Another Look at Funder Transparency

We’ve written often throughout the years about the benefits of funder transparency: stronger relationships with grantees, new collaborations, efficient processes, public trust. In our continuing series with colleagues at the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG), we take another look at funder transparency. What are your reactions? Does transparency warrant a close and careful look?

20-Jo-Andrews-128x128By Jo Andrews, Ariadne-European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights

Fashions in philanthropy can be every bit as startling as the catwalk: evaluation methods and grantmaking approaches change as fast as hemlines. But one fashion that is probably here to stay (a bit like men’s suits) is transparency, which makes it worth taking a longer look at.

Transparency for funders is a helpful idea, but it’s not a panacea. If private foundations and grantmakers think it is, then their attempts to bring a measure of sunlight to a sector shrouded in mist are likely to fail or, much worse, do damage. We need to recognize that glass-pocket principles need to be more nuanced than they have been so far and that there are circumstances in which transparency can be a really bad idea. This is not saying funders should not share data – they should, as there are significant benefits – but we need to think harder about what we share publicly.

This won’t be an entirely welcome message. But it comes from someone who has put in time as a data warrior, persuading foundations to contribute details of their grantmaking to the part private, part public Advancing Human Rights: Knowledge Tools for Funders project created by the Foundation Center, the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG), Ariadne and the International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF). The project has now processed nearly 75,000 grants and the publicly available analysis is transformative. And the project will become more powerful over time as we track trends.

The private part of the project drills down much further and shows which grantmaker made what grant to which organization for what purpose and at what date. It makes a host of previously expensive and time-consuming activities cheap and simple. This is available only to Ariadne, IHRFG and INWF participants, because this is the level at which transparency becomes more difficult.

Effectively the Knowledge Tools project and others like it allow us as grantmakers to take off our blindfolds and pin the tail on the donkey with some clarity. The trouble is that we aren’t the only ones interested in where the tail goes. When we publish detailed data we hand information to the media, governments, corporations, bloggers and those passionately opposed to our ideals. At a time when the space for civil society is closing and cross-border funding is becoming contested, this is potentially dangerous – especially, but not only, in the fields of human rights and social change.

Continue reading

In Tribute to a Founder and Champion

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

We lost a piece of our organization this week. Alan Egly, an Exponent Philanthropy (then ASF) founder and former board chair, passed away Sunday evening, at home surrounded by family.

Alan approached his prognosis with humility, understanding, and humor. His plan was to make sure his children stocked the bar fully, and he considered having a party while still able to attend.

Rob DiLeonardi, another former chair and early leader, shared his memories of Alan and recollection of an early association meeting in Chicago’s frigid winter temperatures.

At some point, we took a break, and Alan and I were alone in an elevator heading down to another floor. We were both very tired, and, as the doors closed we were silent, both staring at the floor numbers as they blinked by. Then, whether from exhaustion or excitement or fear or some combination, he suddenly burst out laughing. He turned to me and said, “Are we all crazy?” I said, “Probably,” then joined him in laughing. We were crazy, but we were also right, and the proof is the fact that Exponent Philanthropy is not only still existing, but thriving.

Continue reading

A Powerful Kind of Call and Response

A community funder on the power of seeking grantee feedback and being responsive

This past summer, Exponent Philanthropy released Outsized Impact 2015, which centers around the stories of 7 inspiring funders, including the one below. Download the full Outsized Impact report >>

Newaygo County, MI, home to Fremont Area Community Foundation

The bucolic backdrop of Newaygo County, Michigan, looks like a living, breathing postcard. More than 350 miles of waterways glisten with natural splendor, and trees topped withjewel-colored leaves stretch for acres. Its beauty makes it an attraction for outdoorsy tourists and a point of pride for people who call it home.

Inside that picturesque wealth, Fremont Area Community Foundation serves Newaygo County’s network of five rural towns and 50,000 residents.

Preserving the county’s natural resources is one of the foundation’s five primary focuses, along with community and economic development, education, nonprofit sustainability, and poverty reduction. The challenge for the community foundation, one of the largest per capita in the country, is to avoid overextending any of its limited resources in the process of doing the work in those areas. It’s an often complicated science of weighing priorities against funding and support.

“When you’re working in that space, you can have the ‘S.T.P.’—the same ten people—and you find yourself tapping the same individuals for multiple things,” says program officer Wes Miller. “Grassroots organizations have limited capacity, so we have to be cognizant of how often we’re engaging them and making sure we’re doing that in a strategic fashion.”

The importance of actively listening to grantees is something he’s learned in his four years with the foundation. Findings from a grantee perception report prompted broad, empowering conversations about what the foundation is doing right and what it could be doing better.

Continue reading

New Video Series and Campaign Calling for Your Philanthropy Lessons

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

Unlike in any other business, our fellow funders in this business of philanthropy are not our competitors. They’re our colleagues, mentors, confidantes, champions, and friends. And we need one another to maximize our collective impact.

Today, made possible by the candid sharing of some of our industry’s most inspiring funders and their sage grantee partners, we are pleased to announce a new 9-part “Philanthropy Lessons” video series produced by Exponent Philanthropy, funded by the Fund for Shared Insight, and released in partnership with The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

In each video, funders and their grantees share lessons learned throughout their careers—words of wisdom they have gained along the way. By sharing openly and honestly, they offer ways for each of us to be even more efficient and effective in creating the change we want to see in the world. Their openness also serves as a model we can follow in sharing our own lessons learned.

The corresponding campaign calls for you to share your most important philanthropy lessons. I encourage you to share your philanthropy lesson online or on social media using hashtag #MyPhilLesson.

Today, we release two videos in the series. Others will be released monthly through June. Please share the videos widely, then take a few minutes to share your most valuable philanthropy lesson on each video theme.

Continue reading

The “Next Gen” Is Not as “Other” as You May Think

By Kerry McHugh, The Helen J. Serini Foundation, and Katherine Palms, HP Family Foundation

Recognizing that the next generation is truly a diverse group—including many looking for ways to make change—is the first step toward bringing the next generation along for the wonderful, incredible, and challenging ride that we all know philanthropy can be.

(Whereas folks of all ages may consider themselves the “next generation,” in this post we’re referring primarily to millennials—those currently in their 20s and 30s.)

Kerry and peers at Exponent Philanthropy's Next Gen Fellows Program

Kerry and peers at Exponent Philanthropy’s Next Gen Fellows Program

We are both proud to be members of the next generation of our family foundations. As younger members of the philanthropic community, we are continually excited by the opportunity to talk with others about everything from grantmaking to collective impact. Perhaps what is most exciting to us, though, is the opportunity to speak with others about ways to more fully engage the next generation in philanthropy.

Most of the conversations we’ve had around this subject are marked by a sense of enthusiasm, excitement, and desire for growth. But that’s not to say we haven’t faced challenging questions as well, including these: 

Isn’t the next generation a selfish generation? How do we engage them? 

Katherine on a site visit as part of Exponent Philanthropy's Next Gen Fellows Program

Katherine on a site visit as part of Exponent Philanthropy’s Next Gen Fellows Program

If you believe that every member of a generation is selfish, it is easy enough to find abundant evidence to support that claim. But if you look for proof of the opposite, there’s plenty of evidence in that camp too. For example, according to a 2012 report by The American Dream Composite Index, individuals ages 24-35 are more likely to participate in crowdfunding efforts than older generations; an Associated Press-GfK poll found that individuals under age 30 are more likely to state that they have a “very important obligation” to volunteer than their older counterparts.

Continue reading

[The Pulse] Surprising Facts About the Nonprofit Sector, Preview of 2016 Policy Issues

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

The PulseI regularly explore trends influencing philanthropy by spotlighting articles, reports, and essays in the media. I cast a wide net, venturing beyond philanthropy and traditional topics to consider a variety of ideas, innovations, debates, and critiques. Read previous posts in the series  

Surprising Facts About the Nonprofit Sector

Urban Institute conducts research each year on public charities, giving, and volunteering. The following highlights from Bloomerang are from the 2015 issue of Urban Institute’s “Nonprofit Sector in Brief” series.

  • Only 35% of registered nonprofits file Forms 990, 990-EZ or Form 990-PF with the IRS. This leaves a vast number of nonprofits and their contributions to our society unnoticed. Although they are the smallest of the registered nonprofits, their impact can be felt, and they are the future high-growth nonprofits of the future.
  • Only 5.3% of public charities are $10 million or more in size. 
  • Nearly 50% of charities’ total revenue comes via fees for services and goods; charitable giving accounts for 13%. These fees include ticket sales, tuition, hospital fees, membership fees, and product sales. The second largest group is government funding (35%). 

Continue reading

Supporting Nonprofit Collaboration: Helping Your Grantees Accomplish More Together

The Children’s Guild Foundation focuses its funding in Western New York State on services that improve the lives of children with special needs and their families.

Recognizing that Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) are where these children begin their lives, the foundation set out to achieve impact at the earliest stage of life. With two systems in the region—the Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo and the Catholic Health System—in direct competition for funding for many of the same services (including NICUs), and many families being separated as children were transferred to Women & Children’s Hospital for more intensive care, the foundation created space for doctors and administrators from both health systems to build understanding, trust, and relationships. The foundation made it clear that they valued partnership and would continue to fund both organizations, as both were needed to serve the region’s population.

