want to be a part of the work we’re doing. A new set of leaders emerged from those conversations we had early on. We’re now seen as a more trusted partner in the community, all because of the work we did to be more open to what the community had to say.”

Learn more about transparency trends in philanthropy in my next post, or by downloading the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s new guide, Transparency in Family Philanthropy: Opening to the Possibilities.

--Elaine Gast Fawcett

Evolving Towards Equity, Getting Beyond Semantics
December 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

Getting beyond the numbers

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

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

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

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

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

Towards Equity and Inclusion

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

Equity in hiring

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

Inclusion and equity in investments

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

Equity in vendor selection

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

The Work Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

Herein lies our next evolutionary moment.

--Mona Jhawar

Living Our Values: Gauging a Foundation’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
November 29, 2018

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

Mona JhawarThe California Endowment (TCE) recently wrapped up our 2016 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Audit, our fourth since 2008. The audit was initially developed at a time when community advocates were pushing the foundation to address issues of structural racism and inequity. As TCE’s grantmaking responded, staff and our CEO were also interested in promoting DEI values across the entire foundation beyond programmatic spaces. Over time, these values became increasingly engrained in TCE’s ethos and the foundation committed to conducting a regular audit as a vehicle with which to determine if and how our DEI values were guiding organizational practice.

Sharing information about our DEI Audit often raises questions about how to launch such an effort. Some colleagues are in the early stages of considering whether they want to carry out an audit of their own. Are we ready? What do we need to have in place to even begin to broach this possibility? Others are interested to hear about how we use the findings from such an assessment. To help answer these questions, this is the first of a two-part blog series to share the lessons we’re learning by using a DEI audit to hold ourselves accountable to our values.

While the audit provides a frame to identify if our DEI values are being expressed throughout the foundation, it also fosters learning. Findings are reviewed and discussed with executive leadership, board, and staff. Reviews provide venues to involve both programmatic and non-programmatic staff in DEI discussions. An audit workgroup typically considers how to take action on findings so that the foundation can continuously improve and also considers how to revise audit goals to ensure forward movement. By sharing findings publicly, we hope our experience and lessons can help to support the field more broadly.

It is, however, no small feat. The audit is a comprehensive process that includes a demographic survey of staff and board, a staff and board survey of DEI attitudes and beliefs, interviews with key foundation leaders, examining available demographic data from grantee partners as well as a review of DEI-related documents gathered in between audits. Having dedicated resources to engage a neutral outsider to carry out the audit in partnership with the foundation is also important to this process. We’ve found it particularly helpful to engage with a consistent trusted partner, Social Policy Research Associates, over each of our audits to capture and candidly reflect where we’re making progress and where we need to work harder to create change.

As your foundation considers your own readiness to engage in such an audit process, we offer the following factors that have facilitated a productive and learning oriented DEI audit effort at TCE:

1. Clarity about the fundamental importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to the Foundation

The expression of our DEI values has evolved over time. When the audit started, several program staff members who focused on DEI and cultural competency developed a guiding statement on Diversity and Inclusiveness. Located within our audit report, it focused heavily on diversity although tweaks were made to the statement over time. A significant shift occurred several years ago when our executive team articulated a comprehensive set of core values that undergirds all our work and leads with a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

2. Interest in reflection and adaptation

The audit is a tool for organizational learning that facilitates continuous improvement. The process relies on having both a growth mindset and clear goals for what we hope to accomplish. Our 13 goals range from board engagement to utilizing accessibility best practices. In addition to examining our own goals, the audit shares how we’re doing with respect to a framework of institutional supports required to build a culture of equity. By comparing the foundation to itself over time we can determine if and where change is occurring. It also allows us to revise goals so that we can continue to push ourselves forward as we improve, or to course correct if we’re not on track. We anticipate updating our goals before our next audit to reflect where we are currently in our DEI journey.

3. Engagement of key leaders, including staff

Our CEO is vocal and clear about the importance of DEI internally and externally, as well as about the significance of conducting the audit itself. Our executive team, board, and CEO all contribute to the audit process and are actively interested in reviewing and discussing its findings.

