Transparency Talk

Category: "Transparency" (11 posts)

Ottumwa Legacy Foundation Joins GlassPockets
October 14, 2021

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Kelly Genners, President & CEO, Ottumwa Legacy Foundation

Kelly Genners President and CEOThis post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have joined us in building a movement for transparency that now surpasses 100 foundations publicly participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

The Ottumwa Legacy Foundation in southeastern Iowa, established as a healthcare conversion foundation in 2010, was formed to create ongoing public benefit and enhance well- being in its community. The foundation’s strategic priorities include economic prosperity, educational opportunity, quality of life, and housing availability. Recognizing its own legacy areas as well as its role in serving as a catalyst in the community, the foundation also directs supports to innovation, capacity building, cancer treatment, and scholarships.

The Ottumwa Legacy Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. In this interview with GlassPockets’ Janet Camarena, Kelly Genners, President & CEO of the Legacy Foundation, explains why transparency and public engagement are key to its philanthropic approach.

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Janet Camarena
: The last 18 months have been a very unpredictable and challenging time for us all, and much of what is shaping philanthropy today stems from responding to multiple crises unfolding from the pandemic, systemic inequities, and a variant surge that is currently straining healthcare providers. How is the Ottumwa Legacy Foundation responding to these unprecedented times, and has this led to the foundation engaging differently in the community or rethinking how you work in any way?

Kelly Genners: While we have always prided ourselves in being responsive, our changing health and social environment has certainly caused us to step up our game! A priority for us has been to take the time to listen to our partners to examine what their needs were in terms of the pandemic, this involved more concise applications and reporting guidelines and most importantly, the redirection of funding to unrestricted general operating support which is what they needed most of all.

We have also made a deliberate decision to integrate more inclusive language into our systems and support efforts that promote inclusivity. For us, DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) is not a catch-phrase but part of our culture and a continued opportunity for learning and growth.

Janet: The process described on your website for how the Legacy Foundation developed its strategic plan sounds very transparent and participatory. For example, you reference engaging in “hundreds of community conversations” before defining your direction. Why would you say it’s important that private foundations take the time and resources to create such a public and transparent engagement process?

Kelly: The simple answer is yes, whenever possible there is definitely value to getting input and feedback on not only the projects or initiatives that you are working on but also on how impactful you are as an organization. We learned early on that our work was much more impactful with partnership and collaboration.

"We learned early on that our work was much more impactful with partnership and collaboration."

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

Kelly: I have found throughout my career that more often than not when people are upset with something you are doing it is because they don’t have enough information or good information. Having a grant database on our website that lists our community investments in detail has been extremely helpful for us as a communication tool. It is a tool we can immediately point to that “sets the record straight” when misinformation is prevalent and can ultimately turn a critic into a champion.

Janet: Your foundation has the unique distinction of having both a GuideStar Transparency Seal as well as now a GlassPockets Transparency Badge. How did these processes help you improve or better understand the Legacy Foundation’s level of transparency, and why should your peers participate?

Kelly: I would say that the process itself was very eye-opening to us - not only in those conversations we were having about what would share externally - but also with our internal team. We sometimes take for granted that everyone is on the same page and has the same information but that is not always the case. I would definitely encourage others to participate in the process. We have always tried to serve as a model for sound nonprofit management practice and this is yet another opportunity for those in philanthropy to serve as an example for others.

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

Kelly: It is so timely that you ask this question! Over the past year we have made a lot of changes in how we communicate to our stakeholders. While we have tried many different methods with varying success we still felt as though we could do better. After much thoughtful consideration, we recently made the decision to have a presence on social media platforms. I will tell you that, historically, social media is something that those of us in philanthropy have been wary of – both in terms of time management needed but also because of the exposure to criticism that often comes with it. In our efforts to better communicate about our Foundation and our work, we now feel like the benefits will outweigh the risks and are excited for another opportunity to connect. Find us on Facebook at Ottumwa Legacy Foundation.

 

Confessions of a DEI Data Junkie
October 7, 2021

EvaNicoBy Eva Nico

I am going to start with what may seem like a brag and not a confession.

