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97 posts categorized "Transparency"

[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 from and about the social sector, 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

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....

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Towards Greater Transparency in Philanthropy

November 29, 2013

(Mary Glanville joined the Institute for Philanthropy in May 2012 and was appointed managing director in the organization's UK office in February 2013.)

Headshot_mary_glanvilleThe Institute for Philanthropy has released a new report, Towards Greater Transparency in Philanthropy, that looks at the attitudes of individual donors toward sharing information about their giving. Information sharing is already seen by large foundations as a good way to increase their effectiveness -- the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, recently announced its decision to join the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), making it one of the first private foundations to do so -- and we wanted to see whether the same inclination existed among donors in our networks.

To that end, we asked thirty-three donors from the United States, the UK, Canada, Lebanon, and Mexico a range of questions about the perceived value and challenges of "open" philanthropy. After their responses had been collected and analyzed, four key findings emerged:

First, the thing most of them felt would help to make their philanthropy more effective (19 out of 33 donors) was "sharing evaluations with other foundations." Second, most respondents thought the greatest benefit of sharing more information about their giving was that it "facilitates collaboration (21 out of 33 donors). Third, 24 out of 33 donors said they would be interested in further discussing the possibility of a standard for sharing information about their giving with other donors. And fourth, several donors made it clear that despite seeing the value in sharing more information about their philanthropic activities, the main reason they hadn't done so was to safeguard their family's privacy.

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The Brave New World of Good

October 08, 2013

"O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't."
(William Shakespeare)

"Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted."
(Aldous Huxley)

Globe-handsWelcome to the Brave New World of Good. Once almost the exclusive province of nonprofit organizations and the philanthropic foundations that fund them, today the terrain of good is disputed by social entrepreneurs, social enterprises, impact investors, big business, governments, and geeks. Their tools of choice are markets, open data, innovation, hackathons, and disruption. They cross borders, social classes, and paradigms with the swipe of a touch screen. We seem poised to unleash a whole new era of social and environmental progress, accompanied by unimagined economic prosperity.

As a brand, good is unassailably brilliant. Who could be against it? It is virtually impossible to write an even mildly skeptical blog post about good without sounding well, bad -- or at least a bit old-fashioned. For the record, I firmly believe there is much in the brave new world of good that is helping us find our way out of the tired and often failed models of progress and change on which we have for too long relied. Still, there are assumptions worth questioning and questions worth answering to ensure that the good we seek is the good that can be achieved.


The potential of markets to scale good is undeniable. The most successful nonprofit and foundation efforts can only be replicated in multiple locations, while markets routinely attain regional, national, or even global scale. But even "philanthropic investment firms" like Omidyar Network, which was born out of eBay-inspired market zeal, have added outright grants to nonprofits as an essential part of their change strategy. Perfect markets exist only in economic theory. In the real world, avarice, corruption, politics, and power conspire to exclude minorities of all descriptions from their share of market rewards. Social policy and philanthropy, for all their faults, persist precisely because market booms benefit too few and market busts hurt too many.

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Quote of the Week

  • "We live at a time of the greatest development progress among the global poor in the history of the world...."

    — Steven Radelet, economist and author (The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World )

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