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27 posts from July 2011

This Week in PubHub: International Affairs/Development: Civil and Human Rights

July 14, 2011

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that explore issues of college access and success, with a focus on affordability, academic supports, and employment outcomes.)

During the month of July, PubHub is highlighting foundation-sponsored reports on a range of topics related to international affairs and development. This week we're featuring four reports that examine the challenges of implementing human rights protections and rights-based interventions.

Human Rights and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (80 pages, PDF), a recent report from the Open Society Institute and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, examines the impact of the Global Fund's policy of emphasizing both the rights of people with HIV/AIDS and country-driven processes, which often involve policies and laws at cross purposes with those rights. The report finds that while the fund's grantmaking processes, grants, and advocacy efforts have helped strengthen human rights protections in many countries, in others it has inadvertently reinforced institutions and activities (e.g., detention centers and compulsory drug dependency treatment) that weaken those protections. Noting that a truly rights-based HIV/AIDS response can be difficult, as it entails directly confronting sexism, homophobia, unjust criminalization, and entrenched cultural norms, the authors suggest ways to further integrate human rights into the fund's grantmaking processes, including boosting civil society participation and representation of marginalized groups through the strengthening and dual-track financing of community systems.

The global campaign to enforce human rights protections through supranational institutions and arrangements continues to be challenged, and if judicial decisions are not implemented effectively, the very legitimacy of the international court system could fall into question, argues From Judgment to Justice: Implementing International and Regional Human Rights Decisions (204 pages, PDF), a 2010 report from the Open Society Institute. In examining how well the decisions of the United Nations and European, Inter-American, and African human rights systems are implemented and monitored, the report finds that rulings on human rights violations are routinely ignored or undermined by national governments, even as caseloads increase. The authors offer a number of recommendations designed to strengthen the implementation, enforcement authority, and legitimacy of each system.

As in the case of Burma, one option the United States has used in dealing with governments that routinely violate human rights is to impose sanctions. The 2010 report Current Realities and Future Possibilities in Burma/Myanmar: Options for U.S. Policy (68 pages, PDF) analyzes that Southeast Asian country's political and economic conditions, the potential consequences of lifting longstanding trade and investment sanctions, and the links between economic welfare and human rights. Funded by the Asia Society and the Open Society Institute, the report calls for broader engagement with Burmese elites beyond the military junta; international coordination and collaboration; linking the lifting of sanctions to the release of political prisoners and democratic reform; and continued outreach to the Burmese people through direct assistance programs.

What is the role of civil society when violence breaks out against a minority group and human rights violations are committed by the majority? South African Civil Society and Xenophobia: Synthesis (259 pages, PDF), a report from the Atlantic Philanthropies, examines how structural social, economic, and spatial inequalities; housing shortages; racism; a history of using violence to advance sectarian interests; and a traumatically scarred national psyche -- combined with economic and political turmoil -- triggered the May 2008 violence against African migrants that left sixty-two people dead, nearly seven hundred injured, and thousands displaced. In response, civil society groups formed coalitions to provide shelter, food, and assistance; mobilized volunteers; put pressure on the state to intervene; and hosted community dialogues. To prevent a recurrence of violence, the authors argue, civil society groups must advocate for the state to address long-term structural problems while also incorporating migrant and refugee issues into organizational agendas, minimize fragmentation among the urban poor, and build more sustainable coalitions and networks.

The enforcement of human rights protections is a complex and fraught endeavor. Indeed, regular PhilanTopic contributor Kathryn Pyle has written eloquently on the topic in a number of posts. Do you know of an initiative or intervention that has successfully promoted human rights? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And be sure to visit PubHub, where you can browse more than four hundred reports about international affairs/development.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Lessons From ‘KaBOOM!: How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play’

July 12, 2011

KaBoom_bookcover Growing up in a middle-class suburb in New Jersey, my friends and I spent most of our free hours climbing trees, riding bikes, or jumping on someone's trampoline until our parents or siblings called us home for dinner. There was a playground in the neighborhood where we also went to swing, slide, and horse around. More than twenty years later, in Brooklyn, I'm reminded almost daily why it's important for kids to have a safe place to play outdoors when I hear primary school-aged children with no other options running up and down the hallway or bouncing a basketball outside my apartment door.

Because of my suburban upbringing and subsequent experience in NYC, I was immediately drawn to KaBOOM!: How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play, Darell Hammond's new book about the nonprofit organization he founded in 1995 with Dawn Hutchinson-Weiss to help low-income communities across the country organize to build playgrounds. (Read a review of the book here.)

Throughout the book, Hammond shares what I've come to think of as "Hammond-isms" -- management tips and advice he learned as a youngster at the Mooseheart Child City & School -- a residential childcare facility on a 1,000-acre campus outside Chicago that houses children "in need" -- as well as leading a fast-growing nonprofit.

Here are a few of my favorite from the book:

  • "Regardless of what you do for a living, you'll never reach your full potential until you realize how artificial limits can be. Growth comes from making yourself a little uncomfortable and spurring yourself [to go] beyond what you've always done....Especially when it’s done in service to others."
  • "Titles are meaningless. All people, regardless of what their business card says (or whether they even have business cards), should get treated with decency and courtesy...."
  • "Dreaming big is important in the growth of any organization. Executing on the big dreams is even more important."
  • "Hard jobs, dirty jobs, physical work -- whenever something needs to be done, you jump in and do it, regardless of your title or seniority."
  • "While risk taking may inherently mean sometimes succeeding and sometimes not, I think the more critical issue is making certain we learn from the times we don’t succeed. That’s probably the best gift any failure can give you: an opportunity to learn what not to do and an opportunity to learn what to do differently."

What about you? Have you had a chance to read KaBOOM!? Any tips or lessons from the book -- or your own life -- you'd care to share? Use the comments section below....

-- Regina Mahone

The 'Glass Filing Cabinet': What the Packard Foundation Is Learning About Learning in Public

July 11, 2011

(Paul Connolly is senior vice president of the TCC Group, a management consulting firm that serves nonprofit organizations, foundations, and corporate community involvement programs. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Filingcabinet_vert Typically, when a foundation hires an evaluator to assess a program, that evaluator collects lots of information from a range of stakeholders, analyzes the data, writes a report, and discusses it with the funder. Then an abridged final report is maybe shared with the field. The Packard Foundation has pursued a much more transparent and interactive approach for the current review of its Organizational Effectiveness program -- an approach that foundation staff likens to having "a glass filing cabinet."

For over two decades, Packard has been making grants to support such efforts as strategic planning, board development, succession planning, and Web site upgrades to strengthen the organizational capacity of its nonprofit grantees. Packard retained TCC Group several months ago to help retrospectively assess 1,300 of these grants made during the past ten years and ascertain what constitutes a successful organizational effectiveness project. Packard is grappling with questions like: What is the sustained impact of the grants we make? How and to what extent can we quantify it? What are the factors that contribute to a successful project? And what contributes to a successful consultant-client relationship?

Packard began by compiling a huge data set based on grantee records and survey research and then asked TCC to help with the analysis. Rather than scrutinizing Packard's data on our own behind closed doors, we decided to facilitate a "learning in public" process through which we are sharing early research findings widely and encouraging input. Leveraging Packard's Organizational Effectiveness wiki site, the project has set aside a section of the wiki for grantees, consultants, funders, and other interested parties to review preliminary findings and provide feedback (we invite yours, too!). Conversations also have been emerging on Twitter, blogs, and other social media venues.

What have we discovered so far about this networked approach to collective learning?