In pursuing our mission to “get you the information you need to do good,” Candid receives and moves vast quantities of digital information in the social sector on more than 1.8 million active US-based nonprofits. As part of that work and over the past 7 years, we’ve been actively and systematically collecting and sharing demographic data – information about race & ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and dis/ability status. There are now over 22,000 organizations actively sharing demographic information via Candid’s profiles.

The point of these facts isn’t to brag; rather, it’s to show that we have some hard-won experience to share. In fact, I am going to do the opposite of brag. In this blog, I’m going to give concrete examples of a few of our own mistakes and surprises in collecting and sharing demographic data.

Why confess these at all?

We want to share the mistakes we’ve made – so you don’t have to repeat them. We want to share them so you can learn from our experience in collecting this information systematically over the past seven years. We want to share, because we need your help. We ask that your organization advocate for a Gold Seal of Transparency and demographic data via Candid.

There are sensitive and important questions our sector struggles to understand: Who leads and works at nonprofits? Who is served by nonprofit organizations? Which organizations are supported by philanthropy (or not)?

By asking your grantees, members or peers to participate on Candid, you are working toward answers to these important questions. You are also doing so in a way that is respectful of the time and effort organizations need to go through to provide these answers. Instead of hundreds of custom, one-off surveys between foundations and grantees or associations and members– we can work together toward a collective understanding of diversity in the social sector. That’s the real promise of Candid and of “having information you need to do good.”

True Confessions

Confession: We knew asking about identity would be hard – but we underestimated how hard it would be.

Identity is not simple. But to keep the burden of data collection low and to analyze trends easily, the questions about identity and methods for data collection and reporting need to be.  It’s a constant balancing act.

On the GuideStar nonprofit profile, organizations can report on four dimensions of diversity: race & ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and dis/ability status. Our “How to Collect and Share DEI Data” guide is a resource for the field and has been written with nonprofits who want to start collecting their organization’s data in mind.

The questions and choices of answers have been carefully considered with our expert partners – CHANGE Philanthropy, Equity in the Center, and RespectAbility. We also re-visit the questions based on feedback and by analyzing the data contributed by organizations.

An analysis of data shared by more than 22,000 organizations provides a clear example of how challenging questions about identity can be. We provide an open-response option that invites people to “Please specify” their race and ethnicity. And to date people have specified over 100 ways of describing their identity beyond the structured choices we’ve provided. Some with the intent to educate about their primary identity– by sharing “Middle Eastern” and “Jewish." Some with the intent to protest the question (e.g. by answering “Human”).

So what can you learn?

  • Adopt standards where possible. The Census questions are a kind of standard, as are Candid’s questions shared in the How to Collect and Share DEI Data guide.
  • Consult with experts and evolve the standard. We are open to feedback on Candid’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) questions and we receive comments through our support channel.
  • Keep the balance. Respect for identity vs. the burden of collection, depth of data vs. utilization.

Confession: We collected data we couldn’t interpret.

When GuideStar (now Candid) launched the DEI data collection, the balancing act was even tougher, as many organizations did not see the need for these questions on the profile. In our attempts to make the data collection simple, we compromised on how the data was collected to the point where it became difficult to make sense of it.

For example, we did not validate that the number of staff or board members identified within a demographic category totaled to the overall board and staff count. In the course of the data collection, we received some feedback from people trying to use the data. Feedback like:  

“Basically … we need further guidance to clean up the data we received. For example, in some cases, the number of staff who checked each category box do not match the total number of staff the organization has.”

We’ve corrected this, of course, in the newest iteration of the data collection launched in August 2019. We also made sure that each demographic question had explicit options to “Decline to state” and for “Unknown” responses (to account for non-responders to surveys of board and staff). These were significant changes that have improved the quality of the collected data tremendously.

So what can you learn?

  • Collect data you can use – by actually trying to use it.
  • Include best practice response options like “Decline to state” (for those who decline to identify themselves explicitly) and “Unknown” (to account for non-responders to surveys of board and staff).
  • Learn from the responses you get.

Confession: We assumed nonprofits had the data to share.

