Transparency Talk

Category: "Why Transparency" (232 posts)

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.

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.

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.

Communities in Crisis Raise the Stakes for Sector-Wide Transparency and Information Sharing
December 19, 2019

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Skyler Badenoch

Skyler Badenoch is the CEO of Hope for Haiti, a nonprofit organization operating in southern Haiti. For the past 30 years, Hope for Haiti has been working to improve the quality of life for the Haitian people, particularly children, through its programs in education, healthcare, clean water, infrastructure, and economic advancement.

The inequality and anti-corruption riots of 2019 have taken a dangerous toll on the people of Haiti. Mass demonstrations and violent unrest have resulted in an emerging humanitarian crisis that has left an already-fragile country with acute shortages of food, water, and access to healthcare. There is a great deal of concern for the safety and well-being of all currently in Haiti, particularly those who are most vulnerable. The ongoing violence and unrest will have short, medium, and long-term consequences for the people of Haiti and the social and economic development of their country. In order to effectively support Haiti and the Haitian people during this difficult time, the international donor, foundation, and nonprofit community must adhere to a higher standard for humanitarian assistance.

At Hope for Haiti, one of the ways in which we try to live up to this goal of adhering to high standards is by using external assessment tools to benchmark our efforts. For example, we are proud that our organization attained GuideStar’s Platinum Seal of Transparency and see it as part of our commitment to maintain a strong code of ethics, organizational transparency, and fiscal and programmatic accountability. These are ongoing efforts for our organization that are embedded in our organizational values, and what follows are some of the lessons we have learned that might be helpful for peers and donors alike.

Strong systems for financial transparency and accountability on both sides of the funding process are critical for organizations to achieve their programmatic goals. Donors want to ensure that their contributions to an organization will make a proven impact, and organizations have a responsibility to their funders and to the communities they serve to be transparent on how funds are used. A consistent dedication to transparency will help ensure that donors better understand the work of their partners and help them fund the specific projects and programs they care most about.

"Strong systems for financial transparency and accountability on both sides of the funding process are critical for organizations to achieve their programmatic goals."

Similarly, donors can also help alleviate the burden on applicants and grantees by paying attention to their own communication and applicant outreach efforts. When looking to support organizations in Haiti, foundations should make sure that their application and grants process is transparent, straightforward, and designed to support multi-year requests to maximize long-term impact.  This will help ensure that the organizations they decide to fund are using their valuable time as efficiently as possible, particularly in a time of great need (i.e following a humanitarian crisis). To that end, we recommend the following steps:

  1. Be transparent about what you want to fund, and why. By clearly listing your desired program areas, locations, and projects on your website and in your application, you will save time for your review committee and for the organizations that are looking for funding. If you work globally, consider the use of translators to offer applicants these guidelines and application submission in the languages used in the countries in which your foundation works. Organizations that don’t share the same priorities or geographic focus will be able to self-select out of the process, and your review committee won’t take time to review an application that isn’t a good fit. Going through the GlassPockets “Steps to Transparency" process will help make sure your foundation is hitting all the correct benchmarks.
  2. Invest in strategic partnerships, with greater consideration for multi-year funding. This is particularly important in the global context and during a humanitarian crisis. Effective programming requires sustainability; an organization must address the most pressing issues first, then form plans to address long-term goals. Making multi-year commitments gives organizations the assurance they need to make accurate strategic plans, commit to program partners, and ensure sustainable and stable progress.  This saves critical staff resources that would otherwise be devoted to an annual application process for programming and communicating impact. 
  3. Require good governance, accountability and transparency in the organizations you decide to fund. Governance, accountability and transparency are a two-way street, and partnering with organizations that hold those values in the same high regard will ensure your investment is truly making an impact. Consider investing in capacity building to help organizations of all sizes and their leaders gain valuable expertise to improve their operations and maximize their impact long-term.