Staff engagement is critical throughout audit implementation, reflection on findings, and action planning as well. It’s notable that the vast majority of staff at all levels feel comfortable pushing the foundation to stay accountable to DEI internally. However, there is a small, but growing percentage (23%) of staff who report feeling uncomfortable raising DEI concerns in the workplace suggesting an area for greater attention.

4. Capacity to respond to any findings

Findings are not always going to be comfortable. Identifying areas for improvement may put the organization and our leaders in tough places. TCE has historically convened a cross departmental workgroup to consider audit findings and tackle action planning. We considered co-locating the audit workgroup within our executive leadership team to increase the group’s capacity to address audit findings. However, now we are considering whether it would be best situated and aligned within an emerging body that will be specifically focused on bringing racial equity to the center of all our work.

5. Courage and will to repeat

In a sector with limited accountability, choosing to voluntarily and publicly examine foundation practices takes real commitment and courage. It’s always great to hear where we’re doing well but committing to a process that also raises multiple areas where we need to put more attention, requires deep will to repeat on a regular basis. And we do so in recognition that this is long term, ongoing work that, in lieu of having a real finish line, requires us to continuously adapt as our communities evolve.

Conducting our DEI audit regularly has strengthened our sense of where our practice excels—for example in our grantmaking, possessing a strong vision and authorizing environment, and diversity among staff and board. It’s also strengthened our sense of the ways we want to improve such as developing a more widely shared DEI analysis and trainings for all staff as well as continuing to strengthen data collection among our partners. The value of our DEI audit lies equally in considering findings as well as being a springboard for prioritizing action. TCE has been on this road a long time and we’ll keep at it for the foreseeable future. As our understanding of what it takes to pursue diversity, equity, and inclusion internally and externally sharpens, so will the demands on our practice. Our DEI audit will continue to ensure that we hold ourselves to these demands. In my next post, we’ll take a closer look at what we’re learning about operationalizing equity within the foundation.

--Mona Jhawar

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

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

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

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

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

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

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

Performance Anxiety

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

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

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

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

Utility or Futility?

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

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

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

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

Supply and Demand

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

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

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

--Janet Camarena

New Guide Helps Human Rights Funders Balance Tension between Risk & Transparency
October 25, 2018

Julie Broome is the Director of Ariadne, a network of European donors that support social change and human rights.  

Tom Walker is the Research Manager at The Engine Room, an international organisation that helps activists and organisations use data and technology effectively and responsibly.

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Julie Broome

Foundations find themselves in a challenging situation when it comes to making decisions about how much data to share about their grantmaking. On the one hand, in recognition of the public benefit function of philanthropy, there is a demand for greater transparency on the part of funders and a push to be open about how much they are giving and who they are giving it to. These demands sometimes come from states, increasingly from philanthropy professionals themselves, and also from critics who believe that philanthropy has been too opaque for too long and raise questions about fairness and access. 

At the same time, donors who work in human rights and on politically charged issues, are increasingly becoming aware of the risks to grantees if sensitive information ends up in the public domain. As a result, some funders have moved towards sharing little to no information. However, this can have negative consequences in terms of our collective ability to map different fields, making it harder for us all develop a sense of the funding landscape in different areas. It can also serve to keep certain groups “underground,” when in reality they might benefit from the credibility that foundation funding can bestow.

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Tom Walker

As the European partners in the Advancing Human Rights project, led by the Human Rights Funders Network and Foundation Center, Ariadne collects grantmaking data from our members that feeds into this larger effort to understand where human rights funding is going and how it is shifting over time. Unlike the United States, in which the IRS 990-PF form eventually provides transparency about grantee transactions, there is no equivalent data source in Europe. Yet, many donors find grant activity information useful in finding peer funders and identifying potential gaps in the funding landscape where their own funds could make a difference. We frequently receive requests from donors who want to use these datasets to drill down into specific areas of interest, and map out different funding fields. But these types of sources of data will become less valuable over time if donors move away from voluntarily sharing information about their grantmaking.

Nonetheless, the risks to grantees if donors share information irresponsibly are very real, especially at a time when civil society is increasingly under threat from both state and non-state actors.  It was in the interest of trying to balance these two aims – maintaining sufficient data to be able to analyse trends in philanthropy while protecting grantees – that led Ariadne to partner with The Engine Room to create a guide to help funders navigate these tricky questions.

After looking at why and how funders share data and the challenges of doing so responsibly, The Engine Room interviewed 8 people and surveyed 32 others working in foundations that fund human rights organisations, asking how they shared data about their grants and highlighting any risks they might see.

Funders told us that they felt treating data responsibly was important, but that implementing it in their day-to-day work was often difficult. It involved balancing competing priorities: between transparency and data protection legislation; between protecting grantees’ data and reporting requirements; and between protecting grantees from unwanted attention, and publicising stories to highlight the benefits of the grantee’s work.

The funders we heard from said they found it particularly difficult to predict how risks might change over time, and how to manage data that had already been shared and published. The most common concerns were:

  • ensuring that data that had already been published remained up to date;
  • de-identifying data before it was published
  • Working with third parties to be responsible when sharing data about grantees, such as with donors who fund through intermediaries and may request information about the intermediaries’ grantees.

Untitled designAlthough the funders we interviewed differed in their mission, size, geographical spread and focus area, they all stressed the importance of respecting the autonomy of their grantees. Practically, this meant that additional security or privacy measures were often introduced only when the grantee raised a concern. The people we spoke with were often aware that this reactive approach puts the burden of assessing data-related risks onto grantees, and suggested that they most needed support when it came to talking with grantees and other funders in an open, informed way about the opportunities and risks associated with sharing grantee data.

These conversations can be difficult ones to have. So, we tried a new approach: a guide to help funders have better conversations about responsible data.

It’s aimed at funders or grantmakers who want to treat their grantees’ data responsibly, but don’t always know how. It lists common questions that grantees and funders might ask, combined with advice and resources to help answer them, and tips for structuring a proactive conversation with grantees.

”There are no shortcuts to handling data responsibly, but we believe this guide can facilitate a better process.“

There are no shortcuts to handling data responsibly, but we believe this guide can facilitate a better process. It offers prompts that are designed to help you talk more openly with grantees or other funders about data-related risks and ways of dealing with them. The guide is organised around three elements of the grantmaking lifecycle: data collection, data storage, and data sharing.

Because contexts and grantmaking systems vary dramatically and change constantly, a one-size-fits-all solution is impossible. Instead, we decided to offer guidance on processes and questions that many funders share – from deciding whether to publish a case study to having conversations about security with grantees. For example, one tip that would benefit many grantmakers is to ensure that grant agreements include specifics about how the funder will use any data collected as a result of the grant, based on a discussion that helps the grantee to understand how their data will be managed and make decisions accordingly.

This guide aims to give practical advice that helps funders strengthen their relationships with grantees - thereby leading to more effective grantmaking. Download the guide, and let us know what you think!

--Julie Broome and Tom Walker

Philanthropy and Democracy: Bringing Data to the Debate
October 18, 2018

Anna Koob is a manager of knowledge services for Foundation Center.

Anna-koob_tilemediumAs money and politics become increasingly intertwined, the enduring debate around the role of philanthropy in a democratic society has taken on new life in recent months  (see
here, here, here, and here for prominent examples).

One side of the debate sees the flexibility of foundation dollars as a part of the solution to strengthen struggling democratic institutions. Others contend that foundations are profoundly undemocratic and increasingly powerful institutions that bypass government channels to shape the country--and world--to their will. Regardless of where you stand, a practical starting point is to learn more about what grantmakers are actually doing to affect democracy in these United States.

While foundations are required by law to avoid partisan and candidate campaigning, these limitations still leave plenty of room for foundations to engage with democracy in other ways.

Which funders are working on voter access issues? How much money is dedicated to civic engagement on key issues like health or the environment? Which organizations are receiving grants to increase transparency in government? Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, offers a free public resource to get at the answers to such questions.

Browse More Than 55k Democracy Grants

Launched in 2014 by Foundation Center and updated regularly, Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy’s data tool currently includes over 57,000 grants awarded by more than 6,000 funders totaling $5.1 billion dollars across four major categories: campaigns and elections, civic participation, government strengthening, and media.

The tool offers a look at the big picture through dashboards on each of these categories, and also allows you to browse granular grants-level information.  Interested in understanding:

  • The largest funders of campaigns and elections work?
  • Grantmaking in support of civic participation, broken down by population type?
  • The strategies used to affect democracy work?

