Glass Pockets–seeing your way to social change funding

Back in February, The Foundation Center launched Glass Pockets, an online effort to provide greater transparency to the philanthropic sector. There was quite a bit of discussion about the initiative when it was launched, but, in my conversations with nonprofit folks on the ground, I haven’t found too many who know much about it, or, certainly, are using it in their resource development work.

So, albeit a bit belatedly, here’s a quick overview of what GlassPockets is, and, most importantly, how it could contribute to a successful strategy for fundraising advocacy dollars from foundations.

First, what it’s not: a major revolution in the information available about foundations and their activities–Glass Pockets is much more about compiling currently available information in one place, and making it accessible to grantseekers and interested folks in the general public than it is about really reaching into foundations’ secrets to share big new revelations with us.

Still, there are some tools here that can help to guide us as we’re navigating the foundation world, in search of those critical, unrestricted dollars for our social change work, and they’re especially valuable because most of the Foundation Center’s resources are only available if your organization has a paid subscription or you travel to one of the on-site locations for their database.

The highlights, and their possible application for advocacy-focused grantseekers:

  • * Detailed case studies about grantmakers’ activities in targeted issue areas, including anti-poverty, climate change, economic crisis, health care, and education. While you may not find a funder here who is a good fit for your organization/grant, these examples may serve as inspiration for funders with whom you do have a relationship, as well as for your own thinking about how you might partner with philanthropy.
  • * Foundation profiles, which, again, are especially valuable if you don’t currently have easy access to Foundation Center resources. While not all foundations have submitted Glass Pockets profiles, and those that have are often not as complete here as they are in the other Foundation Center databases, it’s a good starting place for information about how a foundation invests, in which issue areas, and to what extent.
  • * Reports on trends and breakthroughs in philanthropy which, like the case studies, point to the ‘big picture’ in the funding world, and may provide a good starting point for your conversations with funders about how your work connects to their mission, or how they see that mission changing in the years to come.
  • * Perspectives directly from grantmakers–it seems to me that this section is targeted more directly at a grantmaker audience (peers talking to peers), but the blog links and commentary from those in the philanthropic community, as well as some ‘inside’ information on how foundations work (and give!), do provide some unique information that is difficult to access elsewhere on the web.

    The folks at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy recently had a great piece on the need for Glass Pockets to become more of a two-way conversation, with pressure from the public (including the grant-seeking kind) for the information that we want/need, whether or not foundations are naturally inclined to share it (such as, for example, perhaps some of the public policy priorities of the foundation’s staff, or the foundation’s investment practices?).

    That’s how I’d like to see Glass Pockets develop, so that we bring not only a measure of transparency but also increased engagement and accountability to philanthropy. And, I know just the people to raise those issues effectively–the same nonprofit advocates whose work can be furthered by strategic analysis of the information that foundations themselves are starting to reveal!

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