In the early days of DEI data collection, we noticed that adoption among nonprofits was rather slow. There are many hesitations in collecting and sharing this data but one we identified early on was that some nonprofits did not have this data to share in the first place. Or perhaps they did have the data but in different categories and formats.

In response, we created the How to Collect and Share DEI Data guide to take the guess work out of collecting DEI data. The guide includes introductory text, questions and definitions.

So what can you learn?

  • Create resources and offer grant support to help nonprofits collect the data.
  • Build DEI into your application process.
  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good – acknowledge challenges with missing data and move forward with the analysis.

Confession: The variety of reactions and feedback surprised us.

If your organization advocates for the collection of DEI data – be prepared for a variety of feedback. We’ve received many comments over the years both positive and negative.

Some of the feedback will be negative:

“We hire employees based on experience, skills and heart, not to fulfill a social-political agenda.”

“I'm offended at the profile questions.  I am not going to ask employees what their sexual orientation is nor am I going to be made to feel guilty because my staff is all white (because our community is white).”

Some might be heart-breaking, for example when the questions you ask might not do justice to someone’s identity:

“I just wanted to let you know there's a few issues with terminology on the demographics piece for orgs to fill out. As someone [who is] non-binary, I'm not cis but I also don't identify as trans.”

What can you learn?

  • Respond to all and let them know how much you appreciate their feedback.
  • Collect constructive input and consider for the next iteration of revisions.

What’s next?

We started recognizing organizations for sharing demographic data about their leader with a Gold Seal of Transparency in October 2020. Since then, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the number of organizations doing so via Candid’s profiles – from just over 6,000 in October 2020 to now over 22,000 organizations and counting. But there is more we can do together.

With more than 1.8 million active nonprofits and almost 200,000 with at least one full-time employee in the US alone – there is a lot of room to grow participation and we need your help. We ask that your organization advocate with your peers, members or grantees for a Gold Seal of Transparency and demographic data via Candid.

Organizations like the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation have already done so. In their message to grantees, the Mott Foundation said why: “to promote a just, equitable and sustainable society compels us to strive to do the best we can to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in our grantmaking.”

With the unprecedented level of resources and attention on diversity, equity, and inclusion in our own sector – we are poised to make real and lasting progress – but only if we are willing to work together and hold ourselves accountable to the data.

 

—Eva Nico (she/her) is Senior Director of Profile Management at Candid.

Turning Aspiration into Action
August 10, 2021

A New Report Illustrates Equity in Action at the McKnight Foundation

Na Eng
Na Eng

By Na Eng

As a communication professional, I am often focused on the weight of words and both the hope and expectation they create. Values-based language can be especially challenging—for example, how do we translate virtues like equity and transparency into concrete action steps? In 2018, the McKnight Foundation released the organization’s first diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statement. Since then, the Foundation’s board and staff have held fast to the tenet that we need to back up our words with actions. Aspiration must transform into action because communities deserve more than good intentions.

A new Equity in Action report documents examples of shifts we’ve taken at the Foundation to tilt toward a more diverse, inclusive, and equity-oriented organization since the DEI statement’s release. In the past three years, McKnight has made changes in how we use our public voice, make grants, invest funds, convene partners, and work with vendors. McKnight’s DEI efforts are a work in progress, and while this work has not always followed a smooth or linear path, the Foundation has indeed made progress.

Impact through Multiple Roles

As a private foundation, we’ve long recognized that we can create impact through multiple roles that include—and extend far beyond—grantmaking. These six identities—as identified in the DEI statement—are funder, convenor, thought leader, employer, economic entity, and institutional investor. The Equity in Action report gives examples of action steps we’ve taken in those areas.

EquityInAction-ReportCoverHere are a few highlights:

$32 Million for a More Equitable Minnesota. Using an inclusive process, McKnight designed an entirely new program focused on building a more equitable and inclusive Minnesota. With a projected annual grantmaking budget of $32 million starting in 2022, Vibrant & Equitable Communities is one of the largest programs at McKnight. In addition, all of McKnight’s programs—whether addressing climate change, supporting working artists, advancing collaborative crop research, or funding innovative neuroscience research—are committed to embedding equity as a through-line in our grantmaking.

