ISSUE NUMBER 105 | APRIL 18, 2016 

Transactional vs. Transformative Transparency

My newsletter article below was originally posted on the Center for Effective Philanthropy's blog, and I wanted to share it with you here.

The Center for Effective Philanthropy's (CEP) new report on transparency is a very valuable tool for introspection for individual foundations - and the wider field of philanthropy - to think about how we define and deliver on our pledges to become more transparent.

As many other writers on CEP's blog have pointed out, the report shows that while foundations seem to be doing a decent - and in some cases laudable - job of communicating openly about their grantmaking priorities and processes, there is much to be done in the realm of openly sharing lessons learned, both from successes and failures.

This behavior in the field is not all that surprising. It's human nature, after all, to protect what we feel are our weaknesses and to put ourselves forward in the best possible light. (It's also part of corporate culture, from which many foundations borrow.) The great tragedy, however, is that this kind of behavior all but guarantees that the lion's share of philanthropy in our country will remain transactional rather than transformative.

As a funder, being clear about grant guidelines and grant decisions means that grantees understand your rules and how to play by them in order to get the money. That's a purely transactional relationship. Take it a step further, and say that your foundation is also very transparent about a specific initiative it funds. You've had many conversations with stakeholders as you shaped the initiative, and you've gone above and beyond to include their input in the design of your new program. That's laudable, but it's still a transactional kind of transparency. They helped to build it, but you own it - and ultimately, it's still a relationship in which you make the rules.

So what might "transformative transparency" look like?

In a nutshell, it's when your foundation admits vulnerabilities, gives up some control, and digs deep within itself to work toward the same kinds of changes it wants to see in the community. Transformative transparency fosters open channels for two-way conversations about problems and solutions, not processes and policies.

One great example of transformative transparency is in racial equity work. Over the past few years, we've had the great privilege to work with some national funders who are intent on learning about and incorporating a racial equity lens in their work. We believe that the foundations that are doing the best job of incorporating equity have turned the lens inward and have been honest and open about what they've found there. They've been open and honest about things that are uncomfortable to talk about, like their own board diversity, implicit bias in their hiring practices, or the fact that their go-to partners look more like their boards than the communities they serve.

Click here to read the full post!

Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a global philanthropy advisor. Want more ideas, tips and tools to improve your giving? Read an article, listen to a podcast, or check out a case study
What your colleagues have to say:

Kris expertly managed our $20 million grantmaking initiative to solicit, review, and select grantees to support Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). Her consulting services are of exceptional quality and I highly recommend her."
Juan Davila, Executive Vice President
Blue Shield of California

CONNECT WITH US   800.598.2102