SDGfunders Helping Philanthropy Engage in the Global Development Agenda

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have become a universal language for discussing how we need to improve the world., a free platform from Foundation Center, tells the story of how philanthropic dollars are being used to achieve these goals on a new dynamically-updated dashboard, and aims to foster better coordination among those working to build a better future for all of us. Launched by the SDG Philanthropy, a partnership of the United Nations Development Programme, Foundation Center, and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors the site features interactive maps and dashboards tracking key funding data, lists of top funders and recipients working on specific SDGs, a collection of literature, including case studies and interviews with global experts, and an online community that will serve as a hub for discussions and knowledge sharing worldwide. Among other benefits, it will enhance opportunities for collaboration across sectors to increase the effectiveness of work that addresses our world’s common social, and economic challenges.

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Spotlight on Immigration

Immigration continues to be a complex issue sparking national debate and discussion in the United States. Foundations have invested over $12.5 billion in supporting causes associated with immigrants, migrants, and refugees in the United States since 2006. To help funders be more strategic and effective, Foundation Center has put together a roundup of some quick facts and resources from organizations that work on this issue every day. This list reflects views on immigration from organizations that are as diverse as the nonprofit sector itself. It is in no way intended to stake a particular policy stance, rather to spark thinking around philanthropy’s role in this landscape. We hope you’ll dig in, find what speaks to you, start a conversation, and continue to share your wisdom so we can all learn and work smarter together.

Immigrants are a key segment of the U.S. workforce, yet 42% fall below the poverty line.


Improving Immigrant Access to Workforce Services: Partnerships, Practices & Policies, Aspen Institute


Immigrants have started more than half of startup companies valued at a billion dollars or more in the U.S.


Immigrants and Billion Dollar Startups, National Center for American Policy (NFAP)


Immigrants account for about one-half of workers in the U.S. who have not completed high school.


Securing the Border: Defining the Current Population Living in the Shadows
and Addressing Future Flows
, American Enterprise Institute


Unauthorized immigrants account for one-fourth of the U.S. foreign-born population — and less than three percent of the total U.S. population.


Funders Guide: Grants and Immigration Status, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR)


Legal and illegal immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than U.S. natives.


Criminal Immigrants: Their Numbers, Demographics, and Countries of Origin,

Cato Institute


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has increased the capacity of its immigrant detention system to add 45,000 immigrants per day.


Shadow Prisons: Immigrant Detention in the South, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Southern Poverty Law Center, Adelante Alabama Worker Center


Refugee children around the world are five times more likely to be out of school.


Missing Out: Refugee Education in Crisis, The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)


Of an estimated 5.5 million U.S. children of unauthorized immigrant parents, 82% percent were US citizens.


Health and Social Service Needs of US-Citizen Children with Detained or Departed Immigrant Parents, Urban Institute; Migration Policy Institute


Arrests of undocumented immigrants have increased by nearly 40 percent since January 2017.


Funders Taking on Mass Deportation and Mass Incarceration, Philanthropy News Digest


Demand for foreign labor far outstrips the supply of H1-B visas.


Does Immigration Increase Economic Growth? , Manhattan Institute


One million immigrants receive lawful permanent resident status in the U.S. each year that puts them on a path to citizenship.


5 Key Facts About U.S. Lawful Immigrants, Pew Research Center


Have you funded issues related to immigration? Have a report or case study on this topic or itching to write a blog post? Share your wisdom with Foundation Center through GrantCraft, Philanthropy News Digest, or IssueLab

Editor's Note: Total foundation funding for immigrants, migrants, and refugees updated as of June 2018.


About the author(s)

Director of Knowledge Management
Foundation Center

Editorial Director/Publisher of Philanthropy News Digest
Foundation Center

Director of Stakeholder Engagement

SDG Indicator Wizard

How Does Your Work Align with the SDGs?

The SDG Indicator Wizard helps you determine which Sustainable Development Goal(s) and Targets relate to your work. Enter your mission statement, strategy or goals, and the wizard will translate your strategic priorities into an SDG-compatible framework consisting of the relevant goal(s), targets, and indicators that are universally comparable.

The SDG Indicator Wizard Widget can be embedded onto any website and there is a mobile app available for both iOS and Android users. Search for SDG Wizard on iOS App Store or Google Play Store, download it, and see how your work relates to the SDGs from your mobile.

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Open Innovation: A New Operating System for the Social Sector

Five years ago, I was part of a team that applied the resources and ambition of Google to global problems. I’m proud of what we achieved through building technology that engaged millions of Google users. But it also became clear to me that no matter how deep our pockets were or how ubiquitous our technology was, truly moving the needle on the world’s biggest problems required not just new apps, but a whole new operating system.

Today, I lead OpenIDEO, an open innovation platform that uses design thinking and collaboration to develop solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges with a global community. Together with our partners, we’re exploring how to build global ecosystems that can address long-term threats such as climate change, as well as extreme shocks, like the zika epidemic.

