Why should the social sector take time to share knowledge?

The why is easy: when you share knowledge, it enables others to focus on using that knowledge rather than reinventing it. It promotes learning from what has and hasn’t worked, and offers perspective on various strategies, issues, organizations, and data. And, knowledge can illuminate a path forward.

Listen to Gabi Fitz, our Director of Knowledge Management Initiatives, talk about why sharing evaluative knowledge is important.



The how is even easier. Core to Foundation Center’s mission is advancing knowledge sharing across the social sector, including creating tools and resources that simplify the process. Yet, every year, foundations spend billions of dollars on evaluations of their activities and their grantees’, but those evaluations are not shared in public or findable ways. Why shouldn’t this knowledge be shared so everyone — nonprofits, foundations, bi- and multi-laterals, policymakers, media — can learn from various approaches that have already been tested? This notion of transparency in service of moving us closer to solving long-standing problems should be easy to spread. The challenge: this “cause” doesn’t tug at the heart strings like other nonprofit campaigns might; it calls for behavior change.

Why? Well, in the U.S., that’s public data, so we had a starting point.

Enter #OpenForGood, Foundation Center’s campaign to encourage foundations to publish and publicly share evaluations. Leveraging the reach and purpose of our IssueLab, GlassPockets, GrantCraft, and social media platforms, the campaign launched with the new IssueLab Results hub for reading evaluative knowledge and understand who’s sharing it and a blog series on Transparency Talk. “Foundation Center made it easier for people in the sector to know what is being funded, where new ideas are being tested, and what evidence and lessons are available,” shares Tom Kelly, vice president of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation. In 2018, the campaign will enter its second phase by launching a new GrantCraft guide and announcing a field-wide award.

Explore who is sharing through the Transparency Talk blog series >
The second phase launched already! Read the new GrantCraft guide >
Nominate a foundation for the award today >

Transparently, this campaign launch was challenging. While our call to action was well-received, we quickly saw what we thought we would: the process to change behavior is slow. To this end, we were intentional about developing a communications and outreach strategy geared toward long-term engagement rather than a short-term buzz. The hashtag #OpenForGood was critical in spreading the ethos of the campaign. Powerful tweets from Tom, Yvonne Moore, founder of Moore Philanthropy, and others were key to building a movement.

We got a sneak peak of this challenge through our Get on the Map campaign, encouraging foundations to report their grants data electronically. While we’ve had more than 338 funders participate, transparency is easier said than done.

By the end of the year, several foundations had signed onto the campaign. The Rockefeller Foundation was the first, and they shared in a blog post that it, “helped take the foundation’s commitment to sharing and strengthening the evidence base to the next level.”

GlassPockets’ data also reflected that positive change was in the air. In the first year of the campaign, foundations using their websites to share their knowledge grew to represent 70 percent of foundations that participate in the GlassPockets transparency self-assessment.

Still, sharing evaluations is only half of the challenge; the other half is encouraging a shift of behavior for organizations to actually read and use publicly-shared knowledge. Even now, the most downloaded reports from the IssueLab: Results collection are resources about evaluation, and not evaluations themselves. As we add more evaluations to this platform over time, we suspect this trend will slowly flip too.

We recently found 63% of funders don’t look at what others are sharing. Learn more >

“In order to get read, the evaluation has to be something I know exists, or something I can easily find. If it exists in a repository like IssueLab, my chances of finding it increase significantly. After all, even if it’s good, it is even better if it is #OpenForGood for others, like me, to learn from it.”

Rebekah Levin, director of evaluation and learning at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation