Guest Post: Why VNA Foundation is Committing to Transparency in Grants Reporting

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Rob HeadshotFoundations vary greatly in their mission, asset size, and focus.  One factor almost all of us have in common, however, is that we ask for some kind of report from our grantees, some indication of how and why they spent our grant dollars.  So, why can’t we ask the same of ourselves and our colleagues?  Why can’t there be an easy way to find the amount, purpose, and type of grants made by all foundations?  And in this age of instant access to information about anything, why can’t it all be in one place—a single repository—so it’s just one mouse click or finger tap away?

Well, thanks to a new initiative supported by The Foundation Center and some of the nation’s largest foundations, there is now just such a repository.  It is called the Reporting Commitment, and I believe its impact can be enormous, and that its potential extends far beyond a mere convenience for grantmakers.  The VNA Foundation was the first "small" foundation to join the Commitment; and after witnessing its promise firsthand, I urge all foundations, large and small, to join the commitment and reap the resultant benefits.

The Reporting Commitment gives foundations the opportunity, and the mechanism, to release grant information in a consistent, open, and frequent manner. To participate in the commitment, all the VNA Foundation had to do was make minor coding changes to the grants information already being regularly reported on our website, www.vnafoundation.net.  Now, our data is available, individually or collectively, to anyone via a searchable database and interactive map at the Reporting Commitment website.  By making our data readily accessible at this central resource, we are helping to achieve our goal of making our grantmaking as transparent and accessible as possible, thereby enhancing public trust and building public confidence in our work.

In addition, as a small foundation, VNA is always interested in knowing where our limited resources might be put to most effective use.  In particular, we like to know where other foundations have directed grants, both geographically and programmatically; with that knowledge we can often identify a gap, or find a niche, to leverage the impact of our dollars.  The Reporting Commitment finally allows us to access that information, quickly and easily.

I believe all foundations should invest the minimal time and resources necessary to participate in the Reporting Commitment.  The more foundations that participate, the better and more complete the information for all of us—and the more that our good work can effectively be shared with colleagues and the public alike.

~ Rob DiLeonardi, Executive Director, VNA Foundation 

Rob DiLeonardi is Executive Director of the VNA Foundation in Chicago. He is also co-founder and former Chair of the Board of the Association of Small Foundations (ASF), a national organization of 2,900 grantmaking foundations holding over $60 billion in assets. He has a longstanding interest in foundation transparency and outcome sharing; VNA's website and annual reports have eight times received a Council on Foundations' Wilmer Shields Rich Award for Excellence in Communications.