It’s 2017 – Where’s that Policy?

We promised you answers in our last blog post – here are some of the big ones!

When we published our last blog post in late November of 2016, we had just shared that we had a ‘stop moment’ realization. What we were trying to accomplish and for whom wasn’t as clear as it could be. Our staff had questions and concerns we needed to answer to ensure we all could support the Open Licensing project.

We found time to address these questions, while hosting three additional stakeholder sessions. One session involved a deeper dive into understanding the work of our Arts and Culture grantees, who explained the complex rights ecosystem that affects their projects. We also met individually with two organizations whose work involves creating, recording and teaching materials that involved working with traditional indigenous knowledge.

And since we last connected, we completed our Policy, conducted our legal review process, and are now implementing our *slightly* delayed, but better for it, Open Licensing Policy roll out.

We have a lot of ground to cover to share the story of how we got to here – so get ready for a wildly transparent series of posts that will share the rest of our journey from concept to launch.

Once more, with feeling!


We needed to define – better than we had before – what Vancouver Foundation hopes to achieve as an organization with our open licensing policy.

We had our stop moment, and once we dug in to work with staff again, a variety of new ideas, concepts and concerns were revealed that our first conversations hadn’t uncovered.

We’ve mentioned before that very few people at Vancouver Foundation had ever heard of open licensing or Creative Commons, and that many people didn’t initially see how the sharing they did on social media and email differed in any practical way. Sharing is sharing – so why add a layer of complexity to the process?

Those who knew a bit more about open culture recalled other projects they had participated in, where teams built repositories of materials that eventually faded into obscurity due to lack of use, lack of updates, and lack of strategic support from the organizations who built them.

Trina and I realized that we needed to explain the ‘invisible barrier of copyright’ better, and to more effectively define how this work integrates with our organizational goals. Those two efforts would help to make more clear what kind of shift Vancouver Foundation is trying to inspire in the non-profit sector.

It all comes back to Vancouver Foundation’s roadmap. Our three-year roadmap is organized into multiple ‘pillars’ – with each pillar containing specific activities that fulfill strategic goals. Our Knowledge and Sharing pillar includes activities like ‘developing methods to support capacity building in other charitable organizations’, and ‘capturing and unlocking knowledge created through our grantmaking, consultations, research and community dialogues’.

Once aligned directly with those activities, it was easier to define the value of exploring how Vancouver Foundation’s knowledge, research, and data could be reused, and we could explain through that lens how inviting our Community Foundation peers to join us makes sense too.

We are the ‘biggest’ of the 191 Community Foundations in our network, but we are not always the most technically advanced, nor are we always as ‘innovative’ in our processes and strategies as we’d like to be. We have plenty to share, but also plenty to learn from our talented peers. A new focus on intentional sharing throughout our network could benefit us all, especially those who will continue the work after us.

To explore why we landed on using Creative Commons open licenses to help us with that vision, Trina and I focused on exploring content with the Field of Interest team – looking at how it is used, how it is shared, and when we find content we want to make use of – what stops us, what do we think about, and how do we wish we could adapt or change that content?

We played content sorting games to spark discussion about what is valuable to share and what isn’t, to explore copyright questions, and to identify barriers to sharing. Do you need to get permission to use song lyrics on a poster? Should a template be openly licensed, or the final result, or both? How would you stop people copying something you’ve made on social media? Who is responsible if mistakes are contained in content you re-use? And how do you quote part of a blog post and do it ‘the right way’?

Our discussions helped to surface the kinds of barriers to re-use we see every day in the non-profit world, and helped build internal support for the work Vancouver Foundation plans to do throughout 2017 to unlock and share ‘what we know’ through open licensing.



We promised we’d get specific about our Q&A with staff – here are the highlights:


Are we building a repository of openly licensed content?
No. We will be hosting Vancouver Foundation’s content online on our website, but we will not be creating a directory or website to host grantee content.

Creative Commons has been working on the CC Search project for many months – they are the ideal organization to ensure licensed materials online are more discoverable. This will help reduce the burden on charitable organizations to develop, host and maintain repositories of content. For now, we ask grantees to host their work on their own websites, or publish it on another platform that offers CC licensing options.


Is sharing with CC licenses better than just sharing on social media and email?
Yes – because once the content is discovered, the person who wants to do more with the materials understands what is possible immediately. That person will also be introduced to a mechanism that will allow them to to make their version of the work more accessible to others. Social share plus an open license doubles the opportunities for others to use and re-share the work with others.


Will taking the time to learn about Creative Commons and our policy become a burden to Vancouver Foundation staff?
Not as much as you’d think. ‘Working openly’ is an organization-level effort. Just as Vancouver Foundation is upgrading and refining other platforms and processes, this work should be considered a process we all need to incorporate into our everyday understanding of ‘how to share our knowledge and boost capacity throughout the non-profit sector’. We are focused on making active participation fun and rewarding in our staff learning sessions – and we will be sharing our project roadmap (adapted to include what we’ve learned these last few months) with others who wish to create open licensing policies within their own organizations.


What if staff don’t know enough to answer grantee questions – we have so much to explain already!
We don’t expect our staff to be copyright and open culture experts. This would be especially hard to do, since there’s not a lot of information out there about working with so many diverse grantees on this kind of project. Some unknowns can be answered by those staff members who have some ‘open culture background’, and other times staff questions will lead to “I don’t know, but we’ll work on that and get back to you.” But as we said earlier in our post about Vancouver Foundation being ‘big’ – sometimes being big means you have more room to experiment and learn, you can take a risk and maybe fail, and if you do well, you can make it easier for others to join you.

If you have any questions, about our progress or about open licensing, we’d love to hear from you!



This adaptation of “It’s 2017 – Where’s that Policy?” by Rebeccah Mullen on behalf of Vancouver Foundation is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Bumps in the road on our path towards Open Licensing


Image CC 0 via Pexels.


