The 990 in 2017: program spotlights foundation transparency and communications in the open data era

Last month, GRANTMAKERS hosted a program on using the 990-PF form to tell your foundation’s story. Janet Camarena and Davis Parchment of Foundation Center presented at an intensive three-hour workshop detailing the changes open data brings and the challenges and opportunities this presents to foundations. The workshop was a pilot for a new project supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

As early as 2005, GRANTMAKERS of Oregon and Southwest Washington has been encouraging foundations to consider the uses to which a 990 can be put and to be more transparent. “Reporters, researchers, and grantseekers look to these forms for information about your organization,” reads a 2005 program description. In an era of machine-readable open data, this is even more true. Websites like pull data directly from the IRS to provide instant information with little to no context. 

Recently, Martha Richards penned “I Thought I Knew You: Grants Data & the 990 PF” for Transparency Talk. The blog reflects on her revelations about the value of the 990-PF as a communications tool (for better or worse) since the groundbreaking 2010 study, Communities of Color in Multnomah County: An Unsettling Profile. “This prompted us…. to examine our own giving and how we could describe its reach,” she wrote, “We fund in the areas of arts and K-12 education… we realized that we did not know if the grants we made were reaching the populations we hoped to serve.”   

Janet Camarena also recently blogged about the growing trend of using Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in improving foundation transparency.  “The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity,” she stated in the blog.

However foundations engage with communications and their 990s, greater transparency is a good move. Being able to tell your own story has always mattered, and in light of the “fake news” era, it’s more important than ever before.