Rockville, Maryland, Feb. 27 – This week, RespectAbility invited Elaine Katz to come to speak to the National Leadership Fellows. Katz talked about how she got to her current position and what makes a good grant application; the most important piece of information she shared was about transparency in philanthropy. More and more foundations are going in the “dark” about their process and who they are giving their money to. As we approach a “dark” era of philanthropy, understanding the benefits of transparency and best practices becomes more important than ever. Most importantly, Katz exhibited personal transparency about her career trajectory and explained the Kessler Foundation’s view of transparency in the relationship between the grant maker and grant seeker.
Transparency is defined by Merriam Webster as “free from pretense or deceit” and characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices. In philanthropy, transparency often looks like an organization putting their financial documents on their website. In grant making, transparency includes putting the grant approval process online and having guidelines for the subject areas they will accept grants proposals for. In grant seeking, transparency includes being honest about your budget and any difficulties the organization may be facing. Unfortunately, most foundations and organizations do not follow these best practices. Therefore, when foundations do follow best practices, they are rare and beacon of light and hope in the darkness.
An example of a best practice foundation is the Kessler Foundation. Kessler is transparent by having the entire grantmaking process accessible via their website. The foundation has a clear outline of the types of programs they are wishing to fund: signature employment grant, community employment grants and special initiative grants. The Kessler Foundation shares who has previously won grants, what program the grant was for and the size of the grant. Not only is this helpful to potential applicants, but this is what best practices in transparency look like. Leading this transparent process is Katz, who is not only passionate about the issues the foundation funds, but about being transparent as well.
Originally, Katz wanted to be a speech pathologist. She attended Boston University for her undergraduate degree and Adelphi University for her graduate degree and certification. After working in speech pathology for a few years, she transitioned to working for an insurance company. She was able to be successful at insurance because she cornered the market with the deaf population. Due to her success with insurance sales, she was able to open her own insurance firm for a few years. Katz then transitioned to work in the nonprofit sector, working in refugee resettlement, social enterprise consulting and funding, before joining the Kessler Foundation, where she has stayed for the past 16 years.
Katz gave the Fellows some tips for the grantmaking process. “For Kessler Foundation the writing style is not important,” she said, but what is important is having an innovative idea. Katz wants to see organizations tackling complex problems like employment for underemployed populations and lack of affordable housing.
“There is no magic formula in grant making,” she said. With this in mind, all organizations should be their true authentic, transparent selves when entering the grant making process with the foundations that best matches their mission.
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RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. This spring 14 Fellows have the opportunity to learn from a variety of guest speakers. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.
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