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Thoughtful Approach to “Annual Reporting”


What do you call a regularly issued publication that reports on the programs a foundation supports, discusses challenges to its work, invites outsiders to offer their views and analyses, and talks about possible solutions to the major issues it is trying to solve?  For the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the answer to that question is not an annual report, but a Thoughtbook.

Published four times since 2005 – the year it stopped producing its traditional annual report – the foundation’s Thoughtbook features a collection of staff-written essays along with contributions from grantees, partners and other leaders who are thinking differently about philanthropy. The purpose of the Thoughtbook, says communications analyst Matt Pozel, is to both report on progress and prod people outside the foundation to think about how to advance educational achievement and entrepreneurial success – the two goals at the heart of the foundation’s mission.

The Thoughtbook was born after Kauffman Foundation CEO and President, Carl Schramm  challenged the communications staff to find new, bold ways to communicate about the ideas and programs that drive Kaufmann’s grantmaking and to break through the jargon that foundations sometimes use to talk about their work.

Each edition of the Thoughtbook covers three types of perspectives:

The 2009 Thoughtbook features a discussion with Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus. 

 

  • Kauffman’s approach and insights
  • Research and analysis about entrepreneurship
  • Commentary, often about the state of entrepreneurship and education, or related challenges and opportunities.

Pozel says the Thoughtbook’s content is designed to provoke thought and reflection, and even encourage further discussion. “We believe foundations have a responsibility to be open to new ideas and not automatically take the consensus views.”  To reflect that approach, Pozel says there are certain features that further distinguish the Thoughtbook from a traditional annual report, including the fact it contains no grants lists, which are instead published on the foundation’s Web site:

Many voices: Each Thoughtbook features essays from world leaders, scholars, technical experts, entrepreneurs, scientists, researchers and other distinguished individuals outside the foundation.  But the list of contributors sometimes introduces readers to lesser-known individuals with notable stories of achievement. For instance, this year’s Thoughtbook includes an essay from Fraser Doherty who started selling jam at age 14 to his neighbors in the suburbs of Edinburgh, Scotland. Today, his luxury SuperJams are sold in supermarket chains such as Tesco, Asda/Wal-Mart, and Waitrose. The variety “shows the depth of Kauffman’s involvement and helps keep people interested,” Pozel said.

Flexibility: Unlike traditional annual reports that devote equal space to all the foundation’s programs, individual Thoughtbooks delve more deeply into the most interesting or thought-provoking work or research the foundation is doing at any given time. Over time, however, Pozel says, the Thoughtbooks present a balanced picture of the full range of the foundation’s work.

One of the essayists in the 2009 Thoughtbook is Fraser Doherty, who launched the bestselling SuperJam when he was just 14.

 

Reuse of content from previous events or publications: In creating each year’s Thoughtbook, foundation staff review material produced or events that took place over the past year, looking for material that represents cutting edge thinking or a fresh point of view.  For instance, the chapter in the 2009 Thoughtbook featuring Muhammad Yunus draws from a talk he gave at the Kauffman Foundation in 2008.

Focus on work in progress: Rather than waiting until work is complete, the Thoughtbook discusses work that is underway, or in some cases, programs that aren’t fully formed – just ideas. “We say one of our assets is our ideas,” Pozel said. “When you deal in that currency you have to be willing to show what goes on behind the scenes to think though daring  ideas.”

A fresh look at the founder: Each Thoughtbook looks for a different way to reflect upon founder Ewing Marion Kauffman’s life and legacy. This year’s focus is on the large entrepreneurial track record of the people who worked with the foundation’s founder. As an entrepreneur, Kauffman grew Marion Laboratories from the basement of his Kansas City home into a billion dollar pharmaceutical business. He also brought major league baseball back to Kansas City by establishing the Kansas City Royals.

The Thoughtbook has been far more popular than the conventional annual reports the foundation issued years ago, Pozel says. In 2007, Kauffman filled requests from 110 countries.  At the same time, colleges and universities have used the Thoughtbook in the classroom.

Pozel says one of the reasons for the Thoughtbook’s success is its respect for readers.  “If your point is to resonate with people, you owe it to them to provide something that will be worth their time to read and think about,” Pozel said.

–Emily Culbertson

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