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100 posts categorized "Transparency"

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?

Keep the door open, even if it is just a crack. No matter how bright a foundation's trustees or staff might be, their networks are necessarily limited. And, as I can attest from long years of experience as a foundation professional, no matter how good your own ideas are, there are many people in the world with better, more creative ones. So it's just good business for a foundation to maintain at least one program area that freely allows organizations to apply for funding. Think of it as a kind of venture window or idea lab for your foundation. Failing that, foundations can signal their willingness to accept brief letters of interest, after which staff can decide whether or not to invite a formal proposal.

Create a website. While a remarkable 93 percent of American foundations do not have a website, there are some countries like the Netherlands where a Web presence is required of all foundations. (But that's a topic for another blog post.) In terms of numbers, the majority of American foundations are very small and have little or no infrastructure. They figure: "If we put up a website, we will be flooded by proposals that far exceed our grantmaking budget and most of which do not respond to our priorities." A simple website can actually help and gives you the chance to be crystal clear about what your foundation will fund and what it will not. Foundation Center has a service that designs and hosts (more than two hundred) foundation websites to make this process as simple and painless as possible.

Do a good job filling out your 990-PF tax return. For that huge majority of foundations that do not have websites, the 990-PF is the principal source of information about them for the public. It is also used by Foundation Center and others to build databases that describe foundation interests, priorities, and limitations. The Internal Revenue Service, in coming years, will require digital filing of 990s and will make them available as machine readable open data for use by anyone with a computer and a good algorithm. In other words, information about your foundation will be everywhere, and it will be based primarily on what you say about yourself in the tax return.

What can nonprofits do?

I once gave a live Web chat with the seemingly contradictory title "How to get a grant from a foundation that doesn't accept proposals." This is one of the most frequent questions posed to Foundation Center staff and the professionals who staff some four hundred and fifty Funding Information Network affiliates in all fifty states. The answer basically boils down to what my mother told me when I was growing up: "It's who you know that counts." In more modern parlance this means networks. If a foundation says it will not accept unsolicited proposals, look for a connection that could lead to an invitation to the party. Use Foundation Directory Online to scour its board and staff lists (if they have staff). Look at all their grants and who is getting them for what purpose. If you or one of your trustees has a connection with someone on the grants list, see if that organization will introduce you to the foundation. Remember, foundations that do not accept unsolicited proposals still make grants. Your task is to find a way on to the invitation list. The good news is that foundations tend to fund organizations consistently over time, so once you get that first grant (and perform well) there is a strong chance that future grants will follow.

Foundation Center sits at the nexus — or, to use the postmodern term, "interstices" — of foundations and the nonprofits they support. Though we know both types of organizations extremely well, we strive to remain religiously neutral by not picking winners or losers or otherwise classifying organizations as good or bad, worthy, or unworthy. Nevertheless, we do see trends, and some of those are worth noting, exploring, and perhaps going public about. As one who has committed his professional life to philanthropy and the social sector I am still wrestling with this one. Help me think it through in the comments section below.

Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center. In his previous post, he wrote about philanthropy's difficult dance with inequality. 

Grantmaker Transparency: The Dawn of a New Age in Philanthropy

November 14, 2015

Time-for-transparency"People tend to be private about love and money, and in philanthropy, it's both," says Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

It's only natural that, traditionally, philanthropy has unfolded behind closed doors. On the one hand, the freedom to make personal funding choices gives grantmakers the ability to stay above the fray, uninfluenced by both market and political pressures. On the other hand, it doesn't allow the public to understand, learn from, or think critically about philanthropy.

"Giving and charitable acts are such private, emotional transactions," says Suki O'Kane, director of administration at the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. "How do you come from such strong traditions of privacy and intimacy, and bring that out into the open?"

Where do things stand?

Indeed ­– how do we as a sector make the switch from a traditionally opaque business model to an enterprise that embraces more transparency? It all comes down to the following questions: What am I funding? Why am I funding what I'm funding? Is my funding making an impact? And perhaps most importantly, how do we improve?

There is good news: transparency in philanthropy is happening, there's no denying it. In fact, it's well under way, with large foundations like Gates, Ford, and Getty, sharing their endeavors with the public, surveying their grantees (and sharing the results), and creating searchable grants databases. Still, transparency can be difficult.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 31-November 1, 2015)

November 01, 2015

Vote-buttonOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog.