To that end, below is a short list of what we have learned that may help other international nonprofits and NGOs:

  1. Require an external audit and list financials on your website.  Each year, Hope for Haiti is externally audited by our audit firm, which examines our financial records, ensures that we are adhering to General Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), and makes recommendations on how we can operate more efficiently. To support transparency, we then post access to our audited financial statements and our annual IRS Tax Filings for the past 10 years on our website where everyone can view them.

  2. Produce an annual report. To promote accountability to our donors, each year, we release an annual report in print and online that includes data on our key programmatic areas, testimonials of impact from partners and beneficiaries, as well as an overview of the previous year’s financial health.

  3. Invite independent review from external charity evaluators. We always welcome the review of our work by third party charity monitoring organizations like GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and Excellence in Giving. We’re proud to hold top ratings across all of these platforms.

By working together for a common cause, sharing a dedication to transparency, and fostering open communication, donors and organizations can more efficiently and effectively work as a team to make a profound impact in the lives of families in Haiti. Together, we can build a better future.

Ask, Listen, Act. Embedding Community Voices into our Brand.
September 12, 2019

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Zeeba Khalili

Zeeba Khalili is the Learning and Evaluation Officer at Marguerite Casey Foundation.

Los Angeles, California; Baltimore, Maryland; Mobile, Alabama; Rapid City, South Dakota; El Paso, Texas; and Yakima, Washington. These six cities were chosen to reflect a diversity of regional, generational, cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic perspectives. In 2002, as part of our creation, Marguerite Casey Foundation convened listening circles in these six cities to listen to the voices of more than 600 families. The Foundation posed the same three questions in each listening circle:

  • What creates strong families and children?
  • What would it take to change the systems that have an impact on the lives of families and children?
  • How would you leverage $30 million to ensure the well-being of children, families and communities?

Though these six hundred voices spoke of diverse needs, in many ways we discovered they spoke as one. They called for respecting and valuing families; empowering families and holding them at the center of systems of care; promoting grassroots activism and leadership; collaborating across agencies and systems; changing unresponsive policies; and galvanizing public will to support families that help avoid crises and ultimately lead away from dependence on systems.

We didn’t convene listening circles just to check a box of community involvement. Hearing stories and ideas directly from communities allowed us to build a Foundation that challenged preconceived notions about the “best” way to support families and end poverty. What we heard became the framework for the Foundation’s mission and strategy, grounded in listening to communities’ concerns as articulated by community leaders and taking action informed by families’ voices. We committed to Ask, Listen, Act, making it our brand promise, and one of our forms of philanthropic transparency. The Foundation grounds its decisions in what we’ve heard from our constituencies, both grantees and families, and we make our learnings public so that other groups can learn from the work we’ve already done.

Today, Marguerite Casey Foundation’s grantmaking echoes the sentiments heard seventeen years ago. We provide long-term, sizeable multi-year general operating support grants to grassroots activism and advocacy organizations. We invest in Equal Voice networks, regionally and nationally, facilitated by network weavers, who help grantees collaborate across issues, form alliances and bring about long-term change.

Marguerite-casey-foundationAdditionally, the Foundation lifts the voices of low-income families to the national dialogue through our Equal Voice News online platform, harnessing the power of storytelling about families leading change in their communities. Program officers, closest to the grantees, connect the Foundation’s communications team to the families on the ground and elevate their experiences so that others can learn from them. For example, in July, the Foundation chronicled a Black farming community in rural Georgia, once thought to be vanishing, but that remains steadfast in its efforts to fight issues of Black land loss and food-related disparities. This story supports the work of Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, a grantee of the Foundation, serving as a tool in fundraising and in garnering greater media attention.

