Transparency Talk

Category: "Video & Audio" (31 posts)

Glasspockets Find: MacArthur Foundation Videos Illuminate Program Strategies
September 18, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

We all can't be experts in every field—but we can communicate in ways that makes our intentions clear. Let's say you hear that a foundation is interested in the same issue your work is addressing: girls' education. But girls' education could refer to subsidizing pre-kindergarten in the U.S., awarding college scholarships for young African women, researching improved STEM education, or any number of other programs. The trick to understanding a foundation's goals is to get down to the specifics, without getting lost in a morass of jargon or hours of research.

The MacArthur Foundation is experimenting with using video to explain their program strategies, including Investing in Girl's Secondary Education in Developing Countries. In this four-minute video we are given an explanation of the program goals, why the foundation has chosen to concentrate on this specific need, and the larger global initiatives that tie in to their program strategy:

Watch the video»

A strength of video as a communications tool is that the visuals illustrate the foundation’s values, bringing their program goals to life. Another virtue is that the delivery of the information is usually a personal narration told in straightforward language. We all have read our share of foundation strategy documents that seem written only for specialists. On camera, people are less likely to speak in academic lingo—making it is easier for the program staff to convey their passion for the issue, and thus easier for those on the outside to see and understand what is going on inside foundation portfolios.

In this MacArthur Foundation video, Jorgen Thomsen, Director of the Conservation & Sustainable Development program, explains what excites him about their current strategy and how it builds on and diverges from previous areas of focus:

Watch the video»

Which foundations have excelled at producing videos that illuminate their specific program goals? Let us know at

-- Rebecca Herman

Managing Impact for the Long Term: A View of the Next 100 Years, from the SOCAP Conference
September 11, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

Last week in San Francisco was the SOCAP conference, which is dedicated to increasing the flow of capital to social good by bringing together investors, philanthropists, foundations and social entrepreneurs. If you didn’t make it to the sold-out conference, SOCAP shared videos of the events via YouTube.


"Make sure that that those around you learn from your failure."
On the first day of the conference, the panel discussion on “Managing Impact for the Long Term” included Case Foundation CEO Jean Case, who emphasized the importance of starting with a big idea, taking risks, and accepting that failure might be an option. She commented, “If you fail, fail fast and fail forward. Make sure that those around you learn from your failure. As you’re talking about it, you’re transparent. Particularly in the philanthropic and public sector, this is much, much needed.”



Watch the video»

As part of the same discussion, Daryn Dodson of Ben and Jerry’s spoke about the importance of sharing best practices and failures: “I think that is 100 years of hard, hard work of sharing across generations.” He also noted that he would like to see more representation at the conference from those under 20 and those over 60, “with as diverse balance sheets as possible… I think the intergenerational conversation may bring about the solutions to a lot of the problems that we’re really struggling with.”

It’s great to hear people talk openly about this challenging work, so let’s continue to share ideas, success and failures to increase impact over the long haul.

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Shares its Strategy and Lessons Learned for Vulnerable Populations Program
August 13, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

To foundations it may seem that, however much information they share, it is never enough. Online annual reports, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds—where will it end? While nonprofits may have the sense that foundations are never sharing the information that they really need to make informed decisions. At Glasspockets, we are interested in learning what kind of information-sharing is beneficial to fostering good relationships between funders and grantees. In May, The Center for Effective Philanthropy released a fascinating report that gets to the heart of this delicate matter: Foundation Transparency: What Nonprofits Want. It reminds me of a more practically-minded version of relationship counseling books. (Foundations are from Mars and Nonprofits are from Venus?)

The CEP’s report is based on a survey of 138 nonprofit leaders, representing organizations with budgets ranging from $100,000 to $60 million. Among the findings, the ones that came to mind recently in relation to one foundation’s experimentation with new media are:

  • 88% of nonprofits surveyed are looking for foundations to share more lessons learned; and
  • 80% want more clarity about how foundations select their grantees.

I was reminded of this report’s call for greater transparency around these kinds of data elements as I viewed the new videos that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) just released on its site. The videos illustrate how new media might serve to provide this kind of window on foundation work. As an example of foundation transparency in their selection and decision-making process, RWJF also has shared its strategy for generating large-scale social change through its Vulnerable Populations programs, to help create understanding around how a national foundation selects a regional model to replicate across the country. RWJF created videos about its work with grantees Playworks and The Green House Project to explain the foundation’s long-term goals and five-stage strategy of investing in innovative models that can be tested, refined, and applied on a wide scale.

Watch the video»

The RWJF web site also features related articles, “Scaling Visionary Solutions to Improve the Health of Vulnerable Populations: The Case of the Green House Project” and “Playworks: Scaling a Great Idea,” which include lessons learned from working with each of these grantees. My favorite takeaway is from Playworks CEO and Founder Jill Vialet, who shares this lesson from scaling the program nationally: “Communications is part of every solution.”