  • The Packard Foundation has been praised at several recent philanthropy conferences (such as Grantmakers for Effective Organizations' 2011 Learning Conference) for its open approach, suggesting that there is support in the field for this type of inclusive evaluation process.
  • There has been some engagement on the wiki, though not much. We recognized that the wiki was not as technologically accessible as we would have liked and are working on improving that. We are also realizing that asking a broad array of people to sift through and comment on a lot of "semi-baked" data is, well, asking a lot. (A few consultants even went so far as to say that they would only do so if they were paid for their time.)
  • So that it is more like drinking water from a cup rather than a fire hose, we have learned to cull the findings and extract a few nuggets that we then highlight and ask people to comment on.
  • We are also creating more opportunities for select constituents to participate in "old-fashioned" in-person discussion groups and webinars, during which we can "think out loud" with them. We have found that the live interaction engages people more effectively and motivates them to contribute their ideas online, too, as part of an ongoing conversation.

Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that "there are many things of which a wise man may wish to be ignorant." And Clay Shrirky, a professor of new media at New York University, has pointed out that society doesn't have a problem with information overload but rather with "filter failure."

What are other foundations learning about seeking broad input through two-way social media exchanges? How can philanthropies create better filters for seeking commentary when most people probably aren't interested in poring through all the information in those glass filing cabinets? At what point can a funder "over share" and ask constituents to review and comment on "too much information?" When is the best time to seek feedback from various types of stakeholders on slightly baked, half-baked, or fully baked findings? When soliciting experts' opinions, where exactly is the fine line between a foundation being open and receptive -- and being presumptuous and insensitive? And what is the best ways to blend online and offline input to maximize collective intelligence?

These are just some of the questions we are mulling over. We'd love to hear your thoughts. And we look forward to sharing more of our experience and insights as this public learning process evolves.

-- Paul Connolly

Limiting the Charitable Deduction: Bad for Charities?

(Matt Sinclair is the editor of PND. In June, he interviewed Premal Shah, president of microlending site Kiva.)

Afp_logo With all the talk about the federal debt ceiling -- and the economic disaster awaiting us if Congress doesn't vote to raise it by August 2 -- you may have missed the latest estimates about what might happen if the Obama administration's plan to limit the charitable deduction is enacted into law. Like a lot of news coming out of the nation’s capital these days, the numbers are pretty grim.

(For those who haven't been following the story, the Obama administration has proposed capping itemized deductions at 28 percent for married couples with income over $250,000 and individuals with income over $200,000.)

Earlier this year, the Association of Fundraising Professionals asked visitors to its Web site what kind of impact the White House proposal would have on their organization's fundraising. Three-quarters (77 percent) said donations would drop at least slightly, while one in ten (9 percent) said it would have no effect at all.

Here are the complete results (based on 525 responses collected between April 18 and June 19):

  • No effect at all on gifts: 9 percent
  • A small drop (~5 percent) in gifts: 23 percent
  • A small but significant drop (~10 percent to 20 percent): 27 percent
  • A sizeable drop (~25 percent or more): 27 percent
  • Not sure: 14 percent

Hardly a scientific study, but with the unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent and many economists scaling back their forecasts for the second half of the year, the results would seem to reflect the uncertainty that has characterized the economic recovery since the recession was declared over in the summer of 2009.

What do you think? What are the chances that any proposal to limit the charitable deduction will be passed before the 2012 elections? And if such a proposal is enacted, what is it likely to mean for total aggregate giving?

-- Matt Sinclair

Weekend Link Roundup (July 9 - 10, 2011)

July 10, 2011

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

Arts and Culture

The Createquity Arts Policy Library has been revived, with new posts from the library's three fellows -- Aaron Andersen, Jennifer Kessler, and Crystal Wallis -- who take an in-depth look at research on our "cultural rights"; informal arts; and the impact of arts education.


On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen explains why listening is the "most underrated skill in the world." Writes Andresen, "The most successful people in the world are all great listeners….They're so good at hearing, they don't just listen to the words being said by others, they also grasp the meaning beneath those utterances. They therefore understand what people want, and they build great companies, amazing nonprofits, and terrific agencies based on that knowledge."

