Transparency Talk

Category: "Transparency Tips" (154 posts)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dawn

Dawn Hawk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Janet Camarena

Join Candid at the PEAK Grantmaking Conference
March 7, 2019

Untitled designIt’s Peak season! PEAK Grantmaking conference season, that is. That time of year many of us look forward to when grants operations professionals get together to compare notes, learn from one another, and take home new ideas and approaches to make their grantmaking practices and process more efficient, effective, and equitable.

Candid Round Table

candidWe are particularly excited about PEAK’s conference this year, because it’s our first time going out into conference land as Candid, so we’re looking forward to getting out there, and doing the usual mixing and mingling, but also listening and learning from questions and ideas you have to share with us. So bring your hopes and dreams about how we transform to our Candid Round Table on Tuesday, March 12th from 3:45-5:15pm. We will also have a Candid booth in the Exhibit Hall, so please stop by and visit!

Beyond the Round Table and exhibiting, we also hope you will also join us for a couple of very timely and topical sessions we’ll be offering.

Ivory Tower No More

First up on Monday, March 11th from 1:30-2:45pm, I’ll be facilitating a session called Ivory Tower No More, which will give participants a sneak preview of both the new PEAK Principles and Practices, as well as the forthcoming GlassPockets Transparency Levels—all in the name of helping your foundation avoid “Ivory Tower Syndrome.” How do you know if you are suffering from this dreaded malady? Have your policies and practices built a moat around your foundation that is as much an obstacle for you as for others?  Learn how to avoid creating practices that work against your foundation’s ability to live up to its commitment to serve the public good. This session focuses on the importance of transparency to effective foundation stewardship, and helps you to understand how to shift toward openness in a way that strengthens your foundation by building bridges instead of moats. Inspiring case studies will be shared by my panel colleagues, Amy Anderson from the Bush Foundation; Mona Jhawar from The California Endowment; and Cheryl Milloy from the Marguerite Casey Foundation.

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Participatory Grantmaking

Then on Tuesday morning, join my Candid colleague, Jen Bokoff along with Arlene Wilson-Grant from the Disability Rights Fund, as they introduce Participatory Grantmaking 101: Inclusive and Effective Strategic Practice. This session highlights findings from our latest GrantCraft guide. Explore the “why” and the “how” of participatory grantmaking, from its benefits and its challenges to its mechanics for recruiting community members, reviewing applications, and making decisions. Hear about the practical, real-world experience of foundations that have been using this approach for years. Presenters will offer both a field-wide view and specific anecdotes from within PEAK Grantmaking member foundations.

Hope to see you in Denver!

--Janet Camarena

Open Road Alliance Joins GlassPockets
February 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maya Winkelstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Janet Camarena

A New Year, a New Transparency Indicator: Coming Soon—Transparency Values & Policies
January 3, 2019

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

Janet Camarena PhotoWhen GlassPockets started nine years ago, it was rare to find any reference to transparency in relation to philanthropy or foundations. The focus of most references to transparency at the time were in relation to nonprofits or governments, but seldom to philanthropy. When we set out to create a framework to assess foundation transparency, the “Who Has GlassPockets?” criteria were based on an inventory of current foundation practices meaning there were no indicators on the list that were not being shared somewhere by at least a few foundations. Not surprisingly, given the lack of emphasis on foundation transparency, there were few mentions of it as a policy or even as a value in the websites we reviewed, so it didn’t make sense at the time to include it as a formal indicator.

GlassPockets Road to 100A lot has changed in nine years, and it’s clear now from reviewing philanthropy journals, conferences, and yes, even foundation websites that awareness about the importance of philanthropic transparency is on the rise. Among the nearly 100 foundations that have taken and publicly shared “Who Has GlassPockets?” transparency assessments, more than 40 percent are now using their websites as a means to communicate values or policies that aim to demonstrate an intentional commitment to transparency. And demonstrating that how the work is done is as important as what is done, another encouraging signal is that in many cases there are articulated statements on new “How We Work” pages outlining not just what these foundations do, but an emphasis on sharing how they aim to go about it. These statements can be found among funders of all types, including large, small, family, and independent foundations.