Arts and Culture

"Since the time of Alexandria, libraries have held a symbolic function. For the Ptolemaic kings, the library was an emblem of their power; eventually it became the encompassing symbol of an entire society, a numinous place where readers could learn the art of attention which, Hannah Arendt argued, is a definition of culture." Sadly, writes Alberto Manguel in the New York Times, that function is being diluted by the demands of a society "too miserly or meet [its] essential social obligations...."

Climate Change

On the Transformation blog, the Kindle Project's Arianne Shaffer and Fatima van Hattum argue that the grantmaking strategies of the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation illustrate in a profound way the "ongoing limitations and contradictions of conventional philanthropy" with respect to the threat of global climate disruption.

Corporate Philanthropy

Corporate Responsibility Magazine has announced the winners of its 2015 Responsible CEO of the Year Award.


Should Angelenos be troubled by the fact that the Los Angeles Times ' new education-reporting project "is being funded by some of the very organizations the new education-reporting project is likely to be covering"? Paul Farhi, the Washington Post's media reporter, tries to get some answers.


Just in time for the holidays, "Bloomingdale’s is selling philanthropy as a lifestyle," writes Amy Shiller in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Through its new Icons with Impact campaign, the upscale retailer, says Shiller, is positioning philanthropy as "a meta-brand, uniting retailers, spokesmen, and consumers in a transaction where ethics and esthetics — that is, doing good and looking good — are synergistically reinforcing, apparently without any sacrifice or conflict in fundamental aims...."

Charitable giving in the U.S. over the next two decades could reach $8 trillion — $6.6 trillion in cash contributions (much of it to family foundations) and $1.4 trillion in volunteer services (calculated at $23.63/hour). Forbes staff writer Ashlea Ebling reports.

Who are the twenty people who have given the most to charitable/philanthropic causes? And how many of them are under the age of thirty-five? Business Insider has the skinny.

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[Review] Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library

September 17, 2015

Book_patience_and_fortitudeScott Sherman's Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library is a nuanced, enlivening, and ultimately sobering account of the birth and death of a plan to renovate and reorganize the New York Public Library, whose iconic main branch on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan has welcomed millions of scholars, researchers, and readers since it opened in 1911. While the book is an impressive exercise in investigative journalism — providing, as it does, a meticulously researched account of the development of the "Central Library Plan" (CLP) — and the loud public rejection of said plan — it is also a paean to the NYPL and the power of citizen engagement.

Indeed, were it not for the impassioned voices of countless New Yorkers raised against the CPL, people like author Junot Diaz, who wrote, as part of a campaign protesting the plan, that "[t]o destroy the NY Public Library is to destroy our sixth and best borough; that beautiful corner of New York City where all are welcome and all are equals, and where many of us were first brought to the light," it is likely the institution's leaders would have succeeded in "repurposing" the library for the digital age while creating an enormously valuable parcel of land in the heart of one of the priciest real estate markets on the planet.

Taking its title from the two granite lions standing guard at the entrance to the library's landmarked building on Fifth Avenue, Patience and Fortitude examines in detail the plan's origins, as well as the objections to it, which focused on the proposal to transfer three million books from the library's basement stacks to a state-of-the-art storage facility in Princeton, New Jersey. In the process, Sherman, who first reported on the CLP in The Nation, reminds his readers that, throughout its storied history, the NYPL was funded by New York-based business and civic luminaries — Astor, Carnegie, and Rockefeller, among them — in the name of private philanthropy for the public good. The CLP, in contrast, was designed by consulting firms with an expertise in real estate and appears to have been driven by a handful of wealthy library donors, including some sitting trustees, with their own interests in mind.

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True Board Engagement: How Openness and Access to Board Conversations Has Changed 'Creating the Future'

May 06, 2015

Wilding_pollock_150x350It's a widely held maxim that sunlight, read as transparency and openness for the purpose of this post, is the best disinfectant. While true, we feel this view has an unfortunate undertone of emphasizing the negative: greater transparency is needed in order to prevent and/or catch wrongdoing. It focuses attention on what we hope to avoid rather than what we hope is possible.

