Connect With Us
YouTube
RSS

64 posts categorized "Accountability"

Foundation Transparency: Game Over?

June 16, 2016

Data_unlockedThe tranquil world of America's foundations is about to be shaken, but if you read the Center for Effective Philanthropy's new study — Sharing What Matters, Foundation Transparency — you would never know it.

Don't get me wrong. That study, like everything CEP produces, is carefully researched, insightful, and thoroughly professional. But it misses the single biggest change in foundation transparency in decades: the release by the Internal Revenue Service of foundation 990-PF (and 990) tax returns as machine-readable open data.

Clara Miller, president of the Heron Foundation, writes eloquently in her manifesto Building a Foundation for the 21St Century: "the private foundation model was designed to be protective and separate, much like a terrarium."

Terrariums, of course, are highly "curated" environments over which their creators have complete control. To the extent that much of it consists of interviews with foundation leaders and reviews of their websites — as if transparency were a kind of optional endeavor in which foundations may choose to participate, if at all, and to what degree — the CEP study proves that point.

To be fair, CEP also interviewed the grantees of various foundations (sometimes referred to as "partners"), which helps convey the reality that foundations have stakeholders beyond their four walls. However, the terrarium metaphor is about to become far more relevant as the release of 990 tax returns as open data literally makes it possible for anyone to look right through those glass walls to the curated foundation world within.

What Is Open Data?

It is safe to say that most foundation leaders and a fair majority of their staff do not understand what open data really is. Open data is free, yes, but more importantly it is digital and machine-readable. This means it can be consumed in enormous volumes, at lightning speed, directly by computers.

Once consumed, open data can be tagged, sorted, indexed, and searched using statistical methods to make obvious comparisons while discovering previously undetected correlations. Anyone with a computer, some coding skills, and a hard drive or cloud storage can access open data. In today's world, a lot of people meet those requirements, and they are free to do whatever they please with your information once it is, as open data enthusiasts like to say, "in the wild."

Today, much government data is completely open. Go to data.gov or its equivalent in many countries around the world and see for yourself.

The theory behind open data, increasingly born out in practice, is that making information available leads to significant innovation for the public good, while the demand for and use of such data also improves its accuracy and quality over time. And some open data is just fun: one of my personal favorites is the White House visitors list!

What is the Internal Revenue Service Releasing?

Thanks to the Aspen Institute's leadership of a joint effort — funded by foundations and including Foundation Center, GuideStar, the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, and others — the IRS has made 1 million Form 990s and 40,000 Form 990PF available as machine-readable open data.

Previously, all Form 990s had been released as image TIFF files, essentially a picture, making it both time-consuming and expensive to extract useful data from them. Credit where credit is due; a kick in the butt in the form of a lawsuit from open data crusader Carl Malamud helped speed the process along.

The current test phase includes only those tax returns that were digitally filed by nonprofits and community foundations (990s) and private foundations (990PFs). Over time, the IRS will phase in a mandatory digital filing requirement for all Form 990s, with the intent to release them all as open data. In other words, that which is born digital will be opened up to the public in digital form. Because of variations in the 990 forms, getting the information from them into a database will still require some technical expertise, but it will be more feasible and faster than ever before.

The Good

The work of organizations like Foundation Center — which has built expensive infrastructure in order to turn years of 990 tax returns into information that can be used by nonprofits looking for funding, researchers trying to understand the role of foundations, and foundations themselves seeking to benchmark themselves against their peers — will be transformed.

Work will shift away from the mechanics of capturing and processing the data to higher-level analysis and visualization to stimulate the generation and sharing of new insights and knowledge. This will fuel greater collaboration between peer organizations, innovation, the merging of previous disparate bodies of data, better philanthropy, and a stronger social sector.

The (Potentially) Bad

The world of foundations and nonprofits is highly segmented, idiosyncratic, and difficult to understand and interpret. GuideStar and Foundation Center know this.

But many of the new entrants who are attracted by the advent of open 990 data do not. They will most likely come in two forms: startups claiming their new tools will revolutionize the business of giving, and established private-sector companies seeking new market opportunities. Neither is intrinsically bad and both could lead to some degree of positive disruption and true innovation.

The potential downside could be two-fold. Funders inevitably will be intrigued by the startups' technological prowess and newness and divert funding toward them. Foundations are free to take risks, which is one of their virtues. But while needs grow, funding for the data and information infrastructure of philanthropy is limited, technology literacy among foundations is relatively low, and many of these startups will prove to be shooting stars (anybody remember Jumo?).

The second category of new entrants is far more complex and will come in the form of for-profit data-analytics companies. Some of these have business models and immensely sophisticated black-box technologies that rely heavily on government contracts for defense and national security. They will be lured by the promise of lucrative contracts from big foundations and mega-nonprofits and the opportunity to demonstrate social responsibility by doing good in the world.

But these for-profit analytics companies will quickly discover that there is only one Gates Foundation among the 87,000 private foundations and only a handful of richly-resourced nonprofits among the 1.3 million in the IRS registery. And those who choose to contract the services of "Big Analytics" will need to consider the potential reputational consequences of aligning their "brands" with the companies behind them.

Sound defensive? Not at all: Foundation Center welcomes the competition, has been building for it since 2010, and knows the challenge can only make us and the social sector better.

The Ugly

Once 990 data is "in the wild," it is possible, if not probable, that conclusions will be drawn that foundations find uncomfortable, if not unfair. Those who are new to the field and relatively uninformed (or uninterested) in its complexity may make claims about executive compensation based on comparisons of foundations of wildly disparate size and scope.

The same could be done with overhead rates, payout, or any other figure or calculation that can be made based on information found in the 990-PF. Some foundations already chafe when responsible sector advocates like the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) use Foundation Center data to rank foundations according to its Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best. Imagine claims coming over the transom from individuals and organizations whose core values do not include a belief in the practice of philanthropy and a normative vision for how it could be better.

Another potential consequence lies at the intersection of the open 990 data and the growth of impact investing. This was the spirit in which Clara Miller introduced her terrarium analogy to highlight what she sees as the artificial disconnect between the controlled, strategic, and curated world constructed by the grants side of foundations and the sometimes contradictory forces at work in the larger economy in which their assets are invested.

Foundations like Heron are striving to put 100 percent of their assets toward mission, while others like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund are divesting their investment portfolios from fossil fuels and, rather than exacerbate the problem, are re-investing those assets in ways that further the goals of their climate change grantmaking.

A recent (and as yet unpublished) Foundation Center survey found that 60 percent of foundations do not engage in impact investing and have no plans to do so. That is their choice, but open 990 data may well put them in a position of having to publicly explain it.

For example, using Foundation Center databases, I searched across several hundred thousand foundation 990-PF returns and found thirty-seven foundations that hold Corrections Corporation of America stock in their investment portfolios. These foundations may well believe, as the majority of foundations insist, that the purpose of the investment arm of the foundation is to generate the highest sustainable return possible in order to fund the mission through grants. But if a foundation holding that stock is striving to work on juvenile justice or improve the lives of black men and boys, an investigative reporter or activist might well ask why they are investing in a corporation that runs private, for-profit prisons

It's 10:00pm, Do You Know Where Your 990 Is?

With the game over for foundation transparency, the big takeaway is to know your 990-PF (or 990 for community foundations). Before you know it, it will be transformed from a bureaucratic compliance document into one of your foundation's key communications vehicles.

Right about now, you may be thinking: "What about the website re-design we spent all that money on, with our new logo, carefully crafted initiative names, and compelling photos?" It's still important, and you can follow the lead of those foundations guided by the online transparency criteria found on Foundation Center's Glasspockets website.

But while fewer than 10 percent of all foundations have websites, they all file 990 tax returns. As the IRS open data release unfolds and mandatory digital filing kicks in, the 990-PF will become one of the primary sources of information by which your individual foundation will be known and compared to others.

I recently asked a group of foundation CEOs whether they ever had an in-depth discussion about their 990-PFs among their board members and was met with blank stares. In a world of digital transparency, this will have to change. As 990s become a data source and communications vehicle, the information on them will need to be clear, accurate, and ,above all, a faithful representation of how each individual foundation makes use of the precious tax exemption it has been granted to serve the public good.