We believe that a key to a new operating system for the social sector is to change how innovation is surfaced and supported. RFPs that flood funders with applications behind a firewall concentrate knowledge in silos. Both funders and recipients can benefit from making grant giving more collaborative, transparent, and iterative.

Currently, we’re in the early stages of the BridgeBuilder Challenge, a collaboration with GHR Foundation in which we’re looking for solutions for global challenges at the intersection of peace, prosperity and planet. There is a deep need for dialogue and collaboration across these issue areas, and our challenge platform provides a space for that. The BridgeBuilder Challenge is therefore not organized as a traditional challenge with winners and losers, but as a quick and inviting way to build an impactful community.

Already over 190 solutions have been submitted, ranging from Pioneer Valley Renewables, that  makes underwater turbines to improve electricity access in rural communities, to BanQu, a software technology that connects refugees and the world’s poorest to the global economy through digital identity.

Unlike traditional RFPs, these initial submissions were published openly online. Initially, they are very rudimental, often no longer than one or two pages. In the coming months, the applicants will go through a process in which they refine their ideas in collaboration with a global community, which includes the other participants, experts from GHR foundation and IDEO, and leading experts in their own fields. Through this process, we encourage participants to collaborate from an early stage, allowing for iterations and interactions, which often lead to long-term collaboration after the challenge. 

The prize for the top ideas thus goes beyond the financial reward of a share of $1M in funding and a partnership with GHR, but participants also gain visibility, learn about design thinking for social innovation, and collaborate with others—important assets necessary to tackle complex, global challenges.

The process is beneficial to funders too. It allows them to quickly source diverse perspectives and map the innovation landscape on a topic. They’ll get to know prospective grantees better than through an RFP, by seeing how applicants incorporate feedback and iterate, in real-time. The process also enables other funders to connect with the participating organizations, and potentially fund ideas that are outside the scope of GHR Foundation. Rather than be hidden on the hard drives of a single grantmaker, the knowledge gathered through the challenge process will remain open and accessible for other funders to access at any time.

In the case of the BridgeBuilder Challenge, our objective is not just to find and foster the best ideas, but also to advance the mindset of the participants. In the words of GHR Foundation CEO Amy Goldman: “This open challenge allows us to find solutions we’d otherwise never discover, and aims to inspire more organizations to innovate by developing bridge building concepts.”

In the past six years OpenIDEO has learned a lot about bringing open innovation to the grant giving process, but our quest to reinvent the social sector’s operating system is far from over. We’re currently exploring how the ecosystems we build can be nurtured for the long term, and how to better unlock and share the power of what is learned in the process.

And we don’t want to do that in isolation! We hope you’ll join us:

  • Submit an idea or help spread word of the BridgeBuilder Challenge (deadline is April 14!).
  • If you’re a funder, sign up here for a behind-the-scenes call to hear our insights from the Challenge.
  • Share your insights on a new operating system for the social sector in the comments below!

About the author(s)

Managing Director

A Human Touch to Ocean Funding How the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s relational approach yielded ocean innovation in Madagascar

It’s not news that how funders relate to grantees matter. There’s a lot of talk – and advice giving – about how funders need to take the time and shift the power in their exchanges with grantees.

Authentic relationships, where people feel heard and respected, are healthier and more productive. Building trust and flattening out power yields better outputs and outcomes. Indeed, when people connect in real ways beyond project or position, the work quite often becomes more meaningful and the results last.  

While many marine conservation funders underscore the importance of relating what happens with oceans to the well-being of humans, they don’t always take a humanistic approach in their due diligence processes with grantees. This case highlights how the Leona M. and Henry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust’s “human touch” to ocean funding due diligence has helped it consistently reflect the grantmaking values it espouses.

Through its conservation program, The Helmsley Charitable Trust has taken a place-based approach, funding areas of the world like Madagascar, where habitat and human interests struggle to harmoniously co-exist. Helmsley’s website describes a collaborative way of working “with outstanding global and local organizations to resolve environmental threats in ways that ensure the well-being of local communities while sustaining natural resources and biodiversity.”  

According to Alasdair Harris, executive director of Blue Ventures, an international conservation organization that rebuilds tropical fisheries with coastal communities via transformative, locally-led approaches, the foundation has consistently operated in this fashion.

It all starts with Helmsley’s due diligence approach, which Alasdair characterizes as different from other foundations. “Helmsley’s early due diligence and interaction with us was strongly relational,” says Alasdair. “When they launched their work in Madagascar, they held face-to-face consultations with organizations in-country. They didn’t just meet with the international NGOs or let the larger players sit at the table. They also brought field-based, national organizations into the conversation.” For Helmsley’s staff and board, understanding the complex socio economic and environmental issues in the geographic places it funds is important early on in grantmaking. That means consulting with groups big and small. In Madagascar: “we were getting our feet wet and needed to get a handle on what approaches worked and why and what didn’t work,” says Renu Saini, a conservation program officer at Helmsley. “It would be shortsighted not to understand all the players working in our geographies.”

 For Alasdair, bringing a broader group of organizations to the table sent an important message. “How a funder first starts interacting with organizations when developing a new grant portfolio is critical. Helmsley took the time to engage with local civil society beyond the big international NGOs – which was fundamental to them getting a broader perspective on the sector. If you’re gathering all your data in London or Washington, D.C., how on earth can you find the groups who may be working under the radar and who so often get eclipsed by the marketing might of the large international NGOs?”

Helmsley’s in-country due diligence didn’t stop with a one-off consultation. Foundation staff and board members have continued to keep in close contact with grantees, visiting Madagascar frequently. “We have visited 3-5 field sites a year,” says Renu. “This allowed us to understand the work on the ground and strengthen our relationships with grantee partners.” Other meetings included grantee workshops to encourage sharing and coordination on regional conservation, and one on one meetings with individual grantees, some including Helmsley’s grants management team. “Grantees could sit with a Helmsley grants manager to discuss any challenges they were having and use our internal staff expertise as a resource for anything from developing budgets to questions about their bylaws.” Beyond discussing conservation, Helmsley dedicated time to celebrate and thank its partners for their work. For example, it held a reception dinner to which grantees, alongside government leaders, multilaterals, and other funding partners were invited. According to Alasdair, Helmsley’s time in-country connecting deeply with multiple constituencies helped the foundation become more focused and strategic. “This increased their awareness of the complexity of the sites in which they were investing,” says Alasdair. “It helped them recognize there’s no silver bullet, and they became more interested in exploring entrepreneurial and integrated interventions.”

One such integrated intervention is a community health program that Blue Ventures started and to which Helmsley provided core support. Today, Blue Ventures provides weekly maternal, reproductive, and child health services to more than 30,000 women and children in Madagascar’s underserved areas in the vicinity of the organization’s existing environmental conservation programs. Some might consider this unusual for a marine conservation foundation to fund, not to mention a marine conservation NGO, to embark upon. But ever since local women shared their needs and Blue Ventures responded by opening a clinic in 2007, the connection to conservation has been very clear. “Giving women access to reproductive health and family planning services enables them to become more engaged in issues that impact their communities,” says Alasdair. “Women now represent a major constituency within Madagascar's Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs), for instance – which wasn’t the case when we supported communities to establish Madagascar’s first LMMA a decade ago.”

Blue Ventures and Helmsley have seen how the community health work has helped coastal families, and by extension, coastal communities, become better equipped to live in healthy and sustainable ways with their marine environment. “It’s all part of Blue Ventures’ holistic community-based approach,” says Renu. “It addresses the very real issues that can get in the way of conservation for local people. They take an integrated approach that helps people see the links between things like having big families and food security, financial stability, and overfishing that ultimately harms them.” According to recent census data, fertility patterns have changed. While difficult to attribute solely to Blue Ventures, the fertility rate in Madagascar has dropped a third.

Helmsley’s staff recognize the uniqueness of supporting health programming through its conservation portfolio. “Our foundation peers have applauded us for integrating the human piece,” says Renu. “We have approached things very holistically and tested ideas out.” Being a younger organization may have helped the foundation approach its grantmaking more flexibly. However, Alasdair notes the underlying relational link that helped make Blue Ventures’ health program possible. “Helmsley was enlightened in its approach, and remained sufficiently informed of the reality of the situation in Madagascar to embrace the relationship between population, health and the environment. Most donors we speak to will not consider venturing beyond restricted funding disciplines, let alone explore integrated programming. In most cases, we would rarely consider approaching a U.S. family foundation that’s funding conservation to give us support to uphold reproductive rights. It was different with Helmsley, though.” Renu too notes ongoing dialogue as the root of healthy funder-grantee relationships. “Especially in small places like Madagascar, it’s always important to talk with people on the ground and be open to different ideas.”

Helmsley’s trust-based approach clearly helped it “go wide,” integrating conservation with other issues, but it also deepened its ocean conservation approach with grantees. One example has been supporting Blue Ventures’ first-of-its-kind research effort into the carbon dynamics of mangroves. “This might have been seen as risky, especially given the uncertainty in carbon markets” says Alasdair. “But because of the foundation of trust Helmsley had built, they listened to us and invested in the design of our mangrove carbon program – one of the world’s first blue carbon projects.”

Sometimes Helmsley’s relational approach has focused less on the programmatic and more on administrative aspects of the funder-grantee relationship.  “We have many conversations with conservation grantees about right-sized grants,” says Renu. “Sometimes that has meant making adjustments to grant parameters, including timelines. We try to approach the issue of ‘right-sizing’ as a topic of mutual interest. We communicate that we want to make sure we don’t come in too big. Everyone knows that can leave a mess behind.” For example, the first Blue Ventures grant timeline got extended by six months when Blue Ventures needed more time to accomplish the grant objectives. Since then, Helmsley has worked with Blue Ventures and other Madagascar grantees to align funding amounts and time periods with grant objectives. “This has helped cut down on grantees feeling pressed to take on more than they can handle,” says Renu.       

Helmsley’s staff not only works closely with individual grantees, but they also encourage grantees across the conservation portfolio to work with one another. “Helmsley shared with us grantee addresses and project titles,” says Alasdair. “And then the foundation created a pot of money that we could apply to for collaborative inter-regional initiatives with other grantees, such as learning exchanges.” While some might argue programs like these benefit more from an open exchange beyond the limitations of one foundation’s pool of grantees, Alasdair notes the upside of these types of connections. “Because of this opportunity, people from Madagascar went to Mexico for the first time. They shared experiences. And our fishery management model was replicated in Mexico. They even enabled us to make a film about the experience.”  By bringing grantees together in these ways, foundations like Helmsley can multiply their impact, generating common knowledge and scaling what works.   

At its core, Helmsley’s investment in the relationship building aspect of due diligence isn’t just a nice thing to do. Grantees also see it as a smart way to ensure better local outcomes. “Helmsley’s investment in face-to-face engagement and human relationships not only made us feel valued and listened to, but also taught us that if we ever venture into grant making as an organization, it will be essential for us to invest time and resources in rigorous boots-on-the-ground due diligence,” says Alasdair. “Helmsley demonstrated a far more balanced ratio of due diligence to investment than many funders that we hear of. They visited the field regularly, meeting with grantees and taking a strong interest in our work and our team. That insight proved fundamental in helping them allocate their resources judiciously. From my experience of other foundations supporting conservation and rural development in Madagascar and other tropical coastal developing states, few donors visit more than once every few years – at best – and when they do, they can rarely afford the time to reach the field.”

For Alasdair, that’s perhaps unsurprising in a context like Madagascar where it can take more than one week of driving off road in arduous conditions to access some sites. But he believes the inevitable result of this lack of scrutiny is that fundraising becomes a matter of marketing and salesmanship undertaken in capital cities – rather than of demonstrating actual impact and behavior change on the ground. “‘Smoke and mirrors’ projects will often continue to attract the lion’s share of support – initiatives where reality is far removed from the hype,” says Alasdair. “It astounds us why funders so rarely invest the time to see what’s really going on, perpetuating these inefficiencies and the disconnect between funding and impact that is so striking in our sector.”

Helmsley has announced that it plans to shift from its conversation focus, with the plan to roll out new opportunities in 2018. With leadership transitions come new approaches that can not only change the work, but the underlying culture of practice. As Helmsley winds down its current conservation focus efforts and embarks in new directions, it plans to hold on to the “human touch” that has so clearly set its marine conservation work apart.

This case study was developed as a companion piece to stories shared through Foundation Center’s Funding the Ocean project. Funding the Ocean is a dynamic hub to inform and inspire ocean conservation philanthropy around the world. It includes a mapping application, repository of reports and case studies, and a cloud-based platform for engagement.

About the author(s)

Anna Pond Consulting

What Makes Advocacy Collaboratives Successful?

MOST IMPORTANT: Well-defined goals and agendas

What’s the most important factor in successful advocacy collaboratives? Funders were unanimous: Clear and well-defined goals that all members understand and support and can return to often when there's confusion or conflict. The sharper and narrower the goals are, the better.

How does this help?

  • It frames a more strategic discussion among collaborative members for the work. “You have to be focused on a solid target, whether it’s overturning Citizens United or getting comprehensive immigration reform. Even if it’s not successful, having this target forces you into a strategic conversation.”
  • It leads the collaborative to be more specific with grantees about what it’s doing, which, in turn, ensures more on-target applicants; rather than having new and broad appeal, the collaborative can more clearly and narrowly articulate a focus.
  • It helps mitigate tension when there are disagreements about strategy or direction. “When our collaborative, which had abolishing the death penalty as its major goal, would drift from that or get hung up with disagreements, we’d always bring it back to the goal we all agreed on: abolition. We reminded the group that we were all there to achieve that end goal so we needed to do everything we could do to win.” The goals in this case serve as an accountability mechanism.
  • It keeps the work focused on action, rather than “devolving into funder continuing education and things like joint site visits, which are important, but they often aren’t particularly action-oriented. Rolling up your sleeves and digging into specific policy objectives is an experience funders don’t always get to have because their job is usually focused more on doing due diligence.”
  • It’s easier to measure progress and success. The fuzzier or more complex the issue is, the harder it will be for funder collaboratives to figure out whether they’ve been successful. “We had very specific policy ends: A Supreme Court decision in our favor and state referendum wins. That’s really different than saying ‘racial justice’ is your goal. You can’t get 100 people in a room to agree on what that is! So, how are you going to figure out if you’ve moved the needle?”
  • It creates a clear marker for evolution or disbandment. For some collaboratives, the right thing to do is to “go out of business when they’ve reached their goals, rather than sitting around asking ‘what should we do now?’” Still other collaboratives find that reaching their goal creates a moment to evolve and redefine what the group can achieve together. 

In addition to well-defined goals and agendas, there are several other factors that point to success:

  • Sticking with it over the long term, with the understanding that success will not necessarily be the result. Policy change is difficult, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Collaboratives can help funders hold steady. “Grantmakers who are part of advocacy collaboratives have to be patient and go into these things understanding that sometimes it takes years to see any kind of change.” And, even after seeing change, policy could be reversed by changes in government or other factors. Because many advocacy collaboratives also provide capacity building support—for both individual grantees and the larger field—sustained commitment is doubly important. “But you have to provide this kind of technical assistance if you want to be successful. You can’t just drop money into groups or locales and hope for the best. It takes time, patience, and focus.”Staying the course, however, can be a heavy lift for a lot of foundations, which tend to “change up their strategy and/or programs every few years.” To deal with this, advocacy funders say that they enlist their collaborative colleagues to pull together a strong case and make commitments to each other that will help persuade their institutions to stay the course. “Our collaborative did this as a group, which each of us could use at our own foundations. We saw that it helped make our institutions feel less anxious about the work because they were able to say, ‘look we have other funders working with us.’”Policy work is risky, and the policy environment is always shifting, meaning that sometimes even the best funder collaboratives may fail in reaching their goals. “Funders who want to join these kinds of collaboratives have to make sure they and their institutions are clear that this work can be very unpredictable and there is always the specter of failure looming over you. You—and your foundation—have to be able to accept that.” While sticking with it is something successful collaboratives do well, funders also caveat that “knowing when it’s time to change approach or even stop working is very tricky. There’s a need to balance staying with the plan long enough to know whether it’s working, but not so long that resources are spent in vain.” Funders focused on the end result need to remain vigilant about monitoring progress, changing contexts, and emerging opportunities to reflect on – and update – strategy to stay on course.
  • Getting the right mix of funders to participate. So much depends on having the right mix of people at the table, advocacy funders say. “In our collaborative, we had a nice mix of different kinds of foundations and individual donors. We also had big and small foundations. Having that kind of diversity brought a lot of different and important perspectives to the table.” Small foundations, in particular, “often have a lot to contribute beyond money, so we’re able to take advantage of that by using a more inclusive approach.”Having funders with diverse skill sets at the table is also important. “If we were all experts on these issues in the same ways, we wouldn’t have been as successful.” And, diverse backgrounds across factors such as race, religion, military service, physical ability, sexual orientation, academic training, family structure, and beyond brings essential perspectives that help overcome a single-background narrative. Having members that belong to population groups directly affected by the work of the collaborative is especially essential.And, of course, there’s always the issue of chemistry. “Whether a collaborative works well is about who’s at the table. Do they participate? Do they show up? If the time isn’t well spent or the process isn’t getting you to a good set of decisions you feel good about, it won’t succeed. You’ll also lose participation if you’re unable to find a way to get people to agree and work together well because people won’t feel positive about the experience.” While “chemistry” isn’t a checkbox item that is necessarily seen from the beginning of work together, it is something that is usually known after the first few meetings. Collaboratives with good chemistry understand how to listen to the “gut feeling” of how different people and organizations will gel together, and build the composition of the group accordingly.
  • Building and breathing a culture of trust and collaboration. While it might seem logical that funder collaboratives would be, well, collaborative, developing those kinds of cultures can be challenging. “When we started, the field was relatively new, and funders were just getting to know each other as a new group so they had to build trust, which takes time. But we knew that if we were going to get alignment around a shared strategy, we were going to have to trust each other first. As a long-time advocacy funder and activist, I’ve seen that no matter what the issue, the more funders know and trust each other, the more successful they are.”Grantmakers say it’s important that the collaborative’s members—especially long-time members—and staff be intentional about promoting an inclusive and informational culture that adds value to people’s work. “Like any good organization, you have to make it a political home that people like. You can’t do it on dry merit alone. People have to feel affirmed.”Making new donors feel comfortable is also important. Some collaboratives have existing members invite new members out for drinks or coffee to answer questions they might have before a larger meeting. Others have a culture that encourages new members to “say anything at the table, and you’re not considered a ‘junior’ member. It’s good for new members to see that and be embraced by everyone. This kind of openness and acceptance makes it easier to recruit new people to our advocacy collaborative.”
