• Janet Camarena

    Rick,

    Thanks for waving the banner for increased foundation transparency! I couldn’t agree with you more! Foundation Center’s Glasspockets’ initiative, which I have the pleasure of leading, focuses its work on championing greater foundation transparency. About a year ago, we did some research to see how many of the nation’s foundations have an online presence, and despite the ubiquity of digital data, and the information overload to which you refer in the last item, our findings indicated that fewer than 10% of all foundations have websites. So clearly the need for more champions of foundation transparency is great, since most seem to be choosing the “stealth mode” of operating.

    Of course, many of these are unstaffed and smaller foundations, who need a framework or road map to help facilitate a conversation about what transparency means and what level of transparency makes sense for their foundation. So, for this reason, I suppose Glasspockets is guilty of being one of those websites to which you refer that uses a “checklist approach” to encourage greater transparency. In #8 of your own list above you write, “best practices checklists sometimes serve as a substitute for actually thinking about the reasons and strategies for transparency.” However, the reality is that without a checklist, foundations aren’t thinking about transparency AT ALL. Checklists of best practices can make a topic more accessible and give foundations an entry point into a conversation that’s happening in the sector but perhaps not in their own foundation just yet.

    Our “Who Has Glass Pockets?” assessment tool allows foundations to measure their online transparency and accountability practices against 23 indicators. Currently 72 foundations have publicly and voluntarily taken the assessment, and many continually update it to reflect new data or transparency elements that they have added as a result of participating in the assessment. Our goal with the assessment approach is that it triggers a conversation among the foundation’s leadership so they can articulate what their values around transparency actually are. Many who have taken the assessment have told us this is the first time they have had such a conversation, and it has staged an opportunity to have the thoughtful debate and reflection to develop a strategy around transparency that is aligned with the institution’s values. And, of course the peer pressure aspect of seeing if they are in or out of step with their peers (since the profiles are publicly shared), doesn’t hurt in terms of providing a bit of incentive to consider the addition of greater levels of transparency.

    As a librarian by profession, I have observed that consumers of information love lists, no matter how critical or nuanced the information is. This predates the social media quizzes and top 10s that are all the rage now. The list does not diminish the importance of the topic at hand as your own list here demonstrates. It is just that, amid the hustle and bustle of the everyday in-box, lists have a way of being easy on the eye, and maybe, just maybe, creating some change.

    Thanks again for raising this important issue!

    Janet Camarena
    Glasspockets Project Lead
    Foundation Center