From a project management perspective – all was well. Trina and I met weekly for short, energetic sessions in which we covered research, planning, and discussed how to creatively express our progress.

Early stakeholder sessions had been productive and encouraging. We wrote regular blog posts about our progress, provided internal staff updates and issued invitations to participate in our sessions. Momentum appeared to be growing.

Our external stakeholder conversations were enlightening, and followed our expectations relatively closely. Trina and I have both been involved in the Open Source movement and are familiar with many of the concerns and technical considerations relating to opening up data, content and software. We felt our confidence growing with every session, and we felt more and more certain we were on the right track.

Our next phase involved digging in and defining exactly what the Open Policy would say, teaching staff about the licenses in greater detail, co-creating decision making processes, deciding how to handle exemptions, and exploring the best ways to introduce the policy specifics to grantees. We were focused on ‘what do staff need to know and when’, and ‘what resources need to be created to support the work’?

Our confidence was high as we booked our initial meeting with the Field of Interest team to plan integrating Open Licensing into the grant application workflow.

At this point in our project, we did not foresee being asked the question –“Why are we doing this?”


Image CC 0 via Pixabay.


In our charge forward, Trina and I had missed something obvious – everyone needs to start at the start, and we needed to bring everyone along the same path at the same time.

With the benefit of hindsight, we should have ensured that representatives from the FOI team had constant access to our decision making and evaluation process from the very beginning. Open Source projects demand a lot of people – that they will adapt to meet a goal that is sometimes not very clearly defined. Assuming that most people will perch on the edge of faith while others hammer out the details is not going to work for everyone.

Valid concerns about the new Policy’s impact, scope, the influence on application approval and other issues that might impact the grant making process were left unanswered for too long. Trina and I leaned towards ‘wait and see’ to try to unearth those ‘things we didn’t know’ as we met with stakeholders, although upon reflection, many of these questions had obvious answers. Had we included all the representatives from the Field of Interest team sooner, instead of just a few in each stakeholder session, many of these concerns might have been alleviated sooner.

We’ve also learned a lesson about making assumptions that everyone had what they needed to understand the project scope. We learned that we can’t assume that information in the atmosphere is reaching people in the way we intended for it to – and sometimes we haven’t provided enough context, or details are missing that would provide clarity for others.

Lesson One learned – connect often and early with the people who will become the project owners!



We should also have spent more time exploring how the organization already works, before seeking to adapt it in new ways. Had we taken a closer look at the evolution already underway in our Field of Interest (FOI) grant making program, we might have better understood why providing more detail early on was so necessary to this group of stakeholders.

Our FOI team is comprised of five stellar, hardworking individuals who shepherd grant applications from concept to final approval for hundreds of British Columbian charities in need of funding every year.

This team carries the weight of informing, advising, evaluating, and coordinating each applicant through a set of requirements and considerations. Organizations big and small ask Vancouver Foundation for funding and our grant making team work hard to make sure each applicant has a fair opportunity to access a limited pool of available funding in each Field of Interest.

It is complex, demanding, patient work.

This same grant making team has just spent an entire year refining an eight-field program into a four-field program with three grant types – develop, test and grow – in order to simplify the application process and provide more options for grant applicants.

To learn more about the Field of Interest Program, click HERE

If a program restructure isn’t enough change to manage, this team is also currently developing the criteria for an overhaul of our Grants Management System to gain efficiencies in how grants are managed by Vancouver Foundation. It’s an important upgrade designed to optimize processes, but at the cost of extensive process evaluation to scope a solution to meet our needs.

And then we lumped on Open Licensing.


Remixed Images CC 0 via Pexels.


Considering the multiple changes and influences on the team’s time and energy already this year, the questions brought forward by the Field Of Interest team came with considerable good grace and best intentions. But it remained – why are we doing this?

Trina and I were no longer buoyed by the experiences of our international peers whose Openly Licensed grant making seems so simple from the outside. Hewlett and Gates Foundation each work on a different scale, and they fund many organizations who deal in Open Source issues and concerns. They had the benefit of familiarity, size and scope.

In comparison, Vancouver Foundation’s grant making activities highlights many differences, such as concerns around Indigenous cultural protocols, British Columbia-specific marginalized communities and multi-stage projects with multiple funders whose ‘content’ outcomes are rarely clearly defined from the outset of a project. There are a million different possible outcomes  – how will this Policy work beneficially for them all?

The general ‘obviousness’ of the sharing idea makes perfect sense – however when exposed to more rigorous evaluation processes, Trina and I had not yet made an clear case when asked, “How will this Policy create the kinds of systemic change and innovation that we seek from our own grant applicants?”

Click here to see our recent Field of Interest Grants


Trina and I were also asked:

  • “How can we ensure that this is not a new barrier for grantees?”
  • “Can this be optional – there are so many considerations when it comes to Arts and Culture projects, or projects involving Indigenous culture and protocols…”
  • “Will we be required to enforce this requirement? It would force us (Vancouver Foundation) to step into a new role, to cross a line that we never have before.”

All extremely good questions.


What went right and what could we have done better?

Overall, we are getting a lot right with this project. Timing and capacity has created the most challenge for us so far – as well as the fact that we are trying something new, and are bound to make a few errors as we move forward.

Early conversations with our executive team had highlighted that there would be questions around how Open Licensing might impact Vancouver Foundation’s support for Indigenous organizations and our specific concerns around protocol and protection of cultural identity. We also foresaw that our Arts & Culture field would be a community that requires additional support while launching our Open Licensing requirement.

Three stakeholder sessions are yet to occur – with Indigenous organizations, members of the Arts and Culture sector, and other Funders.

Trina and I also swiftly pivoted to more closely integrate Field of Interest team members into every one of our weekly sessions so that they can help inform our process and share learnings back with their team mates. We appreciate the passion and interest that this team is bringing to the project and are happy to be able to share more time together. We might have pushed harder to ensure we had better team integration earlier – and we wish we had.

