A New Website Bringing Transparency to Philanthropy

March 15, 2010

There are 97,000 foundations in the United States, and each year these foundations control more than $500 billion worth of assets and distribute $46 billion a year in grants and programs (Smith, 2010.) The influence of philanthropy on the well-being of the nation is profound, yet strangely, although foundations wield so much power, the average individual often struggles to even define what philanthropy is.

In the past, many working in the field of philanthropy, although not actively trying to keep the public “in the dark” about their activities, were complicit with this general state of ignorance in the sense that they did not strive proactively to educate the public about their work. This old way of conducting business has fallen into disfavor with many large grantmakers, and is a powerful example of how these foundations are now making efforts to communicate clearly about their grantmaking and practices.

Launched in January by the Foundation Center, in conjunction with a number or partner organizations,’s mission is to “bring transparnecy to the world of philanthropy.” The site has a wealth of information on a number of large, well-known foundations such as:

The transparency of each foundation’s practices are rated on the site in a series of reports that look at 28 key indicators of transparency and accountability, including if they explain their grantmaking process, whether they provide a public assessment of their performance, and if they offer opportunities to share program evaluations and lessons learned with the public and grantees.

Other features of the site include a search tool called the “Only Foundations Search” that allows the user to search the websites of thousands of private foundations for information on their grantmaking activities. The search tool can be found at the bottom of the homepage. In addition to the search function, there are also resources that share general facts about philanthropy based on the Foundation Center’s research, as well as special focus pages that delve into to specific topics — like relief work in Haiti.

Join the conversation: Although many leaders in the philanthropic field are praising and its mission to encourage philanthropists to communicate about their work, there are some who feel that private foundations are not obligated to share this information. Do you support the mission of philanthropic transparency, or do you feel that this focus on transparency unduly impinges on the activities of private foundations?

– Cary Lenore Walski, MCF web communications associate