Transparency Talk

Category: "Web Presence" (6 posts)

Meet Our #OpenForGood Award Winner: An Interview with Veronica Olazabal, Director of Measurement, Evaluation and Organizational Performance, The Rockefeller Foundation
July 10, 2019

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Veronica Olazabal

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

The Rockefeller Foundation advances new frontiers of science, data, policy, and innovation to solve global challenges related to health, food, power, and economic mobility. In this interview, Veronica Olazabal shares insights with GlassPockets' Janet Camarena about how the foundation’s practices support learning and open knowledge.

GlassPockets: Congratulations on being one of our inaugural recipients of the #OpenForGood award! The award was designed to recognize those foundations that are working to advance the field by sharing what they are learning. Can you please share why you have prioritized knowledge sharing at the Rockefeller Foundation and how this practice has helped you to advance your work? Or put another way, what is the good that has come about as a result?

Veronica Olazabal: We are excited to be an inaugural recipient of the #OpenForGood award! As you may be aware, since its founding more than 100 years ago, The Rockefeller Foundation's mission has been “ to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world.” To this end, the Foundation seeks to catalyze and scale transformative innovation across sectors and geographies, and take risks where others cannot, or will not.

While often working in new and innovative spaces, the Foundation has always recognized that the full impact of its programs and investments can only be realized if it measures - and shares - what it is learning. Knowledge and evidence sharing have been core to the organization's DNA dating back to its founder John D. Rockefeller Sr., who espoused the virtues of learning from and with others—positing that this was the key to "enlarging the boundaries of human knowledge." You can imagine how this, in turn, resulted in transformational breakthroughs such as the Green Revolution, the eradication of Yellow Fever and the formalization of Impact Investing.

The-rockefeller-foundationGP: Your title has the word “evaluation” in its name and increasingly we are seeing foundations move toward this staffing structure of having staff dedicated to evaluation and learning. For those foundations that are considering adding such a unit to their teams, what advice do you have about the structures needed to create a culture of learning across the organization and avoid the creation of one more silo? 

VO: Learning is a team sport and to that end, an evaluation and learning team should be centrally positioned and accessible to all teams across a foundation. At the Rockefeller Foundation, the Measurement and Evaluation team engages with both the programmatic and the impact investing teams. We see our role as enablers of good practices around impact management and programmatic learning -- often working with teams in early stage design support, through start-up, implementation and exit. We also work collaboratively with others at the Foundation such as our grants-management and data teams to ensure the “right” M&E data is being captured throughout our grantee’s lifecycle.

Yet, I will be the first to say that building a culture of learning by continuously reaching “over the fence” is a lot of work and might be challenging for a small team, which is the reality for most foundations. Benchmarking data produced by the Center for Evaluation Innovation (CEI) and the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) lands most M&E teams at foundations at around 1.5. So, capacity for culture change is clearly a challenge. My suggestion here is to source evaluation and learning talent that balances the hard technical chops with the softer people skills. I believe you truly need both and if an organization optimizes for one over the other, might experience a series of false starts. A good place to start in sourcing evaluation talent is the American Evaluation Association (AEA).

GP: As you heard during the award presentation, one of the reasons the Rockefeller Foundation was selected to receive this award is because of your commitment to sharing the results of any evaluation you commission, before you even know the outcome. This pledge seems designed to not let negative findings affect your decision about whether or not to share what your learned. We often hear that foundation boards and leaders are worried about reputational issues with such sharing. What would you say to those leaders about how opening up these pain points and lessons has affected Rockefeller’s reputation in the field, and why it’s worth it?

VO: In 2017, The Rockefeller Foundation was pleased to be the first to make all of its evaluations available to IssueLab as part of #OpenForGood. But to the Foundation, being open goes well beyond passively making information available to those seeking it. Being truly open necessarily involves the proactive sharing of lessons so that others can be aware of and leverage from the things that we are learning. To that end, we regularly author blogs, disseminate evaluation reports and M&E learnings via digital channels, and – perhaps most importantly – share back evaluation results with our grantees and partners – so that evaluation is more than a one-way extractive exercise.

