The group is comprised of senior foundation representatives drawn from across ACF's membership, who will meet 7 times over an 18 month period. The meetings, which will vary in format depending on the topic and desired content, will include presentation of evidence (by experts from within and beyond the foundation sector), small group discussions, whole group exercises and visits. The group's full terms of reference can be found here.
The members of the group are: Paul Ramsbottom, Wolfson Foundation (group chair); Nick Acland, The Henry Smith Charity (ACF trustee); David Hynes, Norwich Charitable Trust; Bridget McGing, Pears Foundationp; Joseph Howes, Buttle UK; Clare Beavan, DWF Foundation; Andrew Wright, Arcadia Fund (Lund Trust); Ciorsdan Brown, Goldsmiths' Company; Anna de Pulford, Dulverton Trust; Nicola Wilson, trustee of St Giles & William Shelton Educational Charity; Matt Young, GrantScape; Lucy Bardner, Harpur Trust; Esther Hughes, Global Dialogue
Meeting #2 (February 2019) - Why should foundations be transparent?
At this second meeting, we heard from Janet Camarena, Director of the Glass Pockets initiative in the US, a programme at Foundation Centre. Glass Pockets provides a self-assessment tool for foundations that provides 26 indicators of transparent practice, and provides an evidence base in support of transparency.
Janet described the progress made to date in supporting foundations to demonstrate their commitment to and implementation of transparency in practice, from grant-making decisions to grantee feedback, to recruitment of trustees to investment strategies. While nearly 100 foundations in the US (and some other jurisdictions) have signed up to date, this is a small proportion of the sector and there is a long way to go. For example, in the US, still only 10% of foundations have a website.
The initiative has its origins in the 1950s, during the period of McCarthyism, when foundation leaders found themselves in the uncomfortable position of being brought in for questioning as part of McCarthy-era inquisitions, with one foundation leader noting 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" (see more here about the history).
The full schedule of transparency indicators used in the assessment tool is here. The group considered these in terms of their own foundations' practice, and found that many of the indicators were already a requirement of charity law and reporting (e.g. annual accounts, mission statement), but others were some way beyond where they or the foundation sector is as a whole (e.g. independent impact assessment of foundation performance, social media presence, diversity statements).
In conclusion, Janet proposed that there is far more risk to a foundation in opacity rather than transparency, both in terms of public scrutiny/trust and performance. She also acknowledged that there will be valid reasons for some foundations to be private about certain grant decisions, such as sensitive human rights projects, but that this should be an anomaly rather than an overall approach. In the UK, initiatives such as 360 Giving are gaining momentum, and the potential arrival of Grant Advisor may accelerate the UK foundation sector's move towards greater openness and engagement. These are issues that the group will consider further in future meetings.
- Who are you being transparent for and why?
- Do you know what information people would find useful about you?
- Why wouldn’t you make some information available?
- Do you have a duty to be open about where your money comes from as well as what you’re funding?
- Could you be more open about what you think rather than just what you do?
For the second half of the session, the group divided into two teams to debate the motion: has momentum towards transparency increased or stalled?
Those arguing that it had increased looked at foundation transparency in the context of a wider cultural shift towards transparency, including heightened expectations from grantees, the regulators, and the public, as well as developments in technology and regulation that encourage and facilitate transparency.
Those arguing that it had stalled considered: the conspicuous absence of investments in debates on transparency; philanthropists opting for less transparent alternatives to establishing foundations; and the relatively limited number of foundations engaging in transparency initiatives and conversations. By the end, several members of each team commented that they had been convinced by the other side!
Meeting #4 (June 2019) - Using transparency to drive change
The Transparency and Engagement working group met for the fourth time to discuss ‘using transparency to drive change’. The speaker for this meeting was Pamela Dow from Catch22, and previously of the Ministry of Justice. Pamela shared her experience of using transparency to drive changes in public policy, and about Catch22’s approach to transparency in its work. Pamela shared lessons learn from the US, where a state education department had adopted a strategy underpinned by transparency in order to drive improvements in schools. Pamela reflected on how this approach could be applied in any sector, including foundations: ‘transparency changes practices and incentivises people to do more and better’.
Pamela’s observation that ‘no system was ever made worse by shining a light on it’ struck a chord with the group was and this set the scene for subsequent discussions. The group reflected on their relationships with applicants and grantees and how greater transparency in a number of areas may change that.
The group considered some hypothetical scenarios in which greater transparency on the part of foundations might be required in the future. The groups reflected on four scenarios covering:
- Publishing their approach to addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
- Providing fair and honest feedback to applicants.
- Being open about their decision-making processes and giving communities a greater say in how and where they spend their funds.
- Applicants carrying our due diligence on donors.
In relation to the scenarios, comments from group members covered the importance of having DEI issues on the agenda as a minimum, emphasising the value of foundation independence, and the need for culture change to embed progress and transparency.
- Foundation Transparency – how far should we go? (2018) Alliance Magazine comment piece
- History of Foundation Transparency (in the US)
- Foundation Transparency: Why it matters (Fran Perrin, Indigo Trust 2014)
- Lankelly Chase, 360giving and foundation transparency (January 2018)
- Glass Pockets - website and self-assessment tool
- Sharing data responsibly - A conversation guide for funders (2018) Ariadne
- 'Philanthropy is at a turning point. Here are 6 ways it could go' (2019) Rhodri Davies writing for World Economic Forum