Ask, Listen, Act allows us to engage the community for both our benefit and for theirs. Its methodology can be seen across the Foundation, including in how we learn from our grantees. Every few years we commission the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) to conduct a Grantee Perception Report survey of our grantees to assess our impact and interactions. These reports create genuine opportunity for the Foundation to reflect on our strategies and in the past, based on feedback, we identified two key areas to improve: consistency of communications and assistance beyond grant dollars. We created cross-regional teams of Program Officers to ensure that grantees could always reach someone with questions or concerns and provided several grantees in the South with technical assistance funding to grow their financial and governance infrastructures.

We hold ourselves accountable to the six hundred families that came together from across the country in 2002 to help us with our founding. Their unique circumstances and breadth of perspectives continue to be heard today in the communities we serve, shared with us by our grantees, and so the Foundation’s approach remains steadfast. We hope that the philanthropic community will recognize that the constituencies we serve deserve to be listened to and more than that, deserve to be experts of their own lives.

--Zeeba Khalili

Meet Our New GlassPockets Foundation: An Interview with Chris Langston, President & CEO, Archstone Foundation
August 8, 2019

GlassPockets Road to 100

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.

Since its inception in 1985 as a healthcare conversion foundation, Archstone Foundation has responded to the implications of changing demographics by supporting innovative responses to the emerging and unmet needs of older adults. The Foundation has funded a wide range of grantees making important contributions in critical, yet often overlooked areas of need.

Today, the Foundation focuses its grantmaking on four major areas:

  • Enabling older adults to remain in their homes and communities;
  • Improving the treatment of late-life depression;
  • Developing innovative responses to the family caregiving needs of older adults; and
  • Expanding the health care and broader workforce needed to care for, and serve, the rapidly growing aging population.

Archstone Foundation is among our newest GlassPockets participants. In this interview with GlassPockets’ Janet Camarena, Chris Langston, President & CEO of the Archstone Foundation, explains why transparency is central to its philanthropic efforts.

GlassPockets: Archstone Foundation was born out of a healthcare conversion, when a nonprofit HMO became a for-profit corporation. Do you think transparency is more important for healthcare conversion foundations to demonstrate that these dollars are being used for public good? Or are there other reasons that you are prioritizing philanthropic transparency?

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Chris Langston

Chris Langston: I’m sure the public is more interested in what’s going on with healthcare conversion foundations, as the funds are more clearly a public trust because they derived from the tax advantages given to the nonprofit parent. As an older, smaller conversion, the public has long since forgotten the origin of the endowment, but what we do is still supported by the taxpayers granting favorable treatment to the endowment. Nevertheless, to my mind, conversions or foundations born of a wealthy individual’s gift (or other source) have the same obligation to transparency. Foundations are granted tremendous autonomy in what and how they do their work and, beyond some very broad IRS regulations, are only accountable to their boards. As a consequence, I think that we owe the public great visibility into what we do and how we do it. I believe that the great diversity of foundations is a strength in the sector, and I oppose external mandates regarding subject matter, limited lifespan, payout rates, or other aspects of foundation discretion. So, the only remaining constraint is public scrutiny of our process and our work.

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

CL: I see the GlassPockets standards as a floor and not one that takes a great deal of effort to keep shiny. We share through our website our current grants, our strategic plans, our governance documents, and financial reports. Even small foundations need to have these tools and structures and sharing them digitally is no burden. These things change relatively slowly and in the modern era are relatively easy to keep up to date.

Moreover, I’ve worked at two other foundations previously, one which started as not very transparent because of inattention to communicating to the public and one which had historically gone to great lengths to be opaque – the Atlantic Philanthropies during its anonymous giving phase. In neither case did our lack of transparency make our work better – I think it made it worse. We got less constructive engagement from the field, we got less alignment between us and grantees, and we didn’t benefit from the extra energy that comes from knowing that your successes and failures are going to be visible for all to see.

GP: Your commitment to openness includes maintaining a responsive grantmaking program with an open RFP that can be submitted on an ongoing basis. At a time when many foundations are putting up walls by shifting to invite only grantmaking, this is notable in that you are maintaining this kind of openness with a very small program team made up of three officers. Why has it been important to maintain the open RFP, and what is your advice to keeping it manageable for lean teams?