To paraphrase the slogan of Apple, there’s a dashboard (and underlying data tool) for that!

The site also features a collection of research on U.S. democracy, powered by IssueLab, links to a number of relevant blog posts, and hosts infographics we’ve developed using data from the tool.

What Does the Data Tell Us About Philanthropic Support for Democracy?

Copy of UntitledLess than two percent of all philanthropic funding in the United States meets our criteria for democracy funding, which includes efforts by foundations to foster an engaged and informed public and support government accountability and integrity, as well as funding for policy research and advocacy. It’s a modest amount considering that this subset captures a wide range of topics, including money in politics, civic leadership development, civil rights litigation, and journalism training. Some findings from the data rise to the top:

  1. Funding for campaigns and elections is the smallest of the four major funding categories tracked. While most people might think of elections as the basic mechanism of democracy, this category only constitutes about 12 percent of democracy funding represented in the tool. Civic participation and government each vie for being the largest category with each accounting for about 38 percent of total democracy funding. And relevant media funding accounts for 28 percent. (Note that grants can be counted in multiple categories, so totals exceed 100 percent.)
  • Less than a quarter of funding supports policy and advocacy work. While work to affect policy is often considered front and center when discussing philanthropy’s impact on democracy, the data tool reveals that many funders are working to strengthen democracy in other ways. Supporting civics education for youth, bolstering election administration, strengthening platforms for government accountability, or funding investigative journalism appear as examples of grantmaking areas that strengthen democracy, but have less direct implications for public policy.
  • Funder interest in the census and the role of media in democracy is increasing. Given the turbulence of the last couple of years in the U.S. political system and amid calls for greater philanthropic involvement in strengthening democracy, what changes have we seen in giving patterns? Well, with the caveat that there is a lag between the time when grants are awarded and when we receive that data (from 990 tax forms or direct reporting by foundations), based on reports added to IssueLab and news items posted on Philanthropy News Digest, we are seeing evidence that funders are rallying around some causes to strengthen democratic institutions, including efforts to ensure representativeness in the 2020 census and support for research on media consumption and digital disinformation.

Why Should Funders be Transparent about Their Democracy Work?

Appeals for data sharing in philanthropy often center around the common good -- detailed data helps to inform authentic conversations around who’s funding what, where, among grantmakers, nonprofits, and other stakeholders. But in a field that’s focused on shaping the nature of our democracy and represents funding from both sides of the ideological divide -- including, for example, grantmaking in support of the American Legislative Exchange Council (“dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism”) alongside grants awarded to organizations like the Center for American Progress (“dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas”), democracy funders tend to be especially cautious about publicizing their work and opening themselves up to increased scrutiny and criticism.  

But the reality is that foundation opacity undermines credibility and public trust. Precisely because of criticism about the lack of democracy in philanthropy, foundations should demonstrate intentional transparency and show that they are living their values as democracy funders. Foundations also find that, particularly in a space that’s rife with speculation, there’s a benefit to shaping your own narrative and describing what you do in your own words. It may not make you immune to criticism, but it shows that you have nothing to hide.

How Funders Can Actively Engage: Submitting Grants Data

Copy of Untitled copy 2Grants data in the platform is either reported directly to Foundation Center via our eReporter program or sourced via publicly available 990 tax forms. While we’re able to get our data-eager hands on foundation grants either way, we prefer sourcing them directly from funders as it lends itself to more recent data -- particularly valuable in the current, fast-paced ‘democracy in crisis’ era -- and more detailed grant descriptions.

To submit your most recent grants (we’re currently collecting grants awarded in 2017), become an eReporter! Export a list of your most recent grants data in a spreadsheet (all grants - not limited to those relevant to democracy), review the data to make sure there’s no sensitive information and everything is as you’d like it to appear, and email your report to egrants@foundationcenter.org. Submit data as often as you’d like, but at least on an annual basis.