"Being truly open necessarily involves the proactive sharing of lessons so that others can be aware of and leverage from the things that we are learning."

Taking sharing one step further, earlier this year, The Rockefeller Foundation adopted a new Data Asset Policy aimed at making the data that we collect as part of our grantmaking freely available to others who could use it to effect more good in the world. The policy is grounded on two core principles: 1) that the data we fund has incredible value for public good and that these assets can serve as fuel for better decision-making; and 2) we commit ourselves to being responsible stewards of these data, which means prioritizing privacy and protection, especially of those individuals and communities we seek to serve. Moving forward, this opens up the ability to amplify our learning even further and in even more innovative ways.

GP: A concern we often hear is that a funder creating a culture of learning leads to an increased burden on grantees who are then asked for robust evaluations and outcomes measures that no one is willing to pay for. Does Rockefeller include funding for the evaluations and reporting or other technical assistance to mitigate the burden on grantees?

VO: Having had the experience of being both a funder and a grantee, I know this is a real barrier to enabling robust learning cultures and evidence-informed decision-making. For this reason, at The Rockefeller Foundation we approach resourcing in a few different ways:

  • First, through embedding resources for evaluation and learning into individual grantee budgets and agreements from the start. This type of funding enables grantees to generate the type of data they need for their own decision-making, learning and reporting.
  • We also often work in a consortia model where we commission an evaluation and learning grantee separately to synthesize learnings across groups of grantees and provide technical assistance as needed. This approach helps decrease the reporting burden for “implementation” types of grantees as it generates what is it the Foundation would like to learn (which could differ from what the grantees and their clients find useful). Here is an example from our Digital Jobs Africa portfolio generated through this evaluation and learning model.
  • Finally, we have also at times, and upon request, seconded our own M&E staff to grantees and partners to help build their M&E muscle and enable them to measure their own impact. While this is rare, we are seeing this request more and more and hence why we value both technical expertise and relationship management skills.

GP: Learning is a two-way street and foundations are both producers and consumers of knowledge. Let’s close this interview with hearing about a noteworthy piece of knowledge you recently learned thanks to another foundation or organization sharing it, and how it helped inform your own work.

VO: There are many opportunities to learn from others. In my current role, I am in continuous engagement with colleagues in similar roles at other philanthropies and regularly meet before or after convenings organized by CEP, GEO and AEA. In addition, as part of my work on the Fund for Shared Insight which is a funding collaborative working to make listening to end-users the norm, my philanthropy colleagues and I often exchange on where we all are in our personal and institutional learning journeys.

Finally, as part of a W.K. Kellogg Foundation-funded Lab for Learning, The Rockefeller Foundation was most recently among a cohort of 15 foundations that took part in a year-long series of convenings to address systemic barriers to learning. Participation here required us to experiment with ideas for supporting learning in our own settings and then sharing our experiences with the group. Through this engagement, we learned about how others were building learning habits in their foundations (written about in Julia Coffman’s post here). More specifically, the measurement and evaluation team was able to introduce Making Thinking Visible and Asking Powerful Questions in our early stage support to program teams to push thinking about assumptions and concrete dimensions of the work. This engagement then helped to structure the foundations of a learning agenda (e.g. theory of change-like tool with clear outcomes, hypotheses, assumptions and evidence) that would be used to anchor adaptive management and continuous improvement once the program strategy rolled out.

--Veronica Olazabal & Janet Camarena

Designing for Impact: Using a Web Redesign to Improve Transparency, Equity, and Inclusion
April 11, 2019

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

Na Eng
Na Eng

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

The McKnight Foundation is proud to be among the early group of foundations that joined the GlassPockets movement and has benefited from its tools and resources. As GlassPockets crosses the threshold of 100 foundation transparency profiles on its website, I wanted to share a personal reflection on how McKnight approaches transparency on our website, and how GlassPockets has been part of that journey.

When I decided on a redesign of our website about a year ago, I knew that there was a great body of knowledge we could tap into by reviewing GlassPockets tools and content, so I scheduled a call with Janet Camarena, who leads the website and initiative to encourage greater foundation transparency. In this new version of our web presence, I wanted to design for transparency from the start. GlassPockets didn´t disappoint, and Janet offered a helpful perspective from her years of observing the paths and barriers faced by our peers on the road to transparency.

While the word transparency can sometimes feel like a clinical term, Janet explained that transparency and openness can humanize institutions through the power of storytelling, and we all know foundations have powerful stories about the impact of their grantees. When I asked her about the common tendency of foundations to embrace a stance of humility, she nodded. She said she often hears that humility can stand in the way of embracing a “GlassPockets approach,” preventing us from seeing storytelling as an act of public service, rather than as self-serving content.

This conversation reaffirmed for me one of the core benefits of foundation transparency: when the public knows more about what foundations fund and how they approach their work, trust is built, advancing the entire field of philanthropy, the nonprofits we support, and our collective impact.

GlassPockets Road to 100

How McKnight Advances Transparency with its Website

A key purpose for our foundation website is pragmatic and impactful transparency. With our web developer, Visceral, we tried to make our site as fun to peruse and simple to navigate as possible, and we packed it with information to help people conduct practical business. For example, we now include all the details on how to seek funding, how to reserve a meeting space, and even the investments we make in our impact investing portfolio. We also have a robust, easy-to-search grants database, which makes us a rarity among national funders. According to the GlassPockets’ Transparency Challenge, only about one of every 100 foundations shares current grants data online. Lists of grants, combined with compelling images and vignettes throughout the site, help others to better understand our organization’s mission.

In addition, I’ve come to realize that providing more information does not necessarily achieve greater transparency. It’s as essential to offer an updated, accurate representation of work—and that means clearing the clutter. (Consider the KonMari method of thanking what no longer has value, and then letting go.) External websites should not be used as an internal digital archiving system. We’ve learned that dated content often caused confusion about our current purpose and identity. However, for scholarly use, we do archive older reports with IssueLab, which has an impressive open knowledge-sharing system.

Digital Accessibility & Linguistic Inclusion

Transparency also requires understanding the needs of diverse audiences and making digital inclusion a priority. When we set out for our site to be more user-friendly for people who are hard of hearing or blind, we commissioned an accessibility audit. And rather than rely on web-based scanners, we asked people who had the relevant disabilities to evaluate its accessibility level. Among the changes, we added closed captioning to all our videos, at little cost. We’ve since expanded closed captioning to more than a dozen languages, all spoken in our home state of Minnesota, including Hmong, Laotian, Somali, Oromo, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, and others.

A website can leave people behind or it can inspire more people to advance the mission.

Our efforts toward digital inclusion, which enable transparency for people with different physical and linguistic abilities, are ongoing. We still have much to learn. We´re now learning more about the technical needs of people in low-bandwidth zones in the developing world, rural communities, and even in pockets of metro areas. When most digital communications are designed for able-bodied English language speakers who have access to high-speed internet, significant population groups are cut off from the ideas and opportunities we offer, and we’re deprived of the chance to connect with people who have so much to contribute to advancing our mission.

Our society often thinks of discrimination in terms of individual actions, giving scant attention to systemic barriers. These are insidious obstacles created and maintained, often unintentionally, even by people of goodwill—simply because they’re not aware of the impact of these barriers on those who are not just like them.

The website of an organization that has the power to distribute resources, bestow awards, and select new staff and partners can be an instrument for perpetuating or disrupting inequity. And when a foundation has important ideas to spread—in our case, ideas about advancing a just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive— a website can leave people behind... or it can inspire more people to advance the mission.

Thankfully, we have movements like GlassPockets urging us all to move toward more pragmatic, inclusive, and impactful transparency.

--Na Eng

New Online Portal Opens Up Ocean Conservation Philanthropy
April 20, 2017

(Amanda Dillon is Knowledge Services Manager for Foundation Center. A version of this article was first written for Alliance magazine.)

Amandadillon-150x150_125_125_s_c1Ocean conservationists and their supporters can now easily track funding for marine protection activities through a new online portal, FundingtheOcean.org.

The site aims to break down knowledge barriers and democratize access to critical information needed to drive ocean conservation philanthropy worldwide by centralizing access to essential data, resources, and tools.

With funding support from six major foundations, Foundation Center unveiled the portal this month. It offers free access to data on philanthropic, U.S. federal, bi/multilateral aid grants, and crowdsourced information about grassroots marine conservation organizations, enabling users to see data on who is working on ocean conservation around the world.

TW_General_440x220_v4Current figures indicate that while the ocean covers 71 percent of the earth's surface, less than one percent of all philanthropic funding has gone to support it since 2009. 

“This is a critical moment for the ocean,” said Bradford K. Smith, president of Foundation Center. “The decisions we make now will shape the ocean’s future, and the future of the lives and livelihoods of those that depend on it.”

With FundingtheOcean.org, users will be able to find funders, recipients and grants conveniently displayed by geographic area.  This data can help spur collaboration and maximize conservation efforts.  For example, users could potentially benchmark open data on marine protection funding to help them learn from the successes and failures of their peers; identify new ideas and approaches; and increase access to and awareness of conservation efforts.

Additionally, the website features eight case studies and a curated report collection featuring major conservation funders, including the Walton Family Foundation and the Packard Foundation, so that users can learn more about what’s working and what we’re learning about funding the ocean.

For more information: www.fundingtheocean.org

--Amanda Dillon

Glasspockets Find: Open Philanthropy Project Forms New Partnership with Instagram Co-Founder
August 13, 2015

On a quest to “do as much good as possible with giving,” an innovative philanthropy project has attracted a new co-funding partnership with Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and Lovestagram founder Kaitlyn Trigger. 

Mike Krieger and Kaitlyn Trigger 140x140
Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and Lovestagram founder Kaitlyn Trigger

Krieger and his fiancee Trigger, who are committed to giving away “a lot of our wealth during the course of our lifetime,” are partnering with the Open Philanthropy Project (OPP) to maximize funders’ giving impact by developing innovative ways to identify and evaluate giving opportunities, and develop effective grantmaking strategies and approaches.  The OPP is a joint collaboration between nonprofit GiveWell and Good Ventures, a philanthropic foundation founded by Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook and Asana, and his wife, Cari Tuna.

“We believe it’s a highly efficient way to learn, plus it allows us to help fund important causes sooner than we could on our own,” Trigger said in a GiveWell statement. The couple have committed $750,000 to OPP over the next two years; 90% of the donation is earmarked for OPP-recommended grants, and 10% will support GiveWell’s OPP-related operations.

As part of its work as a Fund for Shared Insight grantee, OPP has published best practices and lessons learned for philanthropists in a series of blog posts.  The collaborators’ commitment to knowledge sharing, rigorous analytical thinking and transparency have spurred the exploration of thoughtful questions and issues for philanthropists, such as the role of a funder; how a funder selects focus areas and hires program staff; and how to make and evaluate grants.  

 Highlights of OPP’s blog posts include:

  • The role of the funder – active versus passive – and determining the amount of influence funders should have with grantees and partner organizations;
  • Should funding be restricted?  If yes, how and when?
  • How to identify important or underfunded issues;
  • How to choose and determine the number of focus areas to support;
  • Selecting and providing oversight for program staff;
  • Cultivating the relationship between funders and grantees; and
  • Developing criteria for evaluation and impact of grants.

 

Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna
Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna

The OPP also actively researches smart giving approaches by identifying how philanthropy can help in the areas of global health and development; policy advocacy; scientific research; and reducing global catastrophic risks.  The project’s research targets issues and approaches that are “important, tractable and relatively uncrowded.”  For example, within scientific philanthropy, the OPP is exploring the identification of important and neglected goals, systemic issues in fields other than life sciences, and building scientific advisory capacity.

OPP and Good Ventures’ commitment to transparency inspired Krieger and Trigger to enter the partnership.  This collaboration clearly demonstrates how working openly has the power to influence greater giving among peers.  

For a philanthropic foundation established only five years ago, it is quite remarkable how Good Ventures has opened up its processes and thinking through its blog and web features, which include open notes on all of its meetings with charitable organizations.  Although foundations are often criticized for pretending they have all the answers, it is refreshing to see how this young foundation is using transparency and web savvy to invite open discussion around questions with no easy answers, and ultimately inspire their peers to greater philanthropic participation and openness.

--Melissa Moy

True Board Engagement: How openness and access to board conversations has changed Creating the Future
April 23, 2015

(Karl Wilding is the director of public policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the umbrella body for charities and the volunteer movement in England. Justin Pollock the principal and founder of Orgforward, a community-focused consultancy working with organizations and their leadership to build the capacity to sustain thriving communities. Both Karl and Justin are Creating the Future board members.)

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Karl Wilding

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Justin Pollock

It’s a widely held maxim that sunlight, read as transparency and openness for the purpose of this post, is the best disinfectant. While true, we feel this view has an unfortunate undertone of emphasising the negative: greater transparency is needed in order to prevent and/or catch wrongdoing. It focuses attention on what we hope to avoid rather than what we hope is possible.

At Creating the Future, rather than thinking of sunlight as that thing that disinfects, we embrace the photosynthetic view that letting the light in allows for growth and transformation. We recognize our role in supporting thriving communities and believe that the community should have a role in creating our success at all levels of the organization. Though Creating the Future is not a grantmaking foundation, we believe that all organizations, including foundations, gain by opening up to and actively engaging the communities we are passionate about and that we profess we serve.

In a conversation about boards and governance recently, someone remarked to one of us that “transparency can be transformational,” and it’s this sort of thinking that powers Creating the Future’s approach to leadership, trusteeship, and governance. Beyond just being transparent – allowing people to see us, we are open – people can actually interact with us and influence our growth in real time.  This approach to governance is open, not just in the sense of visibility, but open to challenge, praise, and, since board members live stream from various places around the world, the occasional ribbing for the state of our living rooms and barking dogs (how much more “real life” can it get than that?).

We use Twitter, monitoring our hashtag during the meeting, to encourage people to share their curiosity and brilliance so we can respond in real time to the ideas that break us out of the group-think commonly found when people of like passions gather.

All well and good in theory. But what does this really look like in practice and what does it make possible for us as trustees and anyone else interested in the work of the organization we serve?

In practice, our board meetings are entirely open, end to end. We leverage Creating the Future’s presence online. Prior to every monthly board meeting, our board chair posts a blog providing the context and agenda for our upcoming meeting, our operational leaders post video progress reports, and you can find a link to our upcoming meeting which are all live-broadcast using Google Hangouts.

We use Twitter, monitoring our hashtag during the meeting, to encourage people to share their curiosity and brilliance so we can respond in real time to the ideas that break us out of the group-think commonly found when people of like passions gather. But it doesn’t stop there: most board meetings, we invite a guest to take part in the broadcast in the anticipation that they might just lead us to change the questions that we’re asking ourselves. And if you missed something and want to know what happened next, or would like to check back on something we did, we’re in plain sight - all the meetings are archived and available on the website.

And  anyone can see this. In fact, the world gets to see it at the same time as we can, and it’s the internet, so they can share their opinions and thoughts freely. Now, we understand that this might be heresy to a foundation, in which board meetings often include sensitive topics such as grantee deliberations, however, board meetings also include strategy, planning, and policy discussions, which are exactly the conversations that thrive at Creating the Future through this open model. Thankfully the web makes it easy to segment out each part.

You might be wondering what is the value of this approach and how does it ultimately help us?What does all this effort make possible?

For us as board members, the most powerful thing about openness is that it fosters conversations where there is nothing to hide and therefore nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed by (we are sure that there is some social science that helps explain this – but we just feel it in our bones).

At the top of our list: better conversations that lead to better decisions. We think this might be one of the most compelling reasons for foundations to consider, since foundations are in the business of decision-making and idea generation. What does that look like? We actually dialog with one another, asking better informed questions, hearing different perspectives and reflections, getting positive affirmation, and gaining more confidence in the decisions we make. The last bit is important: we’re all human, taking on leadership as a trustee isn’t always easy, so it’s nice to get a bit of praise for a decision we’ve made.