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

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

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

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In Pursuit of Better Outcomes Through Transparency-Fueled Adaptability

March 13, 2015

AdaptabilityIf 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.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 28-March 1, 2015)

March 01, 2015

Leonard-nimoy-spockOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


On Medium, Dan Gillmor, the long-time technology writer for the San Jose Mercury News, argues that governments and powerful tech companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft are creating "choke points" on the Internet and "using those choke points to destroy our privacy, limit our freedom of expression, and lock down culture and commerce. Too often," Gillmor adds, "we give them our permission — trading liberty for convenience — but a lot of this is being done without our knowledge, much less permission...."


In an op-ed for the Minn Post, progressive activist and education blogger Lynnell Mickelsen suggests that Minneapolis could change its schools to work better for kids of color, but it "would involve asking mostly white middle-class administrators, teachers and employees to change their work lives — i.e. their schedules, assignments, job locations and even pay — around the needs, comfort and convenience of low-income people of color and their children." Be sure to check out the comments thread.


Pamela Yip, a business columnist for the Dallas Morning News, reports on a recent presentation by Sharna Goldseker, managing director of 21/64, a New York consulting firm, in which Goldseker touched on several factors that distinguish younger donors from their parents and grandparents.

Global Health

In a podcast on the Humanosphere blog, Gilles van Cutsem, a physician and medical director for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, says the Ebola crisis in West Africa is far from over.

Higher Education

As this well-thought-out data visualization from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation shows, America’s postsecondary student population is more diverse than ever.

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Social Sector Still Lags Far Behind the Future of Big Data

January 06, 2015

Blueprint 2015, Lucy Bernholz's sixth annual publication predicting future trends in philanthropy, announces a new focus:

From now on, we'll be looking at the structures of the social economy in the context of pervasive digitization. This is not about gadgets; it's about complicated (and fundamental) ideas like free association, expression, and privacy in the world of digital data and infrastructure. (p. 5)

Lucy goes on to pose some thought-provoking conceptions of civil society ("the place where we use private resources for public benefit"), digital civil society, and what she sees as three core purposes of civil society: expression, protest, and distribution.

That is, we organize to express ourselves artistically, culturally or as members of a particular group; to protest or advocate on behalf of issues or populations; and to provide and distribute services or products that the market or state are not providing. (p. 6)

In essence, civil society, and in many cases nonprofits, are where people come to put their values into action.

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5 Questions for...Bekeme Masade, Executive Director, CSR-in-Action

October 10, 2014

As part of a new International Data Relations series that engages with executives, leaders, and country experts on philanthropy and the social sector from around the globe, Sue Rissberger, liaison for Africa and Asia in the International Data Relations department at Foundation Center, spoke with Bekeme Masade, executive director of CSR-in-Action in Nigeria. In the Q&A that follows, Masade shares her perspective on the philanthropic sector in Nigeria and explains how CSR-in-Action, a social business networking platform and advisory enterprise in Lagos, is helping to drive collective social action in the country -- and Africa more generally.

Foundation Center began working in Nigeria in 2013, and Bekeme has played a pivotal role in providing local expertise to inform the center's initiatives. One of those initiatives is a new Web portal, set to launch this fall, designed to highlight the efforts of philanthropy in Nigeria and provide resources for those interested in helping to build the capacity of the country's social sector.

Headshot_bekeme_masadeSue Rissberger: How is the philanthropic and nonprofit sector defined in Nigeria?

Bekeme Masada: The philanthropic sector in Nigeria is broadly comprised of actors who give and receive goodwill. Organizations who receive goodwill include orphanages and institutions that support the physically and mentally challenged and, more recently, the "empowerment" of vulnerable groups. These actors are often supported by corporate organizations as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts. Religious organizations in Nigeria, such as churches and mosques, are an example of actors distributing goodwill by channeling their resources and efforts to support social causes, including the refurbishment of schools and the provision of potable water by donating bore holes to their host communities.

The nonprofit sector in Nigeria, on the other hand, is mostly defined by foundations and nongovernmental organizations, with the latter often supported by businesses as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts. It is common practice for businesses in Nigeria to support a specific cause by financially supporting an NGO, or sometimes a public institution like a school. More often than not, though, there is no clear distinction between NGOs and foundations, as smaller foundations often engage in the same kinds of activities as NGOs. In fact, only a handful of Nigerian foundations are engaged in grantmaking activities – primarily those owned by wealthy individuals and a few that are directly owned by a for-profit business.

SR: There are now five Funding Information Network partners located in four cities in Nigeria: Abuja, Lagos, Kano, and Port Harcourt. What is your vision for how these Funding Information Network partners can service civil society organizations in Nigeria?

BM: These partners will serve as primary sources of information on philanthropy for Nigerian civil society organizations within their respective geopolitical zones. We envisage a system where CSOs use the Funding Information partners to identify grantmaking organizations, develop their proposal writing techniques, and apply for international or local grants. A primary challenge to the effective usage of these partners, though, is publicity. The degree to which partners in the network are utilized will depend on the amount of publicity they receive.

We believe there is an information gap with respect to available grant opportunities in the teaching/thought leadership space. Knowing this, Funding Information Network partners could be of service to actors beyond the stratum in which civil society organizations traditionally operate.

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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?

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Foundation Transparency: Are Foundations and Nonprofits Seeing Eye to Eye?

September 08, 2014

Headshot_buteau_gopalNonprofit and foundation leaders have starkly different views about the importance of foundation transparency. That's what we learned when we surveyed nonprofit and foundation CEOs about their attitudes about this issue. Nonprofit CEOs value foundation transparency and believe it contributes to their effectiveness. "Openness, which [foundations] require of us, would be very helpful in creating a good working relationship," said one nonprofit CEO. But the majority of foundation CEOs don't see transparency as crucial to impact.

We found that 91 percent of nonprofits agree that "Foundations that are more transparent are more helpful to my organization's ability to work effectively," but only 47 percent of foundation CEOs agree that "Foundations would be able to create more impact if they were more transparent with the nonprofits they fund."

Why might nonprofit and foundation CEOs have such different attitudes toward foundation transparency?CEP_transparency_findingsFirst, foundations may not share nonprofits' understanding of transparency. To nonprofit CEOs, foundations are transparent when they are "clear, open, and honest about the processes and decisions that are relevant to nonprofits' work." Transparency is not only about what information foundations share — which Glasspockets helps to track through its transparency indicators — but how effectively foundations have communicated that information to nonprofits.

Foundations may also think they are transparent enough. But nonprofit leaders' assessment of foundations' transparency suggests they could do better: on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 indicates "not at all transparent" and 7 indicates "extremely transparent," nonprofit CEO respondents on average rate the overall transparency of their foundation funders a 4.7. As one nonprofit CEO said, "I don't think there is intent to be less transparent, but often times foundations may assume we know things about their programs, opportunities and goals we don't really know."

Nonprofit CEOs also tend to think foundations are not transparent enough about what has not worked in foundations' experiences — but fewer foundation CEOs see it that way. We found that 88 percent of nonprofit CEOs believe foundations should be more transparent about this, while only 61 percent of foundation CEOs disagree that, "Foundations do a good job of publicly sharing what has not been successful in their experiences." Perhaps nonprofits see this issue differently because they clearly understand how they could use such knowledge. "One of the best learning tools is to see what has not worked. Learning from foundations and their other grantees would be very instructive," said one nonprofit CEO.CEP_transparency_findings2While there are some examples of foundations actively working to be more open — notably the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation with its "Work in Progress" blog and Darren Walker's efforts to build a culture at the Ford Foundation where "openness is held in as high regard as our intellectual curiosity, our rigor and our commitment to the values we share" — too few foundation leaders seem to recognize the need, from nonprofits' perspective, for greater transparency.

— Ellie Buteau is vice president of research and Ramya Gopal is associate manager of research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy. This post originally appeared on Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog.

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.


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

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 8-9, 2014)

February 09, 2014

Sochi_logoOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


Interested in learning how to run a successful online fundraising campaign? Slava Rubin of Indiegogo tells you how in this animated video.


With foundations subject to more stringent tax laws and regulations than ever before, writes Virginia P. Sikes in the Nonprofit Quarterly, foundation boards and executives need to pay special attention to self-dealing, compensation for personal services, excess business holdings, and grants to charities that lobby -- "four areas from which complications and issues often arise."


In a post on her blog, Beth Kanter draws a useful distinction between organizational cultures that are data-informed as opposed to data-driven. Among other things, writes Kanter, data-informed cultures

have the conscious use of assessment, revision, and learning built into the way they plan, manage, and operate. From leadership, to strategy, to decision-making, to meetings, to job descriptions -- a data-informed culture has continuous improvement embedded in the way it functions. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the specific quantifiable metrics that an organization agrees are necessary to achieve success. They are the mileposts that tell a data-informed organization whether they are making progress toward their goals....