Watch the video»

The sentiment also applies to our question of building good relationships between foundations and nonprofits. Now that we know “What Nonprofits What” in terms of foundation transparency, communications can be part of the solution, rather than a point of frustration.

--Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: Looking Inside the Global Philanthropy Forum
April 24, 2013

The Global Philanthropy Forum’s (GPF) conference– an annual meeting of philanthropists and investors who seek to advance individual opportunity and to improve the quality of life through strategic giving and investing – wrapped up last week in Redwood City. The 2013 conference focused on the theme "The Future We Make: Outrage, Opportunity and Choice in the Digital Age."

A number of the sessions touched on issues relating to philanthropic transparency in a digital age, such as:

The Future We Make: Development in a Digital Age

Philanthropic Decision-Making: Open or Closed, An Art or a Science?

While attendance at the conference is by invitation, GPF provided a live-stream of all sessions during the conference while also recording each session in order to provide archival access later. As a GPF partner, Glasspockets is proud to host the conference recordings on our web site. You can find them all on Glasspockets.

Watch the videos»

Glasspockets Find: thisisbillgates, Ask Me Anything
April 3, 2013

Logo_gates_200Bill Gates recently hosted an Ask Me Anything (or AMA, for those in the know) over on reddit. During the session, he discussed a wide range of topics including, his favorite band (U2), Microsoft, and of course, his foundation and philanthropy. For those new to reddit, the site frequently hosts AMA sessions featuring notable people whereby reddit members can post questions to the interviewee and receive responses in (pretty much) real time.

The Gates Foundation has been using technology to increase transparency in some very innovative and proactive ways... This latest experiment is another window to the world’s largest private foundation, one that uses technology as a means to humanize the man behind the institution.

For those who know Bill Gates and the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation well, there aren’t too many surprises about the second wealthiest man in the World -- except that he tours power plants, garbage dumps, the Large Hadron Collider, Antarctica, and missile Silos (!) with his family during his free time. There are definitely more than a few nuggets of information that would be of interest to potential Gates grantees. Eradicating polio remains a primary concern for the foundation. Other causes discussed throughout the thread include climate change, education, global health, and terrorism.

The Gates Foundation has been using technology to increase transparency in some very innovative and proactive ways. We have featured many of these efforts here on Transparency Talk: The 2011 Grantee Community Call, the Gates Annual Letter, and the Inside the Gates podcast series. This latest experiment is another window to the world’s largest private foundation, one that uses technology as a means to humanize the man behind the institution. The formal conversation is over, but the thread will live forever on the front page of the Internet.

-- Natasha Isajlovic-Terry

Glasspockets Find: Lumina Illuminates Its Own Strategic Planning Process
January 16, 2013

Lumina Foundation

Four years ago, Lumina Foundation launched its first four-year strategic plan based on Goal 2025. The goal was to make it possible for 60 percent of Americans to obtain a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential by 2025, to produce the skills set that the nation would demand for a vibrant 21st century economy. Four years on, Lumina has just released its 2013-2016 Strategic Plan.

Transparency is a concept that works best when the benefits are (at least) two-directional. Lumina Foundation is well aware that it cannot achieve Goal 2025 on its own. It can, however, serve as a catalyst for action. Its new strategic plan reflects key lessons learned over the past four years and defines two primary imperatives: mobilizing to reach Goal 2025 and designing and building a 21st century higher education system. At current rates, the nation will fall 23 million degrees and credentials short of Goal 2025. The new plan includes strategies to jumpstart access and success in education beyond high school by focusing on critical segments of society and by engaging key stakeholders including employers, institutions of higher education, and local, state, and federal policymakers.

Mobilizing to Reach Goal 2025

Explore Lumina Foundation's strategic plan»

With a series of short video clips that can be easily shared via social media, Lumina breathes life into what might otherwise be just another routine strategic plan. By taking a periodic evaluation of progress made and plans for next steps - and publicly sharing this information in a compelling manner - the foundation is encouraging its partners, and potential partners, to keep up the good fight and better positioning itself for ultimate success.

A three-page executive summary of the 2013-2016 Strategic Plan is now available. The full plan will be available to download in the coming weeks.

Do you know of examples you’d like to share that illustrate how transparency can help achieve strategic goals?

 -- Mark Foley

Glasspockets Find: The Ford Foundation’s Endowment is Ready for its Close-Up
December 17, 2012

Foundations have been experimenting with digital media for a few years now for everything from video-recorded annual reports to messages from the CEO and examples of grantee partnerships. However, this new video from the Ford Foundation defining and describing its endowment might be a first. Perhaps finance and explaining foundation endowments is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about content that can be effectively shared using a visual format. But why not? Perhaps short videos are the best way to bring those pie charts and bar graphs to life, and help foundations not only be more transparent, but more engaging.