For us as board members, the most powerful thing about openness is that it fosters conversations where there is nothing to hide and therefore nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed by (we are sure that there is some social science that helps explain this – but we just feel it in our bones). Any decision we make has been vetted and thought through. The assumptions that can often go unidentified when making decisions are all brought into the open so that we, in our leadership roles, deeply understand the implications and rationale behind the actions and decisions we make. Personally, we love this aspect as it encourages our own growth and strengthens our resolve around the beliefs and values we hold.

Next is the thing we often hear is missing - better engagement. We’re all in one way or another seeking to better engage board members, beneficiaries, and stakeholders. For us, this is at the foundation of our work. We know we are “better together” when we can draw on the abundant wisdom that is out there. So involving stakeholders and other interested people in the leadership and governance of Creating the Future is pretty much saying to them that they are as important as us – it’s not about the people in the room, but rather about the ideas, plans, and actions that result from the gathering.

CreatingtheFutureLogoB&W492x104Finally, we find openness raises trust – among each other as trustees, with the community that supports us, and with the staff that work tirelessly to facilitate the execution of our strategy. Everyone has an opportunity to shape decisions and everyone can see we’re just ordinary people, not some nonprofit rock stars or even mysterious alchemists who work in dark smoky rooms. And we reckon ultimately that engagement and trust build capacity: people want to join us on the journey because they realize they can be part of it in meaningful ways.

The skeptics at this point are probably wondering: what could go wrong? What about sensitive issues, confidentiality, or errant voices? This is straightforward: there’s always going to be stuff we want to think or talk about without the world watching, and for that we allow for closed sessions. And we  do this transparently as well, acknowledging the rationale each time it is needed. We think people appreciate us for being honest and up front about that. And for those  who may fear negative comments or hijacked conversations, all we can say is that it just doesn’t happen. Rather than taking us in a direction we don’t want to go, external voices elucidate new paths that we excitedly travel down and may not have seen because of the inherent nature of “group think.”

We honestly have not experienced anything scary: openness has become mundane, with many of us shedding the nervousness that comes from thinking about the fact that the world could be watching. This is a good thing, unless you are offended by seeing an untidy living room or a person eating their lunch.

Things have occasionally gone wrong: the technology is the obvious candidate, with broadband connections dropping out. But this is part of the warp and weave of normal life, and we’ve found people stick with us. In fact, the biggest risk is that no one cares, no one’s watching. And if that’s the case you may well have some bigger issues to contend with, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

Our aim is to tip the scales from the common practice of making openness rare and exclusivity common (think of most every board meeting you’ve been to), to making exclusivity that rare bird that is hard to find. In fact, we honestly have not experienced anything scary: openness has become mundane, with many of us shedding the nervousness that comes from thinking about the fact that the world could be watching. This is a good thing, unless you are offended by seeing an untidy living room or a person eating their lunch.

Openness is our “not-so-secret sauce.” Maybe it’s just the people around the virtual table, maybe it’s keeping the meetings open to guests, or just the sense that we’re visible, but the meetings are highly enjoyable and stimulating; plus, we get business done. We think opening up gives boards more vitality, richer conversations, and better engagement.  And we reckon fear of failure, of “getting found out,” is the biggest barrier to opening up. So foundations: be brave, join us for one of our board meetings to see how we roll, then hopefully try this format for yourself. You have nothing to lose but your broadband connection. 

--Karl Wilding and Justin Pollock 

Through The Looking Glass: The Tactics and Importance of Transparency
July 2, 2014

(Epaminondas Farmakis is the President and CEO of elpis Philanthropy Advisors and serves as Program Director of the EEA Grants NGO Programme for Greece. A version of this post originally appeared in The Huffington Post.)