Overall this ‘bump in the road’  has been very beneficial in activating all of our key players, and followup meetings with the Field of Interest team have been very productive and informative, helping us move even more swiftly towards the key goals we had in mind. Lesson Two learned.



Rebeccah Mullen joined Vancouver Foundation via Mozilla Foundation and has a passion for all things ‘open’. She will be blogging on behalf of Vancouver Foundation as project lead for 2017’s Open Licensing Policy Implementation.

Trina Isakson is an independent strategist, researcher, and facilitator with a focus on the future of the nonprofit sector, and a convener for nonprofit sector leaders in BC interested in open data. She will be leading project strategy and planning, as well as facilitating stakeholder engagement sessions.



This adaptation of “Bumps in the road on our path towards Open Licensing” by Rebeccah Mullen on behalf of Vancouver Foundation is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Key Insights from Our Grantee Advisors on Open Licensing

As we expected – this group unlocked a wealth of key insights for us.


Our third stakeholder session with multiple grantee organizations was the most highly anticipated session we have held to date.

We spent two hours with several representatives of organizations that Vancouver Foundation has funded in the past, and matched their contributions with input from our survey sent to a broader group of recent grantees. We provided our grantee advisors with minimal advance material to explore (besides our original post titled: Open Policies Unlock Our Full Potential) in order to uncover key concerns that grantees might hold about open licensing and to tap into any uncertainties about how this new policy will affect the application and approval process.

Not only did we want to uncover the ‘unknown questions’ we will need to answer for a much larger audience, we were curious to explore how grantees perceive our intentions, and how they relate to our objectives in removing barriers to accessing, sharing and building upon the socially innovative ideas our funding supports.

We also wanted to encourage large scale thinking, and generate fresh ideas and opportunities from our discussion with BC’s best innovators.


What did we explore? A little of everything!

We followed a similar process to our other stakeholder sessions, where we asked questions about content, and about what risks and opportunities might be attached to those items. Our grantees were highly engaged, and often took opportunities to question assumptions, offer ideas and raise concerns throughout the content discussion.

We were asked a wide variety of questions – some of which, in the spirit of being ‘open,’ we must admit we do not yet have definitive answers for. Some questions exposed new issues to consider, and some questions defined some of the ‘pain points’ some organizations might be feeling over the idea of open licensing.



One of the first major questions Grantees wanted to explore was ‘What is the full scope of the open licensing policy?’ Would organizations be required to share intellectual property materials from within their organizations, or be required to share materials they had developed to support organizational activities? Grantees highlighted that these materials, some of which are created at great cost, or carry key strategic insights and operational activities, could affect their ability to fulfill their charitable mission if openly distributed among their peers.

While Vancouver Foundation has not finalized our entire policy, we were happy to report back to Grantees that our open licensing policy will only apply to products funded through our Field of Interest grant making program starting in 2017.

Furthermore, Vancouver Foundation recognizes and understands that there may be cases in which an open policy may negatively impact a grantee’s ability to successfully complete, sustain, or expand their project for a wide variety of reasons. Vancouver Foundation will be developing a clear set of conditions upon which we can evaluate those risks during the application process, and potentially grant exclusions where necessary. As mentioned above, this work is yet ahead of us, and nothing has been conclusively decided at this time.


“We invested all our resources on building this – we lose that if we just give it away”

We were also asked if exposing elements of the project application process would be a part of our Policy. If so, would it potentially impact the quality of applications overall? What if applications all begin to look the same as grantees begin to retool their submissions to look more like previously successful applications, by copying directly from previously successful applications?


“I know what I want to see, I’m just not sure others will want to share”

From another perspective, our advisors wondered if this policy could create a massive reduction in duplication of projects and resource development – each citing multiple opportunities revealed through random conversations with their peers on how “If we had only known before we started that X project had already been done by Y organization!” There was significant support for how Donors and Grantees both would appreciate knowing their funding was not used to replicate other projects.


“Imagine how much more productive we could be if we just shared what we’ve already done!”

Previous applicants also voiced concern that overall, the bar may be perceived to have been raised even higher for those seeking funding, noting that grantees are already adapting to Vancouver Foundation’s shift towards greater emphasis on social innovation. Would adding this policy to the mix by January place a strain on applicants to ‘re-learn how to work with Vancouver Foundation?’

Grantees identified that because sources of funding available to support projects in BC is limited, our policy might create barriers for smaller organizations who may not have the capacity or skill set to license their work.


“Intellectual property is our social enterprise potential”

Grantees also identified that they will need resources and support from Vancouver Foundation in order to learn how to identify and adapt these ‘products’ of our funding in order to comply with the requirement.

It is clear that to successfully implement our open licensing policy, Vancouver Foundation will need to work harder to clarify our expectations, to design effective and easy to understand application processes, to create comprehensive and clear resources to support these changes, and to offer materials that inform applicants about their rights and options when working with us.


After multiple stakeholder sessions, we’ve heard that our open licensing policy is received well generally, and that there is hunger for more detail about how the policy will be implemented and how grantee applications will be impacted.


“We would love it if a great idea just starts happening, locally, nationally and beyond”

It was a rewarding discussion, as grantees shared with us their concerns, but also their optimism that our policy could influence many outstanding issues that funders and grantees both face.


What’s Next?

We have one more stakeholder consultation session planned, involving other funders of BC innovation. We will explain our progress and intentions, and explore willingness to offer their endorsement and support.

We have some very clear takeaways to discuss during the next phase of our policy development which begins to focus more on our internal processes like grant assessment and evaluation, integration with our grant management workflows, and resource development for staff and grantees both.

Explore the Grantee Advisory Notes captured from our discussion.


Rebeccah Mullen joined Vancouver Foundation via Mozilla Foundation and has a passion for all things ‘open’. She will be blogging on behalf of Vancouver Foundation as project lead for 2017’s Open Licensing Policy Implementation.

Trina Isakson is an independent strategist, researcher, and facilitator with a focus on the future of the nonprofit sector, and a convener for nonprofit sector leaders in BC interested in open data. She will be leading project strategy and planning, as well as facilitating stakeholder engagement sessions.



This adaptation of “What did our Advisory Committee members have to say about Open Licensing?” by Rebeccah Mullen on behalf of Vancouver Foundation is licensed under CC BY 4.0

What did our Advisory Committee members have to say about Open Licensing?

Our third post in a series on Working Openly at Vancouver Foundation


Welcome to our third blog post in a series designed to share our highlights (and some of our challenges) as we move closer to defining our Open Licensing Policy, due to launch in January 2017.

Vancouver Foundation asked our Advisory Committee members to help us take a ‘big picture’ look at our grant making work  to determine if we could see any major opportunities or risks ahead of us when asking grantees to openly license their work – a requirement due to launch in January 2017. Click here to read more about our project progress to date.

At Vancouver Foundation, our Advisory Committee members decide which projects get funding, after reviewing multiple applications that have undergone extensive review and validation by our grant managers. Advisors debate the merits of these applications, and apply their real-world expertise to evaluating which projects represent the best use of a limited pool of funds.

Our Advisors are experts in their fields, and are (some of) the best suited to challenge our assumptions, so it was with bated breath that we began our stakeholder sessions with them.

What did we ask them?

We began by asking our Advisors what kinds of content they believed grantees should be able to license openly. We didn’t limit the request to represent only the work they have seen so far, or the work they believed would be most valuable to release, but encouraged them to think about what types of content a foundation should require to be open.

The breadth and scope of content types our Advisors mentioned was surprising to us – we hadn’t anticipated that there would be such demand for materials to support grant making and knowledge sharing among peer organizations.  Right from the start, Vancouver Foundation was placed into the same spotlight as our grantees as a knowledge product creator.

We were also somewhat surprised to see the wide scope of materials suggested – from the more obvious toolkits and research articles most organizations might think of first when we think of ‘grantee knowledge products’, and expanding beyond those to best practices, partnership models, jargon lists, campaign ideas, budgets and more.

The content question was left wide open on purpose, so that we could move to the second stage of our dialogue and examine more closely what the risks and opportunities of releasing these content types might be – for Vancouver Foundation, for Advisors, and for grantees alike.

Taking a Deeper Dive

Here the ‘deeper dive’ on Risks and Opportunities tended to strongly align with many of the concepts we have heard about often in this project – that ‘duplicate’ efforts among grantee applications would be reduced, that the quality of applications would rise, and that there would be new opportunities to expand upon previously shared projects – and that might ideally align with our Develop Test Grow approach to funding for Field of Interest Projects.

On the other hand, Advisors picked out high level sensitivities such as the impact of open licensing on coalition development, or that grantees might become *less* creative when trying to align more closely to what is funded by us by virtue of seeing exactly what ‘works’.

Our Advisors also highlighted the care with which they see their grantees as important players in social innovation space, and considered the impact on their career development and their potential concerns about credit and success, for example, if their works are appropriated by others who have fewer scruples in applying attribution to these great ideas. Some fields, such as medical research, already place very specific limitations on what grantees may or may not do to achieve distribution of their works, and some grantees may face issues with economic opportunities lost and project sustainability impacted, if we did not consider those aspects of their projects.

And what if something goes wrong?

As uniquely situated advocates for both Vancouver Foundation AND grantee interests, we also asked our Advisors what they thought the risks were for our organization in adopting this policy.

Overwhelmingly, our Advisors had a positive outlook on our plans, suggesting that it would be exciting for Vancouver Foundation to step into this leadership role and use this initiative as a mechanism for improving all project outcomes, for changing how the system works, for achieving our strategic objectives in becoming ‘philanthropists of knowledge’ and even potentially boosting our fundraising opportunities.

These concepts far outweighed the concern over potential issues such as holding the ultimate responsibility for privacy related issues, raising the bar ‘too high’ for other organizations to catch up to, or accidentally hurting economic and career opportunities for grantees in BC.

Our Advisors left us with a useful set of suggestions to consider as we get closer to defining our Licensing requirements. You can read these on page 5 of our Advisory Committee Open Licensing Dialogue Notes. [PDF]

Advisory Committee wordcloud, content types” by Vancouver Foundation is licensed under CC BY 4.0


What did we learn?

  • Advisors had a strong interest in supporting our peer organizations as well as developing a better understanding of our own work
  • Advisors had strong support for this initiative – and encouraged us to go ‘all in’ in order to set a standard that could act as a benchmark for other organizations in our field
  • Advisors warned us to uncover and explore as many  unintended outcomes as possible and prepare for them with thorough policy, legal and technical support
  • And they advised us to make a place at the table for everyone to contribute to our process.

We have provided our complete list of Advisors with an opportunity to continue to contribute to our process through Surveys and future opportunities to connect.

Next steps include a Staff Lunch & Learn centered on unearthing those unintended consequences, and our first Grantee Stakeholder Session.

We’ll keep you posted!


Rebeccah Mullen joined Vancouver Foundation via Mozilla Foundation and has a passion for all things ‘open’. She will be blogging on behalf of Vancouver Foundation as project lead for 2017’s Open Licensing Policy Implementation.

Trina Isakson is an independent strategist, researcher, and facilitator with a focus on the future of the nonprofit sector, and a convener for nonprofit sector leaders in BC interested in open data. She will be leading project strategy and planning, as well as facilitating stakeholder engagement sessions.



This adaptation of “What did our Advisory Committee members have to say about Open Licensing?” by Rebeccah Mullen on behalf of Vancouver Foundation is licensed under CC BY 4.0

‘What Does Open Mean?’ an Idea Jam with our Staff

Our second post in a series on Working Openly at Vancouver Foundation

Welcome to our second blog post in a series designed to share our highlights (and some of our challenges) as we move closer to defining our Open Licensing Policy, due to launch in January 2017.

