Sharing What Matters: Foundation Transparency

Transparency is a much-discussed topic of conversation across sectors — philanthropy included. But for foundations, it’s not always clear what is meant exactly by the word, who foundations’ primary audiences for their transparency efforts are, or what might be the most important things for funders to be transparent about.

To better understand transparency in philanthropy — both its meaning and the current state of practice among foundations — CEP analyzed survey data from 145 foundation CEOs and more than 15,000 grantees and systematically reviewed more than 70 foundation websites. This report reveals that funders see grantees as the primary audiences for their transparency efforts, and both foundations and grantees believe transparency about the substance of foundation work, rather than about financial disclosures or governance, matters most to effectiveness.

How do foundations’ beliefs about transparency stack up against what is actually being shared openly and honestly? The report finds that foundations are doing well in certain areas when it comes to transparency, such as with sharing their grantmaking processes and goals and strategies. But when it comes to being transparent about how they assess their own performance and share lessons learned from what has worked and what has not, foundations are less transparent, despite believing that it’d be beneficial to do so — and both funders and grantees are missing opportunities to learn and improve.

February 2016