HeadShot2Many in the developed world take for granted that NGOs and non-profit foundations follow the highest standards of transparency when they dispense funding. Access to data is a pre-requisite for all organizations that apply for, and receive, either public or private funding. Grantees must share their funding sources and publicize their activities and results through their websites, newsletters and social media profiles. Indeed, this reporting and sharing of results compose a large part of how those organizations solicit and secure additional funds for future work.

When considering grant requests, foundation program officers look for certain information, and the applicant’s web presence is essential to that search. Program officers must assess how active the organization is and whether donors have access to results and metrics. The level of local community engagement can also play a role depending on the nature of the applicant’s work.

Funding applicants expect scrutiny and understand the need and power of telling their stories in ways that both ensure transparency and support development goals. But what about funders? Shouldn’t they hold the same high standards of openness that they request from prospective grantees?

It’s a bit of a double-edged sword—how much should funders reveal, and is it possible to reveal too much? However, it’s only fair to ask foundations to address the same issues that grantees have to navigate. Applicants that resist transparency risk losing funding or clients. Historically in traditional philanthropy, closed off funders had nothing to lose. But the current environment of open source platforms, social media and easily accessible data and analytics urges a new model of public collaboration. Resources such as GrantCraft, an online tool provided by The Foundation Center, offer many examples of how foundations and donors may adopt full transparency in their work.

Publicizing clear guidelines and selection processes translates to better grant requests, and sharing of internal data and reports with other funders results in a more efficient philanthropic practice. Foundations and donors need to make a choice: Will they continue to do their business behind closed doors or share their practices with the community?

And the benefits are plentiful, too. Publicizing clear guidelines and selection processes translates to better grant requests, and sharing of internal data and reports with other funders results in a more efficient philanthropic practice. Foundations and donors need to make a choice: Will they continue to do their business behind closed doors or share their practices with the community?

While transparency is the goal, there are also myriad associated benefits along the path to achieving it. Here are a few:

Building Trust

Foundations and non-profits exist in a symbiotic relationship imbued with an inherent level of trust. If one party wants to improve its work, it needs to ask for feedback from its partners as well as the community it serves. Foundations and non-profits alike seek the public’s support in their charitable endeavors. The alignment of goals and organizational objectives is a critical factor in building trust through transparency. With a full understanding of a foundation’s mission and purpose, grantees can articulate and refine their own program objectives in order to fulfill that mission. This also prevents “mission creep,” in which the grantee initiates projects just because funding is available. The philanthropic community benefits overall from this trust. Parties on both sides have a clear understanding of the issues addressed and neglected in the community.

Creating Effectiveness

Smaller foundations and family trusts often keep their priorities a secret. They avoid revealing information such as strategic goals, issues and geographic areas of interest in order to maintain flexibility in the projects they fund. However, that mystery also discourages applicants. A foundation website with clear guidelines and descriptions of the selection process should be the absolute minimum standard for transparency. Regular communications through workshops or online tutorials—with advice on what donors look for in an application—will help create a better understanding from applicants on how to navigate the often complex funding request process. Tips on what constitutes a “red flag” are also helpful in ensuring that applicants don’t waste their efforts on non-priority issues or requests. A transparent explanation of a foundation’s process and strategic goals can help both sides work toward more effective and meaningful projects and programs together.

Ensuring Collaboration

Last but certainly not least, sharing information, data, reports, practices and failures leads to better grant-making. The era when every foundation was working in isolation is long gone. In today’s interconnected world, if your goal is making an impact, then the only way forward is through collaboration. Representatives from the philanthropic community need to meet regularly, exchange views and data and create networks with other stakeholders. In a perfect world of transparent grant-making, donors would commit to give only to those organizations that are forthright with their funding sources, projects and results. Minimum standards of transparency should appear on donors’ websites and throughout the donation process. The drafting of the International NGO Accountability Charter was a great first step in setting global standards for NGO accountability. Donors around the world should embrace such initiatives and commit themselves publicly to fund organizations that comply with such standards. In addition, foundations must commit to ongoing collaboration. As the sector evolves and matures, so must our ability to work toward common best practices for all.

-- Epaminondas Farmakis

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About Transparency Talk

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

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

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

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