Diverse Leadership across the Foundation. As an employer, McKnight has dramatically increased the diversity of its senior leaders and program and operations directors. The Foundation’s board selected Tonya Allen, a longtime champion of equity and inclusion, as president in late 2020. She heads an all-women, majority-BIPOC team with diverse lived experiences. In fact, 10 of the 17 McKnight team members (or 59%) who hold director level positions or above identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color.

Speaking Up for Justice. As a thought leader, McKnight has increased the use of its public voice to stand in solidarity with our communities, collectively grieve acts of racial violence, and advocate for a more participatory democracy and equitable distribution of federal funds. For example, in the past few years, we have issued or signed on to public statements—including the We Stand for Democracy statement, AAPIP’s Open Letter to Philanthropy, and the Philanthropic Collective to Combat Anti-Blackness and Realize Racial Justice—that stood for our core value of equity, and represented ways we embed an equity approach into all areas of our work.

The Equity in Action report gives numerous examples of inclusive impact investments, convenings on equity topics, and efforts to pay more attention to the Foundation’s purchasing decisions. For example, today approximately 45 percent of our endowment is mission-aligned, and, among other investments, we specifically invest in creating affordable housing, supporting small businesses owned by people of color, and making sure low to moderate income communities have access to renewable energy and efficiency solutions. For our convenings, we created inclusive guidelines that considered ways to create welcoming environments and access, and to lift the contributions of Black, Indigenous, and people of color participants. And the Foundation just adopted a new vendor policy to promote fairness and inclusion, and to increase opportunities for underrepresented groups to provide goods and services to the Foundation.

Aspiration must transform into action because communities deserve more than good intentions.

Joining Together to Set New Patterns for Equity

In her book Emergent Strategy, activist and organizer adrienne maree brown speaks to what it takes to successfully enact change. Using the analogy of fractals—infinitely complex patterns that are created by repeating a simple process over and over—she encourages advocates to understand that the small, consistent practices impact the large. “What we practice at the small scale sets the pattern for the whole system,” she writes.

While some of the steps featured in the Equity in Action report are modest and nascent, even the smallest of these actions creates new precedents and patterns. We still have much more work to do and more to learn. We know the roots of inequity are deep and structural. The Foundation is committed to continuing to learn, listen, reflect, and speak up—with transparency—to advance equity inside and outside the Foundation. Most importantly, we will continue to act.

As more foundations make public commitments to racial equity, McKnight’s leadership hopes that collective and open reporting of our experiences will speed up progress and encourage mutual accountability. Together, we can combine our efforts to enact change and move larger systems.

 

—Na Eng is communications director at the McKnight Foundation, a private family foundation based in Minneapolis.

Internet Society Foundation Joins GlassPockets
July 21, 2021

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Sarah Armstrong

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Sarah Armstrong, Executive Director, Internet Society Foundation

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have joined us in building a movement for transparency that now surpasses 100 foundations publicly participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

The Internet Society Foundation funds initiatives that strengthen the Internet in function and reach so that it can effectively serve all people. Its work advances the vision of the Internet Society (ISOC): The Internet is For Everyone. Toward that end, the Internet Society Foundation supports efforts to ensure that the Internet is open, globally-connected, secure, and trustworthy.

InternetSocietyFdnlogoThe Internet Society Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. In this interview with GlassPockets’ Janet Camarena, Sarah Armstrong, Executive Director of the Internet Society Foundation, explains why transparency is key to its philanthropic approach.

GlassPockets: The last 18 months have been a very unpredictable and challenging time for us all, and much of what is shaping philanthropy today stems from responding to multiple crises unfolding from the pandemic, systemic inequities, and from misinformation that has threatened everything from democracy to public health. How is the Internet Society Foundation responding to these unprecedented times, and how has your thinking about the role of the internet in relation to these issues informed your strategies?

Sarah Armstrong: The past 18 months have shown us all that the Internet is a lifeline. In this era of lockdowns, it’s enabled children to continue learning, families and friends to stay connected, and vital public health information to keep circulating.