As we mentioned before, we are engaging in multiple stakeholder meetings with staff, advisory committee members, grantees, our Board of Directors and the public for ideas, support and feedback as we shape our policy.

One of our first forays into ‘What does ‘open’ really mean?’ took place at Vancouver Foundation in the form of a lunchtime Idea Jam for staff members, not all of whom had a clear idea on this themselves!

We began the Idea Jam by providing a little background and context for where we are in our development process. For more information on how we got to here, please read ‘Open Policies Unlock Our Full Potential‘ and ‘Why We’re Working Openly on our Open Licensing Policy‘.

How did we get started?

We began by explaining that the specifics of our open content policy are not fully decided yet.  We know that we want sharing to be the default choice for products produced by our Field of Interest grantees, but we want to protect the rights of our grantees to earn revenue or access funding from other sources. We also want any changes we make to our granting cycles to fit within current granting processes, not to add another layer of administrative burden to our staff and our grantees alike.

With all that in mind, we asked 13 staff members to dig into their lunches and into what we *think* we know about our newest initiative.

Our underlying motivation was to discover what kinds of words, ideas and concepts around the idea of ‘sharing’ resonate most with people who aren’t that familiar with the Creative Commons or what ‘open licensing’ is.

What was our process?

Facilitator Trina Isakson divided up staff into two-person groups and asked them to explain at a very high level, “What’s going on with Vancouver Foundation and open licensing?” The groups were switched up again and again until the answers got shorter and clearer over the course of the hour.

The opportunity and challenge of being asked to listen, learn, and pitch new ways to understand and explain open licensing to each other gave us a huge working library of ideas, language and concepts that most resonated with staff – who are our best possible champions of this key initiative going forward.

Each staff member had the chance to share back what were the most clear and articulate examples they would choose to use, should they find themselves explaining to people in the community what we mean by open licensing, and more so, what are the benefits of such a choice?

What did we learn?

  • Calling our work an ‘open licensing initiative’ focused the attention on the licenses, and not necessarily on our overall goals for making this choice
  • When we talked to each other about ‘why sharing is good for everyone’ the storytelling became much easier for everyone – getting tripped up in the details tended to add to confusion
  • Terms like ‘creative commons’ and ‘open licenses’ weren’t very familiar to staff, but terms like ‘community knowledge’ and ‘knowledge sharing’ resonated as terms most foundations would understand and approve of
  • Positive language such as ‘benefits’ ‘learning’ ‘sharing’ and ‘impact’ resonated strongly, and negative sentiment language such as ‘competition’, ‘paywall’, ‘oversharing’ and ‘plagiarism’ emerged, which we have encountered again in later stakeholder sessions.

The main takeaway from our first session was that the better we could tailor the language we use to explain and promote the open licensing policy by using language and phrasing that Foundations are familiar with, the easier it will be to build a policy that synchronises smoothly with our work, as opposed to feeling like an abstract concept or technical overlay to the work we already do to support great ideas created by and for British Columbians.

We will be using what we’ve learned in this first session with staff to help us shape clearer and more compelling communication materials about our plans.

What’s next?

Throughout our development process we will continue to host monthly ‘lunch and learns’ with staff, where we explore theoretical and practical ideas such as a ‘How to add a CC-BY license to my awesome thing!’ workshop, and ‘What really could go wrong/What could go right?’ to explore possible unintended consequences of our new policy.

For now, please enjoy the word cloud developed at our first Idea Jam.

CC Wordcloud” by Vancouver Foundation is licensed under CC BY 4.0

We have licensed our word-creation on Flickr with a CC-BY license – meaning anyone can now use it if they wish, they simply need to tell people Vancouver Foundation made it. Click here to read about how to share your own work.


Rebeccah Mullen joined Vancouver Foundation via Mozilla Foundation and has a passion for all things ‘open’. She will be blogging on behalf of Vancouver Foundation as project lead for 2017’s Open Licensing Policy Implementation.

Trina Isakson is an independent strategist, researcher, and facilitator with a focus on the future of the nonprofit sector, and a convener for nonprofit sector leaders in BC interested in open data. She will be leading project strategy and planning, as well as facilitating stakeholder engagement sessions.



This adaptation of “‘What Does Open Mean?’ an Idea Jam with our Staff” by Rebeccah Mullen on behalf of Vancouver Foundation is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Why We’re Working Openly on our Open Licensing Policy

Our first post in a series on Working Openly at Vancouver Foundation

Vancouver Foundation is Community Inspired.

What this means to us is that community ideas, goals and interests guide us in every aspect of the work we do, and the work that we do is better when community is involved.

Every year, through the generous support of our donors, we fund hundreds of innovative projects – large and small – in areas such as arts and culture, education, children and youth issues, environment, animal welfare, community health, and social development. We call these grants ‘Field of Interest’ grants and their purpose is to fund socially innovative projects that deliver meaningful outcomes in these areas.

Unfortunately, much of the work that flows through our current community-led evaluation process is rarely exposed to the peers, partners, funders and other interested parties that could benefit from the social innovations being produced by British Columbians.

Vancouver Foundation wants to tap into the great ideas and knowledge being generated through this funding stream, and to discover new ways to unlock and share the creative solutions we see every day. One of the ways we have determined to do this is by adopting an Open Licensing Policy for the products of Field of Interest grants, a commitment we made in May of last year, and which we are due to launch in January of 2017.

We believe Open Licensing, using Creative Commons internationally accepted Licensing tools, can help to improve the discoverability and impact of these ideas. We also believe that this idea will help teach us, and other community foundations and charitable organizations how to work more openly, and to consider how the work we fund can be made more accessible to the people who need it most.