Bringing Tangible Details to Abstract Discussions

At Foundation Center, we often tout data’s ability to help guide decision making about funding and general resource allocation. And that’s a great practical use case for the philanthropic data that we collect -- whether for human rights, ocean conservation funding, the Sustainable Development Goals, or democracy. At a time of increased foundation scrutiny, this publicly-available platform can also provide some transparency and concrete details to broaden discussions. What have foundations done to strengthen democracy? And how might they best contribute in these politically uncertain times? For examples, look to the data.

Have questions about this resource? Contact us at democracy@foundationcenter.org.

--Anna Koob

Staff Pick: If a Free Press Can Strengthen Our Democracy, Who Will Strengthen Our Free Press?
September 13, 2018

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

This post is part of the GlassPockets’ Democracy Funding series, designed to spotlight knowledge about ways in which philanthropy is working to strengthen American democracy. The series will highlight new research and interviews with top democracy funders and recipients.

Janet Camarena PhotoA free press is central to our democracy, but a strong, robust news operation does not come free. As the collapse of the newspaper industry leaves gutted newsrooms across the country with reduced capacity for news gathering, policy analysis, and original reporting, can the information needs of voters be met? Does the rise of social media, #FakeNews, and ideological media bubbles threaten our democracy by filling gaps in local and national news coverage with misinformation? And can foundation philanthropy help to turn around these troubling trends?

A new report published earlier this summer by Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy attempts to answer such weighty questions by analyzing $1.8 billion in foundation giving to journalism and media from 2010 to 2015 to see what we can learn from existing funding priorities and special initiatives. A central finding of the research is that though there is much experimentation and innovation taking place as a result of these investments, it is not enough to address decades of shrinking revenues and shuttered newsrooms. The report also finds that it has fallen to too few national funders to fill the media gaps, and there is an urgent need for greater investment by a more diverse group of funders.

As Transparency Talk continues our series illuminating philanthropy’s role in strengthening democracy through the body of knowledge it has commissioned or produced on the topic, we shine the spotlight on this deep analysis of the impact of foundation funding into journalism and media, and implications for the health of our democracy. This report, and others like it, are all openly available via the new Knowledge Center in the Funding Democracy portal. The Knowledge Center, powered by IssueLab, is an open repository to which any foundation can freely add its knowledge.


STAFF PICK

Funding the News: Foundations and Nonprofit Media

Download the Report

PUBLISHERS

Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School

Northeastern University's School of Journalism

FUNDERS

Barr Foundation; Heising-Simons Foundation; Media Impact Funders

QUICK SUMMARY

The analysis of more than 6,500 grant makers suggests the money they are pumping into journalism-related ventures is neither advancing the media's democratic function nor filling the gap left by rampant newspaper closures.

FIELD OF PRACTICE

Journalism and Media

WHAT MAKES IT STAND OUT?

NewsMany foundations commission and produce reports assessing the impact of their funding. Sadly, precious few make these kinds of report public, particularly in cases like this in which there is a focus and diligence on identifying the gaps, pain points, and insufficiencies of the existing funding. This comprehensive review of the foundation funding flows offers both a helpful snapshot of the top funders, and funding trends, while also providing an honest assessment of what is needed to improve the effectiveness of these efforts.

The report is arranged into three parts: section one charts the growth of the nonprofit news sector leading up to the 2016 election; section two provides a detailed analysis of 32,422 journalism and media-related grants totaling $1.8 billion distributed by 6,568 foundations between 2010 and 2015; and the final section highlights the report’s main findings and gives the reader a sense of the direction of the field with a look at significant emerging initiatives.

Introductory context also helps clarify the severity of the situation, and after reading the gloomy financial picture of the media landscape it is enough to make anyone wonder how philanthropy alone can turn things around. For example, at the beginning of the Internet era in 2000, ad revenue for print advertising in newspapers reached $67 billion. In 2014, adjusting for inflation, digital and print revenue yielded only $20 billion, meaning that once you adjust for inflation, newspapers were making less revenue than they did in 1950! This field-wide crisis set the stage for a number of resourceful journalists to create a variety of local and national nonprofit digital news start-ups, which were mostly supported by donors and foundations. However, this led to a “Darwinian” ecosystem of support that created more challenges than solutions given the state of competition, local economies, and “the fickleness of funders.”