CL: Actually, we are right now reviewing our responsive grantmaking program and could very well stop or constrain it. While having an open RFP mechanism is one kind of openness, I am more committed to having an open-door policy. I think it is a legitimate strategic decision as to whether a foundation takes grant applications by invitation only, has a monthly letter of intent review (as we currently do), or something in between. What’s more important is that there be regular opportunities whereby grantseekers can learn from foundation staff about foundation priorities and strategies for change and where foundation staff can learn about the needs and interests of nonprofits in the field and the people in need.

”The GlassPockets process is a thoughtful and well-structured way of getting started in opening up to the public, what largely belongs to the public, even if it is held in trust for them by us on the inside.”

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

CL: The GlassPockets process is a thoughtful and well-structured way of getting started in opening up to the public, what largely belongs to the public, even if it is held in trust for them by us on the inside. Providing the information helps you in many ways – it helps you be sure that you even have all the tools, policies, and procedures of a modern nonprofit (e.g., conflict of interest, committee charters, etc.). It helps you whenever you have a twinge of conscience at the thought of making something public, in so far as that is telling you that you are doing something that you don’t feel good about – something that doesn’t pass the “would you want to see it on the front page of the paper test.” And the process is part of creating a culture of openness and honesty among and between board, staff, and grantees. Creating this kind of culture is an enormous project undermined by fear, norms of silence, and power differentials – but I think it is critical for effective grantmaking.

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

CL: Having earned a GlassPockets designation now at a second organization, it is this issue that really interests me – how can we take further steps in transparency. While it is scary and a long-term project to build a shared understanding and the will to change, I hope to make much more information public – for example, grant proposals (at least the funded ones), evaluations, board minutes, budgets, and more. The federal grantmaking process at the National Institute of Health already does much of this. When I think about government processes, I expect all of that transparency and more -- and yet government is at least nominally subject to the control of the voting public. Since foundations do not make their grantmaking or staffing decisions subject to elections, shouldn’t we be even more transparent than government?

Fundamentally, the issue is that among funders and nonprofits, we spend a lot of time not just “reinventing the wheel” but more accurately, reinventing the flat tire. It is not that there is more knowledge or skill on one side or the other of the grantmaking table, it’s that there isn’t enough truth and light illuminating the conversation. And as the party with the power of the purse, it is incumbent on us to go first to change the dialogue if we want to have better results.

--Chris Langston & Janet Camarena

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

Meet Our #OpenForGood Award Winner: An Interview with Lee Alexander Risby, Head of Effective Philanthropy & Savi Mull, Senior Evaluation Manager, C&A Foundation
June 19, 2019

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Lee Alexander Risby

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.

C&A Foundation is a European foundation that supports programs and initiatives to transform fashion into a fair and sustainable industry that enables everyone – from farmer to factory worker – to thrive. In this interview, Lee Alexander Risby and Savi Mull share 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 C&A Foundation and how this practice has helped you to advance your work?

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Savi Mull

Savi Mull: For almost five years, C&A Foundation has been dedicated to transforming the fashion industry into a force for good. A large part of that work includes instilling transparency and accountability in supply chains across the industry. From the start, we also wanted to lead by example by being transparent and accountable as an organization, sharing what we were learning whilst on this journey, being true to our work and helping the rest of the industry learn from our successes and failures.

Lee Alexander Risby: Indeed, from the beginning, we made a commitment to be open about our results and lessons by publishing evaluations on our website and dashboards in our Annual Reports. After all, you cannot encourage the fashion industry to be transparent and accountable and not live by the same principles yourself. Importantly, our commitment to transparency has always been championed both by our Executive Director and our Board.

Savi: To do this, over the years we have put many processes in place.  For example, internally we use after-action reviews to gather lessons from our initiatives and allow our teams to discuss honestly what could have been done better in that program or partnership.  We also do third party, external evaluations of our initiatives, sharing the reports and lessons learned. This helps us and our partners to learn, and it informs initiatives and strategies going forward.

