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From Ivory Tower to Open Book

July 6, 2020

Iowa West Foundation Earns National Transparency Designation

An ivory tower. These are the words people used when referring to the Iowa West Foundation in a survey conducted by an outside vendor nearly a decade ago. The phrase references a metaphorical place where people are cut off from the rest of the world.

Looking back, I can understand why some individuals thought that. Our grantmaking practices were not clearly defined and public. While many had jumped on the social media bandwagon, we had not. Our website lacked information about our leadership structure, organizational function, and clear and easy ways to contact us.

We are technically a private foundation; however, as I’ve noted since my arrival in 2012, the Foundation is viewed by the community (and thus operates) much like a community foundation. What does this mean? Most importantly, I think it means that we engage the community in our strategic planning process. A simple example of this effort can be found in our Placemaking portfolio. Though community input -including a survey of adults and youth as well as focus groups in 2012- we learned that the highest priorities for the community included: trails, a new YMCA, a field house for basketball and volleyball, and an indoor soccer complex. As of this year, all of these priorities identified by the community have been addressed.

The input from residents from different sectors throughout southwest Iowa has and will continue to guide our work plan and our investments. Beyond that, it has been my personal mission to break down the invisible barrier. Over the past eight years, we have slowly and steadily become an organization that routinely shares insights and information about everything from why the Foundation is so invested in the Riverfront to how our Advisory Committees function as part of our grants process.

A few examples of our transparency in action include:

-The Grantmaking section of our website that includes pages that explicitly state What We Fund and What We Don’t Fund

-A monthly newsletter that shares updates on our Grants Workshops and other Foundation-related news

-A video that walks individuals through the grant application process step by step

-Our $500 million milestone video, which highlights how our funds have been spent and impacted the community

-Two blogs in Leadership Notes (which offers insights on Foundation decisions) and Grants at Work (which highlights the work of our nonprofit partners in action)

-Thousands of entries on our Grant Archive that disclose how our funds have been allocated to Economic Development, Education, Placemaking and Healthy Families programs and projects over the years

After all of these efforts and more, we were eager to see where we stacked up today versus eight years ago. When we heard the national nonprofit Candid offered a free program called GlassPockets for foundations to determine their transparency rank, we  submitted an application. Their system uses 27+ indicators, including the publication of one’s strategic plan as well as an annual report, to measure transparency level.

After the review, we were honored to receive the CORE designation this past spring.

CORE Transparency Badge

This is cause for celebration as it recognizes the significant efforts we have made to increase our transparency. However, we’re not finished yet. Several of the indicators included policies we have in place, but have not yet provided access to. Therefore, we are planning to submit for another round of review when we have those published in the next quarter. I am confident we will receive the Advanced level of designation when we do.

Our view of transparency is that it’s not a checklist to be completed, but a way of thinking about sharing the work we do and how we do it. As the Foundation evolves, we will continue to strive to be clear and open with our grantees and all our stakeholders about every aspect of our work. Instead of an ivory tower, hopefully you will recognize that we are an open book.

Mainwaring, Brenda

Written by Brenda Mainwaring, President & CEO

OUR VISION is a community where families choose to live, and businesses choose to locate, because of its quality of life and standard of living.

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