Community Improvement/Development

On his Inside Philanthropy blog, Todd Cohen makes a case for the creation of pooled funds to help nonprofits across the country struggling to make ends meet. "After the economy broke down nearly three years ago, organizations and individuals in some communities stepped up and created pooled funds to support basic and emergency services that nonprofits provide to people in need," writes Cohen. "The creation of those funds reflected true leadership and commitment, and can be a model for establishing funds to provide the operating support that nonprofits desperately need now."

After the Wall Street Journal suggested in a lengthy article that ran over the Fourth of July weekend that the deep-pocketed Kresge Foundation was rethinking its efforts to revive the fortunes of Detroit after run-ins with Mayor Dave Bing and City Hall officials, Jonathan Oosting reports in Mlive.com that the foundation has no plans "to withdraw financial support for either the Detroit Works Project or Woodward Light Rail line."


Idealist.org's Julia Smith, whom we spoke with in May as part of our "social media for social good" video series, has a few tips for jobseekers interested in "green" jobs.


On his Future Fundraising Now blog, Jeff Brooks shares some reservations about mobile giving campaigns. "Unless you're the Red Cross and have the First Lady and every other celebrity pushing it for you," says Brooks, "the potential is painfully low."


Center for Effective Philanthropy president Phil Buchanan takes a closer look at the new Daring to Lead report (18 pages, PDF), which found that 67 percent of nonprofit leaders "plan to leave" their jobs in the next five years. Over the past ten years, the Daring to Lead series, which is produced by CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation, has predicted a "'wave' of impending transitions in leadership," writes Buchanan. But while the percentage in the 2011 report is "a high number…experience seems to suggest a significant gap between the survey results…and what actually happens."


On the Tactical Philanthropy blog, Darin McKeever of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation describes how the foundation came up with a new strategy for its Charitable Sector Support initiative.


Guidestar's Bob Ottenhoff says "it's time to change which kind of organizations are eligible for a tax exemption." College booster clubs and big football bowls are just a couple of the types of organizations that should have their status revoked, says Ottenhoff. To help address the nation's budget crises, Ottenhoff also suggests cutting back tax expenditures: "deductions -- or loopholes -- that lower tax obligations, thereby reducing the amount of revenue going to the Treasury...."

Social Media

On her Nonprofit Tech 2.0 blog, Heather Mansfield has a few tips for nonprofits that are ready to think globally. Writes Mansfield: "The world is getting smaller with each passing day, and nonprofits as the agents of social good, should try to think bigger and stretch their Twitter wings beyond their own time zones."

The launch last week of the Google+ social networking platform generated a fair amount of comment in the nonprofit blogosphere. On the NTEN blog, Amy Sample Ward shared a few thoughts about the platform's privacy settings and how the site might benefit nonprofit professionals and their organizations, while Zoetica co-founder Geoff Livingston warned that yet another new social networking site means nonprofits will be encouraged to "spread the peanut butter a little thinner" instead of focusing "on the networks that have the most impact on their community."

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org. And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

Community Engagement and Social Justice Documentaries

July 08, 2011

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about Film and the "Dirty War.")

Crime_after_crime Crime After Crime is a new documentary that describes a fault line in our justice system -- and is actively engaged, as a larger project, in trying to change it. The film was one of two to receive the Henry Hampton Award at the Council on Foundations' Film and Video Festival, presented in collaboration with Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media, at the council's recent annual meeting in Philadelphia.

Deborah Peagler, the subject of Crime After Crime, was brutally abused by her boyfriend over a number of years, beginning when she was 15; fearing for the lives of her children and herself, and with no recourse to legal remedies, Peagler turned to friends and family for protection and was implicated in his subsequent murder. Eventually, she was sentenced to 25 years-to-life in prison. (It's estimated that as many as four thousand women are currently in prison for killing their abusers.)

At the time of Peagler's conviction, in 1983, domestic violence wasn't recognized as a mitigating factor in the prosecution of victims who commit crimes against their abusers. Twenty years later, thanks to the efforts of a coalition of women's organizations, including a group of women inmates, things have changed. According to Marisa F. González, coordinator of the California Habeas Project, which recruits, trains, and assigns pro-bono lawyers to cases: "In 1989, a group of women at the California Institution for Women got together to found Convicted Women Against Abuse, the first prisoner-led support group for battered women in the country. Advocates in the anti-domestic violence movement heard about the group's efforts and began recruiting lawyers to help each woman file an individual clemency petition, giving details and evidence about the abuse she had experienced and its relevance to her criminal conviction."

Continue reading »

The Art of Rebuilding: A Japanese Earthquake Update

July 07, 2011

(Laura Cronin is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. Her last post was a Q&A with Don Crocker, executive director of the Support Center for Nonprofit Management.)

Dream_Gong The economic importance of the arts has been well documented, and funders with an interest in community development have long recognized that artists and nonprofit arts organizations are essential to community revitalization.

More recently, in the wake of several large-scale natural and man-made disasters, funders have focused on support for arts and culture as a part of the larger effort to help people rebuild their lives. Award-winning television producer David Simon even made the idea that culture can help heal a devastated city the premise for his critically acclaimed HBO series Treme.

In the United States, the Coalition for Artists' Preparedness and Emergency Response, a task force of more than twenty arts organizations, arts funders and individual artists, has been working to build a nationwide safety net for artists and the arts organizations that serve them before, during, and after disasters.

In the months ahead, this approach will cross the Pacific when the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) -- whose mission is to support international dialogue through cultural exchange -- launches Arts in Action, a grant program to support artists working in communities recovering from natural disasters.

Continue reading »

Dukes v. Wal-Mart: A Funder's Perspective

July 06, 2011

Dukes_plaintiffs As many of you are aware, the Supreme Court ruled on June 20 not to uphold class certification in the case of Betty Dukes v. Walmart, the largest sexual discrimination class-action lawsuit in U.S. history.

As Jeffery Toobin explains in The New Yorker, the chain of events leading to the court's decision goes all the way back to 2000, when Dukes, then a 54-year-old employee of the giant retailer, realized, after six years with the company, that

she had never had the opportunity for promotions that several of her male colleagues did. This was not unusual at Walmart. At the time, women comprised about seventy-two percent of the sales workforce and just a third of management -- and an even lesser percentage of upper management. So [she] sued, on behalf of herself and others "similarly situated"....

Dukes was joined in her suit, which was filed in U.S. district court in San Francisco in June 2001, by five current or former Walmart employees, who together sought to represent the 1.6 million women who worked or had worked in a Walmart store since December 26, 1998.

The plaintiffs were supported from the beginning by the San Francisco-based Rosenberg Foundation, which made a series of grants and program-related investments in support of the suit as it made its way through the lower courts, two foundation grantees -- Equal Rights Advocates, based in San Francisco, and the Impact Fund, across the bay in Berkeley -- and three private law firms.

That the business-friendly Roberts court, which heard oral arguments in the case earlier this year, rejected the plaintiffs' claims should come as no surprise. As Toobin writes, "all the Justices displayed varying degrees of distaste [during oral arguments] for the way the plaintiffs had proceeded" and "thought the case should be thrown out in its current form." But, Toobin adds,

The dissenters thought another theory might work better for the plaintiffs, [while] the majority was more skeptical about the plaintiffs' entire effort. In other words, it was unanimous that this case was too big. The conservatives on the Roberts Court have a well-earned reputation for hostility to civil plaintiffs of all kinds, and especially those with civil-rights claims. But it's worth noting that there was a good degree of ideological agreement in this case -- that there are some things simply beyond the abilities of our federal courts. And cases with a million plaintiffs are among them.

Be that as it may, the case "has had a tremendous impact on the civil rights landscape and on the fight to advance equality for women," says Rosenberg Foundation president Timothy P. Silard. And, as the short video below highlights, it also "exemplifies the value of investing in impact litigation as an essential advocacy tool."

