Transparency For Those That Need It Most

This post from Andrea Brock, former manager on CEP’s research team, originally appeared on the CEP blog in 2013 and delves into findings from CEP’s report, Foundation Transparency: What Nonprofits Want. Next Tuesday, February 23rd, CEP will be releasing a new research report on foundation transparency that builds on these findings from 2013. This blog is reposted here as part of our Rewind blog series. 

We’re data junkies at CEP, and we spend a lot of time collecting information about foundations through online research and scrolling through foundation websites. It’s always interesting to see how some foundations share detailed information on what they are trying to do, while others — even those that give hundreds of millions of dollars in grants annually—share little to nothing about their work besides the broad program areas they fund.

Of course, foundations are free to be as transparent as they want (with the exception of reporting the mandatory 990 PF form), so conversations about the extent to which foundations share information often highlight that foundation transparency is voluntary. However, the concern over whether transparency is voluntary or mandatory misses the main point: What do we really mean by “transparency” and why does it matter?

While all of us might like to know more about foundations, there’s one group that relies upon the information foundations are willing to share: the nonprofits who seek foundation support.

To learn more about what nonprofits think about foundation transparency, we surveyed our Grantee Voice panel, a sample of nonprofits of varying sizes and focuses that receive support from large foundations. We asked them what foundation transparency means to them, in what ways would they like to see foundations be more transparent, and why this matters. Our report, Foundation Transparency: What Nonprofits Want, summarizes that research.

From the 138 nonprofit leaders who responded to our survey, we found that these nonprofits certainly have a perspective on how transparent foundations are and why this matters to their organizations.

One takeaway from our research is that to nonprofits, foundation transparency means being clear, open, and honest about information that nonprofits care about, which is information about foundations’ processes and decisions that have implications for their work.

We also learned that there are key areas where nonprofits desire greater foundation transparency:

  • What foundations are learning through their work;
  • How foundations assess performance and the impact they are having;
  • Foundations’ selection processes and funding decisions.

Nonprofit leaders view information about these issues as important to their organizations. These leaders also report that the foundations that are more transparent are more helpful to their organization’s ability to work effectively, easier to develop good relationships with, and more credible.

To my earlier questions of what is transparency and why does transparency matter, the data we collected from nonprofit leaders indicates that nonprofits want meaningful, clear information that will help them plan, assess, and spend their time wisely. Such transparency is in the interests of both the foundations and the nonprofits they support.

Download Foundation Transparency: What Nonprofits Want here. Stay tuned for the release of Sharing What Matters: Foundation Transparency on Tuesday, February 23rd.

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