The Role of Evaluation Inside Foundations

GP: 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?

SM: I believe it is essential to have this type of function in a foundation to drive formal learning from and within programs. But at the same time, it is an ongoing process that cannot be driven by one function alone. All staff needs to be responsible for the learning that makes philanthropy effective – not just evaluators.

LAR: To begin, we were deliberate in building a team of evaluation professionals to promote accountable learning. We started hiring slowly and built the team over time. What I looked for with each new member of the team, and I am always looking for, is an evaluator with more than just skills, they also need the influencing, listening, communication and negotiating skills to help others learn. Evaluations have little effect without good internal and external communication.

”For us, it was important to be a critical friend, listener, and enabler of learning and not the police.”

The evaluation function itself has also evolved over the last five years. It started off as a monitoring, evaluation and learning function (MEL) and is now Effective Philanthropy. From the start, the function was as not set up as an independent department but created to help programmatic teams in the design of appropriate monitoring and evaluation for the programs, and facilitators and advisors on strategy. However, it has not always been a straight-forward process from the inside. In the first years, we had to spend a lot of time explaining and persuading staff of the need for evaluation, transparency and learning and the benefits of doing so. We wanted to avoid a strong independent evaluation function as that can reduce learning by placing too much emphasis on accountability. For us, it was important to be a critical friend, listener, and enabler of learning and not the police.

SM: So, the first bit of advice is that evaluators should be supportive listeners, assisting programmatic teams throughout the design and implementation phases to get the best results possible. They should not come in just at the end of an initiative to do an evaluation.

LAR: The second piece of advice is on positioning, support, and structure of evaluation within a foundation.  Firstly, it is critical to have is to have the buy-in of the leadership and board for both evaluation and transparency. And secondly, the evaluation function must be part of the management team and report to the CEO or Executive Director. This gives reporting and learning the appropriate support structure and importance.

The third piece of advice is to consider not creating an evaluation function, but an effective philanthropy function. Evaluation is done for learning, and learning drives effectiveness in grant-making for better results and long-term impacts on systems.

SM: The final piece of advice is to take guidance from others outside your organization. The whole team has consulted broadly with former colleagues and mentors from across the evaluation community as well as experienced philanthropic professionals. Remember you are part of a field with peers whose knowledge and experience can help guide you.

Opening Up Pain Points

GP: One of the reasons the committee selected C&A Foundation to receive the award is because of your institutional comfort level with sharing not just successes, but also being very forthright about what didn’t work. 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 C&A Foundation’s reputation in the field, and why it’s worth it?

LAR: I would say this. The question for foundation boards and leaders is straightforward: do you want to be more effective and have an impact? The answer to that will always be yes, but it is dependent on learning and sharing across the organization and with others. If we do not share evaluations, research or experiences, we do not learn from each other and we cannot be effective in our philanthropic endeavors.

"There is a benefit to being open, you build trust and integrity – success and failure is part of all of us."

The other question for boards and leaders is: who does philanthropy serve? For us, we want to transform the fashion industry, which is made up of cotton farmers, workers in spinning mills and cut and sew factories, consumers and entrepreneurs, to name a few – they are our public. As such we have the duty to be transparent to the public about where we are succeeding and where we have failed and how we can improve. We do not think there is a reputation risk. In fact, there is a benefit to being open, you build trust and integrity – success and failure is part of all of us.

SM: Adding to what Lee has said, being open about our failures not only helps us but the entire field. Some of our partners have felt reticent about our publishing evaluations, but we always reassure them and stress from the beginning of an evaluation process that it is an opportunity to understand how to they can improve their work and how we can improve our partnership, as well as a chance to share those lessons more broadly.

