Transparency Talk

Category: "Video & Audio" (31 posts)

Glasspockets Find: Inside the Gates Podcast Series
July 17, 2012

Bill and melinda gates fdnThe Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently began a podcast series called “Inside the Gates Foundation.”  The podcast series is an effort to communicate strategy to grantees, as well as to provide regular insights into the inner workings of the foundation.  In our search for good examples of transparency in the private foundation world, we wanted to point this out as a way for large institutional funders to use digital media to humanize their work by helping those on the outside get to know those on the inside.

In the first episode of the series, Chris Elias, president of the Global Development program at Gates (and former CEO of foundation grantee PATH), discusses the intricacies of strategy development at the foundation. The podcast also contains a segment with Shelly Thakral, Program Officer in the foundation’s India office, discussing her work on the Ananya Initiative, a program to ensure that the people of Bihar have access to healthcare, water and sanitation.

A regular feature of the series is a Q&A with Mercy Karanja, Senior Program Officer, also known as “Auntie Agony.” Mercy answers questions commonly asked by Gates grantees and potential grantees, such as “How does Gates Foundation decide what projects to fund?”

Glasspockets Find: The Annual Conference Goes Digital
May 23, 2012

COF annual conference 2012
The explosion of social media is having a multiplier effect on the reach of the traditional annual conference.  Long gone are the days when only those lucky enough to travel to the host city were able to attend a few sessions, network with peers, and grab as many handouts as possible to share with the folks back home.  With today’s social media, everyone in attendance can be a virtual fly on the wall, able to connect with everyone on the outside—in real-time—via text, audio and video.  A new window—transparency—is coming of age, bringing with it the potential for increased participation.

As a case in point, take the 2012 Annual Conference of the Council on Foundations that concluded in Los Angeles earlier this month.  Here are some of the topics of discussion that have emerged which you can explore, or even add to the dialogue:

A rich media archive of tweets, blogs, recordings, and images is now available, opening up new possibilities for more and more people to learn and interact than ever before.  As one of two Strategic Partners for the 2012 conference, The James Irvine Foundation asked three of its grantees who participated in panel discussions to share some of their thoughts.  It’s yet another example of our world becoming ever more transparent, with multiple points of entry.

-- Mark Foley

Transatlantic Exchange: A German Foundation's Social Media Journey, Part One
May 3, 2012

(Anja Adler, a former communication manager for German foundation Stiftung Mercator, is now writing her PhD on the political importance of online communication and social media and works as freelancing social media strategist for the foundation. She has a M.A. degree in Communication and North American Studies from Free University Berlin.)

Anja Adler

Many German foundations are still debating whether or not to engage with social media. Even though some of the larger foundations set up Facebook, Youtube or Twitter accounts, one-way communication is still the rule and dialogue on these new platforms – with few exceptions – oftentimes left to the communication intern. At Stiftung Mercator we believe that social media are not just an add-on. At the end of 2009, we therefore set up a strategy with the aim to integrate these new communication channels in the work of all of our staff, attempting to be more transparent and to help our staff with feedback and new ideas from old and new stakeholders. After the first two years of getting our feet wet, we have successfully set up a social media task force to continuously build our skills, installed a social media newsroom that incorporates channels like Facebook, Flickr, Scribd, and Youtube, and experimented with online campaigning in some of our projects.

While we are proud of the accomplishments, we are still looking for answers to some of the most important strategic questions:

  • Should social media leadership be left to communications or should programs take the same responsibility?
  • How can we inspire more feedback and generate more added value?
  • What are the best “calls to action“ for us and how can our community benefit in return?

With a few more years of a social media head start, we were wondering what the U.S. foundations have to say. So I ventured out to the U.S. this March to speak with nine of them, which included representatives from: Asia Society, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, German Marshall Fund, Knight Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Sunlight Foundation, and the Foundation Center.

Click on the blue tags to see location details. Hint: Double click the map to zoom in and see all locations in New York.

View a bigger map »

After more than 2,000 miles traveled, and more than  24 hours spent in meetings, with more than 26 people, there were plenty of answers and helpful anecdotes (I put together Storifys on each foundation for more information). As William Bohlen from the German Marshall Fund correctly remarked, "If you know one foundation, you know one foundation." Still, some patterns have emerged and as I reflect on this journey,  two recurring themes  were echoed about lessons learned from philanthropy sector experimentation into social media usage thus far: content is king, and the development of social media champions. In today’s post I will focus on what I heard about content, and in my next post I will share the specifics on what I learned about social media champions.

