Foundations and their grantees believe what matters most in foundation transparency is information about the substance of a foundation's work rather than disclosures about its finances or governance, a report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy finds.
Based on survey data from a hundred and forty-five foundation CEOs and more than fifteen thousand grantees, as well as a review of more than seventy foundation websites, the report, Sharing What Matters: Foundation Transparency (52 pages, PDF), found that foundations see grantees and potential grantees as the primary audiences for their transparency efforts, and that community foundations also see individual donors as a key audience. Funded in part by the Fund for Shared Insight, the report also found that foundations do well when it comes to sharing information about their grantmaking processes and goals and strategies, with nearly three-quarters of the foundation CEOs surveyed saying that being transparent about the foundation's goals could significantly increase the foundation's ability to be effective and 69 percent saying the same about strategies. At the same time, only 46 percent of foundation CEOs said their foundation was "very" or "extremely" transparent about what had or hadn't worked, even though 69 percent said it could significantly increase the effectiveness of their gratmaking.
"The topic of foundations not sharing what they are learning is not new, and there are a number of possibilities that may explain why this continues to be a problem," said Ellie Buteau, vice president for research at CEP and one of the report’s co-authors. "For example, it might result from the challenge of doing foundation work in such a way that it is possible to identify successes and failures. If goals and strategies aren’t clear in the first place, it’s difficult to know how to gauge success."