We want to encourage this intentionality around transparency, so in 2019 we are adding a new transparency indicator asking whether participating foundations have publicly shared values or policies committing themselves to working openly and transparently. In late January the “Who Has GlassPockets?” self-assessment and profiles will be updated reflecting the new addition. Does your foundation’s website have stated values or policies about its commitment to transparency? If not, below are some samples we have found that may serve as inspiration for others:

  • The Barr Foundation’s “How We Work" page leads with an ethos stating “We strive to be transparent, foster open communication, and build constructive relationships.” And elaborates further about field-building potential: “We aim to be open and transparent about our work and to contribute to broader efforts that promote and advance the field of philanthropy.”

  • The Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation’s Mission and Core Values page articulates a long list of values that “emerge from the Foundation’s long history,” including a commitment to forming strategic alliances, working honestly, “showing compassion and mutual respect among grantmakers and grantees,” and ties its focus on transparency to a commitment to high standards and quality: “The Foundation strives for high quality in everything it does so that the Foundation is synonymous with quality, transparency and responsiveness.”

  • The Ford Foundation’s statement connects its transparency focus to culture, values around debate and collaboration, and a commitment to accountability: “Our culture is driven by trust, constructive debate, and leadership that empowers innovation and excellence. We strive to listen and learn and to model openness and transparency. We are accountable to each other at the foundation, to our charter, to our sector, to the organizations we support, and to society at large—as well as to the laws that govern our nonprofit status.”

  • An excerpt from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Information Sharing Approach” page emphasizes collaboration, peer learning, and offers an appropriately global view: “Around the world, institutions are maximizing their impact by becoming increasingly transparent. This follows a fundamental truth: that access to information and data fosters effective collaboration. At the foundation, we are embracing this reality through a continued commitment to search for opportunities that will help others understand our priorities better and what supports our decision making. The foundation is also committed to helping the philanthropic sector develop the tools that will increase confidence in our collective ability to address tough challenges around the world…..We will continually refine our approach to information sharing by regularly exploring how we increase access to important information within the foundation, while studying other institutional efforts at transparency to learn lessons from our partners and peers.”

  • The Walter and Elise Haas Fund connects its transparency focus to its mission statement, and its transparency-related activities to greater effectiveness: “Our ongoing commitment to transparency is a reflection of our mission — to build a healthy, just, and vibrant society in which people feel connected to and responsible for their community. The Walter & Elise Haas Fund shares real-time grants data and champions cross-sector work and community cooperation. Our grantmaking leverages partnerships and collaborations to produce results that no single actor could accomplish alone.”

  • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s statement emphasizes the importance of transparency in creating a culture of learning: “The foundation is committed to openness, transparency and learning. While individually important, our commitments to openness, transparency, and learning jointly express values that are vital to our work. Because our operations—both internal and external—are situated in complex institutional and cultural environments, we cannot achieve our goals without being an adaptive, learning organization. And we cannot be such an organization unless we are open and transparent: willing to encourage debate and dissent, both within and without the foundation; ready to share what we learn with the field and broader public; eager to hear from and listen to others. These qualities of openness to learning and willingness to adjust are equally important for both external grantmaking and internal administration.”

These are just a few of the examples GlassPockets will have available when the new indicator is added later this month. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed for updates.

Happy New Year, Happy New Transparency Indicator!

--Janet Camarena

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

Data Fix: Do's and Don'ts for Data Mapping & More!
October 3, 2018

Kati Neiheisel is the eReporting liaison at Foundation Center. eReporting allows funders to quickly and easily tell their stories and improve philanthropy by sharing grants data.

This post is part of a series intended to improve the data available for and about philanthropy.

