Transparency — being open, honest, and clear — is a key driver of strong relationships between funders and grantees. It’s valued by foundation and grantee CEOs alike, and grantees think foundations are doing a decent job of being transparent (though more so in sharing about their processes than their learning). And transparency can be a key aspect of achieving impact philanthropy.

Still, are there more radical ways to improve openness in ways that would benefit both funders and grantees?   As I’ve thought about this question, I’ve been drawn to a transparency movement called OpenNotes, which is changing the relationship between doctors and patients.

In the OpenNotes movement, doctors have taken the radical step of directly sharing their medical notes, lab results, and plans — the entire medical record — with patients. They’ve created systems to make those notes easy to access and discuss.

If we want to improve funder-grantee relationships — not to mention capacity building and shared learning — what better to share than these summaries about why a grant should be funded and what the risks are in doing so? Even when grant recommendations contain worries about a particular risk — organizational capacity challenges or major external risks, for example — a direct, if difficult, a conversation between a grantee and her program officer, prompted by an open note, could yield new ideas, clarifications, or opportunities for assistance.

Some of the benefits translate fairly directly to the grantee-funder relationship.   I can picture the grantee who, in reading her grant recommendation note, gains a deeper understanding about a funder’s analysis of the context in which she works, greater clarity about how her organization’s work contributes to the outcomes a funder is seeking, and a stronger sense of alignment, approachability, and trust.

When I’m working with funders on responding to results of a Grantee Perception Report (GPR), it’s often efforts to improve relationships that feel particularly challenging — especially in an environment where program staff don’t feel they have enough time for more interaction with grantees. So why not try opening up notes and improving the quality of the conversations you do have?

Read the full article about impact philanthropy by Kevin Bolduc at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.