What do you think? Was Dukes v. Walmart a win for the equality of women in the workplace? Would it have made it to the Supreme Court without the efforts and support of the Rosenberg Foundation? And should foundations be doing more to support impact litigation as a tool for effecting social change?

-- Mitch Nauffts 


Happy Fourth of July!

July 04, 2011

"This is essentially a People's contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men -- to lift artificial weights from all shoulders -- to clear the paths of laudable pursuits for all -- to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life. Yielding to partial, and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend...."

-- Abraham Lincoln, "Message to Congress in Special Session," July 4, 1861

Weekend Link Roundup (July 2-3, 2011)

July 03, 2011

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


GuideStar president and CEO Bob Ottenhoff wonders whether there are too many nonprofit classifications, especially for nonprofit sports organizations. "I think there are," writes Ottenhoff. "It confuses the public and makes it harder for charities to develop the trust and support they need from stakeholders."


On the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, Thaler Pekar tells nonprofits interested in eliciting and sharing stories from and with their various audiences to keep in mind "what people physically and emotionally need in order to share their stories" and to avoid sending the message "that only certain stories are acceptable, welcome, and valued."

Guest blogging at Beth's Blog, Petri Darby, director of brand marketing and digital strategy at the Make-A-Wish Foundation, outlines the organization's approach to creating a Web site that enables two-way communication.


On the heels of the release of this year's Giving USA report, which found that total estimated giving in 2010 was up 3.8 percent (2.1 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks cautions nonprofit fundraisers not to "use the data to chart your own course."

Continue reading »

The Next Frontier: Philanthropy and the LGBT Civil Rights Movement

July 02, 2011

(Michael Seltzer was one of the founders of Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues. A frequent contributor to PhilanTopic, he wrote about nonprofits and "dirty money" in his last post.)

Gay_rainbow_flag As midnight approached on June 25, a mere three days shy of the 42nd anniversary of the birth of the modern gay rights movement, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law legislation allowing same-sex marriage. After years of advocacy and hard work, gay marriage was legal in the Empire State.

Of course, a sterling group of nonprofit LGBT and civil rights organizations, including Lambda Legal, Freedom to Marry, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Empire State Pride Agenda, the Human Rights Campaign, and others, worked behind the scenes to bring about this momentous event -- in New York as well as other states. Private foundations such as the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, the Gill Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Columbia Foundation, and the Overbrook Foundation also played a significant role.

As a result, gay couples in New York now have rights that were previously available only to heterosexual married couples. In terms of public housing regulations, for example, any member of a tenant's family, including a spouse, "shall succeed to the rights of a tenant where the tenant has permanently vacated the housing accommodation and such family member has resided with the tenant in the housing accommodation for a period of no less than two years."

While the significance of the legislation in New York cannot be overstated, much remains to be done. Only five other states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont) and the District of Columbia have similar laws, while twenty-nine states have on the books legislation that defines marriage as being between a man and woman. Twelve other states have banned recognition of same-sex marriage altogether.

Given the current state of affairs, what can nonprofit organizations, corporations, and foundations do in the years ahead to advance same-sex marriage legislation in other states and help ensure equality under the law for all LGBT Americans? Here are a few ideas:

Continue reading »

Communications Network Survey Provides Some Transparency Benchmarks

July 01, 2011

(Michael Remaley is the director of Public Policy Communicators NYC and president of HAMILL REMALEY breakthrough communications. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Back in January, I wrote a commentary for Transparency Talk titled "Foundations Fail at Failing" that produced a robust conversation among colleagues both online and off. The post restated the case made by many philanthropy experts about the importance of transparency, talking openly about foundation initiatives that don't produce expected results, and allowing others to learn from one's failures. It also reported on my investigation into the transparency and frankness of twenty-one major foundations, the Web sites of which I had explored and assessed in terms of their openness and self-evaluation.

At the time I was conducting research for that piece, I was also working with the Communications Network on the design of its 2011 Survey of Foundation Communications Professionals, the report for which is aptly titled Foundation Communications Today. We surveyed a national sample of Communications Network members and a larger list of philanthropic communicators who were not members, yielding 155 responses for a 40 percent response rate (see the full methodology section in the report). The survey included a set of questions meant to help the field better understand communications practices among foundations. We also thought it would be helpful to probe for information related to topics that Transparency Talk readers would find useful. Overall, the report includes some very interesting revelations about foundation communicators' attitudes toward transparency and willingness of their foundations to talk about failure.

When your organization's work does not produce expected results, how do you address the failure publicly?

Cn_survey_2011-2 Nearly a third (31%) of foundation communicators told us that neither evaluations nor anecdotal evidence had ever shown that their organization's work had been anything less than successful. The larger group, however, was able to identify instances where their organization had, realistically, not made the impact it had planned. The majority of foundation communicators (69%) acknowledged that some of their organizations' work had not produced successful outcomes.

Of those who admitted their organizations had experienced failures, the greatest number (44%) said that their organization had spoken publicly and forthrightly about those results. But most had not. Nearly a third (30%) of those who acknowledged foundation failure said that they had publicly discussed what they considered failures, but talked about them publicly in other terms. Another 15 percent said they had debated internally whether or not to publicly discuss failures but decided it might be harmful to others and therefore did not discuss them externally, and 12 percent said their foundation had never even considered talking publicly about failures.

In an open-ended question, we asked respondents to share any thoughts they had on foundations talking about failures. Respondents most commonly said it was the reluctance of trustees that held them back from being more open about unmet expectations. Said one, "Board members want to know, most of the time, about failures and encourage risk taking. But many don't see the wisdom in discussing it publicly." Another said, "There is a transparency issue and power dynamic issues with foundations. Many simply will not discuss their internal workings good or bad. Many are not embracing social media and new tech within the foundation themselves, but they expect their grantees to be using it. In general, one foundation will not comment on the work of another. In general, few will admit failure outside of affinity group meetings. It is also rare there."

But others said they thought concerns among foundations about talking publicly on failure are overblown. One said, "I think there is a fear of discussing failure, but that fear isn't warranted by our experience. When we publicly discussed our failure, we received nothing but praise. It enhanced our brand, rather than damaging it." And another said, "Once you share a failure it gets easier."

This last sentiment was, however, not shared by the respondent who said, "With two concrete examples, we can check the box saying we've publicly acknowledged our failures....But with many others, we have debated internally how/if to discuss these publicly and most often decide against doing so."

In terms of transparency, how would you describe your organization?

Cn_survey_2011-3 Clearly, even those who have experimented with communicating about unmet expectations and failures continue to struggle with how and when to make the best use of valuable information that doesn't necessarily shed the best light on people and organizations working with good intentions. Organizational ambivalence toward openness also came through in the responses to the survey questions about transparency.

The responses to the question on perceptions of transparency were fairly evenly distributed across the spectrum of choices offered to respondents. We provided respondents detailed descriptions of different levels of transparency based largely on the criteria used by Glasspockets. Given that our sample is drawn from foundations with communications staff, it is not surprising that only 2 percent said their organization was less transparent than most. Next along the spectrum of transparency, 16 percent said their organization is moderately transparent, 37 percent said it has an average degree of transparency, 35 percent said it is more transparent than most, and 10 percent said their foundation is fully transparent.

Foundation Communications Today contains many revelations and insights on topics such as philanthropic use of technology and social media, communications departments' relationships with other parts of the foundation, and how creating a written communications plan relates to transparency. If you are curious about how your organization's communications compare, check it out.

Ultimately, I find the responses of foundation communicators about failure and transparency to be very encouraging. While we do not have longitudinal data on these topics, the quantitative and qualitative responses seemed to indicate a trend toward greater openness and increasing awareness of the value of foundation self-evaluation. I'm hopeful that next time we survey foundations, we'll see findings a great leap closer to 100 percent "Fully Transparent."

-- Michael Remaley

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."

    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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