Notes From The Field: The Reporting Commitment

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Notes From The FieldMarkets For Good talks with Jeannine Corey , Director of Grants Information Management of The Foundation Center for an update on the Reporting Commitment, an initiative launched by a group of the largest U.S. foundations. We read many announcements of start-ups, projects, and initiatives; but, it’s good to check in from time to time to learn about the work happening between announcement and impact. Jeannine provides a deeper look into the Reporting Commitment.

For people who may not be familiar with the initiative, could you tell us why the Reporting Commitment was formed and give us some insight into the work that brought it to life?

The Reporting Commitment is an effort initiated in 2010 by a group of the largest U.S. foundations, with the aim of developing more timely, accurate, and precise reporting on the flow of philanthropic dollars. The Foundation Center was selected as a partner in March of 2012 to support the goals of the participating foundations, which included the adoption of common grant coding and reporting practices using the Foundation Center’s hGrant reporting standard and GeoTree standard to code geographic area served data.

The resulting data is available in an aggregated grants list and geographic area served map on the Foundation Center’s Glasspockets.org website, which focuses on transparency. Over the last year the Foundation Center has been working with the participants to help establish best practices for coding decisions, grant descriptions, and the implementation of the hGrant standard.

The Reporting Commitment was publicly announced in October 2012. Since that time, we have been contacted by a number of foundations who wish to join this effort to make their data more readily available to the sector and general public, and be more transparent.

What are the first steps that you have prioritized for the partnership itself, and then for achieving the targeted impact?

Interviews such as this are a great opportunity for us to engage new foundations to participate in this move toward greater transparency and collaboration.

In addition, we’re working with the 11 eGrant reporting software partners of the Foundation Center to updating their reporting capabilities to include an hGrant export for their clients. MicroEdge, the Center’s first eReporting partner dating back to 2008, was the first to roll out the new capabilities for their GIFTS Online clients in October 2012.

During 2013 we are working with them to release the capabilities to all of their installed software platforms and expect FoundationConnect and Foundant to be the next software partners who go live with hGrant.

What are the most significant challenges you expect to face?

I think the greatest challenge will be moving foundations from interest to action. Many foundations believe in “big data,” “open data,” and transparency as means to help the sector be more strategic, but don’t always know HOW to advance those efforts.

In an effort to make the Reporting Commitment accessible to all funders, the Foundation Center has developed an “eGrant-to-hGrant” conversion process that allows participants to submit their data via an Excel template. We will then upload this data to the grants list on Glasspockets.org for them in an effort to break down any IT barriers that might otherwise be in place for smaller or less tech-enabled foundations.

Rob Di Leonardi, Executive Director of VNA Foundation, the latest foundation to join, has recently written about the value The Reporting Commitment represents, particlularly for small to mid-size foundations: The Power of Sharing: Why VNA Joined The Reporting Commitment. Beyond, the next biggest challenge will be getting foundations to adopt common reporting standards and taxonomies. Hopefully, the illustration of the aggregated data in open format, available for us through an application programming interface (API) will help show the importance and need for aligning and adopting existing standards in the field.

While recognizing that this is a large-scale and long-term effort, are there any near-term outputs (12-18 months) that we may anticipate?

All of the Foundation Center’s efforts around transparency and establishing reporting standards are outputs that we’ll continue to promote and refine in the coming months as activity around the Reporting Commitment and Eye on the Giving Pledge (http://glasspockets.org/givingpledge/) gain greater attention.

The Center is also in the midst of a substantial overhaul of our own classification system in an effort to make it more accessible and an easily adopted standard for foundations to implement. The updated branches of the subject and population codes will be available for review during the first quarter of 2013 and rolled out during the second half of the year, with transaction type, organization type, type of support and strategy to follow.

We will also continue our expansion of the GeoTree and are now offering free single-user Philanthropy In/Sight® maps to all new eGrant reporting participants.

Many thanks to Jeannine Corey and the Foundation Center for this interview! We’d be glad to know what you’re working on to improve the ways we generate, use, and share data in the social sector. Drop a line here.

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