A few simple tips for starters:

  • Take advantage of Section 15 (block 2) to talk about your priorities, grant process, limitations, and restrictions.
  • In Section 15 (block 3), write the correct legal name for each grantee organization and include its EIN or BRIDGE ID
  • In the same section, write clear and compelling descriptions for the purpose of each grant (more than you might think, people look at foundations by what they fund).
  • Make sure all numbers on the form add up correctly (you'd be surprised!).

Regardless of how each of us may feel about the greater transparency demanded of foundations, it is inevitable. Philanthropy is essential to American society and a positive source for good in a challenging world.

As the terrarium walls insulating individual foundations fall, we will surely face a few moments of anxiety and discomfort. But greater transparency, fueled by open IRS data, can only make us more conscientious stewards of our resources, more effective decision makers, and better collaborators on our way to achieving greater impact in the world.

Game over? It's just beginning!

Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center. This post originally appeared on Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog.

Serving the Public Good (by Invitiation Only)

November 18, 2015

Private_party_inviteAmerica's foundations are not particularly interested in receiving your proposal. Earlier this year I did a quick search on Foundation Directory Online (FDO) of the 96,042 independent, company-sponsored, and community foundations based in the U.S. The results were pretty shocking: only 26,663 are willing to accept unsolicited proposals. That's right, 28 percent. True, many of these are the larger, staffed foundations that hold the bulk of the sector's assets. So I took a look at the 967 foundations that have $100 million in more in assets and account for close to half of all foundation giving by U.S. foundations. The results are more encouraging, but only somewhat — 568 (58 percent) of them accept unsolicited proposals.

I find this troubling, on two counts. The first is because of the grand public policy bargain that makes institutionalized philanthropy possible in America: wealthy donors are given significant tax incentives to create and maintain foundations in exchange for providing a demonstrable, long-term contribution to the public good. As much as I understand how small foundations (especially) might not want to spend their resources on creating a bureaucracy whose primary task is to turn down the overwhelming majority of proposals they receive each year, it still bothers me. Somewhere in my heart I believe that, when it comes to foundations, the public good is best served when the public (in the form of social sector organizations) can freely apply for support. I can understand how a foundation may want to have a program or two that does not accept open applications, but to shut out the public entirely from any unsolicited inquiries is something I have trouble accepting.

Moreover, this can further isolate foundations, institutions that are already insulated from the kinds of market, electoral, and fundraising pressures that lead to standardization, transparency, and accountability in other sectors. This is also the source of foundations' most precious asset — the philanthropic freedom that allows them to take risks, stick with difficult issues over the long-term, and make leaps of faith that can spark whole new ways of solving the world's most pressing problems. To the extent that foundations put more emphasis on creating elaborately designed strategies while shutting themselves off from unsolicited proposals, their work can become a kind of endowed activism.

So, what can foundations do?

Continue reading »

Change Management From the Inside Out

August 13, 2015

Change_button_195I have been thinking a lot about change lately.

It’s no secret that external change is often the enemy of an organization’s long-term impact. Think changes in public policy. Trends in fundraising. Challenges to mission. Shifts in consumer sentiment. And, frankly, philanthropic fads.

But internal change can be just as much or perhaps even more of a management challenge, and the implications of how we deal with that change — particularly at the leadership level — are critical.

Consider such internal challenges as:

  • Change in organizational leadership – the CEO, president, or executive director;
  • Change in board leadership due to term limits;
  • Change in volunteer leadership at the ground level as volunteers move from one volunteer opportunity to another;
  • Change in how volunteers themselves see their roles in the organization; and
  • The need to make changes in "the way we do things" to avoid institutional inertia and dry rot.

No one has written about "change" and "transition" more eloquently than the author, speaker, and organizational consultant William Bridges, who asserts that "it isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions."