--Janet Camarena

Glasspockets Find: Irvine Infographic Shares Insights of Arts Innovation Fund
December 12, 2012

Irvine infographic - home_feature_aifThe James Irvine Foundation has just released the findings from its Arts Innovation Fund (AIF) initiative via a very user-friendly, concise, interactive infographic.  Launched in 2006, Irvine invested more than $24 million to support 28 innovative projects led by 19 of California’s foremost arts organizations.  AIF nurtured experimentation to explore the gap between traditional arts programming and the changing expectations of audiences—and to better adapt to this new environment.

And speaking of the changing expectations of audiences, and adapting to a new environment, this new infographic demonstrates that the Irvine Foundation is walking its own talk in this “easy-on-the-eye” approach to knowledge sharing.  The interactive infographic serves as a terrific model for how foundations can think about incorporating more graphics and less text to increase accessibility and usability of important matters like lessons learned, challenges faced by grantees, and summaries of specific grants.  You can examine the interactive overview, read commentary by Irvine Arts Program Director Josephine Ramirez, and access or download the full report.  Each of these media also provides links to video insights and case studies detailing each of the AIF-funded projects.

Is a grantmaker you know using graphics and interactive online tools to creatively and compellingly share its knowledge?  Let us know.

-- Mark Foley

Glasspockets Find: Hewlett’s New Interactive Grants Tool
November 27, 2012

Grants_exploreThese are interesting times, with an accelerating push by some foundations to introduce creative ways to share their data.  A recent entry in the mix is a new interactive grants tool from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.  Allowing exploration of the Foundation’s grants and grantmaking trends over time, online visitors can visualize data set to their own customized preferences.  After adjusting various filters, for example, one can visually discover that the foundation awarded $5.68 million in general support for performing arts in the form of 71 grants between $50,000 and $100,000 each during 2010-2012—and all the recipients were in North America.  Learn more about how to use the interactive grants tool by watching this instructional video.  The foundation also follows the best practice of inviting feedback for its new tool.

--Mark Foley

Taking Private Philanthropy Public: Eye on the Giving Pledge
August 1, 2012

Word Cloud of recurring themes in Giving Pledge commitment letters

Recurring themes in Giving Pledge commitment letters


Explore the Eye on the Giving Pledge»

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

Janet Camarena

Two years have passed since Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates launched the effort known as the Giving Pledge to convince the world’s wealthiest people to commit more than half of their assets to philanthropy.  In June 2010 four families had made the commitment, and by August 2010, 36 more had joined them.  Since then, the list has more than doubled, with 81 families now participating. Given the high profile and high-net-worth of those involved, the surrounding coverage was filled with much excitement, promise, and fanfare.  As philanthropy is often considered a private, family affair, one might compare it to taking a private company public, as these private individuals go on record with a very public commitment to making significant charitable contributions during the course of their lifetimes.  Something we might call a Public Philanthropic Offering (PPO) instead of the traditional IPO.   So the bells have been rung, the names have been added to the online Giving Pledge list, what’s next?

Because the Foundation Center’s Glasspockets site focuses on philanthropic transparency, we have launched a new feature, Eye on the Giving Pledge, designed to help track the charitable activities of the Pledgers, as well as to provide a glimpse into their characteristics. Who has signed?  In which industries did they make their fortunes?  Where are they based? What are their philanthropic interests and pet causes? “Eye on the Giving Pledge” provides a way to follow how those who have signed on are, through their foundations and personal giving, fulfilling their pledge.

The Gates’ and Buffett have undertaken a noble goal here to use their influence and considerable network to drive more dollars to philanthropy, and that should be celebrated and praised.  In addition to the leadership they have demonstrated with the Pledge itself, they also provide an excellent model for the participants of the Giving Pledge, in making a foundation the principle vehicle to express their philanthropy.  Through the Gates Foundation, the public can readily access a complete record of giving via the 990-pf, determine whether giving is limited to pre-selected organizations, read press releases detailing information about noteworthy gifts, read Bill Gates’ annual letter reflecting on the successes and sometimes even failures of the foundation’s giving, and most recently, even access a new podcast featuring the staff of the foundation sharing insights about how the foundation is evolving its strategy.

Of course, as private citizens, many Pledgers will pursue other vehicles for giving that do not have the same reporting requirements as foundations, and we have done our best to capture examples of that from public sources of information. Since we expect there will be gaps in our coverage due to the inherent challenges of tracking individual giving, we provide an online form inviting our audience to help us surface additional knowledge.

With a combined net worth of roughly $400 billion, the commitments made by the current 81 participants could bring an estimated $200 billion or more to charity over time, potentially representing a dramatic increase in philanthropic giving.  In addition to those tangible potential benefits, in a world in which lists routinely rank people in terms of accumulated wealth, it has been refreshing to see a movement designed to encourage those who are on such lists to celebrate the next gift—not just the next deal—and to go on record committing to use their private wealth for public good. Or, put another way, encouraged to celebrate their next PPO. Because shouldn’t the giving be as celebrated as the Pledge?

-- Janet Camarena

Share This Blog

  • Share This

Subscribe to Transparency Talk

  • Enter your email address:

About Transparency Talk

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

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

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

    If you are interested in being a
    guest contributor, contact: