A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Standing With Grantees to Foster Transparency and Trust

One of the most valued Exponent Philanthropy member resources is the Foundation Operations and Management Report which comes from an annual survey of the membership. The survey covers diversity and inclusion, governance, grant making focuses, investment approaches, staff utilization and more. And reflecting a broad array of voices, missions, endeavors and histories linked by a commonality, the report is a compelling read.

It takes just an hour to complete the FOMR survey. And though some might find it an administrative burden, perhaps there’s another way to view the exercise.

Why not use it for introspection and reflection? In doing so, we can briefly walk in the shoes of our grantees. Grantees who spend countless hours completing a wide variety of proposals and applications to bid for funding in the hopes of achieving their missions, goals and programs.

Another way for funders to stand shoulder to shoulder with grantees—and truly be partners— is to earn their GuideStar Seal of Transparency.

GuideStar already pulls information automatically from the IRS, which anyone can see, regardless of whether or not the entity has taken ownership of their profile. By earning a Seal of Transparency, entities can afford potential partners better insight into their work.

There are four levels of transparency: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. It takes no more than 15 minutes each to complete the first three levels, and about 30 minutes to define and load the metrics for Platinum.

To get a Gold seal, a foundation or charity needs to answer the five strategic questions at the core of the Charting Impact framework. These are:

  1. What is the organization aiming to accomplish?
  2. What are the organization’s key strategies for making this happen?
  3. What are the organization’s capabilities for doing this?
  4. How will they know if they are making progress?
  5. What have they accomplished so far and what’s next?

Charting Impact (developed by Independent Sector, GuideStar and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance a decade ago) allows staff, boards, stakeholders, donors, volunteers and others to work together, learn from each other and better serve the community. It complements the planning, evaluation and assessment that many organizations already undertake, and it can be used by entities of all sizes and missions. To date:

  • 10,000 charities with revenues topping $100 thousand have attained the Silver level of transparency, and 16,000 have completed the Charting Impact framework to get Gold.
  • Foundation adoption is much lower. Of foundations with assets greater than $5 million, just 60 have reached Silver, and another 50 have achieved Gold.
Some foundations have started retooling their grant application processes around the Charting Impact framework—which can be an efficiency and efficacy booster for philanthropy, as charities leverage their Charting Impact profiles time and time again.

Foundations can move from data driven project funders to outcome oriented strategic partners. They can pivot program officer and trustee time and attention to their grantees and boards to better position models per the strategic thinking afforded by the Charting Impact framework.

In the coming weeks, nearly 450 members of the Exponent Philanthropy community will spend an hour compiling and submitting information for the FOMR survey.

Why not go a step further to earn a GuideStar Seal of Transparency?

Transparency is a prerequisite for trust. And our world needs much more of that these days.

Taylor is a founding trustee and the treasurer of The Countess Moira Charitable Foundation. He brings a mission-driven, quantitative approach to his strategy and investment advisory work with foundations, endowments and related entities through Fieldpoint Private Securities. He can be reached at 212-365-7662.

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