Continue reading »

Eleanor Roosevelt and Data Post-2015

October 01, 2014

Headshote_angela_haricheTwo weeks ago, I was down with the flu AND jetlagged, so all I could manage to do in the evenings was get under a blanket and watch all fourteen hours of "The Roosevelts" on PBS. I thought it was riveting and the timing was perfect. It has been a particularly busy time for us at Foundation Center and there have been an inordinate amount of meetings and conferences around the annual meeting of the UN general assembly. Happily, most of the people sharing a table with me at these events had also been watching "The Roosevelts." We all admitted it was nice for once to discuss something else other than the grind during the lunches and coffee breaks!

So, it was no surprise when Kathy Calvin, president of the United Nations Foundation, said at a recent Ford Foundation event, "Channel your inner Eleanor Roosevelt post-2015." I think that was my best tweet all week. But what does it mean? Well, Eleanor certainly was a force. In fact, she was the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was able to move the needle on things in the face of incredible resistance. And "post-2015" is about what comes after the Millennium Development Goals effort comes to an end next year.

The event brought together leaders from philanthropy, the UN, business, and civil society to talk about philanthropy and the role of the sector in the coming years. Brad Smith, president of Foundation Center, and Helena Monteiro from WINGS (Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support) convened a session that focused on the data and knowledge needed to a) get a better grip on what we know and don’t know about funding for global development goals; b) how to get an accurate picture of development progress; c) how to build standards and trust so working together isn't so hard; d) how to climb the mountain of definitions when so many cultures (both organizational and geographic) name things differently; and e) how to remember that we are talking about people's lives here. It was noted during the session that ten years ago nobody would have wanted to attend a session on data!

So what came out of it?

Continue reading »

Tracking the Human Rights Response to HIV

September 10, 2014

"Good decisions always require good information, and when resources are limited, data matters even more...."

– Greg Millett, vice president and director of public policy, amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research

Headshot_sarah_hamiltonIn August, AVAC and amfAR issued a report, Data Watch: Closing a Persistent Gap in the AIDS Response, that calls for a new approach to tracking data on the global response to AIDS. What's unique about Data Watch is that it places equal emphasis on filling the gaps in both epidemiological and expenditure information. Data has always reigned supreme in the public health world, but in their new report AVAC and amfAR pose a simple question: What happens to our quest to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030 if we don't know whether we have the funding to sustain our efforts?

Through improved data, for instance, we now know that key populations (i.e., men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, transgender people, and sex workers) represent a major share of the epidemic, largely due to such factors as stigma, discrimination, and punitive laws that continue to marginalize these populations and keep them from the care and treatment they need. With human rights abuses continuing to fuel the epidemic and impacting the health and rights of those most at-risk, targeted funding for a human rights response to HIV is critical.

But is that happening?

Sadly, no. Recent research from the Join United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) [1] found that less than one percent of the $18.9 billion spent on the overall HIV response in 2012 supported human rights programming.

Continue reading »

NGO Aid Map: See More. Do Better.

June 13, 2014

Headshot_julie_montgomeryThere are certain moments in your life that you never forget. Some of mine include graduating from college, buying a home, and having a baby. The same thing happens in one's career, and for me, Wednesday was one of those moments.

For the past six years, InterAction has been using online maps to help tell our members’ story. Wednesday was important because we launched a new global map on InterAction's NGO Aid Map, one that will allow us to tell this story as it applies to all countries and all sectors.

As the world of development actors continues to grow and expand, it is more important than ever to make aid smarter. One way to help improve aid is through data sharing, but in the midst of a data revolution, how does one make sense of it all?

It may sound simple, but gathering up-to-date, standardized data from NGOs is no small feat, even for InterAction — an alliance made up of more than one hundred and eighty individual organizations working to advance human dignity and fight poverty around the world.

Collecting data is one thing, but ensuring that it stays relevant, useful, and accessible is a massive undertaking. That is why we built the NGO Aid Map, an online platform that demonstrates, using maps and other data visualizations, where our members work and what they do around the world. Through data, we can help determine whether we are on the right track to fighting poverty.

Screenshot_NGO_AidMap

Now that you know why Wednesday mattered to me, I'd like to share five reasons why NGO Aid Map should matter to you:

Continue reading »

Research and Crowdsourcing Shine a Light on Grantmaking Institutions

May 29, 2014

Headshot_sherece_west_scantleburyIn 2013, more than 80,000 foundations collectively awarded nearly $50 billion in grants, benefiting people and causes in nearly every corner of our nation and the world. Grantmaking institutions have an enormous amount of influence in sectors such as health and education, in fields such as community change and economic development, and in the spheres of public policy and advocacy, and more.