Other media funding challenges that the report surfaces include:

  • A “Pack Philanthropy” culture in which a few nonprofits are able to quickly scale due to large investments from a number of foundations, leaving others financially vulnerable with too little support;
  • The new field of start-up journalists had little experience running nonprofits and were not savvy at donor cultivation or diversifying revenue streams;
  • The tendency among foundations to finance innovative start-ups with “seed funding” only to move on before the start-up is equipped to overcome the funding deficit;
  • Because foundations tend to generally be risk-averse, convincing them to fund news start-ups is a hard sell;
  • According to an API survey conducted in 2015, 52 percent of funders reported they make media grants in areas where they want to affect public policy, and a third of funders indicated they fund media in order to advance a “larger strategic agenda” indicating there may be pressure on news nonprofits to align their work around the political objectives of their funders;
  • Local news has been particularly hard hit as most small, place-based funders and community foundations lack the expertise or track record in funding local media, and this has led to the creation of “nonprofit media deserts” outside of the large metro areas on the East and West Coasts where most large foundations that support media are based.

Highlights of foundation funding patterns between 2010 to 2015 include:

  • The largest funder of nonprofit media related activities is the Freedom Forum giving nearly $175 million in funding, almost all of which goes to support the museum activities of the Newseum, which it operates;
  • The second largest funder in this area is the Knight Foundation with approximately $133 million in support of a broad array of journalism activities, including being the leading funder for the majority of start-up news nonprofits with $53 million given to such activities, and Knight also accounts for a 20 percent of all grant dollars supporting local/state nonprofit news;
  • Approximately half of all funding was earmarked to established, “legacy” media nonprofits such as public radio and television stations, and long established magazines;
  • An estimated $331 million or 19% of all foundation funding supported mostly newer, digital nonprofit media including national nonprofit news organizations, local nonprofit news organizations, and university-based media;
  • Foundation funding for public media tends to be highly concentrated across a small number of grant recipients. About two dozen recipients accounted for 72 percent of all foundation funding to public media;
  • Ten states accounted for 83 percent of total foundation funding to public media indicating that large regions of the country lack access to nonprofit news apart from what might be provided by public television and radio;
  • Nationally, news nonprofits depended on about two dozen foundations for nearly 70 percent of the grants awarded.

The report provides an open invitation for a greater variety of donors to become involved. The transparency a report like this provides is a good strategy to motivate additional funding for the ambitious goal of sustaining a robust press in order to preserve the health of our democracy.

KEY QUOTE

“A final concern voiced among those we interviewed is that patterns in foundation funding to date reflect ‘elites supporting elites,’ financing those nonprofit journalism initiatives most likely to be consumed by audiences who already read the New York Times or Washington Post and listen to NPR. Our findings specific to the concentration of funding within a few national news nonprofits, the disproportionate focus on the environment and health as subjects, and deep geographic disparities in funding that favors the East and West Coasts all suggest there is merit to these critiques. Apart from these geographic differences and subject biases, several of our interviewees not only expressed concerns that minority and ethnic communities are being underserved, but also that women who found or run news nonprofits are receiving insufficient funding in comparison to their male counterparts, a likelihood that merits further analysis.”

--Janet Camarena

“Because It’s Hard” Is Not an Excuse – Challenges in Collecting and Using Demographic Data for Grantmaking
August 30, 2018

Melissa Sines is the Effective Practices Program Manager at PEAK Grantmaking. In this role, she works with internal teams, external consultants, volunteer advisory groups, and partner organizations to articulate and highlight the best ways to make grants – Effective Practices. A version of this post also appears in the PEAK Grantmaking blog.

MelissaFor philanthropy to advance equity in all communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, it needs to be able to understand the demographics of the organizations being funded (and declined), the people being served, and the communities impacted. That data should be used to assess practices and drive decision making.

PEAK Grantmaking is working to better understand and build the capacity of grantmakers for collecting and utilizing demographic data as part of their grantmaking. Our work is focused on answering four key questions:

  • What demographic data are grantmakers collecting and why?
  • How are they collecting these demographic data?
  • How is demographic data being used and interpreted?
  • How can funders use demographic data to inform their work?

In the process of undertaking this research, we surfaced a lot of myths and challenges around this topic that prevent our field from reaching the goal of being accountable to our communities and collecting this data for responsible and effective use.

