March 13, 2015
If you're a small foundation aiming to achieve greater philanthropic impact, how can transparency be a tool? At the JRS Biodiversity Foundation, we're using it to drive impact through better project management and improved grantee relationships: transparency for adaptability rather than accountability.
Open access to biodiversity information to benefit nature and society is our mission. The principle that data access enables change applies to philanthropy as well as conservation and aligns well with our foundation strategy and culture. And transparency underlies a number of our practices, including customized progress and financial reports, detailed report reviews, amended grant agreements and plans, and regularly updated project Web pages.
From the first steps in the grant application process through the final grant report, we try to model and achieve openness and accessibility. An important moment for new grantee relationships is an orientation video-conference that introduces our approach to managing the funded project. We use the call and future communications to promote the continued refinement of thoughtful qualitative and quantitative indicators that can lighten a grantee's reporting burden and allow us to collaboratively identify areas where plans need to change. Then, during the project, we regularly remind project directors that the plan made months or years earlier to win our funds was merely the starting point; they need to execute on the plan to meet their stated goals today, and that requires flexibility on their part – and ours. When a grantee is transparent about something that has gone wrong, we'll help them revise their budget and plan to do what makes sense based on the changed circumstance. Rose-colored reporting and rigid grant agreements don't serve anybody well, while candor in the grantee-funder relationship keeps small challenges from becoming big problems. We also try to keep a promise to our partners to match our attention to milestones and metrics with our enthusiasm to adapt to emergent challenges and opportunities.