We have set some lofty goals for this year – not only will we finalize our Open Policy by the end of December 2016, but we plan to share the experience in getting from here to there with you, our community.  Open Licensing is a new challenge for Community Foundations, and learning to ‘work openly’ is a very new approach for an organization that is almost 74 years old – but we believe that good ideas should be in community hands and that is our ultimate goal with our project.

Right now, we are not 100% certain what the shape of our final Policy will look like. As always, Vancouver Foundation is looking to our community members for help. We are engaging with stakeholders across the organization and across BC for advice, insight and cautions as we plan our next steps.

The broad outline of the upcoming work we will be sharing with you includes establishing connections with our peers at Hewlett Foundation and Creative Commons who are providing significant insight and technical support, as well as engaging in multiple stakeholder meetings with staff, advisory committee members, grantees, our Board of Directors and the public for ideas, support and feedback as we add shape and definition to our policy.

We look forward to you joining us as we move towards our Launch date.



Rebeccah Mullen joined Vancouver Foundation via Mozilla Foundation and has a passion for all things ‘Open’. She will be blogging on behalf of Vancouver Foundation as project lead for 2017’s Open Licensing Policy Implementation.

Trina Isakson is an independent strategist, researcher, and facilitator with a focus on the future of the nonprofit sector, and a convener for nonprofit sector leaders in BC interested in open data. She will be leading project strategy and planning, as well as facilitating stakeholder engagement sessions.



This adaptation of “Why We’re Working Openly on our Open Licensing Policy” by Rebeccah Mullen on behalf of Vancouver Foundation is licensed under CC BY 4.0


Vancouver Foundation becomes the first Canadian community foundation to join the Open Licensing movement

Vancouver Foundation today announced that, beginning in 2017, it will adopt an open licensing policy for projects funded through its community granting programs. The Foundation’s goal is to advance transparency and accessibility of materials to drive greater innovation and creativity in British Columbia and beyond.

Originally Posted: May 7, 2015


VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Foundation today announced that, beginning in 2017, it will adopt an open licensing policy for projects funded through its community granting programs. The Foundation’s goal is to advance transparency and accessibility of materials to drive greater innovation and creativity in British Columbia and beyond.


The Open Licencing Policy will require grantees to apply a Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY 4.0) to projects and research funded through community advised grant programs. This policy will enable grant recipients to retain copyright over materials while, at the same time, allowing others to use and build upon the positive work created by these Vancouver Foundation grants.

Vancouver Foundation will also apply this policy to its own intellectual property, including publications and reports.


“Vancouver Foundation is excited to join a growing international movement among foundations to increase access to a wide range of content funded to create public benefits,” said Vancouver Foundation President and CEO, Kevin McCort. “We do this not only to share the products of our own community investments, but to encourage and support other foundations who want to join us.”


Throughout 2016, Vancouver Foundation will develop a framework and guidelines for the new open licensing initiative. Once complete, Creative Commons Licences will be applied to all materials produced as a direct result of community advised grant programs, including research reports, photographs, videos, data sets and learning materials. Vancouver Foundation will also apply this policy to its own intellectual property, including publications and reports.


“We believe that Community has the answers, and that adopting Creative Commons open licences will create new opportunities to access and share our collective knowledge, expertise and resources to make meaningful and lasting improvements in our communities.”


Vancouver Foundation is hopeful that the knowledge and resources it develops as a result of adopting its open licensing policy can help other foundations implement their own open licensing policy strategies.


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“With their adoption of an Open Policy, Vancouver Foundation is at the vanguard of a fundamental shift in how grantmakers build and share community knowledge,” says Ian Bird, President of Community Foundations of Canada. “Our work in catalyzing the Community Knowledge Exchange ( has shown us that these fundamental shifts take courage and leadership. In that respect, we congratulate Vancouver Foundation, and look forward to working with Creative Commons, community foundations and the broader philanthropic community to promote the adoption of open policies across the Canadian philanthropic sector.”


“Creative Commons licences give everyone, from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, free way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work,” says Ryan Merkley, CEO Creative Commons.  “Vancouver Foundation joins several leading philanthropic grant making organizations who have adopted Creative Commons licensing policies for the outputs of their charitable giving, unlocking billions in resources for everything from research to digital education materials, and data.”


About Vancouver Foundation:

With over 1,600 funds and total assets of $985 million, Vancouver Foundation is Canada’s largest community foundation. In 2014, Vancouver Foundation and its donors made more than 4,900 grants, totaling approximately $57 million to registered charities across Canada. Since it was founded in 1943, Vancouver Foundation, in partnership with its donors, has distributed more than $1 billion to thousands of community projects and programs. Grant recipients range from social services to medical research groups, to organizations devoted to arts and culture, the environment, education, children and families, youth, and animal welfare.


About Community Foundations of Canada:

Community Foundations of Canada is the national network for Canada’s 191 community foundations, which help Canadians invest in building strong and resilient places to live, work, and play. To find out more visit About the Community Knowledge Exchange (CKX)

CKX is a platform for collective social change. It seeks to catalyze and curate fundamental shifts in how individuals, institutions and communities build and share community knowledge in the pursuit of social change.


About Creative Commons:

Creative Commons is a globally-focused non-profit organization dedicated to making it easier for people to share their creative works, and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright. Creative Commons provides free licenses and other legal tools to give individuals and organizations a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions for creative work, ensure proper attribution, and allow others to copy, distribute, and make use of those works. There are nearly one billion licensed works, hosted on some of the most popular content platforms in the world, and over nine million individual websites.



Rebeccah Mullen

Jay Walsh
Creative Commons

Lee Rose
Director, Community Knowledge and CKX Sherpa



This adaptation of “Vancouver Foundation becomes the first Canadian community foundation to join the Open Licensing movement” by Rebeccah Mullen on behalf of Vancouver Foundation is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Open Policies Unlock Our Full Potential

Kevin McCort on the Open Licensing Initiative

As the disaster unfolds in Nepal, I think of my time at CARE Canada in terms of the challenges to overcome as humanitarians seek to bring life-saving and meaningful assistance to the communities in need of support. The limited resources of food, water and medicine have yet to reach everyone in need, and may never go as far as they are needed, being finite and consumed almost immediately.