Learning While Lean

GP: Given the lean philanthropy staffing structures in place at many corporate foundations, do you have any advice for your peers on how those without a dedicated evaluation team might still be able to take some small steps to sharing what they are learning?

SM: Learning is a continuous process. In the absence of staff dedicated to evaluation, take baby steps within your power, such as implementing after-action reviews, holding thematic webinars, or doing quick summaries of lessons from grants and/or existing evaluations from others. If the organization’s leadership endorses learning, these small steps are a good place to start.

GP: And speaking of lean staffing structures, 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 C&A Foundation include funding for the evaluations and reporting or other technical assistance to mitigate the burden on grantees?

SM: The foundation has a Monitoring and Evaluation Policy that lays out the role of the programmatic staff and partners as well as of the dedicated Effective Philanthropy Team. C&A Foundation partners are generally responsible for the design and execution of self-evaluation - to be submitted at the end of the grant period. External evaluation budgets are covered by the foundation and do not pose a financial burden on partners at all. They are included in the overall cost of an initiative, and when needed we have an additional central evaluation fund that is used to respond to the programmatic team’s and partner’s ad hoc demands for evaluations and learning.

The Effective Philanthropy team does provide technical assistance to partners and foundation staff upon request. The guidance ranges from technical inputs related to the theory of change development to the design of baseline and mid-line data collection exercises. The theory of change work has been really rewarding for partners and ourselves. We all enjoy that part of the work.

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 work.

Learning Leads to Effectiveness

C-a-foundation (1)LAR: In the moving from a more traditional MEL approach to effective philanthropy we looked at the work of other foundations. This included learning from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and others. We had discussions with a number of peers in the field. We also asked Nancy MacPherson (formerly Managing Director of Evaluation at Rockefeller) and Fay Twersky (Director of Effective Philanthropy at Hewlett) to review our Effective Philanthropy strategy when it was under development. Their feedback and advice helped a lot. In the end, we decided to begin to build out the function in a similar way to the Hewlett Foundation. But there are some differences. For example, our evaluation practice is currently positioned at a deeper initiative level, which is related to the field context where there is a significant evidence gap across the fashion industry that needs to be filled. Concomitant to this is our emphasis on piloting and testing and that goes hand-in-hand with the demand for evaluative thinking, reporting, and learning.

Our team has also been influenced by our own successes and failures from previous roles. That has also inspired us to embrace a slightly different approach.

SM: In terms of where we are at the moment, we still oversee performance monitoring, evaluation, and support to the program teams in developing theories of change and KPIs; but we are also building out organizational learning approach and are in the process of hiring a Senior Learning Manager. Lastly, we are piloting our organizational and network effectiveness in Brazil, which is being led by a colleague who joined the foundation last year.

LAR: We are also in the midst of an Overall Effectiveness Evaluation (OEE) of C&A Foundation’s first 5-year strategy. In general, this is not a type of evaluation that foundations use much. As well as looking at results, the evaluators are evaluating the whole organization, including Effective Philanthropy. For me as an evaluator, it has been really rewarding to be on the other side of a good question.

We are learning from the OEE as we go along and we decided to create ongoing opportunities for reporting/feedback from the process rather than waiting until the very end for a report. This means that program staff can be engaged in proactive discussions about performance and emerging lessons in a timely way. The OEE is already starting to play a vital role to inform the development of the next 5-year strategy and our organization. But you will surely hear more on that evaluation process later as it will be published. There is always room for improvement and learning never stops.

--Lee Alexander Risby and Savi Mull

Meet Our #OpenForGood Award Winner: An Interview with Craig Connelly, Chief Executive Officer, The Ian Potter Foundation
June 12, 2019

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Craig Connelly

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 Ian Potter Foundation is an Australian foundation that supports and promotes excellence and innovation working for a vibrant, healthy, fair, and sustainable Australia. In this interview, Craig Connelly 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 Ian Potter 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?