Recently, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy launched Philamplify, which couples evidence-based assessments by experts with an interactive website featuring commentary from people with first-hand experience in philanthropy, nonprofits, and communities. Together, they create a comprehensive picture of what's working well and what could be working better. The impetus to build this new interactive website stems from the belief that transparency, mutual accountability, and knowledge-sharing can transform communities and maximize the impact of the country's grantmakers by creating a safe space for all of us to provide honest, constructive feedback.

As the president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation – an institution that values excellence and accountability in its grantmaking – I welcome the feedback Philamplify promises. Empowering our communities to thrive and enabling the dreams and possibilities of those in need through the power of philanthropy should always be a receptive, responsive, and, above all, effective process.

A just, inclusive society is one that welcomes all voices, and philanthropies should be the best ambassadors of these principles. Being heard has never been easier in the Internet age, and we are more connected than at any other time in human history. Online communication facilitates collective knowledge and experience on the practical application of charitable giving that touches so many lives in America and across the globe.

We rate our restaurants, our dry cleaners, and our shopping malls. Philamplify provides nuanced feedback in the way we steward billions of foundation dollars to serve the individuals and families that need it most and to address the most pressing problems of our times. At the same time, we suspect that grant recipients, grant seekers, and others shy away from offering their ideas for what could be done differently, lest their feedback be interpreted as criticism and not received in the constructive way it was intended.

We need to push back on this isolation bubble in philanthropy. I work in the charitable sector not because I believe I know better than the communities with which I work, but because I want to engage in a dynamic conversation with them in the hope of finding innovative, potent ways to solve pressing issues together. I subscribe to the belief that no matter what field you work in, the passion that you find in your mission is only enhanced by the feedback from those whose lives you impact – which is why the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation volunteered to participate in NCRP's foundation assessment process. We found that this impartial, third-party evaluation of our strategies to bring economic, social, and racial justice to the lives of Arkansans was not only helpful, but also necessary to bolster accountable, open, and effective grantmaking activity.

With Philamplify, I believe we've taken an important step in transforming the philanthropic world into a transparent, inclusive space that celebrates the diversity of opinions from those who are our partners in improving the lives of individuals, families, and communities. When philanthropy proactively taps into the rich ideas that come from openness and mutual accountability, the possibilities are boundless. I believe that day has come.

Dr. Sherece West-Scantlebury is president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, which works to improve the lives of Arkansans in education, economic development, and economic, racial and social justice. She also serves as board chair of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a national watchdog, research, and advocacy organization. This post originally appeared on the NCRP blog and is reposted here with permission.

Meet the New Glasspockets Web Site

December 27, 2013

(Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the center's Glasspockets effort. A version of this post orginally appeared on the center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Headshot_janet_camarenaLast month, we launched a redesigned and enhanced Glasspockets Web site that I hope readers of this blog will enjoy exploring and/or rediscovering. Our goal for the new site remains the same as when the site originally launched in 2010: to champion greater philanthropic transparency in an increasingly digital world. But the new site is very different and much improved from that first site -— thanks in part to our efforts to create a user experience informed by direct feedback from our stakeholders.

Of course, you might be wondering whether we need a Glasspockets site to champion transparency at all. To which my answer would be a resounding "yes." You might be surprised to learn, for example, that according to the latest data from the Foundation Center, fewer than 10 percent of foundations in the United States have a Web presence. Many of you might assume this is due to the large number of small, unstaffed family foundations that comprise the private foundation universe in the United States. But even when you look at relatively large foundations, those with assets of more than $100 million, you find that nearly a third (30 percent) of them do not have a Web site.

Clearly, many people who engage in philanthropy prefer to do so quietly and without fanfare, which is a challenge for those of us in the field-building business as well as for grantseekers and other grantmakers interested in connecting with like-minded colleagues and funders. We also recognize that, when it comes to transparency, it's often hard for grantmakers to know where to begin. Which is why the redesigned Glasspockets site makes it much easier for grantmakers to find tools they can use and steps they can take to increase their level of transparency.

Continue reading »

Big-Dollar Philanthropy Gets the Broad-Brush Treatment

December 03, 2013

(David Jacobs is director of foundation information management at the Foundation Center. In his last post, he claimed to be shocked – shocked! – that the IRS was subjecting conservative and Tea Party organizations applying for tax-exempt status to extra scrutiny.)

Blue_paintIs big-dollar, high-profile celebrity philanthropy really just for show? That's what Guy Sorman, a City Journal contributing editor and public intellectual in France, seems to think. Writing in the fall issue of CJ, Sorman cites a CNN story from March that begins: "Bill Gates is putting out a call to inventors, but he's not looking for software or the latest high-tech gadget. This time he's in search of a better condom."

"Incongruous as the story seemed," writes Sorman,

the former Microsoft titan had joined the struggle against sexually transmitted diseases. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was offering a $100,000 start-up grant to anyone who could design a condom that didn't interfere with sexual pleasure. Rachel Zimmerman, host of public radio’s CommonHealth, called the Gates Foundation's initiative "truly inspired." But was it? After all, the latex industry has pursued the same goal for decades and devoted many millions of dollars to the effort. What's the point of a philanthropist trying to do what the market is already doing?

Call this philanthropy for show, a kind of celebrity giving designed for a mediatized age, based on grand gestures, big dollars, and heartwarming proclamations -- but too little concern with actual results, which often prove paltry, redundant (as with the condom initiative), or even destructive. The American media often revel in controversy, so one might expect that the gap between expansive promises and disappointing outcomes would prompt intense journalistic interest. But for the most part, would-be statesmen-humanitarians -- such as Bill Clinton, Gates, and Al Gore, along with entertainment-world benefactors like Oprah Winfrey and academic superstars like Columbia development economist Jeffrey Sachs, have gotten a free pass for their good philanthropic intentions. They and their cohorts deserve closer scrutiny....

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (November 16-17, 2013)

November 17, 2013

Headshot_JFK_portrait_looking_upWe're getting ready to launch a new PND site, so this week's roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the sector is a little shorter than usual....

Climate Change

What's the link between global warming and killer tropical storms like Typhoon Haiyan -- quite possibly the strongest storm ever recorded upon landfall? It's not clear, writes Bryan Walsh in TIME magazine, but we shouldn't discount the possibility that such a link exists -- or that stronger, if not necessarily more frequent, tropical cyclones will be a feature of the twenty-first century because of "the warming we've already baked into the system...."

Disaster Response

On the GiveWell blog, Holden Karnofsky shares GiveWell's advice vis-a-vis disaster relief giving:

  1. Give cash, not clothes (or other goods).
  2. Support an organization that will help or get out of the way.
  3. Give proactively, not reactively.
  4. Allow your funds to be used where most needed – even if that means they’re not used during this disaster.
  5. Give to organizations that are transparent and accountable.
  6. Think about less-publicized suffering.

Evaluation

Good post by Tom Kelly, vice president of knowledge, evaluation and learning at the Hawaii Community Foundation, about foundations moving "to embrace and promote 'learning' as an alternative to evaluation." The problem with that, writes Kelly, is that "evaluation must be about learning and accountability. We must be accountable not only to the results we intend and promise to communities but...also learn in an accountable way." 

Continue reading »

5 Questions for...Charles Bailey, Director, Agent Orange in Vietnam Program

August 19, 2013

Headshot_charles_baileyFrom 1997 to 2007, Charles Bailey was the Ford Foundation representative in Vietnam. At the start of his posting, the war in Vietnam had been over for more than twenty years, but one of its legacies, environmental contamination caused by the U.S. military's use of Agent Orange, was an under-addressed concern. Bailey looked into the facts of Agent Orange use in the Southeast Asian country and began to develop a vocabulary that American and Vietnamese officials could use to discuss the issue. After a few years, Ford invited the Aspen Institute, which has expertise in facilitating difficult conversations, to initiate a dialogue around the issue, and the two governments began to talk. Eventually, the United Nations, other NGOs and foundations, and several European governments joined the conversation.