  • Including the field affected by the collaborative’s work in shaping the strategy for the collaborative. Many grantmakers believe that advocacy collaboratives work best when their strategies reflect the involvement of the issue-specific field and its stakeholders —from helping to set priorities to designing the strategy. “If you’re in our collaborative, you have to agree to work with and take direction from the strategic leadership of the campaign we’re supporting and who aren’t grantmakers. They are the strategists, and if they say, ‘the next six months, we really need communications’ or ‘next year, we’re getting bills in Utah and South Carolina so let’s work there,’ we’ll listen to what they say and align our funding accordingly.”Some funders, however, believe that grantmakers and the field can have parallel strategies as long as they’re mutually complementary “and there’s communication between the two.” What’s most important, they say, is being clear about grantmakers’ role in the process—not just to the collaborative’s members but also to strategists leading the campaigns. “You have to have a sense of who you are in the field. Are you another advocate? Or are you a partner with the grantees in the field? Are you a collaborator? Or are you taking a more traditional approach—being more at arm’s length from the grantees and being in control of making the decisions? It’s important to be clear and transparent about this with grantees.”
  • Leaving egos at the door. Advocacy funder collaboratives, funders agree, aren’t the place for big egos. To be successful in a collaborative, “individual members need to be committed to contribution not attribution! They need to check their institutional egos at the door. The focus needs to be on what the group is doing and who they’re doing it for—not on who gets credit.”Compromise and humility play an important role. “You’re joining with others, and you broaden your focus when you sit down at the table. You decide you’ll be more effective in a collaborative than you would be on your own because there’s strength in numbers.”
  • Hiring quality staff or facilitators. A number of advocacy funders point to staffing as a key ingredient in successful collaboratives. “We’ve been able to pay for the staffing at our collaborative. Two of those staff members came from foundations that had donated to the collaborative. Other funders have thought about applying for these jobs, which says something about the quality of the staffing. If you can afford it, hiring smart staffers is a smart move the collaborative should support.”Sometimes that staffing comes in the form of an intermediary. “I’ve found that collaboratives that have used intermediaries well tend to be quite effective. They have to be supported, though, because they provide a lot of additional services for grantees like capacity building, technical assistance, and convenings—a lot of the stuff that individual funders can’t or don’t do but that are critical to sustaining this work!”Having a “strong facilitator who’s not a grantmaker”—either as part of the staff or as a consultant—is also important, many grantmakers say. “There are many occasions collaboratives may need to call in an external facilitator—disagreements about strategy, personality conflicts, analysis paralysis, and other issues that the group may be unable to resolve itself. We’ve found them to be enormously helpful in getting us unstuck.”
  • Promoting strong leadership. Some grantmakers say that the best advocacy collaboratives “are those with someone—or a group of funders—with a clear vision and who can bring people along with that vision.” An important part of that leadership is being ever vigilant to potential problems or challenges that could derail the group’s commitment or solidarity to the goals they agreed on.That doesn’t necessarily mean that collaboratives have to have a formally-elected or appointed leader. Rather, all members should feel comfortable in assuming the role of helping the group keep on track when it starts to veer off.That sometimes requires different skill sets. After serving as the leader of an advocacy funder collaborative, one grantmaker said that she’d come to realize that leadership isn’t just about vision or “keeping the eyes on the prize.” While those are important, if she ever led a collaborative again, she’d approach that role differently—“less as a director and more a facilitated leadership approach. I’ve learned how important good facilitation can be when it comes to keeping collaboratives running smoothly because so much is about facilitating decisions, not forcing them.”
  • Building a strong field and infrastructure to support ongoing policy work on the issue(s). A striking number of funder advocacy collaboratives view field building as important as “wins.” “You can have a bunch of policy wins, but if there’s no infrastructure to support the work going forward, it won’t have as much impact.”There are many ways to do this—capacity-building assistance, organizational development support, general support. The important thing to remember, however, is that while “policy goals are the priority, advocacy collaboratives also have to keep their eyes on the infrastructure behind pushing for those policies.” Without it, another funders says, “this work will never be sustainable.”
  • Funders see value in their participation. Successful advocacy collaboratives have robust participation. “Grantmakers have to perceive that they’re getting a lot of value from their involvement. Otherwise, they’ll leave because they want their time to be well spent.” Maintaining participation and longevity, in fact, can be a good barometer of what’s working for the people participating in the collaborative. “If they don’t show up or don’t participate or leave halfway through—those are warning signs.”Unsurprisingly, the more people know and trust the other collaborative members, the more incentive there is to participate. “Four or five times a year, we’d meet as a group and just be in a room where we spent full days together. We got to know each other well and build trust, because we not only talked about issues but had meals together. You can’t underestimate the value of that.” The opposite is also true: “A collaborative I was part of only met once a quarter for two hours. People didn’t see the value of participation vs. value of ‘just funding the effort’ because funders didn’t really get to know each other. For these things to work really well, you need a lot of funder engagement.”


