Transparently Advocating for Transparency

Update: I have removed the “within 15 days of the signing of a grants agreement” from the commitment. For a variety of reasons it may not be possible to publish the related information so soon after the agreement has been signed. At times, such as in the case of events, it may be more efficient to publish information once the activity has concluded.

I am hereby making a commitment, one that won’t be easy to keep, but that I believe is fundamental to carry out my job effectively and ethically. Here it is:

I commit to publishing a blog post within 15 days of the signing of a grant agreement that I have facilitated between Omidyar Network and a partner organization. The blog post will contain the following information:

  • Amount of grant
  • Date that grant agreement was signed
  • Name and link to receiving institution and other organizations involved in the project
  • Name and link to co-funders
  • Summary of grant
  • Contextual analysis of related issues
  • Metrics to gauge the impact of the grant
  • Date and manner that the relevant project will be evaluated

Starting in July of this year I will also publish the above information (and hopefully more) in XML format using the International Aid Transparency Initiative XML schema so that it is available at the CKAN-powered IATI Registry.

Despite the fact that philanthropic organizations like Open Society Foundations, the Hewlett Foundation, and Omidyar Network advocate for greater transparency and accountability from government and civil society, there are few mechanisms that hold us accountable as influential actors that benefit from tax breaks that are meant to incentivize philanthropy. I fully agree with Lucy Bernholz’s argument that all philanthropic foundations should be required by law to publish information about the money they distribute. Until such a law is passed, however, it is up to us as supporters of transparency to lead by example.

I will follow up this blog post with a description of my first completed grant at Omidyar Network to the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness to convene representatives from Latin American transparency networks to discuss their engagement in the Open Government Partnership.

I aim to be the most transparent grant-maker in philanthropy. By opening up my work with the larger public, I believe I can also become one of the most effective. I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions about the best ways to share information about the grants I facilitate.

3 Comments

  1. David – Hats off! Great idea – and really glad you’re doing it. Especially the step of using IATI format and repository – none of this needs to be invented, the hard work has been done it’s time to use it.

    So, what’s the next step? It’s great to put this information out there – but transparency improves practice only when the information is used. We need others to follow David, we need other grantmakers to share info, we need activists and grantees to respond, request, use the info, we need to see the sharing of the info as the first step in a conversation that aims toward better results.

    Lucy

    Reply
  2. Great commitment David. One suggestion, instead of relying on NGOs for metrics contract a third party to get them your self, and review those metrics for long term impact. Most NGOs will happily give you the numbers on how many happy kids got fresh water from that new water system you paid for. Few of them want to tell how many of those water systems are still running after 5 years.

    The two customer problem in NGO efficacy can only be solved by funders developing independent relationships with constituents that don’t rely on NGO self reporting. This can be accomplished by third parties, but NGO self reporting is at the core of why aid isn’t working in international development.

    Reply
  3. David,

    I applaud your efforts to make grant-making a transparent process. It seems that we are not the only ones here at Nonprofit Investor working toward this goal. By creating more business and financial accountability on both the donor and NPO side, we are trying to also encourage transparency in grant-making so that those better charities will be able to receive more donation dollars. If you’re available, it would be interesting to discuss how our paths are aligned.

    Ruth

    Reply

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