Content is King

With the growing importance of the internet and the transitional role of journalism, new intermediaries are taking over the public sphere. "For the first time in history, we have the chance to become influential publishers ourselves", Geoff Spencer, Vice President Communications and Marketing at Asia Society, told me. Instead of discussing all the possible social media channels out there (apparently Pinterest is the latest craze in the States, too...), I found myself talking to many foundations about the growing importance of addressing target audiences directly instead of only trying to pitch the media. This new focus on content ownership seems to have increased the foundations' awareness of data and stories in general. The trend of content strategy and rise of content strategist positions at many U.S. foundations might be a reaction to the insight that all social media channels need a good online hub – and in most cases this is the web site.

With an integrated Twitter wall and large image-centered news releases, Knight Foundation's web site, for example, puts stories about grantees and projects first. The Foundation Center's project uses powerful data visualization to coordinate funding efforts of eleven foundations and transparently and visually report about it. Sunlight Foundation even funds a project called Politiwidgets that provides infographics on members of Congress and makes inserting them into a blog post as easy as embedding YouTube videos. Blogs also do the job, as Rachel Hart, Communications Officer, Open Society Foundations, summarized, "I see our blog as our own newspaper. We can’t just wait for others to cover our issues, we need to get the story out there ourselves." And that sometimes leads to stories in the traditional media. One of Open Society Foundation's blog stories has been picked up by CNN, a Knight blog story found its way into a PBS report, and posts from Asia Society's blog are regularly featured in The Atlantic.

For Mercator, this focus on content strategy will mean three things for the future:

  • First, we will be discussing how to increase online editorial content on our grantees and projects to better link our social media story-telling to our online presence. Of course, you can already find all the necessary information (project descriptions, funding data, project partners etc.) on our web site, but apart from news releases we do not yet share success stories and lessons learned.
  • Second, we will also be talking about data visualization. With the help of mapping and infographics we could probably communicate our complex topics - climate change, integration and cultural education – in much more approachable, user-friendly ways.
  • Third, we will be screening the most important blogs for our topics. Even though we might not start our own blog right away, we will definitely be engaging in this new sphere of public debate in the future.

In my next post I will share details about the other theme that emerged from my travels, about finding and supporting internal social media champions. Since I could not meet with every foundation representative who is involved in interesting social media experimentation, please share your thoughts about what you have learned from incorporating social media into your philanthropic work in the comments below.

Creating a Video Annual Report: The Mitchell Kapor Foundation's Experience
April 2, 2012

(Cedric Brown is Chief Executive Officer of Mitchell Kapor Foundation)

Cedric BrownAs much as I hate to admit it, I rarely spend more than 30 seconds looking at annual reports. I'm usually attracted to the paper, design, or lead stories, but don't really delve into the sometimes-substantial reading required to make it through one of these tomes. And who has time? I'm not sure if there's a general trend toward simplification of such publications, but that's what I had in mind in late 2010 when starting to consider a format for the Kapor Foundation's first annual report

Given that we're a small family foundation interested in the intersection of social justice and tech, I wanted to use a tack that would reflect our values, style, and general approach to work. And I especially wanted it to be simple to digest. Daniel Olias Silverman, the Irvine Foundation's fantastic director of communications, advised me that the world is moving to video. And so move we did.

Mitchell Kapor FoundationWorking with the Kapor Center's in-house production team, we scripted brief highlights from the Foundation's areas of work. I wanted each of our staff members and the Kapors themselves to have a role, giving voice to our priorities and accomplishments. This vision was met with a little skepticism and camera shyness. But on the day of the shoot, everyone came through like pros - well, maybe not, but at least our natural selves shone through. We left the footage in the hands of the director, Trevor Parham, who added photos and animation to bring our words and work to life.

When we distributed the video through emailing it and posting it on our website's home page, I hadn't expected to get the kind of positive, "WOW!" reviews that came back to us.  Some of our community partners expressed appreciation for getting the pithy information in an entertaining format (and a little hip hop  beat in the background never hurts). Of course, we didn't win any awards or such, but we accomplished my ultimate goal of explaining what the Foundation does in a way that would be widely and clearly understood. The video format also allows us to be (a certain kind of) green by minimizing the use of paper, to save production money, and perhaps best of all, to have almost three times the distributive reach that we would've had strictly through our mailing list!

So this year, we've taken it a step further. No animation against a green screen this time, but we again aimed to deliver the highlights of our efforts in a concise way, using a knockoff of an increasingly popular format. Check it out.

Watch the video »

I'm now a believer that video is indeed the way to go. If you're thinking about doing the same, I'd advise a few practical things:

  1. Write a narrative that outlines your organization's mission and framework;
  2. Use video or photos of grant recipients and partners in action to help tell your story; and perhaps most importantly,
  3. Videos need not be overly fancy or polished. While we at the Kapor Foundation benefit from an incredibly talented in-house team, I've actually seen interesting work done with flip cam footage and freeware. Just be neat (aesthetically) and tell a good story!

