Glasspockets Find: NCRP Assessment of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation Shows the Value of Transparent Relationships

(Rebecca Herman is special projects associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.) 

Herman-150When I skim a report, I often jump ahead to the very end. Unlike a novel, I want to know the arc of the story before I commit. Am I going to learn something from the journey of this foundation? In the case of The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s assessment of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, I learned how much grantees value their relationships with funders and other organizations, and I learned a new way foundations now have of tackling the tricky task of performance assessment.

NCRP_275The new report by NCRP examined how the foundation's strategies and practices aligned with its goals, the outcomes and impact from its "Moving the Needle" agenda, and the quality of the foundation’s partnership with its grantees. In the report, two quotes from grantees stood out for me, as they highlighted the crucial role of transparency in building productive relationships:

“The biggest thing is that we all understand our roles; they understand they are the funder and are very respectful of not telling us what to do or how to think…We view them as allies, as partners. Clear and transparent relationships make that possible.”

“They have had some convening tables to get us working together, and a lot of us work well together anyway…It all gets back to competence, transparency and creating a noncompetitive space so folks can relax and focus on the work.”

Screen shot 2013-12-16 at 2.25.27 PMIf you read to end of the report, you find an enlightening coda in Appendix B: “If you became CEO of the foundation…” Here’s a plot twist that keeps me interested! The NCRP asked grantees and other stakeholders to imagine themselves the CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and asked them which approaches they would continue or what they would do differently.

The grantees-turned-imaginary CEOs suggested that they would want to do more to build relationships with policymakers, other nonprofits, and other philanthropists. The NCRP report also notes this in one of their recommendations:

Continue exercising leadership through combined capacities of research, content expertise, relationship building, bully pulpit and convening.

Although this report is specific to the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, you can also find online the related NCRP report Real Results: Why Strategic Philanthropy is Social Justice Philanthropy, which provides a framework for an assessment tool to increase foundation effectiveness.

And here is a recommendation that may apply to many foundations that are currently reviewing this year’s accomplishments and plotting next year’s goals:

Provide timely and comprehensive grants data to the Foundation Center so that [Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation] and its stakeholders can monitor its progress in meeting benchmarks for good grantmaking practices.

No matter the size of your foundation, the Foundation Center can work with you to help make your grantmaking more transparent, through electronic grant reporting. Sounds like a great start to a new chapter: the timely reporting of grants data!

-- Rebecca Herman

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