KatiNeiheisel_FCphotoAs many of you know, Foundation Center was established to provide transparency for the field of philanthropy. A key part of this mission is collecting, indexing, and aggregating millions of grants each year. In recent years this laborious process has become more streamlined thanks to technology, auto-coding, and to those of you who directly report your grants data to us. Your participation also increases the timeliness and accuracy of the data.

Today, over 1300 funders worldwide share grants data directly with Foundation Center. Over the 20 years we've been collecting this data, we've encountered some issues concerning the basic fields required. To make sharing data even quicker and easier, we've put together some dos and don'ts focusing on three areas that may seem straightforward, but often cause confusion.

Location Data for Accurate Mapping and Matching

Quite simply, to map your grants data we need location information! And we need location information for more than mapping. We also use this information to ensure we are matching data to the correct organizations in our database. To help us do this even more accurately, we encourage you to provide as much location data as possible. This also helps you by increasing the usability of your own data when running your own analyses or data visualizations.

DO DON'T
Do supply Recipient City for U.S. and non-U.S. Recipients. Don't forget to supply Recipient Address and Recipient Postal Code, if possible.
Do supply Recipient State for U.S. Recipients. Don't supply post office box in place of street address for Recipient Address, if possible.

Do supply Recipient Country for non-U.S. Recipients.

Don't confuse Recipient location (where the check was sent) with Geographic Area Served (where the service will be provided). 

What's Your Type? Authorized or Paid?

Two types of grant amounts can be reported: Authorized amounts (new grants authorized in a given fiscal year, including the full amount of grants that may be paid over multiple years) or Paid amounts (as grants would appear in your IRS tax form). You can report on either one of these types of amounts – we just need to know which one you are using: Authorized or Paid.

DO DON'T
Do indicate if you are reporting on Authorized or Paid amounts. Don't send more than one column of Amounts in your report – either Authorized or Paid for the entire list.
Do remain consistent from year to year with sending either Authorized amounts or Paid amounts to prevent duplication of grants. Don't forget to include Grant Duration (in months) or Grant Start Date and Grant End Date, if possible.
Do report the type of Currency of the amount listed, if not US Dollars. Don't include more than one amount per grant.

The Essential Fiscal Year

An accurate Fiscal Year is essential since we publish grants data by fiscal year in our data-driven tools and content-rich platforms such as those developed by Foundation Landscapes, including Funding the Ocean, SDG Funders, Equal Footing and Youth Giving. Fiscal Year can be reported with a year (2018) or date range (07/01/2017-06/31/2018), but both formats will appear in published products as YEAR AWARDED: 2018.

DO DON'T
Do include the Fiscal Year in which the grants were either Authorized or Paid by you, the funder. Don't provide the Fiscal Year of the Recipient organization.
Do format your Fiscal Year as a year (2018) or a date range (07/01/2017-06/31/2018). Don't forget, for off-calendar fiscal years, the last year of the date range is the Fiscal Year: 07/01/2017-06/31/2018 = 2018.

More Tips to Come!

I hope you have a better understanding of these three areas of data to be shared through Foundation Center eReporting. Moving forward, we'll explore the required fields of Recipient Name and Grant Description, as well as high priority fields such as Geographic Area Served. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Thank you! And don't forget, the data you share IS making a difference!

-- Kati Neiheisel

What Philanthropy Can Learn from Open Government Data Efforts
July 5, 2018

Daniela Pineda, Ph.D., is vice president of integration and learning at First 5 LA, an independent public agency created by voters to advocate for programs and polices benefiting young children. A version of this post also appears in the GOVERNING blog.

Daniela Pineda Photo 2Statistics-packed spreadsheets and lengthy, jargon-filled reports can be enough to make anybody feel dizzy. It's natural. That makes it the responsibility for those of us involved in government and its related institutions to find more creative ways to share the breadth of information we have with those who can benefit from it.

Government agencies, foundations and nonprofits can find ways to make data, outcomes and reports more user-friendly and accessible. In meeting the goal of transparency, we must go beyond inviting people to wade through dense piles of data and instead make them feel welcome using it, so they gain insights and understanding.