Craig Connelly: The Ian Potter Foundation decided to invest in our research and evaluation capability primarily to improve the quality of our grantmaking. We believe that evaluating our grantees and the work that we fund through measuring and evaluating outcomes enables us to understand the extent to which our funding guidelines are achieving the intended outcomes. This results in a more informed approach to our grantmaking which should improve the quality of our grantmaking over time.

A core part of this includes being completely transparent with our grantees and with the broader sector. To do anything otherwise is not being consistent with our expectations of our grantees. We are asking our grantees to be partners, to pursue a strategic relationship with them and that requires open and honest conversation. Therefore, we need to be an open, honest and transparent funder and demonstrate that in order to win the trust of the organizations we fund.

Examples of this transparency are the learnings that we glean from our grantees that we share with the broader sector. We’re getting very positive feedback from both funders and grantees on the quality of the learnings that we’re sharing and the value that they add to the thought processes that nonprofit organizations and other funders go through.

The-ian-potter-foundationGP: Increasingly we are seeing foundations move toward a 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?

CC: Anyone in a research and evaluation role needs to be an integral part of the program management team. The research and evaluation process informs our grantmaking. It needs to assist the program managers to be better at what they do, and it needs to learn from what the program managers are doing as well. You don’t want it to be a silo, it is just another function of your program management team. It is an integral part of that team and it is in constant communication both with the program management team and with grantees from day one.

GP: As you heard during the award presentation, one of the reasons the Ian Potter Foundation was selected to receive this award is because of how you prioritize thinking about how stakeholders like grantees might benefit from the reports and knowledge you possess. We often hear that while there is a desire to share grantee reports publicly, that there are reputational concerns that prevent it or that to scrub the reports of sensitive information would be too time consuming, yet you do it for all of your portfolios. What are your tips for how to keep this a manageable process?

CC: The initial work to compile and anonymize our grantee learnings required some investment in time from our Research & Evaluation Manager and communications team. To make this task manageable, the work was tackled one program area at a time. Now that a bank of learnings has been created for each program area, new learnings are easily compiled and added on a yearly basis. This work is scheduled at less busy times for those staff involved. The Ian Potter Foundation is also looking at ways learnings can be shared directly from grantees to the wider nonprofit sector. One idea is to create a forum (e.g. a podcast) where nonprofits can share their experiences with their peers in the sector.

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 The Ian Potter Foundation include funding for the evaluations and reporting or other technical assistance to mitigate the burden on grantees?

"...we need to be an open, honest and transparent funder and demonstrate that in order to win the trust of the organizations we fund."

CC: One of the benefits that we found at The Ian Potter Foundation of having a Research & Evaluation Manager becoming an integral part of our process is that our authorizing environment – our board and the committees responsible for program areas – have become very comfortable including funding evaluation for all of our grants. We now also understand what it costs to complete an effective evaluation. We often ask grantees to add more to their budget to ensure a good quality evaluation can be completed as part of the grant.

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.

CC: Yes, we have a couple of examples I can point to. The first comes from our Education Program Manager, Rikki Andrews, who points to the creation of the Early Childhood Impact Alliance (ECIA) through a grant to the University of Melbourne. The purpose of the ECIA is to convene, connect and increase understanding of research and policy among early childhood philanthropic funders, to ensure there is more strategic and concerted philanthropic support of research and its application.

Additionally, the Foundation’s Senior Program Manager, Dr. Alberto Furlan, explains, ‘We are in the process of learning from organizations we partner with all the time. In the last few years, program managers have been prioritizing extensive site visits to shortlisted applicants to discuss and see the projects in situ. In a ‘big country’ such as Australia, this takes a considerable amount of time and resources, but it invariably pays off. Such visits highlight the importance of relationship building deep and honest listening when partnering with not-for-profits. The Foundation prides itself in being open and approachable and site visits greatly contribute to understanding the reality of the day-to-day challenges, and successes, of the organizations working on the ground.’

--Craig Connelly & Janet Camarena

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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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