Interested in greater philanthropic transparency? Want to know which funders have glass pockets? Don't miss this post from Janet Camarena of our San Francisco office on the newly-redesigned Glasspockets website.
The subject of foundation transparency – especially to whom and for what purpose – can sometimes be murky. While there's no doubt that foundations should be transparent – and I can't imagine anyone disagreeing with that – to me it's not simply a question of whether transparency is a good thing. But rather, what additional benefits accrue to foundations that are transparent? Are they more effective? Are they better known? Are they better liked or is their work more appreciated? Put another way, is the right starting point for a conversation about transparency a question like, "Does being transparent make foundations more effective?," or should we be asking, "Is it possible to be an effective foundation without also being transparent?"
There's what might be called a moral imperative for foundations to be transparent. As Smith said, "Foundations are created to serve the public good, and they need to explain what they do in terms the public can understand." That includes being clear about their purpose and demonstrating their performance. Notably, Paul Brest pointed out the risk to foundations that aren't transparent. Only by being transparent can foundations get meaningful feedback about their work. Not surprisingly, Diana Aviv reminded the audience that one of the benefits of foundations behaving transparently is that it helps grantees understand their standing with the organizations that fund them, and can even be helpful in understanding the reasons why they get turned down for funding.
As a group, they did a valuable service by not limiting themselves to trying to answer that question exclusively about a link between transparency and effectiveness. Instead, in their comments – and in queries from the audience – the session raised many other companion questions that could themselves be individually debated in subsequent sessions. Those questions ranged from:
Have you ever gone out of bounds during a site visit? Been blindsided by a question you didn’t want to answer? We captured a Q&A session on video from a recent event aimed at helping nonprofits get their game plans together, and we invite you to watch!
I received an e-mail message this week from Crain's Detroit Business with "Special Report: Nonprofit Pay" in the subject line. Intrigued, I opened the message to see several friendly faces smiling at me. That's always a nice thing--happy, smiling people. Directly next to these smiling faces were the organization names that these happy people work for, along with the salaries earned by these same smiling people. In some cases (ok, all cases), those salaries would make me a happy smiler too...but that's not really the point, is it? So, what is the point, you ask? Let me tell you.
Those working in the top ranks of nonprofit organizations know (or should know) that information about their compensation is a matter of public record, a la the IRS Form 990. As Crain's Detroit Business pointed out in the e-mail, they "spent the past several months combing through 990 forms and conducting additional research to gather nonprofit salary, benefits and bonus information."
Embracing transparency through disclosure is a key concept for those "doing business" in the nonprofit sector. The same is true, I might add, for high-rank individuals in public companies. Disclosure about compensation is a federal requirement overseen by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Still, I would think that seeing your picture displayed along with what feels like very personal information would be somewhat jolting, even if you have embraced all facets of nonprofit transparency.
Crain's Detroit Business is by no means the only media company that publishes compensation information. The Chronicle of Philanthropy routinely reports on the compensation of nonprofit chief executives. In addition to Detroit, the Crain's family of business and special interest publications includes Crain's New York Business, Crain's Chicago Business, and Crain's Cleveland Business, butI couldn't locate a nonprofit salary survey being sold in any other Crain's city. It makes me wonder, why Detroit? And, can a similar survey for Cleveland be far behind?