Aside from the pandemic, we’ve also seen the role that the Internet and technology play in recording acts of injustice that in previous decades were more easily downplayed. So the Internet and its importance in our lives at this moment cannot be overstated. Yet 49 percent of the world is still unconnected, according to the United Nations. As a Foundation in its start-up phase, we keep that troubling statistic front and center as we build our strategies and we have prioritized two pillars in our work. One is providing connectivity to communities without access. The second is equipping people with the digital skills needed to use the Internet in a productive way. We see those two components – gaining access to the Internet plus having the knowledge to use it productively – as critical to unlocking the Internet’s potential to tangibly change people’s lives for the better.

GlassPockets: The sad realities of remote schooling during the pandemic have raised much greater awareness of how digital divides are still with us and may be getting worse and serving to exacerbate uneven access to quality education and achievement gaps. For example, many of us saw the heartbreaking photo that was widely circulated on the internet of children sitting on a sidewalk outside a California fast-food restaurant to use its WiFi connection to be able to access their digital classroom during the lockdown. The transparency such images provide do serve to lay bare ongoing inequities, even in one of the supposed digital capitals of the world, but is that awareness also helping shift society toward change? As you think about the future of the Internet and how to shape that future in a direction that maintains your vision of the Internet for all, how are you approaching these widening access divides?

Sarah Armstrong: Let me start by saying that our Foundation has a truly global reach – we reached 58 countries in 2020, through 93 grants that are helping organizations around the world change their communities for the better through the Internet. And while each country has its own circumstances, when it comes to Internet access – broadly speaking – we see three challenges that threaten our vision of an Internet for Everyone: affordability, inadequate infrastructure, and a lack of digital literacy.

One way we are bridging the access gap is by supporting the creation of community networks. A community network is an Internet access solution built and run by a community, rather than through a major Internet service provider. Community networks offer a complementary way of connecting everyone by bringing connectivity in areas that are financially unattractive for mainstream Internet service providers. We recently supported the creation of two community networks: one is helping improve access for 13 tribal nations in southern California, and the other helped bring the Internet to communities who live on the fringes of the Amazon in northeastern Brazil. Different communities, different countries, but both facing exactly the same challenge.

Another factor that contributes to the access divide is digital literacy, and we are addressing this challenge through our SCILLS program. This program supports organizations that are working to close the knowledge gap that prevents many communities, and in particular girls and women, from using and benefiting from the Internet.

We are also using research as a tool to help us understand, quantify and communicate the true costs of ignoring the access divide. Earlier this year, through our Research program we funded a project in collaboration with the Alliance for Affordable Internet. This research seeks to answer the question, “What is the economic impact of women not having access to the Internet? It’s our hope that by spotlighting the economic dangers of denying women access to the Internet, policymakers and other influential voices will take note of this research, and use it as a tool in creating a roadmap to equity for women in the digital space.

GlassPockets: Transparency, openness, accessibility, and collaboration are some of the virtues that come to mind when thinking about the positive impacts of the Internet on society, so has operating your foundation in a transparent way stemmed from this ideal? And if so, how has your foundation made these virtues core to how you work, and what advice do you have for other organizations embarking on similar efforts?

Sarah Armstrong: The Internet Society Foundation is committed to operating in a transparent way that prioritizes openness, accessibility and collaboration. And we have made this possible in a number of ways.

Our website serves as the single source of truth about our grant programs, where we publish all the information an applicant would need to understand if they are eligible for one of our grants, how to apply, and the process we use to evaluate applications. This information is available in English, French, and Spanish. And as part of our due diligence process, applicants are required to answer a list of questions that can tell us right away if they are eligible and qualified to receive funding.

Additionally, once applications have been accepted for consideration, they are reviewed by what the Foundation calls the Independent Program Review Committee. This committee is comprised of three to five experts who are chosen based on their knowledge of the subject matter and as part of their review, they recommend which applications should be funded and at what level, as well as document feedback for the applicant that is compiled and shared by the Foundation. Throughout this process, independent experts are required to adhere to our Conflict-of-Interest Policy.

"It’s difficult to practice integrity without being honest and transparent.

