Assessing Your Foundation’s Evolving Path to Transparency

Transparency and openness increasingly appear as stated values on many foundation websites, but how do you make progress toward those ends? Our “Who Has GlassPockets?” transparency self-assessment is designed to help foundations create a roadmap to transparency. Though there are 27 indicators on the assessment, the expectation is not that all, or even a majority, of these should be in place to participate in GlassPockets. Foundation transparency is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, nor is it intended to be an activity that has an end point. Rather, it evolves over time, and ideally is a process your institution revisits on a regular basis. This chart is intended to help you in that process.

Now that 100 foundations have taken our transparency self-assessment and publicly shared their results, some patterns of how transparency evolves in philanthropy are becoming clearer. To help your foundation chart its transparency course, based on the data we’ve collected so far, the chart below outlines core, advanced, and champion-level transparency practices.

The levels represent an optional guide that can be helpful to follow but it is not intended to be viewed as a formal set of requirements. Any foundation at any stage of its transparency journey is welcome to participate. However, to motivate participation and progress, GlassPockets will award transparency badges based on the transparency level attained. Since it is not a one-size-fits-all, all participating foundations will automatically receive the Core GlassPockets transparency badge, and those who attain Advanced (10-18 indicators) or Champion level (19 or more indicators) will receive a badge denoting the designation.

Core-Level transparency practices represent data most commonly shared by participating foundations and are the best place for new participants to begin.

Advanced-Level transparency practices open up the way you work to the world and represent information shared by about half of participating foundations.

Champion-Level transparency practices represent information-sharing that is pushing existing boundaries of foundation transparency.

Leveling Up Your Transparency Practices

The chart below identifies indicators most commonly aligned with Core, Advanced, and Champion levels of transparency. These are suggested pathways rather than formal guidelines. Badges will be given based on numeric range (at top of each column). Click on the indicators to learn more about each.

Core Transparencyup to 9
indicators

Advanced Transparency10-18
indicators

Champion Transparency19 or more
indicators

Who Are You?

   

Are the following points of contact provided: telephone number, e-mail/online form, and mailing address?

Increase the potential for collaboration and sector efficiency by making it easy for peers and potential partners to find a path to connect with someone inside the foundation.

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Are the names of executives and program staff available?

Humanize your institution by using your website to reveal the people inside the foundation. This also serves to increase the potential for collaboration and coordination, leading to greater sector effectiveness and efficiency.

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Are biographies of executives and program staff available?

Build credibility and public trust by providing professional biographies for foundation executives and program staff. Staff biographies can also serve to help outside stakeholders find points of connection with those inside the foundation.

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Is a list of Board members and their affiliations available?

Build credibility and public trust by using your website to reveal details about who is in charge of the foundation’s governance. Taking the extra step of posting board members’ affiliations helps outside stakeholders better understand the network and sphere of influence of the foundation.

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Does the foundation provide information about its commitment or policies relative to diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Build credibility and public trust by sharing values and policies that demonstrate your organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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Is statistical information provided about the demographics of the foundation’s workforce and board leadership?

Demonstrate that your organization prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion by sharing diversity data.

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Are the foundation’s committee charters available?

Build credibility, public trust, and greater understanding by outside stakeholders of the governance roles and structure of your foundation.

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What Do You Do?

   

Is a mission or purpose statement available?

Increase understanding about your institution’s work, and build credibility and public trust by posting your organization’s mission statement.

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Are the foundation’s grantmaking priorities or strategy outlined?

Save valuable foundation and nonprofit staff time by posting information that clearly outlines the foundation’s areas of focus so website visitors can quickly determine if there is alignment between the foundation’s priorities and their organization’s work.

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Is there a searchable database of past grants or a grants list categorized by program area? (Note: A grants list is accepted for foundations with fewer than 200 grants per year. A grants list should include recipient name, grant amount, and recipient location information.)

Bring your work to life by using your website to share data about your grants and grantees. Foundation priorities are often broad; seeing recent grant descriptions gives outsiders greater insight into your work and current directions.

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Is information readily available that explains how the foundation defines its overall strategy, direction, and priority setting?

The problems foundations address are large ones that require collective action to solve. Sharing your strategic roadmap helps peers and partners understand if and where they might align, and how to join you on the journey.

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Does the foundation use the Sustainable Development Goals to help describe its grants or grantmaking strategies?

Increase understanding of the intended reach and impact of your work by using the SDGs to describe your grantmaking. Using the shared language of the SDGs can help peers and partners identify potential areas of programmatic alignment.

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How Do You Do It?

   

Is there a description provided explaining how the foundation selects its grantees (application process or pre-selection)?

Save valuable foundation and nonprofit staff time by clearly explaining the process by which the foundation selects its grantees. Include application guidelines, or if applications are not accepted, explain how one can introduce their work to your institution.

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Is the most recent 990-PF available?

The 990 is an important regulatory document that annually provides a mechanism for transparency about your foundation’s governance, finance, operations, and expenditures. Demonstrate your commitment to transparency by providing a link to your most recent 990 on your website.

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Are the most recent audited financial statements available?

Build credibility and public trust by providing a link to your foundation’s audited financial statements on your website.

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Are the foundation’s governing bylaws available?

Bylaws are an important governance document that serves as the operating manual for your foundation. Build credibility and public trust by using your website to reveal the details about how your foundation is governed.

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Are policies guiding foundation staff conduct available, and do they include a procedure for reporting non-compliance?

Build credibility and public trust by sharing values and policies that demonstrate your organization’s commitment to professional and ethical conduct.

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Is the conflict of interest policy available?

Build credibility and public trust by sharing policies that demonstrate your commitment to professional and ethical conduct.

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Does the foundation provide information about its values and/or policies relative to disclosures, openness, and transparency?

Build credibility and public trust by sharing values and policies that demonstrate your organization’s commitment to transparency and openness.

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Is a policy regarding the reporting of financial improprieties or other misconduct available?

Build credibility and public trust by sharing policies that demonstrate your commitment to professional and ethical conduct.

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Are policy statements about how the foundation invests its endowment provided?

The majority of foundation endowments are invested in stocks. Build credibility and public trust by explaining your foundation’s approach to managing your institution’s investments.

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Does the foundation clearly specify what can and cannot be done with intellectual property it produces and/or funds? Broadly speaking an open license is one which grants permission to access, re-use, and redistribute a work with few or no restrictions.

Accelerate progress by making it easy for peers and partners to build on your body of work.

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Is the process used to determine executive compensation described?

Build credibility and public trust by opening up the process by which you set executive compensation.

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Is there an online mechanism in place so that grantees can regularly provide the foundation with feedback?

Strengthen relationships with grantees and create a culture of continuous improvement by making it easy for stakeholders to provide ongoing feedback via your website.

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What Difference Does It Make?

   

Is there a centralized section of the foundation’s web site that provides a collection of the foundation’s program evaluations and lessons learned reports?

What shortcuts might your foundation’s lessons learned create for peers and partners? Encourage others to learn from your work by providing a central access point to the knowledge the foundation has commissioned or produced.

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Has the foundation conducted a periodic survey of its grantees and shared the results publicly?

Strengthen your foundation, and its relationships with grantees, by surveying grantees to learn from them how to improve your work. Demonstrate your commitment to improve, and potentially influence other funders in your field, by sharing what you learned and what has changed as a result of the survey.

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Is there a comprehensive assessment of overall foundation performance and effectiveness that measures progress toward institutional mission and goals?

Demonstrate your commitment to creating a culture of shared learning across the field by opening up how your foundation measures its progress toward institutional goals.

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This project is made possible by the generous support ofWalton Family Foundation