Join The NonProfit Times: or Become a member

Subscribe: Print Publication or Newsletter

Stay connected.
Stay informed.

Foundation Leaders Thinking About, Evaluating Transparency

By Andy Segedin - February 26, 2016

Foundation CEOs are emphasizing transparency and have identified grantees and prospective grantees as a target audience instead of the likes of government policymakers, journalists and the general public. CEOs of independent foundations identified grantees and nonprofits considering applying for a grant as the intended audience for transparency in 95 and 84 percent of cases, respectively. Both groups are the intended audience for 96 percent of community foundations.

Government policy makers (57 percent for independent foundations and 76 percent for community foundations), journalists who report on philanthropy (46 percent and 67 percent) and the general public (45 percent and 72 percent) made up the bottom of the list. Donors were a target audience for 98 percent of community foundations, but were not offered as a potential answer to independent foundations’ CEOs.

The data comes from a survey of 145 foundation CEOs conducted by The Center for Effective Philanthropy, located in Cambridge, Mass. The survey revealed that, not only are foundation leaders thinking about transparency, they are evaluating what they share and with who based on how it can make the foundation more successful, according to Ellie Buteau, Ph.D., vice president of research and main author of the report.
“It was surprising and promising to see that foundation leaders are thinking about transparency and that they have clear audiences in mind for the information that they are sharing,” Buteau said.

A matrix emphasizing the perceived degree transparency could improve foundation effectiveness and CEOs’ existing self-reported level on such items, showed correlated emphasis on programmatic goals, grant application criteria and strategies to reach programmatic goals. Governance practices and foundation investments landed on the opposite end of the spectrum. Identifying who within the foundation makes funding decisions was the lone item seen as inessential to effectiveness that was oft disclosed.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Transparency equates to sharing grantmaking information for 51 percent of foundation CEOs, while “being clear, open and/or honest” and sharing financial information was selected by 43 percent and 38 percent of CEOs, respectively. Buteau offered that the differences in priorities could be due to an interest in which type of reporting is most likely to positively impact the foundation.  A 2012 survey of nonprofit CEOs by CEP revealed that 68 percent equated the sharing of grantmaking information with transparency, 44 percent associated general clarity, openness and honesty with transparency and 4 percent linked transparency with the sharing of financial information.
  • Foundations leaders are the most transparent about grant application information and programming and least transparent when it comes to internal performance. On a sliding one-to-five scale, criteria the foundation has for nonprofits applying for a grant and programmatic goals led the way in terms of what foundations are most transparent about with mean scores of 4.2. Foundation experience with what has not worked in efforts to achieve goals and the method in which the foundation rates its own performance brought up the rear with 3.0 and 3.1, respectively. Buteau hypothesized that foundations might not yet have the pieces in place to share or collect such data.
  • A lack of staffing time was cited by 31 percent of CEOs as a cause limiting transparency. Difficulty in having consistent levels of transparency across staff followed with 28 percent. Staff time constraints could be solved by a shift in foundation priorities, Buteau said. Consistent transparency across staff could similarly be addressed with operational changes, she added.

Buteau is hoping that foundation leaders’ willingness to share certain pieces of information will lead to future improvements in disclosures. In particular, Buteau is interested in foundations sharing organizational experiences and things peers could learn from. “It’s a consistent finding and I think we’re wondering what would need to happen for that to change,” Buteau said.


Sponsored Podcasts

Welcome to the Raise & Engage podcast, a filters-off series for nonprofit professionals hosted by Blackbaud's straight-shooting expert Danielle Johnson Vermenton. During this open-mic session, you’ll hear honest advice to help YOU do more for your cause.

Episode 6: The Power of ‘No’ at Work|| daniellejohnson-76

You have a job description, but on any given day, you're probably doing dozens of things outside the scope of that description. Combine that with the challenge of a fast-paced environment and the shifting priorities of funders, colleagues, and board members and it’s easy to fall short of doing your best. By being mindful of your limitations and capacity—and saying “no” when your plate is full—you can actually do more for your cause. In the sixth installment of the Raise and Engage podcast Danielle Johnson and Robin Anderson discuss the power of saying “no” at work.

Episode 5: Professional Development: Getting Un-Stuck|| daniellejohnson-76

In the most recent episode of Raise + Engage, Danielle is back with Brian Reich from little m media to discuss how nonprofit professionals can stay motivated and energized in their day-to-day roles. Brian shares his experience working with nonprofits and the lessons and tips he's learn from and shared with them over the years, including tips for avoiding a professional rut, creating forward momentum in your career and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you're considering making a career move or want to ensure you're on the right path, you won't want to miss this inspo-packed episode!

Episode 4: Apps and Hacks to Stay (Mostly) Sane || daniellejohnson-76

Episode 4: Apps and Hacks to Stay (Mostly) Sane, is all about tips, tricks and tools for sanity. Blackbaud’s own interactive product marketer, Julia Lenz, joins host Danielle Johnson to share some high tech. (and no tech.) productivity tips to help nonprofit professionals stay sane in the crazy world of philanthropy.

Tune in to hear:

  • Tips for how to spend the first 30 minutes of your day
  • The benefits of 15 minute meetings
  • Why notebooks are still relevant to a successful organization
  • Ideas for better managing your inbox
  • Why you should take lunch outside the box
  • ...and much more!
Don’t forget to visit the #NoFilterNonprofit Hub afterwards to download our newest tip sheet10 Productivity Hacks for Nonprofits.

Episode 3: Tech. Connection: Solutions, Strategy, and Staff || daniellejohnson-76

Episode 3: Tech. Connection: Solutions, Strategy, and Staff In episode 3 of the Raise + Engage podcast, Danielle Johnson is joined by Chris Geady and William DaSilva, two IT experts in the nonprofit space, to talk technology integration for NPOs: when you need it, when you don’t, and how to do it successfully.

Tune in to hear:

  • When to say NO to integration
  • How to set your strategic plan before even looking at technologies
  • Ways to get your entire team on board
  • The importance of identifying a project lead
  • The RFP process - how it should and should not go
And William shares a story about a nonprofit that may or may not have still been using a typewriter. You don't want to miss this one!

Episode 2: From Socially Awkward to Socially Awesome! || daniellejohnson-76

According to Danielle Johnson, straight-shooting host of the Raise + Engage podcast series, if your staff members aren’t the number one advocates for your cause on social media, you’re failing. In the most recent episode, Danielle is joined by Blackbaud’s own social media guru Madeline Turner to discuss overcoming social struggles and creating a social ambassador program at your organization. This entertaining and insightful duo dishes on the importance of making your social media presence human, making the case for a formal social program to leadership, how University of Michigan turned a one time social media campaign into a long term social program, and how Madeline's mom unknowingly became a social ambassador on #GivingTuesday.

Episode 1: Corporate Culture & Development: Shake It Up! || daniellejohnson-76

In the premiere episode of Raise & Engage, Danielle is joined by three straight-shooting nonprofit rock-stars: Jodi Smith of Sanford Health Systems, Veronica Brown of Chicago Public Library Foundation and Ali Burke of Southlake Regional Health Centre Foundation. The group talks organizational culture, problem employees, why its important to celebrate and how to shake things up this year and build a better more authentic team that gets stuff done!


Stay informed, catch latest trends in the nonprofit space.

Subscribe to Our Free Newsletter

No obligation, unsubscribe at anytime.

Success! Check your email inbox.

Follow Us On Twitter

NPT 2016 Buyers' Guide

Newsletter Sign-up

click here to return to the previous page