It All Started on a Plane Ride

It all started on a plane ride, early on in my tenure as Foundation Center President, nearly ten years ago. I had been visiting foundations and nonprofits in the Bay Area and came back inspired by the West Coast brew of technology, innovation, and philanthropy. On the trip back East, I turned to my low-tech tools (pen and paper) to sketch out what would become three new Foundation Center web platforms: one devoted to mission, one to grantseekers, and one to grantmakers.  

Foundation Center was created in one of the darkest periods in American history, the McCarthyism of the 1950s, in which foundations found themselves subjected to congressional hearings to investigate their alleged support for any “un-American activities.” Foundation leaders, who felt the best defense was to prove they had nothing to hide, created Foundation Center as a public information service for philanthropy. During the testimony of Russell Leffingwell, then Chairman of the Carnegie Corporation board, the term “glasspockets” was coined and its denoting of transparency has since been a part of our DNA. My colleague Janet Camarena, who now leads our transparency initiatives, got so tired of me telling this story during that trip that she finally asked, “Why don’t we just buy the URL?” So we did, and the “mission site” became, a web platform that would highlight and catalyze a voluntary movement among foundations to share their goals, grants information, and results with the public.

The second platform sketched out on that long flight became GrantSpace, a site devoted to knowledge, sample documents, tips, and training to help nonprofits become more viable grant applicants. The seeds of this platform had been planted at Foundation Center where a conversation had been bubbling up about the need for a site to host these growing resources. The code name for this effort was “sunflower” because the idea was first discussed in a meeting room where a poster of Van Gogh’s Sunflower sat on the wall, and soon “sunflower” gave way to GrantSpace. We’ve continued to improve the platform over the years, and just this month re-launched GrantSpace with a new look and feel, after over a year of hard rethinking by our team about the needs of our users and how we can leverage the power of tech.

You’re likely most familiar with the final site—GrantCraft , a hub of knowledge for and by funders. Sitting at the intersection of foundations and nonprofits, Foundation Center had always struggled to find a way to provide something more to foundation professionals beyond annual giving surveys and trend reports. While I started sketching out how we could tackle this need, a timely opportunity arose, taking over ideation. As some of you may know, GrantCraft started as an initiative of the Ford Foundation when their leadership realized that there were growing numbers of foundation professionals but nowhere to really learn the craft of grantmaking. The initiative was intended to be incubated at Ford and slowly spin out to the field. Ford issued an RFP for organizations that wanted to give GrantCraft a new home, and Foundation Center, initially in partnership with the European Foundation Centre, took it up. Today, under the leadership of Jen Bokoff, GrantCraft continues to evolve, building around a core of grantmaker “how-to” guides, to include blogs, short-form content, video, and other creative resources. (Check out the “staff picks” below for some of our well-loved content). 

Take one trip, several sheets of paper, add a talented Foundation Center team, and we now have three web platforms that serve the needs of foundations and nonprofits around the world. While these platforms are intended to meet the needs of unique audiences, we are increasingly thinking about how and where to bridge content and concepts to better the sector at large. Take for example our #OpenForGood campaign that’s leveraging the strengths of GrantCraft, Glasspockets, and IssueLab. If you are reading this, you already know GrantCraft and how much it speaks to the work you do, but take a spin on Glasspockets and GrantSpace and be inspired by how our sector as a whole is meeting the challenges of the moment to better the future.



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


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