When I think of my work at Vancouver Foundation it is framed in terms of our vision – to build healthy, vibrant and livable communities throughout British Columbia. While some of the charities we support do provide relief to those in need, much of what we fund and distribute are ideas – solutions to social, economic, cultural or policy challenges, or investments in building communities across the province.

At Vancouver Foundation, I can see the potential and benefits of unlocking our own intellectual property – the things we create and the works that we fund. By making the data sets, research articles, photographs, educational materials and websites that we fund open, shareable and easy to find, we are removing limits to sharing and consuming, ideally creating a benefit that will spread rapidly and easily through our communities and beyond.

We have a simple, globally recognized tool to unlock those opportunities. Creative Commons Licenses allow creators to grant other people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that they have created. They are the established global standard, internationally recognized and used on every major content platform from leading Foundations in the US, to Wikipedia, to leading news outlets and even governments. CC licenses have been applied to nearly one billion licensed works in arts, culture, science data, and educational materials, in every country in the world.

But it is also useful to take a look at an agency working for the common good that has yet to adopt Creative Commons. Typical language states:

“None of the materials provided on this web site may be used, reproduced or transmitted, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or the use of any information storage and retrieval system, except as provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use, without permission in writing from the publisher.”

If that doesn’t deter you from sharing information, and you do look into what it takes to get permission, this is what you find:

“This policy is consistent with the institution’s aim of wide dissemination of information. We welcome permissions requests and, especially if they are made for non-commercial purposes or for a limited portion of material, we may grant them free of charge.” (emphasis added).

To get permission to reproduce material all you need to do is fill out a form, fax/mail it, along with a copy of what you want to reproduce (the irony of this seems to have been lost on the policy makers), tell the agency about yourself, how you intend to use the material etc., and then wait for a response.

The Creative Commons license removes all this process and doubt, by stating up front that the material is to be shared, and under what conditions.

By choosing to adopt a CC driven Open Policy, Vancouver Foundation will create opportunities for innovators and creators to access these works and realize the full potential of the content we create, in ways we’ve never anticipated, and from allies we’ve never met.

I am excited to join a growing global movement of public institutions, governments and large foundations forging ahead with Open Policies of their own.

This is a big step for us to take as the first Canadian Community Foundation to adopt an Open Licensing Policy, however we know we won’t be working alone. Through our networks of Foundations, we can access support and knowledge from other international organizations who have been developing and implementing their own policies as well.

We also look forward to joining together to offer support, tools and resources to other Canadian community foundations as we design our policy throughout 2016.

We often say to our donors that one generation plants the seed, and the next generation enjoys the shade; by implementing this open policy we are able to invite our grantees into the circle of giving for the future.

CC licenses turn everything a community creates into a seed for something else.  They open up the potential for a billion new ideas.

Read the Press Release:
Vancouver Foundation becomes the first Canadian community foundation to join the Open Licensing movement.

Find out about Creative Commons Open Licenses:



This adaptation of “Open Policies Unlock Our Full Potential” by Kevin McCort and Rebeccah Mullen on behalf of Vancouver Foundation is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Nice to grow you, Mozilla!

Building new social communities for Mozilla from the ground up.

How did we bring Mozillian values into some of the most ‘walled gardens of content’ we know? I’m happy to paint the broad strokes, notable moments and results for you right here. Take a look at the links at the end for a deeper dive on how it all worked out, channel by channel.

During my two years at Mozilla, I built new social communities on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and more for the Mozilla Foundation and for In those two years, my work attracted over 265,000 new followers on social media, primarily through engaging content, clear messaging and a robust publishing schedule.

When I joined the Foundation in early 2012, it had a minimal social presence: one Twitter channel with 6,000 followers, a Facebook Page with only 303 Likes (and over a dozen competing and confusing fan pages), and no Tumblr. The challenge was to balance attracting new followers to contribute to and use new educational products like and Lightbeam for Firefox, and to build a movement to raise support (and funds) based on our values and mission on the Mozilla channels.

Our social strategy had to serve multiple goals ~ from welcoming individual contributors to our projects each day to sharing major breakthroughs from across the entire organization to the world at large ~ all the while scaling our growth upwards from within the fastest product development atmosphere I’ve ever encountered.



My overall approach was to use traditional content-marketing tactics (for the forces of goodness!) to build a strong communications platform for Mozilla on social media. I was able to create fresh opportunities to tell the Mozilla story, history and mission to a vast audience who were aware of Mozilla’s products (like Firefox) but perhaps had no idea Mozilla was a non-profit, that it engaged in political advocacy (SOPA & much more), that it is an Open Source project, or that volunteers help build their products.

I wanted to focus on these stories, expose the incredibly diverse work we were engaged in, reach out to many thousands of people who share our values, and create opportunities to contribute to the cause.


I worked with Facebook to establish a verified Page, set up new scheduling and tracking tools, created (and shut down in some cases) product channels to streamline messaging and support engagement teams, and coordinated with project teams to ensure I was bringing out the best from Mozilla.

I built campaigns around our overall organizational objectives and programmed them across select channels to engage new and existing followers and to drive us towards aggressive growth targets I felt the Mozilla name deserved and warranted. I grew to understand each audience by listening to their interests, following their heroes, and striking up conversations when I found an opportunity. I also produced absolute gigabytes of custom content.

We won those followers through earned media and sweat!


Early on, I brought social media and website metrics analysis into my daily routine – which presented me with actionable insights about our follower’s demographics and interests, especially useful when building our outreach strategy for global initiatives like Maker Party and for geo-targeted campaigns like MakeThingsDoStuff in the UK.

