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Transparency, Partnership, and Glasspockets

March 02, 2010

(Janet Camarena is director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and project lead for the center's Glasspockets initiative.)

Magnifying-glass In setting out to start a national conversation on foundation transparency, the Foundation Center knew that, despite our longtime role as a provider of transparency for the field, it would be a relatively uninteresting conversation if we limited it to ourselves. Indeed, the conversation we imagined having included many dimensions -- accountability, effectiveness, strategic communications -- that others could speak to directly and with more authority. In fact, from very early on one of the most exciting things about Glasspockets was the opportunity it provided for us to engage with others in the field whose work we had long admired.

In thinking about current examples of foundation transparency, for example, the Center for Effective Philanthropy's Grantee Perception Reports immediately came to mind. Because the spirit of Glasspockets is all about creating a culture of transparency within foundations, we were especially drawn to those foundations that went beyond thinking of the process as an internal exercise and took the extra step of posting the grantee feedback on their Web sites. So we reached out to our friends at CEP to secure permission to include those reports on the Glasspockets site as well as to get their input on features of the site that were in development at the time. Thanks to our friends in Cambridge, the foundations that have made their Grantee Perception Reports public are featured in our "Transparency 2.0" table and are noted in the "Who Has Glass Pockets" template.

Widely considered to be experts in matters of governance and accountability, another partner we contacted early on was the UK-based One World Trust. The trust's Global Accountability Reports provided the Glasspockets team with an excellent framework to use when thinking about how to approach foundation accountability. And One World Trust representatives were also generous with their time in terms of providing feedback and input as we developed the "Who Has Glass Pockets" assessment.

Coincidentally, the trust at that time was developing an online database of commonly accepted governance standards as a way to promote effective practice through the sharing of codes of conduct, certification schemes, reporting frameworks, and awards. That tool is featured as a "partner resource" on the Glasspockets homepage and is a wonderful way for foundations to benchmark their governance practices against those of their colleagues in other countries.

Because transparency and communications are closely linked, we also enlisted the help of the Communications Network, which works to strengthen the voice of philanthropy. Communications Network executive director Bruce Trachtenberg reviewed and provided input for several drafts of the “Who Has Glass Pockets” template, and we know Bruce and his network members will continue to be helpful moving forward, especially as far as trends in the field of strategic communications are concerned. Currently, Glasspockets is featuring the Communications Network's latest report on The State of Foundation Communications.

As mentioned, one of the goals of Glasspockets is to increase understanding of foundation transparency and accountability online as well as off and to illuminate successes, failures, and ongoing experimentation in the field, which made Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) a natural partner for the project. We will be relying on GEO to help us identify foundation accountability case studies and trends in evaluation, as well as to point us to leaders and best practices in these areas. Currently, Glasspockets is featuring GEO's new report (issued jointly by GEO and the Council on Foundations), Evaluation in Philanthropy: Perspectives from the Field, and Pat Pasqual, the director of our D.C. office has interviewed GEO's Courtney Bourns about the report.

For many years, the Foundation Center has reported on institutional philanthropy’s quantitative contributions to specific fields and has provided more in-depth, qualitative reports in partnership with affinity groups and others interested in a particular area or specific topic. One of our goals for Glasspockets was to bridge these two types of information, and that required a partner who regularly looks at the field of philanthropy and identifies the most compelling and/or daunting challenges on its plate. We didn't have to look far. Jane Wales and the Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF) team are neighbors of our San Francisco office, and the forum hosts an annual conference that, as GPF puts it, "attracts donors to issues, to effective strategies, to potential co-funding partners, and to emblematic agents of change from around the world." We partnered with the forum last year to develop presentations around a number of critical issues facing philanthropy and the world, including global health, climate change, and poverty, and that partnership helped inform many of the content areas in the "Philanthropy at Work" area of the Glasspockets site. We will be partnering with GPF again this year for its 2010 conference in April, and we fully expect that our joint efforts will continue to inform the topics addressed on the site moving forward.

It goes without saying that our Glasspockets partners have been absolutely essential to getting us this far, and I want to express our appreciation for their collegiality, time, and guidance. Before I wrap up, I'd like to leave you with this thought: The above list of partners is only a beginning. Indeed, we're looking for others to join us in this ongoing conversation. Do you have content you'd like to see featured on the Glasspockets site? Are you working on something or engaged in a transparency-related effort that would make a good Glasspockets feature? If so, we welcome your help. To learn more, e-mail us at glasspockets@foundationcenter.org.

We look forward to talking with you!

-- Janet Camarena

Comments

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Janet -- The Communications Network is happy to be working with you on this and look forward to future progress reports.

As Phil Buchanan mentioned in a comment on an earlier post, the staff and board of the Center for Effective Philanthropy are proud to be a partner on this project. (http://pndblog.typepad.com/pndblog/2010/02/transparency-one-size-does-not-fit-all.html#comments)

And Glasspockets couldn’t have launched at a better time, as more and more funders seek to publicly demonstrate their effectiveness and share their successes and failures with a woefully uninformed – and often misinformed – public. Joel Orosz, Distinguished Professor of Philanthropic Studies at Grand Valley State University (who is currently guest blogging for CEP) put it best when he wrote, “The time to make friends is not after the bar fight has begun. For foundations, friend-making time is now.” (http://www.effectivephilanthropy.org/blog/2010/03/the-foundation-an-abiding-american-mystery/) I’m sure that everyone affiliated with Glasspockets wholeheartedly agrees.

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