In a letter posted on the James Irvine Foundation Web site, Jim Canales, president of the foundation since 2003, says good-bye, as he gets ready to head east to the Boston-based Barr Foundations, to the visionaries, the truth-tellers, the optimists, the ego-less, and the merely curious who have been "essential to the progress that the Irvine Foundation has made and who have personally contributed to my growth and learning as CEO."

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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.

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Moving the Needle: Learning, Doing and Looking Ahead

December 13, 2013

(Sherece West-Scantlebury is the president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. This post originally appeared on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy blog.)

Headshot_sherece_westWinthrop Rockefeller's arrival in Arkansas in 1953 was a major event. That a member of one of the wealthiest families in the world had moved to one of the poorest states in the country was a big deal. The press was understandably curious and asked about his plans. "I've got a lot to learn and a whole lot more to do," the state's future governor responded.

Decades later, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation continues the governor's "learning" and "doing," often at the same time. On the learning side of the equation, we've done two things this year that we feel are worth sharing.

The first was a retrospective on the first five years of our Moving the Needle Strategic Plan. Developed in 2007, Moving the Needle was based on close to one hundred conversations with policy makers, grassroots community leaders, business leaders, youth, and national experts on community change. Those conversations, combined with our research on best practices in economic development, social justice and closing the achievement gap, formed the framework that has guided WRF's investments for the last five years. Moving the Needle 2008 – 2013: Looking Back Going Forward is our best effort to tell the story of the short-term impact of our investments.

The second notable thing we've done this year is partnering with NCRP to look at how our strategies and practices align with our goals, the impact created by the Moving the Needle agenda, and the quality of WRF's partnerships with grantees. To that end, NCRP developed and deployed a comprehensive appraisal tool based on its Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best and recommendations from Real Results: Why Strategic Philanthropy Is Social Justice Philanthropy. Former and current grantees, applicants that did not receive funding, and stakeholders such as government representatives and peer institutions participated in the assessment.

Through this process, we gathered data on how our partners view both the impact of the Moving the Needle strategy and the way we go about meeting our mission. The full report, NCRP Assessment of Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, provides all the details. But in short, NCRP found that:

  • Our partners understand and support the Moving the Needle Strategic plan and grantmaking approach.
  • Many grantees and stakeholders see specific signs of progress in Moving the Needle, especially in the areas of education and immigration.
  • Our partners view WRF as a highly effective funder, partly because of open, accessible foundation staff and a strong sense of shared purpose.
  • We demonstrate a consistent commitment to rural communities and resident engagement.
  • We are viewed as an effective partner, and we use our convening power to foster non-competitive relationships among our partners around the state.

Lest we get too full of ourselves, it was also clear that:

  • If we are going to see the needle move more significantly in Arkansas, there needs to be additional investment in community change and economic development in the Delta.
  • Open and accessible staff does not always mean a more efficient process. We should strive to create more timely feedback loops on the "paper-work" parts of our relationships.
  • We should expand our willingness to provide core support and capacity development for resident engagement and community organizing.
  • Leadership development is a critical component of our strategy and worthy of additional investments.

After nearly twenty years in philanthropy, I've learned there is a thin line between navel gazing and strategic assessment. Navel gazing (we've all done it) takes data, gives it a thoughtful review, and files it away. That is not our plan. WRF has already begun to build better internal systems and recalibrate its grantmaking strategy in response to feedback from our partners.

Internally, we've committed to tighter response timelines and using technology to better facilitate the transactional aspects of our relationships with grantees. On the strategy side, we incorporated the findings of the assessment into the development of Moving the Needle 2.0, the strategic plan that will guide our work for the next five years.

WRF is a small foundation with a huge mission. Our ability to positively impact the opportunities of low-income Arkansans is directly related to our ability to cultivate and sustain partnerships. It's not enough for us just to "do well"; we also have to be "do well by others" if we are going to have strong partnerships that enable us to achieve our action agenda.

A regular, methodical, third-party inquiry -- how are we doing? does it make sense? what do you think? -- is a critical part of the learning we must continually engage in to make sure that all our "doing" is actually making a difference.

How do you think we're doing? Feel free to share your comments and feedback below.

-- Sherece West-Scantlebury


Quote of the Week

  • "The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why...."

    — Mark Twain (1835-1910)

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