  • What do you see as the most important factors in predicting success?
  • How many of these elements do you see reflected in your collaborative?
  • Are there other factors not mentioned here that you think are important contributors to a collaborative’s success? What makes them important?


Please click here for information on GrantCraft’s methodology for this research.

(Photo: Apollo Habtamu, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

About the author(s)

Cynthesis Consulting


Access to safe water is one of the most crucial issues of our time. Worldwide, 663 million people do not have reliable access to clean water, and a staggering 2.4 billion do not have adequate sanitation. Over 315,000 children die every year from diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation.

Philanthropy can play a critical role in helping to change these dire statistics. is a hub for funding and needs-related data and information for donors, policymakers, and other stakeholders interested in water access, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). With dynamically updated information, news, and knowledge relating to philanthropy and sustainable access to safe water, aims to facilitate better collaboration and more strategic decision making among funders and seeks to raise awareness about water and the full WASH continuum among donors.

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The Foundation Transparency Challenge

I often get asked which foundations are the most transparent, closely followed by the more skeptical line of questioning about whether the field of philanthropy is actually becoming more transparent, or just talking more about it.  When Glasspockets launched six years ago, a little less than 7 percent of foundations had a web presence; today that has grown to a still underwhelming 10 percent.  So, the reality is that transparency remains a challenge for the majority of foundations, but some are making it a priority to open up their work. 

Our new Foundation Transparency Challenge infographic is designed to help foundations tackle the transparency challenge. It provides an at-a-glance overview of how and why foundations are prioritizing transparency, inventories common strengths and pain points across the field, and highlights good examples that can serve as inspiration for others in areas that represent particular challenges to the field. 

Trans challenge_twitter1-01

Using data gathered from the 81 foundations that have taken and shared the “Who Has Glass Pockets?” transparency assessment, we identified transparency trends and then displayed these trends by the benefits to philanthropy, demonstrating the field's strengths and weaknesses when it comes to working more openly.

Transparency Comfort Zone

Despite the uniqueness of each philanthropic institution, looking at the data this way does seem to reveal that the majority of foundations consider a few elements as natural starting points in their journey to transparency.  As we look across the infographic, this foundation transparency comfort zone could be identified by those elements that are shared by almost all participating foundations:

  • Contact Information
  • Mission Statement
  • Grantmaking Priorities
  • Grantmaking Process
  • Key Staff List

Transparency Pain Points

On the flip side, the infographic also reveals the toughest transparency challenges for philanthropy, those elements that are shared by the fewest participating funders:

  • Assessments of Overall Foundation Performance
  • Diversity Data
  • Executive Compensation Process
  • Grantee Feedback
  • Open Licensing Policies
  • Strategic Plans

What’s In It for Me?

Community of Shared LearningOnce we start talking about the pain points, we often get questions about why foundations should share certain elements, so the infographic identifies the primary benefit for each transparency element.  Some elements could fit in multiple categories, but for each element, we tried to identify the primary benefit as a way to assess where there is currently the most attention, and where there is room for improvement. When viewed this way, there are areas of great strength or at least balance between strengths and weaknesses in participating foundations when it comes to opening up elements that build credibility and public trust, and those that serve to strengthen grantee relationship-building.  And the infographic also illustrates that philanthropic transparency is at its weakest when it comes to opening up its knowledge to build a community of shared learning.  For a field like philanthropy that is built not just on good deeds but on the experimentation of good ideas, prioritizing knowledge sharing may well be the area in which philanthropy has the most to gain by improving openness. 

“The reality is that transparency remains a challenge of foundations, but some are making it a priority to open up their work.”

And speaking of shared learning, there is much to be learned from the foundation examples that exist by virtue of participating in the “Who Has Glass Pockets?” assessment process. Our transparency team often receives requests for good examples of how other foundations are sharing information regarding diversity, codes of conduct, or knowledge sharing just to name a few, so based on the most frequently requested samples, the infographic links to actual foundation web pages that can serve as a model to others.

Don’t know what a good Code of Conduct looks like?  No problem, check out the samples we link to from The Commonwealth Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Don’t know how to tackle sharing your foundation’s diversity data?  Don’t reinvent the wheel, check out the good examples we flagged from The California EndowmentThe Rockefeller Foundation, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund. A total of 19 peer examples, across seven challenging transparency indicators are offered up to help your foundation address common transparency pain points.

Why did we pick these particular examples, you might ask?  Watch this space for a follow-up blog that dives into what makes these good examples in each category.


And more importantly, do you have good examples to share from your foundation’s transparency efforts? Add your content to our growing Glasspockets community by completing our transparency self-assessment form or by sharing your ideas with us on Twitter @glasspockets with #GlasspocketsChallenge and you might be among those featured next time!

This post originally appeared on the Glasspockets blog, Transparency Talk, to view the original post please click here

About the author(s)

Director of Candid Learning

Putting Grantees in the Spotlight

Even though #GivingTuesday is still very new, I've always been a big fan of the movement. I love the creativity and collaboration that this special day inspires in nonprofits across the country.

When I came onboard to direct social media for Foundation Center in 2014, I was super excited to sink my teeth into designing a #GivingTuesday campaign for our organization. We do so many cool things to support the social sector, so it would be a piece of cake to drum up some donations to support the work we do, right? As it turns out, our legacy, size, and the nature of the way we contribute to the sector may actually work against us in this unique fundraising space. So where do we fit in on #GivingTuesday? I finally realized: Foundation Center is a leader in supporting the growth and sustainability of thousands of organizations across the globe. Instead of fundraising for ourselves on #GivingTuesday, why don't we use our influence to uplift organizations that are doing great work? Eureka!