I also kept track of moments when the metrics might lead to unexpected results or incorrect conclusions – such as when I learned that our Facebook channel had unusually high engagement centered in Egypt at one point in time. This turned out to be an active sub-community interested in discussing mobile devices and not the results of a recent privacy campaign – keeping track of the different influences on your global channels is important!

A typical day in early 2013 might include capturing, editing and posting a video clip of Douglas Rushkoff speaking on a community call, promoting a global ‘Maker’ campaign in multiple timezones, finding and sharing six Webmaker projects made by young women learning code for the first time, tweeting back and forth with TechCrunch about a new product update, chatting with my MozRep buddy Gauthramraj about his letter from our executive director on Facebook, and chasing Wil Wheaton for a comment on Open Source on Tumblr. And learning to code a little better than the day before – always that!

The work and preparation put into these channels was incredibly successful, as shown in the highlights below.




  • Attracted 265,000 new followers (2012: 73,350 / 2013: 179,000), doubling audiences on all channels year-over-year

  • Planned and produced our social media editorial calendars, branded content and campaigns, and I personally published over 4,000 individual posts on social media in 2013 (that’s equal to 10 per day, for 365 days!)

  • Boosted engagement averages for each channel by 250% or more and developed each channel with a consistent set of content styles, voice, and publishing schedule

  • Project Managed and contributed to 2012’s award winning videos for the Webmaker project (Meet the Webmakers & Young Webmakers) and also project managed the Mozilla Story 2012 update

  • Provided my team metrics reporting and analysis using Google Analytics, Union Metrics, WebTrends, BSD, Hootsuite, Simply Measured and Alto Analytics


Both the Mozilla and Webmaker channels gained steady growth over the two years I managed the channels – reaching ever higher exponential growth as various tactical bugs and strategies came into play (such as landing our Follow links on the footer of’s homepage).

Everything is important when you start from scratch – from small scale community get-togethers under the Webmaker brand, to large product and PR promotions like the Mozilla Festival, I found every possible opportunity to bring positive and relevant material back to the community and encouraged them to step onto our on-ramps every chance I got.

Our annual events became key opportunities to lead Mozilla’s best and brightest participants up the engagement ladder towards greater contribution and community participation.


Talking to the entire world at once only works if you work hard at being a great listener.

Some of the Engagement accomplishments I’m most proud of were:

  • Launching many awesome hashtags: Mozilla Festival’s #mozfest was shared 10,295 times since Oct 2013, the #makerparty tag was shared over 7,300 times since May 2013, and the fundraising tag #lovetheweb saw over 3,000 hits in just 30 days (Dec 2013)

  • Promoting the annual Maker Party campaign by identifying, celebrating and highlighting active followers, which helped to foster a global community willing to host over 2,400 events, and who made over 50,000 projects in 2013 alone (one group decided to catch our attention with a 48-hour hackathon!)

  • Supported the launch of the Lightbeam for Firefox tracking tool by livetweeting the launch and Reddit AMA from London’s Mozilla Festival, securing 11th place on Reddit‘s homepage, and helping it reach over 2M downloads

  • Drove attendance to Mozilla’s largest public event, the Mozilla Festival, which grew from 600 to 1,400 attendees in under two years

  • Provided extensive product and marketing support for the launch of, as well as for many others such as: Hive Learning Network, Open News, Open Badges, Mozilla Festival, Mozilla Ignite, Popcorn Maker at TED, Thimble and Lightbeam for Firefox

  • Established channels & workspaces for Engagement and Mentor teams (G+ Community,  Hootsuite working group, Lanyard contact list, ScribbleLive streams, and WordPress template design)

  • Supported community members at all possible times by promoting events and engagement opportunities, celebrating stellar efforts among our members, and reaching out for every possible conversational opportunity – and making great friends in the process!


For a deeper dive into how I achieved these goals – check out the Case Studies below:


It’s been an absolute pleasure to grow you, Mozilla!


Mozilla Facebook

Mozilla Facebook

Mozilla’s Facebook audience is multilingual & globally diverse – even at the outset when we had only 303 followers. Contribution on-ramps, peer-to-peer celebration, clear explanations of our new initiatives, and telling the world about our history and mission were my primary goals.

My secondary goal was to make our Product Support channels more visible, and to answer as many messages with relevant links into the Support systems as possible.  People who came looking for technical solutions, became people who liked our stories and shared our messages.

On Facebook I found active Mozillian voices in communities as diverse as Thailand, Ireland, and Romania, and also many ‘tech-curious’ individuals across the globe. I listened to the community and learned to create stories and content that celebrated their interests, as well as showing how our work impacted them in multiple ways.

There were many strategic concerns – ranging from using a simpler writing style, with simpler phrasing, word choices and less technical jargon (because until the channel content could be fully translated and localized, most messaging would default through Facebook’s comment translation tools) to ensuring I kept up to date with multiple platform changes (which both offered me greater control in geo-targeted messaging, but also constantly complicated metrics analysis with every update).

Building community, attracting discussion and opportunities for learning and educating abounds on Facebook. I believe it is the social medium that is most honestly reflective of personal values and shared affinities, and by focusing on content that united all followers together, Facebook became my most successful engagement platform and the one I’m most proud of.


The strategy:

  • to promote Mozilla-wide initiatives and products in a content style appropriate for a multilingual audience
  • to develop custom creative content optimized for this audience that brought Mozillian values of Community, Contribution, Mission and shared history to the forefront
  • to provide better support and exposure for Mozilla & Webmaker.Org initiatives
  • to support local communities, celebrate individuals and communicate shared practices and onramps
  • to double our audience in select geographical regions
  • to encourage followers to participate in Events and global awareness campaigns.



  • Doubled our Audience by adding 30,000 new followers in 2013
  • Averaged 500 new Page Likes per week by years end
  • Boosted Engagement Averages on our Timeline by 248% over 2012
  • Increased Average Likes on posts from 2 to 83 per day


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