But one thing was missing, says Bailey, and that was a way to connect the American public to the effort. With his encouragement, Active Voice, a social documentary shop in San Francisco, put together a three-minute public-service video, "Make Agent Orange History," while San Francisco State University contributed fresh reporting to the discussion through its Vietnam Reporting Project. In 2011, Bailey moved to the Aspen Institute, where he continues to support dialogue, advocacy, and public education around the issue.

Recently, PND spoke with Bailey about the Agent Orange program and what remains to be done.

Philanthropy News Digest: Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang recently met with President Obama in Washington, D.C. Why was the meeting significant?

Charles Bailey: President Sang is the second Vietnamese head-of-state to visit the U.S. since the two countries normalized relations in 1995, and his visit was an important opportunity to celebrate the remarkable progress made since 2007 in at last addressing the legacy of Agent Orange. Over the last six years, our Agent Orange in Vietnam Program has had a hand in raising over $100 million to assist Vietnam to begin to deal with this legacy from the U.S.-Vietnam War. Even more important for the future, President Obama and President Sang issued a joint statement at the end of their talks on July 26 that contained a key statement: "The president reaffirmed the United States' commitment to providing further medical and other care and assistance for people with disabilities, regardless of cause."

I published an op-ed in the Huffington Post on the occasion urging both presidents to take advantage of this breakthrough and include language on disability services and rights as part of a new comprehensive partnership agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam.

Continue reading »

Silence Isn’t Golden

July 09, 2013

(Mark Rosenman is an emeritus professor at the Union Institute & University and directs Caring to Change, an initiative that seeks to improve how foundations serve the public. In his last post, he urged PhilanTopic readers to assess how they value the things they value.)

Rosenman_headshotConfronted by headlines about truly questionable practices at a few dozen charities, the response of too many nonprofit leaders has been to bury their heads in the sand and try to pull the hole in after them. What these leaders fail to appreciate is that silence in response to scandalous behavior is neither golden nor in their best interests.

By now, most of you have seen the carefully researched list compiled by the Center for Investigative Reporting, in partnership with the Tampa Bay Times and CNN, of "America's 50 worst charities" -- tax-exempt organizations that "channel most of the money they raise to professional solicitors, mimic other charities' names, deceive donors on telemarketing calls, divert money and contracts to people with ties to their organizations, and use accounting tricks to inflate the amount they report spending on their missions."

Yet, despite overwhelming evidence of self-dealing by these groups and their closely associated entities, key leadership organizations in the sector, including Independent Sector, have responded to requests for comment from the press by declaring that they didn't have enough information to make a judgment, while others have defended outrageous fundraising percentages diverted to what the California Association of Nonprofits' Jan Masaoka labels the "philanthropic-consultant industrial complex."

When it comes to nonprofits, these kinds of abuses are nothing new, and neither is the timidity of nonprofit leaders in condemning them. Their silence in the past has greeted media coverage of huge salaries paid to charity officials, outlandish benefits, self-dealing within boards, tax gimmicks for donors, and malfeasance in program operations. Unfortunately, the cost of that silence is something we all bear.

Continue reading »

Foundations and the 'New Normal': A Q&A With Bradford K. Smith, President, Foundation Center

June 10, 2013

(The following Q&A with Foundation Center president Bradford Smith appears as part of a special feature on "Philanthropy in a changing world economy" in the June 2013 issue of Alliance magazine. It is reprinted here, with minor revisions, courtesy of Caroline and her team.)

Headshot_brad-smith2Caroline Hartnell: To what extent are U.S. foundations changing in response to austerity?

Bradford K. Smith: I started this job two weeks after Lehman collapsed. On my first day in the office, we had a press call about what foundations were doing about the economic crisis. I put down the phone and walked down the hall to our research department and said, "Quick, I need a statistic," and they came up with a really good one. Foundation giving for the previous year, 2007, was around $45 billion -- about 6 per cent of the first stimulus package announced by the federal government. So one thing the crisis really showed up was the scale of foundation resources. When the economy gets into serious trouble, it takes government to try to keep it from collapsing. Foundation dollars alone aren't enough to solve problems. That made foundations think more about how they can leverage money from each other, how they can collaborate with other sectors rather than trying to do it themselves.

A second interesting thing is that foundation giving held up quite well during the recession. One reason is that U.S. foundations calculate their mandatory payout on a rolling three-year average of the value of their assets, which cushions them from big market swings. It also held up well because foundations actually went beyond the federally mandated payout rate of 5 percent.

CH: The recession has changed things for the foreseeable future. Do you think U.S. foundations see this as a "new normal" and are rethinking their role?

BKS: I think most of them are adjusting to the idea that long-term expectations for returns on investment need to be reduced. 2012 was a good year in the financial markets, but nobody really expects that it will go back to the boom years when, as one foundation investment manager put it, for a number of years "all we had to do was get out of bed in the morning and we could make a 20 percent return on our endowment."

Continue reading »

Board Compensation in Grantmaking Foundations: Reasonable and Necessary?

February 20, 2013

(Mark Hager is associate professor of nonprofit studies in the School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Headshot_mark_hagerTradition dictates that board members work for free in most quarters of the nonprofit sector, but that isn't necessarily true for grantmaking foundations, especially independent ones. In a new paper (free access until late March) published in Public Integrity, the ethics journal sponsored by the American Society of Public Administration, Elizabeth Boris and I consider the question of what varieties of grantmaking foundations compensate their board members for governance duties. It reboots and reframes an earlier analysis conducted by the Urban Institute, the Foundation Center, and GuideStar.

In the paper, we point to several interesting examples, including a very large foundation's generous policy of trustee compensation spelled out in its organizing documents, another with seven-figure annual compensation paid to a bank to act as a very part time "institutional trustee," and another that underwent IRS investigation for eye-popping compensation that essentially amounted to trustees looting a charitable trust. These cases aren't typical, but they are part of the big picture of how work gets done in grantmaking foundations and how much insiders get paid to do it. In more typical cases, foundations might have justifiable reasons to compensate board members, including to ensure representation from beneficiary populations or to extend health insurance benefits to family founders. It's the extreme cases, however, that threaten to color all of philanthropy.

Compensation for governance duties is perfectly legal, so long as it falls under the IRS' broad standard of "reasonable and necessary." The practice is pretty rare in community foundations, partly due to the fact that they rely so heavily on public contributions and are therefore subject to public scrutiny. It also appears to be fairly rare in corporate foundations, but that may largely be due to the fact that many corporate foundation trustees get paid as corporate executives, making their compensation invisible on the foundation side. About one in five independent foundations, however, appear to report compensation of their board members for governance duties, as reported on Form 990-PF.

Continue reading »

“Beep, Beep”: The Sound of Philanthropy and the Social Economy in 2013

January 07, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center.)

Wile-E-Coyote"We will change what we do with and without institutions, and we will change how our institutions (funders, nonprofits, and others) work." So predicts self-described philanthropy wonk Lucy Bernholz in Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2013, a must-read roadmap available for the first time as a GrantCraft publication. "Beep, beep." Wile E. Coyote (me, nonprofit executive) has just been left holding a burning stick of dynamite while the Road Runner (Lucy, blogger extraordinaire) races headlong onto her next prediction. That is the true value of Blueprint 2013 for those who are busy running the institutions that make up the "social economy": Lucy has seen the future for us, and now we must struggle to adapt, respond, and innovate. The data- and technology-driven future she envisions is both exhilarating and a bit unsettling, but one thing is clear: the Silicon Valley credo is fast approaching the staid world of philanthropy: "Disrupt yourself or be disrupted."

The vast majority of today's social sector leaders grew up in a world where foundations were the funders and nonprofits were the doers. Blueprint 2013 lays out a vision of a social economy inhabited not only by traditional nonprofits, but also by social businesses, socially responsible corporations, peer networks, and institutional forms not yet invented. Donors in this economy have choices between well-known forms of charitable giving (like creating a foundation), impact investing, and political giving to bring out the change they desire.

Running throughout the social economy is the lifeblood of data. In 2012 alone:

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning...."

    — Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Tags

Other Blogs