Foundations Need To Be More Transparent
A fascinating new project that all funders should embrace.
Here’s Bradford Smith, President of The Foundation Center writing in Philanthropy News Digest about this new project:
“With the launch of a new public Web portal, Glasspockets.org, the Foundation Center reaches back to its founding values. We believe strongly in philanthropic freedom, the kind of independence that allows foundations to be innovative, take risks, and work on long-term solutions to some of the world’s most vexing problems. But the best way to preserve philanthropic freedom is not to hide behind it; rather, foundations increasingly need to tell the story of what they do, why they do it, and what difference it makes.
Why transparency? Foundations use private wealth to serve the public good for which they receive a tax exemption in return. While some have argued that the tax exemption does not legally compel foundations to behave in any particular way, foundations’ challenges are more perceptual than legal. No sector – government, church, business, or charitable – gets a free pass in the world of 24/7 media, blogs, YouTube, Twitter, crowdsourcing, and digital everything. Why should foundations? Collectively, America’s foundations control more than $500 billion in assets, spend some $46 billion a year in grants and on programs, and, in some localities and on some issues, are the major players. And as foundations strive to become more strategic and effective, their impact and influence will grow – as will the curiosity, praise, criticism, and scrutiny they attract.
Glasspockets contains basic facts about the nearly 97,000 foundations in the United States, illustrations of philanthropy’s impact on the issues that people care about, and information on the many ways in which foundations are striving to become more transparent. Sections like “What are foundations saying now” and “Foundation Transparency 2.0” show which foundations are using social media and how. “Who has Glasspockets?” features profiles of foundations’ online transparency efforts according to the kinds of information about governance, finances, grantmaking processes, and performance metrics they post on their Web sites. Glasspockets is intended to recognize foundations who are taking the lead in becoming more transparent while encouraging others to do the same. Any foundation that is debating about whether to create a searchable grants database, initiate a grantee feedback mechanism, or get its feet wet with social media will, on Glasspockets, find plenty of peer foundations with whom they can consult about how to build greater transparency.”