Trust in Philanthropy: Part Five — Responsiveness and Transparency

Trust in Philanthropy: Part Five — Responsiveness and Transparency

Posted on March 04, 2021 by John Ferguson, TPF Fellow 2020/21

Editor's Note: TPF values and approaches often mirror the fundamental principles of trust-based philanthropy. Throughout this series, TPF Fellow, John Ferguson, will explore how they intersect and what it could mean for the future of the philanthropic sector should it become the operational norm, instead of the rare exception.

Continue reading John Ferguson's blog series:
The fourth principle of trust-based philanthropy is to be transparent and responsive. This may seem quite simple, but what does being transparent and responsive actually mean? It is more than just replying to emails within an appropriate time frame and posting relevant and important information on a website. It boils down to communication. Not only what we say, but how we say it. Not only what information is shared, but how easy it is to find.

For example, on The Patterson Foundation's (TPF) website, each initiative has its own dedicated page, including a set of FAQs that explains the initiative, why TPF is engaged, how it works, and who to contact for more information. The website is a library and constantly evolving alongside the work of the foundation. It is designed to be easily navigated and information-rich, all in an effort to be transparent about the work TPF does and the "why" behind it. TPF believes in open and honest communication in all forms. Another key element of the website is that all staff and consultants are listed with their photo, email, and corresponding initiative(s).

Why is this important? When someone wants to reach out regarding a specific question, they can easily find the right person's contact information to get the answers they seek. All relevant details are either readily available or accessible with minimal effort on the part of the information-seeker.

So how does this relate to traditional grant processes?

Clarity. Being open and honest about what you are willing to fund and what you are not on a website, grant portal, or request for proposal form can save a ton of time for those who would not meet your criteria. And could keep you from reviewing proposals not aligned with your funding strategies or goals. Being transparent about your grant process, including timelines, requirements, and other relevant information, takes out the mystery and allows grant-seekers to be more targeted with their time, applying only for grants where their work and the funder's goals are well aligned.

Another aspect of transparency is acknowledging that things change and evolve. Perhaps a new strategic plan determined a shift in funding priorities, and such a change impacted current grantees. In this scenario, being open and honest with grantees about those changes are crucial. As is giving them enough advance notice to properly prepare and seek alternative support. Funders can continually evaluate their goals and priorities to ensure they are stewarding their resources in the best possible way. And when changes result from that evaluation, it is imperative to communicate them openly and honestly by providing ample notice to affected parties.

Transparency is not just a one-way street either. What might happen if funders invited grantees to share their challenges openly? If conversations like that led to a deeper understanding of both organizations, their goals, and their obstacles? What if conversations steeped in transparency were able to build stronger relationships that transcended sporadic reporting and evaluation and created a more balanced partnership? That could shift the dynamic of the relationship in a myriad of positive ways, allowing both organizations to be more responsive to each other and to the needs of those they serve.

Being responsive is not limited to timely replies to emails and phone calls. It can also extend to addressing the emerging needs of grantees, funders, or other community stakeholders. Having frequent, transparent conversations can open the door to a much deeper understanding and more powerful collaborations. Responsiveness and transparency work hand in hand to create open and honest communication within all aspects of an organizations' grant policies and procedures.

At TPF, we enter each day focused on five constants that power thrivability in the face of change and encourage us to work in new, impactful ways. These five constants are caring, connecting, collaborating, contributing, and creating. Each "C" is critical in how TPF responds to the needs of TPFers, partners, and the communities it serves.

Caring is where it all begins. When we care enough to connect and learn from each other, collaboration becomes the norm. We then discover how to contribute in meaningful ways and create new realities together.

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