The two health systems formed a strategic alliance that allows for shared staffing and contractual services and helps to ensure that, no matter where a child is born, the child and family receive the gold standard of healthcare, as part of a larger effort to eliminate or mitigate possible lifelong disabilities.

When initiated from the ground up—from the nonprofits themselves—collaborations can serve communities effectively and efficiently. Strong collaborations maximize nonprofits’ impact by providing administrative stability; decreasing duplication, competition, and overlap of services; and bringing more diverse approaches to complex problems.

Funders are uniquely positioned to cultivate and support nonprofit collaborations.

But first, what makes for a successful nonprofit collaboration? David LaPiana, a consultant specializing in this area, points to the following as factors in what he calls “Real Collaboration”:

  • Nonprofits work closely on substantive issues, not just fundraising.
  • Partners develop trusting, open, committed relationships with one another.
  • Collaboration is voluntary and sincere, not created in response to a grant.
  • Nonprofit collaboration takes time—longer than most normal grant cycles.
  • Funders cannot create true collaboration; you can only enhance it.

Ways Funders Can Support Nonprofit Collaboration

Below are some ways to support informal or formal collaboration, including options that cost little or nothing.

Continue reading

New Report Details How Foundations Create Change

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

Small-staffed foundations are using a variety of strategies to make their grant dollars go further, according to Exponent Philanthropy’s 2016 Foundation Operations and Management Report, released today.

Join Exponent Philanthropy for access to this member benefit or order your copy >>

Exponent Philanthropy members are a powerful force for change, and many are achieving outsized impact, the result of strategies that allow each dollar granted to result in more than a single dollar’s worth of impact.

Among its 60-plus pages of data on grantmaking, governance, investments, and administration, the new report identifies seven strategies that lead to outsized impact among member foundations. Ranked by the percentage of members that engage in them, they include:

  1. Making general operating support grants: 80%
  2. Making multiyear grants: 68%
  3. Using information received from grantees to inform grantmaking: 64%
  4. Collaborating with other funders to increase impact: 61%
  5. Making capacity-building grants: 58%
  6. Convening grantees or organizations: 37%
  7. Making grants for advocacy work: 28%

Some 85% of Exponent Philanthropy member foundations engage in two or more of these strategies to help them achieve outsized impact.

Continue reading

Impact Investing: Making the Case to Your Trustees

Several months ago, Exponent Philanthropy and partners Mission Investors Exchange and Arabella Advisors released Essentials of Impact Investing: A Guide for Small-Staffed Foundations. Below is an excerpt from the complimentary and actionable guide, geared to foundations with few or no staff that want to align their investments and missions. 

By David Wood, Initiative for Responsible Investment

The early stages of impact investment adoption for foundations lie at the board level.

The idea to explore impact investment as a philanthropic strategy often comes from a single board member, or from staff or consultants who have seen other foundations adopt impact investing. Board engagement is a critical next step for implementing an impact investing strategy: learning what individual board members think about the possibility, educating the board on the state of the field, and taking a broad survey of potential areas of interest or investment opportunities that engage the board’s imagination.

In most cases, board approval is required for a foundation to engage in impact investing, and that often requires ongoing, high-touch engagement from impact investing champions— whether staff or fellow board members. Early board engagement often involves peer-to-peer presentation from board members who are more familiar with the field—and an allaying of the skepticism of board members who may fear that impact investments may not perform well financially or socially.

Continue reading

Relationships That Run Deep

This past summer, Exponent Philanthropy released the report Outsized Impact 2015, which centers around the stories of 7 inspiring funders, including the story below. Download the full Outsized Impact report >>

Sasha_headshotSasha Rabsey woke up unusually early on a Tuesday morning when her dog barked out of the blue. Still bleary-eyed, she logged onto email to check in with her grant partners in Nepal on their recovery progress. It was then she saw the news: Another earthquake had hit. The second in a week.

“I’m sorry I’m not on top of my game this morning,” she says, clearly shaken by the news. It’s no wonder this hits her personally. Sasha has deep relationships with her grant partners in Nepal as well as other parts of the world. “My philanthropy is about women and about depths of relationship.”

As founder and director of The HOW Fund, a donor advised fund she established 8 years ago, Sasha has supported mentorship programs for women and girls worldwide, and she has been on the ground with partners in many of these countries. She also co-founded the Present Purpose Network, a group of highly engaged women funders in the United States and Europe making grassroots grants through a collective action fund.

Her passion for philanthropy was born in the bush of Africa.

Continue reading