Generally, about half of all grantmakers are collecting demographic data either about the communities they are serving or about the leaders of the nonprofits they have supported. For those who reported that they found the collection and use of this data to be challenging, our researcher dug a little deeper and asked about the challenges they were seeing.

Some of the challenges that were brought to the forefront by our research were:

PEAK Grantmaking reportChallenge 1: Fidelity and Accuracy in Self-Reported Data
Data, and self-reported data in particular, will always be limited in its ability to tell the entire story and to achieve the nuance necessary for understanding. Many nonprofits, especially small grassroots organizations, lack the capability or capacity to collect and track data about their communities. In addition, white-led nonprofits may fear that lack of diversity at the board or senior staff level may be judged harshly by grantmakers.

Challenge 2: Broad Variations in Taxonomy
Detailed and flexible identity data can give a more complete picture of the community, but this flexibility works against data standardization. Varying taxonomies, across sectors or organizations, can make it difficult to compare and contrast data. It can also be a real burden if the nonprofit applying for a grant does not collect demographic data in the categories that a grantmaker is using. This can lead to confusion about how to report this data to a funder.

Challenge 3: Varying Data Needs Across Programs
Even inside a single organization, different programs may be collecting and tracking different data, as program officers respond to needs in their community and directives from senior leadership. Different strategies or approaches to a problem demand different data. For instance, an arts advocacy program may be more concerned with constituent demographics and impact, while an artist’s program will want to know about demographics of individual artists.

Challenge 4: Aggregating Data for Coalitions and Collaborations
This becomes even more complex as coalitions and collaborative efforts that bring together numerous organizations, or programs inside of different organizations, to accomplish a single task. The aforementioned challenges are compounded as more organizations, different databases, and various taxonomies try to aggregate consistent demographic data to track impact on specific populations.

These are all very real challenges, but they are not insurmountable. Philanthropy, if it puts itself to the task, can tackle these challenges.

Some suggestions to get the field started from our report include

  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Pilot systems for data collection, then revisit them to ensure that they are working correctly, meeting the need for good data, and serving the ultimate goal of tracking impact.
  • Fund the capacity of nonprofits to collect good data and to engage in their own diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
  • Engage in a conversation – internally and externally – about how this data will be collected and how it will be used. If foundation staff and the nonprofits they work with understand the need for this data, they will more willingly seek and provide this information.
  • For coalitions and collaborative efforts, it may make sense to fund a backbone organization that takes on this task (among other administrative or evaluation efforts) in support of the collective effort.
  • Work with your funding peers – in an issue area or in a community – to approach this challenge in a way that will decrease the burden on nonprofits and utilize experts that may exist at larger grantmaking operations.
  • Support field-wide data aggregators, like GuideStar or the Foundation Center, and work alongside them as they try to collect and disseminate demographic data about the staff and boards at nonprofits and the demographics of communities that are being supported by grantmaking funds.

Grantmakers have the resources and the expertise to begin solving this issue and to share their learning with the entire field. To read more about how grantmakers are collecting and using demographic data, download the full report.

--Melissa Sines

New Report Sheds Light on Global Funding Trends by U.S. Foundations
August 23, 2018

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives for Foundation Center.

Janet Camarena PhotoThose of us in philanthropy often hear that foundations are increasingly rising to the challenge and working to address the world’s most pressing problems, and new data now available demonstrates that in order to fully address these challenges, philanthropic dollars are transcending borders and prior levels of giving. A new report released this month by the Council on Foundations and Foundation Center reveals that global giving by U.S. foundations increased by 29% from 2011 to 2015, reaching an all-time high of $9.3 billion in 2015. Interestingly, despite reaching that new peak in global giving, the report also documents that just 12% of international grant dollars from U.S. foundations went directly to organizations based in the country where programs were implemented.

The State of Global Giving by U.S. Foundations is the latest report in a decades-long collaboration between the two organizations and aims to help funders and civil society organizations better navigate the giving landscape as they work to effect change around the world. A treasure trove of data from prior reports dating back to 1997 is publicly available here.