How can this be done? We need to make our data less wonky, if you will.

This might sound silly, and being transparent might sound as easy as simply releasing documents. But while leaders of public agencies and officeholders are compelled to comply with requests under freedom-of-information and public-records laws, genuine transparency requires a commitment to making the information being shared easy to understand and useful.

“…genuine transparency requires a commitment to making the information being shared easy to understand and useful.”

Things to consider include how your intended audience prefers to access and consume information. For instance, there are generational differences in the accessing of information on tablets and mobile devices as opposed to traditional websites. Consider all the platforms your audience uses to view information, such as smartphone apps, news websites and social media platforms, to constantly evolve based on their feedback.

Spreadsheets just won't work here. You need to invest in data visualization techniques and content writing to explain data, no matter how it is accessed.

The second annual Equipt to Innovate survey, published by Governing in partnership with Living Cities, found several cities not only using data consistently to drive decision-making but also embracing ways to make data digestible for the publics they serve.

Los Angeles' DataLA portal, for example, offers more than 1,000 data sets for all to use along with trainings and tutorials on how to make charts, maps and other visualization. The portal's blog offers a robust discussion of the issues and challenges faced with using existing data to meet common requests. Louisville, Ky., went the proverbial extra mile, putting a lot of thought into what data would be of interest to residents and sharing the best examples of free online services that have been built using the metro government's open data.

Louisville's efforts point up the seemingly obvious but critical strategy of making sure you know what information your target audience actually needs. Have you asked? Perhaps not. The answers should guide you, but also remember to be flexible about what you are asking. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District is set to launch a new portal later this summer to provide parents with data, and is still learning how to supply information that parents find useful. District officials are listening to feedback throughout the process, and they are willing to adjust. One important strategy for this is to make your audience -- or a sampling of them -- part of your beta testing. Ask what information they found useful and what else would have been helpful.

“When you share, you are inviting others to engage with you about how to improve your work.”

Remember, the first time you allow a glimpse into your data and processes, it's inevitable your information will have gaps and kinks that you can't foresee. And if you are lucky to get feedback about what didn't work so well, it may even seem harsh. Don't take it personally. It's an opportunity to ask your audience what could be done better and commit to doing so. It may take weeks, months or maybe longer to package information for release, making it usable and accessible, but this is an investment worth making. You might miss the mark the first time, but make a commitment to keep trying.

And don't be daunted by the reality that anytime you share information you expose yourself to criticism. Sharing with the public that a project didn't meet expectations or failed completely is a challenge no matter how you look at it. But sharing, even when it is sharing your weaknesses, is a strength your organization can use to build its reputation and gain influence in the long term.

When you share, you are inviting others to engage with you about how to improve your work. You also are modeling the importance of being open about failure. This openness is what helps others feel like partners in the work, and they will feel more comfortable opening up about their own struggles. You might be surprised at who will reach out and what type of partnerships can come from sharing.

Through this process, you will build your reputation and credibility, helping your organization advance its goals. Ultimately, it's about helping those you serve by giving them the opportunity to help you.

--Daniela Pineda

The Risky Business of Foundation Opacity
May 23, 2018

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives for Foundation Center.

Janet Camarena PhotoIn case there was ever any doubt that foundation philanthropy suffers from an opacity problem, a recent Foundation Review article, Foundation Transparency: Opacity — It’s Complicated, by Robert J. Reid, helps settle the matter through research findings that confirm the existence of “significant opacity.” From the lack of foundation websites and annual reporting, to perpetual insider control, and a desire to keep a low public profile, the author’s research confirms what many of us have been saying for years--that there is much room for improved transparency in the field.

The problem is, one can read the entire article, and not get the message that opacity is a problem, and a risky one at that. In our networked world of social media, open data, and audience-generated reviews, sending a message that transparency or opacity are operational approaches of choice is dangerous and much higher risk than encouraging donors to discover and tell their own story, lest others tell it for them.

History also confirms that philanthropic freedom is most at risk from an opaque approach than from a transparent one. Foundations learned this lesson the hard way in the 1950’s during McCarthyism, when two separate congressional commissions were formed to investigate foundation activities. Since there was no central place containing information about institutional philanthropy, no aggregate industry data, no collective data about the grants they were making, foundation leaders spent years telling their stories one foundation at a time, giving testimony to defend their work against accusations that they were committing “Un-American” acts.

It became clear to the foundation leaders who were called to testify that it was this lack of public understanding of institutional philanthropy that led to the suspicions and accusations they were facing, and that as a result of opacity, they may lose the philanthropic freedom that the tax laws allowed. As a result of this crisis, foundation leaders established Foundation Center as an organization devoted to providing transparency for the field of philanthropy. During his testimony, Russell Leffingwell, at the time chair of the Carnegie Corporation, said: “The foundation should have glass pockets,” so that anyone could easily look inside foundations and understand their value to society, and inspire confidence rather than suspicion. This is both the origin story for Foundation Center and for our Glasspockets website and initiative to champion greater foundation transparency.

“...existing and emerging technologies and networks are making foundation opacity obsolete...”

The lessons in this history couldn’t be more relevant to today’s operating environment where existing and emerging technologies and networks are making foundation opacity obsolete, and more importantly, creating conditions that actually serve to strengthen philanthropy such as facilitating feedback loops, peer benchmarking, and stakeholder input. Though foundations can continue to practice what Reid refers to as “opaque practices” or “situational transparency,” it’s important that foundations also understand that they do so at their own peril, because due to new user-review tools and open data platforms that didn’t exist previously, the relative level of transparency and opacity are rapidly slipping out of their control. Let’s review a few of these new tools that are poised to shake up the quiet, insular world of foundations.

Open 990-PF

990-PF graphicBeginning in 2016, the IRS started releasing e-filed Forms 990 and 990-PF as machine-readable, open data. Because the data is now not only open, but digital and machine-readable this means that anyone from journalists to researchers to activists can aggregate this data and make comparisons, correlations, and judgments about philanthropy at lightning speed, all without input from foundations and regardless of how opaque they may prefer their activities to be. Investment practices, demographics of beneficiaries, and compensation practices are examples of 990 data that can get easily turned into compelling narratives about foundations. This has institution-wide implications for foundations, from governance practices to grants data and from staffing to investment management and communications strategy.  Foundation administrators who have not been looking at their foundation’s 990-PF with an eye to the story that it tells about their work, probably should. Because of how the open 990-PF has the potential to transform foundation transparency, Glasspockets has devoted an ongoing blog series to providing guidance and helpful examples to prepare foundations for this new age of open data.

GrantAdvisor

Phil goalsIndustries as diverse as restaurants, travel, retail, health, and even nonprofits have had the blessing and curse of receiving unfiltered user feedback via online review sites for many years now, so it’s hard to believe that until 2017 this was not the case for philanthropy. With the launch of GrantAdvisor.org last year, now foundations can view, for better or worse, what their stakeholders really think—and so can anyone else. (For transparency’s sake, I currently serve in an advisory role to this platform.) Anyone can register to give feedback, and once a foundation receives more than five reviews their profile goes live on the site for the world to see, whether the foundation wants it there or not, so opacity here is not an option the funder controls. Given the power dynamic, reviews are anonymous, and foundations are able to post responses. A profile with emoji-symbols invites users to rate foundations on two principal metrics: the length of time it takes to complete a foundation’s application process, and a smiley/frowning face rating what it’s like to work with the particular funder.

So far, enough reviews have been submitted to provide 69 foundations with unfiltered feedback, and participation is steadily growing. And, more than 130 foundations have registered to receive alerts when feedback is posted, has yours? And some, which Reid may refer to as “transparency enthusiasts,” are even inviting their grantees to leave them a review on GrantAdvisor. These foundations understand that this kind of transparency about how applicants can provide feedback, and the open, unfiltered way in which it’s collected, can actually serve to strengthen and improve foundation policies and practices.

These are just a couple of emerging platforms that exist that are specific to philanthropy itself. When you zoom out to think about the entire universe of user generated content that is now easily available to all, from blogs to Twitter and employee-review sites like Glassdoor, it’s clear that while you can choose opacity, opacity may not choose you, because opacity as we all know it is over. To think otherwise is to risk adopting practices that don’t actually mitigate risk, but rather promote a false sense of security while only serving to limit effectiveness. So don’t make the mistake of thinking transparency is too complicated, or that opacity is the convenient and safer choice, because it’s actually not a choice at all, but a risky and ultimately obsolete way of working.

--Janet Camarena

Building Our Knowledge Sharing Muscle at Irvine
May 17, 2018

Kim Ammann Howard joined the James Irvine Foundation as Director of Impact Assessment and Learning in 2015. She has more than 20 years of social impact experience working with nonprofits, foundations, and the public sector to collect, use, and share information that stimulates ongoing learning, and change.

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

Kim Ammann HowardHaving recently spent two days with peer foundation evaluation directors, I am savoring the rich conversations and reflecting on how shared knowledge benefits my own thinking and actions. It also reminds me of how often those conversations only benefit those inside the room. To really influence the field, we need to build our knowledge sharing muscle beyond our four walls and usual circles. A new report from the Foundation Center, Open for Good: Knowledge Sharing to Strengthen Grantmaking, aims to help funders do just that, and I was happy to contribute some of The James Irvine Foundation’s own journey to the guide.

When I joined the Foundation at the end of 2015, there was already a commitment to transparency and openness that established knowledge sharing as part of the culture. It was something that attracted me to Irvine, and I was excited to build on the types of information collected and disseminated in the past, and to figure out how we could grow.

Open For Good CoverOur Framework

In 2016, we launched our new strategy, which focuses on expanding economic and political opportunity for California families and young adults who are working but struggling with poverty. This presented an opportune moment to articulate and set expectations about how impact assessment and learning (IA&L) is integrated in the work. This includes defining how we assess our progress in meeting our strategic goals, how we learn, and how we use what we learn to adapt and improve. We developed a framework that outlines our approach to IA&L – why we think it’s important, what principles guide us, and how we put IA&L into practice.

While the IA&L framework was designed as an internal guide, we decided to make it available externally for three reasons: to honor the Foundation’s commitment to transparency and openness; to hold ourselves accountable to what we say we espouse for IA&L; and to model our approach for colleagues at other organizations who may be interested in adopting a similar framework.

What We’re Learning

We’ve also dedicated a new portion of our website to what we are learning. We use this section to share knowledge with the field – and not only the end results of an initiative or body of research but also to communicate what happens in the middle – to be transparent about the work as we go.

For example, in 2017, we spent a year listening and learning from grantees, employers, thought leaders, and other stakeholders in California to inform what would become our Better Careers initiative. At the end of the year, we announced the goal of the initiative to connect low-income Californians to good jobs with family-sustaining wages and advancement opportunities. It was important for us to uphold the principles of feedback set in our IA&L framework by communicating with all the stakeholders who helped to inform the initiative’s strategy – it was also the right thing to do. We wanted to be transparent about how we got to our Better Career approach and highlight the ideas reflected in it as well as the equally valuable insights that we decided not to pursue. Given the resources that went into accumulating this knowledge, and in the spirit of greater funder collaboration, we also posted these ideas on our website to benefit others working in this space.

As we continue to build our knowledge sharing muscle at Irvine, we are exploring additional ways to communicate as we go. We are currently reflecting on what we are learning about how we work inside the foundation – and thinking about ways to share the insights that can add value to the field. Participating as a voice in the Foundation Center’s new Open for Good guide was one such opportunity, and the stories and lessons from other Foundations in the guide inspires our own path forward. 

--Kim Ammann Howard

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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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