Transparency: Frequently Asked Questions

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Where does the name “Glasspockets” come from?

The name Glasspockets is derived from congressional hearings held during the mid-1950s, when foundation leaders found themselves in the uncomfortable position of being brought in for questioning as part of McCarthy-era inquisitions. The investigations spanned two congressional commissions, first the Cox Commission hearings in 1952, followed by another congressional investigation by the Reece Commission in 1953-1954. 

This period also marked a time of rapid growth in the number of foundations and the dollars they represented: from 505 foundations holding an estimated $1.8 billion in assets in 1944 to more than 1,000 foundations in 1950 holding over $2.5 billion in assets. With this rapid expansion in the numbers of foundations in the 1940s and 1950s, there were also growing concerns among the leaders of the older and established foundations that some new foundations did not understand the need for openness. As the inquisition fervor grew, foundation leaders who were called to testify realized that as foundation wealth and influence grew, so did the need for better information about this growing field.

One of the foundation leaders called to testify was Russell Leffingwell, a banker by trade, who served as board chair of the Carnegie Corporation. During his many hours of testimony, Leffingwell uttered numerous insightful and forward-thinking statements. Among them was his belief that, “The foundation should have glass pockets,” so that anyone could easily look inside foundations and understand their value to society, thereby inspiring confidence rather than suspicion.

Why is encouraging greater foundation transparency a priority for the Foundation Center?

As a result of the Cox and Reece congressional hearings described above, foundation leaders realized that the lack of understanding around institutional philanthropy was one of the critical factors leading to such suspicions. A vision emerged to create “The Foundation Center,” as “a strategic gathering place for knowledge about foundations.” So, the Foundation Center’s organizational calling to provide transparency for the field of philanthropy actually harkens back to its conception.

How does Glasspockets define Foundation transparency and accountability?

Transparency is, in a word, openness. A foundation that operates transparently is one that provides information about its work, operations and processes, and what it is learning in an open, accessible, and timely manner. For foundations operating in today’s digital age, transparency also really means having a virtual presence in addition to a physical one so anyone can quickly learn what you do, why you do it, and what difference it makes in the world.

Transparency is also a critical element of achieving accountability. Glasspockets relied on the One World Trust, one of our Glasspockets partners and global accountability experts, to provide a framework for assessing accountability. According to the One World Trust, accountability is made up of four elements, which include transparency, evaluation, participation, and complaint and response mechanisms.

What are the benefits of greater foundation transparency?

Grantmakers often think of transparency in terms of how it benefits grantseekers and external audiences, pointing to how transparency serves to strengthen credibility, build public trust, and improve relations with grantees and other stakeholders. However, the value of increased foundation transparency may be even greater for grantmaking professionals themselves, as transparency also reduces duplication of effort, facilitates greater collaboration, and cultivates a community of shared learning and best practices.

Is Glasspockets intended mainly for an audience of large foundations?

Foundation transparency is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and Glasspockets is designed to meet foundations where they are in the continuum of greater foundation transparency. The tools on Glasspockets can and have been used by foundations of all sizes and some of the newest developments in digital media today are able to amplify the work of even those organizations with the smallest budgets. If you think you don’t have the staff capability or budget to provide a web site for your foundation, learn more about the Foundation Center’s free and low-cost web development services.

To see how foundations of all sizes are using social networks and digital media visit Transparency 2.0. To read more about transparency in the context of small and large foundations, read Transparency: One Size Does Not Fit All.

How can the Foundation Center help my foundation achieve greater levels of transparency?

If your foundation does not have a web site, the Foundation Center offers a free or low-cost web development and hosting service, called Foundation Websites, which is ideal for small foundations or those with limited staff who want the benefits of a web site without the costs.

If your foundation already has a web site, begin by taking the “Who Has Glass Pockets?” transparency and accountability assessment. Once you complete the assessment, review your transparency gaps, and use them to have an internal discussion with your senior leadership or board members, examining the transparency gaps in the context of your foundation values and culture. For missing data elements that you are interested in potentially adding to your web site, review document examples from the Who Has Glass Pockets? knowledge base. Add new elements, if appropriate, and share your profile with Glasspockets.