So, for our 2016 “campaign,” our marketing, development, and knowledge services colleagues came together to design “Elevate Your Cause,” a contest where five nonprofits — and their fundraising campaigns — would be featured exclusively on our @fdncenter and @pndblog Twitter feeds on #GivingTuesday. We received more than 2,300 entries (wow!). The randomly selected winners were an awesome group of organizations from across the country, who tackle issues like reducing the high school dropout rate, providing safe shelters for women and children, and increasing awareness about a rare disease. Spotlighting these five organizations amplified their passion for their missions, and made me smile all day. We may have not raised any money this year, but the “return” we got this #GivingTuesday was rewarding in a way that we hope to build on for many years to come.

The takeaway: You can strengthen your community and enrich your work by being a megaphone for those connected to you. Are you elevating your grantees' voices? We'd love to hear about it! Tweet us and tell us about how you're weaving those connections into the larger fabric of your work.

See you online.

This letter originally appeared in today's GrantCraft newsletter. To sign up for our newsletter and special alerts, register for free. 

And...there's more! The newsletter also shared a recent blog post ,"The Out in Ohio Immersion: Increasing Social Capital and Grantee Inclusion" by David Moore of the David Bohnett Foundation. The blog is part of an ongoing series detailing experiences from Out in Ohio: An LGBTQ Funders’ Immersion Trip in Cleveland, which took place on September 8-9, 2016 and was sponsored by the national affinity group, Funders for LGBTQ Issues, and led by local LGBTQ funding ambassadors Kristi Andrasik, The Cleveland Foundation and Brian Schultz, Foundation Center Midwest.

Also, Foundation Center recently released a new dashboard entitled "Southern Trends Report: Philanthropy in the Southeast Region". This dashboard provides an at-a-glance overview of institutional philanthropic information for the Southeast Region and its composite states. Explore how foundations are supporting grantees and communities in the Southeastern United States, learn more here.

About the author(s)

Community Content Manager
Foundation Center

Children Stand Up Against Poverty

Despite many efforts over the years, child poverty remains a widespread problem in the United Kingdom. In an attempt to accelerate efforts, we at the Webb Memorial Trust decided to support plans to give children true leadership roles in the issue, as opposed to just consulting them. At the Webb Memorial Trust, our goal is to rethink the way we tackle poverty. We felt that empowering those most impacted by a social issue to be the drivers of change was an important way to reframe current approaches.

Our story of involving children in decisionmaking started in a cafe, when we met with representatives from Children North East. They requested a small grant to celebrate their 120th anniversary with an evening lecture. Doubting whether a lecture would be enough to make a significant impact, we instead offered a larger grant to fund a full day conference. Children North East suggested that children should play a large role in the conference, both in preparing for it and participating in it. We were unsure about this idea at first because we didn’t have experience working with children, but chose to trust our grantee and support their decision.

The conference was a success! There was widespread agreement that the most valuable contributions came from the young people, who designed artistic exhibitions, including a photography exhibit documenting their daily lives through the lenses of disposable cameras, and a play detailing the challenges of a child living in poverty. There was an immediate demand for a reprise of both the exhibition and play from a wide variety of organizations. Clearly, having children’s voices represented at the conference was hugely important to its success.

Following the conference, we decided to support the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty. Working across sectors with two politicians and trustees of the Webb Memorial Trust, we created a program that aimed to expand areas of agreement between parties and drastically increase the role of children in discussions about children’s poverty. The final results of the project included a manifesto written by 38 young people called Poverty ends now (PEN). The children launched their manifesto in Parliament, undertook a national media campaign, and wrote an evidence submission based on parliamentary questions. We found that children added significant value to discussion about poverty by ‘telling it straight’ based on their own authentic experiences and emotional connections with the issue. The children focused on immediate, concrete problems like lack of food in the fridge, the inability to go on school trips, or the embarrassment of bringing friends home to a run-down apartment.

One of the most valuable outcomes of the project was that it raised awareness among decision makers about the value of young people’s views. While we cannot claim to have made a concrete policy change on the national level (yet!), we have successfully challenged the idea that children have nothing to contribute to political processes. It is the job of all of us to dismantle structural barriers and amplify the voice of those most impacted by a problem when formulating a solution.

The Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace and GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center, are releasing a series of 11 blog posts authored by grantmakers around the world. The posts are derived from the recently published Effective Philanthropy: Another Take, a collection of stories describing a philanthropic intervention against some form of injustice (socioeconomic and/or political) at a local, national or global scale. Each story addresses key questions grantmakers wrestle with in order to effect systemic social change, and the blog posts in this series highlight certain details that feed into the bigger story. Through this series, the partners hope to raise awareness of some of the most effective examples from philanthropy in tackling injustice and achieving lasting structural change. By sharing knowledge in philanthropy and being willing to learn from one another’s experiences and perspectives, we can improve our practice together.

This is the second post in this series, which will roll out over the next three months; it focuses on empowering children to assume leadership roles in developing solutions to tackle child poverty.

About the author(s)

Former Knowledge Services Fellow
Foundation Center

Executive Director