In terms of transparency and openness, the report offers a helpful data-driven perspective on some of the key global philanthropy debates, issues, and movements of our time. Are you concerned with whether increasing government regulations are preventing foundations from supporting efforts in countries that have enacted tougher funding restrictions? Or, do you want to know how much funding goes to groups on the ground vs. U.S.-based intermediaries? Or, how about getting a better understanding of where the $9.3 billion was spent and how it is advancing the 17 different Sustainable Development Goals? These are just a few examples of the kinds of data and analysis you’ll find in the new report.

Increased Restrictions on Foreign Funding

Global GivingAs governments around the world continue to pass legislation that places increasing restriction on civil society, these restrictions can complicate direct grantmaking to local organizations by U.S. foundations. Between 2012 and 2015, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law found that almost 100 laws constraining the freedoms of association or assembly were proposed or enacted across more than 55 countries. And, perhaps of most concern to foundations, 36% of these laws limited intentional funding of local civil society groups. Common restrictions affecting international funding include: governmental pre-approval of all grants coming from foreign sources; routing of all foreign funding through government entities; or enacting funding caps or taxation.

Despite the growth of these potentially chilling restrictions, surprisingly the report data did not show a correlation between the funding flows to a specific country and its level of restrictions as ranked on the “Philanthropic Freedom” index. However, it’s important to note that this kind of analysis may be more accurate over time. Since this study used grants data from 2014-2015, it could be likely that the effects of recently enacted legislation on philanthropy would surface in future grant years after the laws take full effect. Based on the currently available data, what is clear is that when we look at the top recipient countries that most benefit from U.S. foundation funding, some of these high ranking recipient countries are the ones with very challenging legal environments. Of course, philanthropic funding flows are always determined by a multitude of factors, but this raises questions to explore, such as why are certain countries with difficult legal environments high on the recipient list while others are not?

Intermediary Giving vs. Local Support

Representatives from NGOs, and advocates of community-based groups have long pushed for increased philanthropic capital to flow directly through these groups rather than through large, U.S-based intermediaries. And growing movements like #ShiftThePower have continued to build momentum around direct investments in communities. However, perhaps due to the aforementioned increasing restrictions on foreign funding, the new report reveals that foundations continue to favor funding through U.S.-based intermediaries, and:

  • Direct grants to local organizations were substantially smaller in size, averaging just under $242K, while grants to intermediaries averaged just over $554K; and
  • In terms of dollar amount, U.S.-based intermediaries received $20.5 billion in total, while non-U.S. intermediaries received $10.5 billion, and direct support tallied $4.1 billion.
  • By number of grants, nearly 49,000 grants during this four-year period went to U.S. intermediaries, 7,514 went to non-U.S. intermediaries, and 16,948 grants were awarded directly.

Progress on Sustainable Development Goals

Readers of this blog might recall that last year around this time we added the Sustainable Development Goals to our “Who Has Glass Pockets?” transparency self-assessment framework. This allowed us to document examples of funders using this shared, multi-sector language to convey their priorities and ultimate goals of their work. The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Some foundations have started aligning their funding with the SDGs, and some even using it as a shared language across philanthropy and across sectors to signal areas of common interest, and measure shared progress.

GlassPockets currently has tracked examples from corporate, community, independent, and family foundations that are using the SDG framework as a means to better communicate their work. Now, thanks to the new report, we now also have data about how philanthropic grantmaking is making progress on the SDGs, as well as trend data based on the Global Goals:

  • The Global Goals that represented the largest share of global grant dollars were Good Health & Well Being ($17 billion); Gender Equality ($4.9 billion); and Zero Hunger ($3.6 billion).
  • And among the Global Goals that showed the greatest reduction in grant support over the time period covered by the report were Affordable & Clean Energy which declined by 40 percent; Quality Education which dipped by 31.4 percent; and Clean Water & Sanitation which dropped by more than 30 percent.

It’s important to note that the SDGs formally did not go into effect until January 2016, and the data from this report begins from 2011. Still, the distribution of foundation funding by SDGs during the five year period before will serve as a baseline for tracking U.S. philanthropic efforts toward the achievement of the global goals.

With mounting challenges that transcend national boundaries, it’s increasingly important to understand how funds are being allocated to tackle global issues. Now, thanks to this report, we have a window into the scope and growth of institutional philanthropy as a global industry.

--Janet Camarena

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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

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

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