Lastly, as a team we’ve agreed upon a set of values to guide how we work and one of them calls for us to “act with Integrity.” And it’s difficult to practice integrity without being honest and transparent. My advice to other organizations would be to find a way to embed transparency into your organizational values, that way it’s easier to bring the word into daily conversations and eventually weave it into the fabric of the organization.

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

Sarah Armstrong: Being a new Foundation, it’s been important for us to establish trust with our grantees, especially considering that we began running our programs at the onset of the pandemic when everything had an air of uncertainty. One way we have tried to build this trust is by holding quarterly check-in calls that bring all grantees in a given cohort together to informally discuss any challenges, opportunities, or learnings they are experiencing in their projects.

The grantee feedback has been extremely positive, with many sharing that these calls provide them a platform to speak openly and without judgment about the ups and downs of operating their programs in a COVID world, and also allow for a rich exchange of ideas. These calls also provide additional space for the grantees and Program Officers to be more flexible and adaptable, and hold necessary conversations such as perhaps adjusting the scope of a project, or revisiting a project’s goals. As a Foundation that is embracing a test, learn, and adapt model to our programming during this startup phase, these calls have been an important part of our learning journey.

GlassPockets: Your foundation has the distinction of having both a GuideStar Transparency Seal as well as now a GlassPockets Transparency Badge. How did these processes help you improve or better understand the Internet Society Foundation’s level of transparency, and why should your peers participate?

Sarah Armstrong: This process has created the opportunity for us as a team to have these important conversations around what transparency means, how we can embed it into our work, and what kind of Foundation we want to be for our grantees and other stakeholders. This will be an ongoing conversation for us as the Foundation continues to grow and shape our programming, and we look forward to the journey. I’d encourage my peers to participate in this process; it helps us as organizations to build stronger and more trust-based relationships that ultimately enable our work to have a greater impact.

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

Sarah Armstrong: We will continue with the practices we have established but also follow our Test, Learn and Adapt model. Because we are a startup, we know we are testing new things, as well as learning from the practices we have put into place and the questions we are asking. And we make adaptations as needed from what we learn. It is in this way that we will move forward to ensure our transparency commitment evolves.

Better Data, Better Decisions, Better World
June 3, 2021

Sarina-dayal
Sarina Dayal
Davis-parchment
C. Davis Parchment

By C. Davis Parchment (she/her) and Sarina Dayal (she/they)

This post originally appeared on Candid blog.

Last month, over 1,300 grants professionals gathered virtually for PEAK2021. For eight days, this group of philanthropy professionals dedicated to advancing equitable, effective grantmaking practices came together to connect, learn, and share in critical discussions about the practice of grantmaking. LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund, underscored a major theme during the opening keynote that carried through the rest of the conference: together. She reminded us that as a field, we must create the future of philanthropy together. Inherent in that call to action is an implicit recognition that working together as a field of millions of disparate actors requires the right information to realize our potential to make the world a better place.

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At a conference packed with grants managers, talk of data and data systems were abundant and layered. Data governs almost every aspect of our individual lives and plays a significant role in our field. We need data to tell our story, identify funding opportunities and gaps, uplift partners, define the problems we seek to solve, and contribute to our collective impact.

For years now, philanthropy has been working to become more accountable and less siloed. So has Candid. It’s one of the main reasons we became Candid—by bringing together data on nonprofits and foundations, we can help our sector accomplish so much more together.

The social sector’s information landscape is changing. And it's clear that now is the time for philanthropy to step up and collectively be more data-driven. For years, we’ve seen too much lip service paid to organizing our philanthropic response in a more systematic and equitable way, and there hasn’t been enough adoption of cohesive, data-driven practice. This is not an individual problem—the nature of philanthropy is structured so that foundations are able to work in silos with little accountability or competitive pressure to take joint action. Despite this, it is on all of us to change this narrative.

We know that change is hard and slow, and Candid is a great example. It’s been two years since we’ve become Candid, and we are still navigating the transition. Bringing together our cultures and our data systems has by no means been a seamless process, and we continue to experience both successes and failures in the process of change. But we know they are necessary.

