Glass Pockets: A Revolution in Foundation Transparency

“We think the foundation should have glass pockets.” – Russell Leffingwell, Chair, Carnegie Corporation, 1952

Hot on the heels of rolling out real time tracking of foundation grants in support of Haiti, the Foundation Center has quietly launched a new project with the whimsical name Glass Pockets.

With a mission to “bring transparency to the world of philanthropy” Glass Pockets offers reports on how transparent large, well known foundations are. These reports rate the foundations across 28 elements of transparency and accountability such as whether they explain their grantmaking process, provide a public assessment of the foundation’s performance and whether they offer a knowledge center that shares program evaluations and lessons learned.

You can currently find reports for:

Most importantly, the reports offer direct click-thru access to each element. So users can quickly find the Gates Foundation’s investment policies, the Ford Foundation’s grantmaking policy, or the Hewlett Foundation’s knowledge center.

Glass Pockets also offers a fascinating Foundation Transparency 2.0 database that shows the social media tools being used by over 400 foundations. From the database you can directly access the Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, blogs, e-newsletters and other tools being used by some of the countries largest funders.

Finally, the site offers a Google-based search tool that lets users search the websites of thousands of private foundations. For instance, a search for the term Haiti brings back The Boston Foundation’s Haiti Relief & Reconstruction Fund, The Gates Foundation’s statement on their response to the earthquake and the Case Foundations blog post on ways that individual donors can support Haiti.

This is fascinating stuff! Not only is Glass Pockets suddenly the most important way to access important information about foundations, but the reports begin to set a level of expectation for large, staffed foundations to share more about their activities and what they know with the public. For instance, the reports note that the Ford Foundation does not make its 990-PF available, the Kellogg Foundation does not have a mechanism in place to allow grantee feedback and none of the foundations being reported on share an assessment of their own performance with the public.

Talk about information overload. Glass Pockets offers users direct links to a deep library of information about foundations. I could get lost for days exploring this place!


  1. Bradford Smith says:

    The “quiet launch” was the pre-launch! Thanks for the shout out. For Glasspockets fully explained see

  2. Openworld says:

    Have any of these foundations moved to implement XBRL (extensible business reporting language) tagging of their financial flows?

    More here –

    If the foundations were to offer hosted, XBRL-compliant administration solutions for grant recipients (with dashboards for easy administration), it would be possible to extend financial transparency and accountability farther still.


    Mark Frazier
    @openworld @buildership

  3. Mark, the closest I’ve seen to doing what you’re looking for is Grantsfire.

  4. Openworld says:

    Interesting way to speed up connections between donors and applicants!

    As we move towards a “real-time web,” I’m wondering whether similar results could be achieved through a fast-track system of venture philanthropy.

    It might be a concentric system with a “microgrant” layer on the outer circle. This layer would offer expedited review and grant-giving, much as Charles River Associates has done with early stage, small venture capital applicants. Recipients who put the seed funds to good use (as shown by digitally recording and sharing milestones of progress) could earn “karma points” that would enable them to enter the next level of larger grant-seeking opportunities. And then those who do well with these grants can cross the threshold of the next level of funding opportunities, where they can compete for more substantial grants.

    Creating layered opportunities to earn karma points (convertible to attention/visibility on the radar of donors in future funding rounds) might also improve ecosystems of cooperation among grant applicants, as hoped for in the Grantsfire summary.

    For example, donors could offer paths for unsuccessful grant applicants to earn reputation points applicable to future fundraising rounds. The unsuccessful applicants could earn these points by volunteering in-kind services to help the funded projects. In cases where the offers were accepted (and useful services delivered), the funded project receiving the help could award reputation points to providers. This teaming approach could lead to relationships of value in future grant-seeking and full-scale implementation of initiatives.

    Does this approach sound reasonable? It could also fit into challenge offer scenarios for awakening human capital and dormant land values in economically depressed areas, as outlined at .


    Mark Frazier
    @openworld @buildership