Looking forward to seeing your work next year!

-- Cedric Brown

The Importance of Foundation Messaging: An Interview with Foundation Center President Brad Smith
March 1, 2012

Foundation Center President Brad Smith was recently interviewed by PhilanthroMedia's Susan Herr for the Communications Network about the responsibility of and opportunity for foundations to communicate what they do and why they do it. In an ever-more crowded media environment, Smith emphasizes, it is vital for foundations to keep repeating their messages and not shy away from talking about their aspirations to build a better world and how they’re working to make that happen.



Watch the video»

Read the Communications Network blog post»

-- Daniel Matz

Glasspockets Find: 2011 Grantee Community Call Hosted by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
November 22, 2011

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation As part of our "Who Has Glass Pockets" transparency and accountability assessments, our Glasspockets team regularly scouts for mechanisms that allow grantmakers to receive ongoing grantee feedback, as well as ways in which grantmakers are using technology to build networks and learning communities.

How does the nation's largest foundation encourage two-way communication and engage with its global grantees? One method is through its second annual Grantee Community Call. I had the opportunity to listen in on the first of two one-hour conference calls (12 hours apart) that were hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on November 21. With more than 600 participants on this call, the session began with CEO Jeff Raikes citing the importance of understanding the perception and the reality of working with the Gates Foundation and the critical role of "smart collaboration" between the foundation and its grantee partners and with other funders. He repeated the foundation's commitment to grantees based on three concepts: quality interaction, clear and consistent communication, and opportunities to provide feedback that will be used to make continuous improvements. Indeed, this Grantee Community Call was a means to put this philosophy into action—and may serve as a good example for other grantmakers with a lot of ground to cover.

Grantees were reassured that the foundation's priorities will not be changing, despite two new leadership additions and the melding of the Global Health Program with the Global Development Program. The foundation also remains committed to the evolving process of breaking down silos in order to integrate and better coordinate the sharing of information across multiple sectors, both internally and with its grantee partners.

The first half of the community call featured presentations by three program directors: Gary Darmstadt, director, Family Health; Vicki Phillips, director, College Ready; and Sam Dryden, director, Agricultural Development. Each, in turn, reinforced the foundation's commitment to constructive, effective relationships by:

  • encouraging grantees to challenge the foundation to strive for continuous improvement at various levels;
  • working together as thought partners;
  • breaking down internal silos to encourage cross-sectional integration; and
  • promoting transparency and welcoming accountability.

The second half of the session was a time for questions and answers. Participants were able to submit questions before the call via an e-mail address and during the call via a special Twitter hashtag and by queuing up with the conference call operator. There was time for nearly a dozen questions from a representative assortment of grantees, including callers from Asia and Africa.

What was perhaps the most impressive take-away was the seemingly genuine and sincere effort of the Gates Foundation to display respect and gratitude to its grantee partners. As Mr. Raikes said in conclusion, [we strive for] "greater impact together." With multiple opportunities for feedback, grantees should not hesitate to engage with the foundation in their mutual goal of improving lives. One very interesting, and rare, feedback mechanism allows grantees to anonymously report issues that raise ethical concerns to EthicsPoint, a service provided by an independent third party.

Finally, the foundation plans to conduct its next Grantee Perception Report, working with the Center for Effective Philanthropy, in the first quarter of 2013.

Recorded versions of the 2011 Grantee Community Calls are now available on the foundation’s web site.

-- Mark Foley

Glasspockets Find: Spotlight on the James Irvine Foundation
July 14, 2011


Kudos to the James Irvine Foundation for two very visible steps designed to increase its grantmaking transparency and participation. This month the Irvine Foundation announced that it will introduce a new grantmaking strategy for its support of the arts in California, effective 2012. After spending the past year gathering input from grantees and other experts, the foundation has identified major shifts in the California arts sector, due primarily to demographic and technological changes, and hopes to address the resulting challenges and opportunities posed to nonprofit arts organizations.


Eager to engage the public and to promote the new, still-evolving strategy, the foundation has posted a new video webinar of a public, online presentation made to its grantees and the California arts community on June 27, 2011, and is soliciting feedback on its web site and its Facebook and Twitter pages. The web site also features more than a dozen frequently asked questions that relate to its current and future support of the arts in California.

The foundation's current priorities will continue to guide its grantmaking for the remainder of 2011. As a supporter of the California arts community since its founding in 1937, the James Irvine Foundation is to be commended not only for making a thoughtful review of its existing strategy, but most especially, for its efforts to think out loud and be as inclusive and transparent as possible, with its many communication devices, as it prepares to launch its new strategy.


In a separate effort to be more transparent, the Irvine Foundation has taken the traditional features of its annual report and added more detail and analysis of the foundation's performance in order to measure its progress and to hold itself accountable to its long-term goals. The foundation's just-released 2010 Annual Performance Report not only includes such common annual report features as a complete listing of its 2010 grant awards, but also:


  • examines progress in each of its grantmaking programs and its effectiveness as a philanthropic institution;
  • allows online viewers to watch an introductory video from Jim Canales, president and CEO;
  • provides a section on "Exercising Leadership" and another on "Constituent Feedback" that includes highlights of its second Grantee Perception Report, commissioned by the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

Please share your thoughts regarding the Irvine Foundation's efforts to be more transparent. All comments are welcome!

-- Mark Foley

Jeff Jarvis on Publicness and the Radically Transparent Foundation
May 11, 2011

(This podcast first appeared as part of Philanthropy News Digest's Talking Philanthropy series.)

In the latest installment of their monthly podcast series, hosts Larry Blumenthal and Bill Silberg talk to media expert Jeff Jarvis about his notion of the "radically transparent foundation" — a concept he put forward in a session at this year's Council on Foundation's annual meeting. Larry and Bill caught up with Jarvis after the meeting to discuss the reasons foundations need to embrace this growing trend of "publicness." Jarvis is director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism and author of the BuzzMachine blog.


Download mp3 (6.9 MB)
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Total running time: 15 minutes

Do you know of a foundation that is radically transparent? Please let us know.

— Daniel Matz

Glasspockets Find: Rethinking the Annual Report
April 13, 2011

Kapor_screenshot This week's Glasspockets Find:

The Mitchell Kapor Foundation posted its 2010 Annual Report as a YouTube video. To explain why they chose this novel format, Kapor wrote: "In the spirit of being transparent, paperless, accessible, and plain ol' fun, the Kapor Foundation staff decided to do a video annual report that captures the highlights of 2010." The companion blog post includes links to grant lists and financial data found in traditional annual reports.

As some foundations do away with print materials and move away from traditional annual reports, is Kapor's example the shape of things to come? If you've seen other interesting approaches to the annual report, please share them here.

-- Daniel Matz

Putting the Pieces Back Together
February 14, 2011

(Dr. Albert Ruesga is the president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, as well as the editor of The White Courtesy Telephone—a popular blog about foundations and nonprofits. In September 2010, Dr. Ruesga was featured as a "Social Media Power User" in the Foundation Center survey, "Are Foundations Using Social Media?")

Ruesga-150After the storms of 2005, the City of New Orleans lost a significant amount of its population.  Our pre-Katrina population of 455,000 shrank to 209,000 in July 2006, recovering slightly to 355,000 by July 2009.  We know that many New Orleanians who moved away maintained close ties to the city. They visited family members and friends who had stayed behind.  They followed the city's sports teams.  Their ears pricked up at any news from the region.

Many of us in the City continue to feel a strong bond to our former residents.  One of the things we aimed to do with our social media work here at the Greater New Orleans Foundation was to connect with these New Orleanians in the diaspora—not only those who left after the storms, but those who left the city for a variety of reasons, seeking opportunities for themselves and their families in other parts of the country.  The City's experience with Katrina taught residents the importance of strong social networks, the people-to-people connections that were so important to New Orleans's recovery after the breaking of the levees.  At the same time, we wanted to introduce our work to new audiences, especially the mostly younger people who like to stay in touch using Facebook and Twitter.

And so, with these goals in mind, we went into our social media work with eyes wide open. We began using a variety of tools, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a blog. We were pleased to see our networks grow quickly, thanks to our staff's very thoughtful use of these media.  On Twitter, for example, our staff was quick to retweet related content and thank those who retweeted us.  Our tweets were not just about our work, but about content that would interest a broad audience.

Our social networks helped us immensely when tragedy struck our region again in 2010.  We were able to mobilize our supporters after the BP oil spill to help raise over $1 million for short-term relief and longer-term recovery efforts. We went into our social media work never expecting to raise a dime, but it has proven to be a valuable fundraising tool.

A note about transparency. If you visit our web site, you'll notice something fairly unique about most of our pages: we invite comments from the community on almost every one.  And it's one of our policies to respond to each of these comments (either by e-mail or directly on the site) within 48 hours.  We also make it a point to publish not only our grantmaking guidelines and goals, but also our rationales for these guidelines and goals, as well as our theories of change.  You can see an example of this here. We don't mind being completely transparent about our thinking.  Our work can only improve by exposing our assumptions and our reasoning to the light of day.

If you're within the sound of my voice (so to speak), and you have a stake in New Orleans's future, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  You can also read our blog, The Second Line, by visiting

And if you want to have a role in helping to make one of the great American cities even greater, y'all come down, hear?

— Albert Ruesga

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About Transparency Talk

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

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

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