In celebration of PEAK Grantmaking’s 25th anniversary, Satonya Fair, President and CEO of PEAK, reminded us that, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” So, to help us go far together, Candid is prepared to help.

To become the data-driven, relevant, responsive, and equitable sector we aspire to be, we must have an information infrastructure on which we can all rely. Candid is working to build this infrastructure and data capacity for the sector. While we are most commonly known for tools and resources like GuideStar profiles and Foundation Maps, we are currently bringing together our data repositories so we can seamlessly capture a full view of the field.

But for this to work best, it requires broad adoption and participation. We need both funders and nonprofits to contribute their information to Candid’s central data system. We also need to improve how we generate data in ways that reduce the burden on nonprofits while building efficiency for the sector as a whole.

This starts with organizations having a current GuideStar profile with in-depth, up-to-date information, recognized with a Seal of Transparency. These profiles allow nonprofits and foundations to tell their full story by adding specific information about their programs, such as measures of progress, operations, demographic information, and financials. Consider updating your GuideStar profile and asking your potential and current grantees to earn a Gold Seal of Transparency. By doing so, you’ll be advocating for increased and enriched sector-wide information about nonprofits—who they are, what they do, who they serve, and why it matters. This also alleviates the burden on grantees to tell their story over and over again, since it’s displayed on their profile for all to access.

Through Candid’s data partner networks, GuideStar profile information is shared with all major U.S.-based donor-advised funds and more than 200 charitable sites, including AmazonSmile and Facebook. Research shows that organizations with a GuideStar Seal of Transparency have 53% more fundraising success. And from an equity lens, Candid is increasingly being tapped to identify BIPOC-led and/or BIPOC-serving organizations for funders that are making efforts to center equity in their grantmaking. Let’s help lift up these organizations—together—using one standard.

We also need funders to share their grants data directly with us through e-reporting. We can’t rely on tax returns from nonprofits and foundations to meet the sector’s information needs. (That’s even more relevant this year! See our blog post on the IRS 990-filing backlog). Only with current contributed data, including detailed grant descriptions, can we tell the full story of where funding is and is not going. Please consider making a regular practice of sharing details about your grantmaking. Check out a recent webinar, Why & How to Share Your Grants Data with Candid, to learn more.

Information from funders is essential to paint a complete picture of the field so that we can monitor trends. This became even more clear to us in 2020 when working on our COVID-19 and racial equity funding maps. Many funders use our resources as a starting place to understand the field’s activity. While we actively collect real-time data, we rely on your contributed information to accurately represent how the field responds to urgent needs. In addition to providing open access to grants and nonprofit data on our special topic websites, we also collect and share related reports on IssueLab. As your foundation commissions and publishes knowledge, remember to also share it with Candid via IssueLab so it’s easily discovered by others.

We know it's a big lift to be data-driven and navigate new tools and processes. To help, we’ve created a new self-paced, free course to learn how to use Candid’s mapping, data, and knowledge tools to better identify funding peers, potential grantee partners, and funding gaps.

There is still so much we all need to learn. If you have feedback or questions for us—whether it’s about the data infrastructure or demographic information—we are always open to conversations in the pursuit of making data work for all. Reach out to us or comment here if there’s something you want us to consider.

A big congratulations to PEAK for a very successful conference.

In partnership—together,

Davis and Sarina

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

EllenFlax
Ellen Flax

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

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

They both say “no” frequently. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arif
Arif Ekram

Arif Ekram is Global Partnerships Manager, Candid.

This blog also appears in the Candid blog.

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

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

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Taking all of these sources of giving together, philanthropy is one of the largest players in the mix of development actors of India. But who is counting its contribution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashleigh Halverstad Headshot
Ashleigh Halverstad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headwaters Foundation Joins GlassPockets
December 3, 2020

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Brenda Solorzano

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

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have joined us in building a movement for transparency that now surpasses 100 foundations publicly participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations over time, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PowellNikki
Nikki Powell

Nikki Powell is the Content Development Associate for Candid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About Transparency Talk

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

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

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

    Janet Camarena
    Senior Director of Candid Learning


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