In partnership with Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), the Kettering Foundation has been working for the past year or so on a report looking at the civic dimensions of the “accountability movement” as it relates to organized philanthropy. I have been the main researcher in this work, which has involved a series of conversations with leaders in the social sector. That report, Philanthropy and the Limits of Accountability: a Relationship of Respect and Clarity, will be released very soon and will be available at the PACE website.

For now, though, I am delighted to announce a preview of the findings that appears in the form of an article that I co-wrote with my good friend and PACE executive director, Chris Gates, which appears in the most recent Chronicle of Philanthropy. They were kind enough to take it out from behind the subscriber paywall so it is available for the public to read.

Here’s a quick excerpt, edited down from the article:

Foundations Must Rethink Their Ideas of Strategic Giving and Accountability

For decades, foundations have done their work with little pressure to make their operations more open and understandable. Boards have been free to make decisions behind closed doors about what areas they will focus on and what projects and organizations they will fund. . . . But that . . . has been changing. Pressures for increased accountability—the same ones that have affected so many other sectors and to which philanthropy has so far seemed immune—are increasing. . . .

Here are the main findings from our forthcoming report, which will be released this spring . . . .

    • Philanthropy is at a crossroads as it experiences increased pressure from all sides to solve public problems and to be more accountable for outcomes.
    • Transparency may be a necessary component of accountability, but it is not sufficient and too often may be obfuscating.
    • Strategic philanthropy may paradoxically tend to make philanthropic organizations seem less accountable and more risk averse.
    • Accountability isn’t just about data transparency. It’s also about relationships.

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We go into greater depth on these findings in the article (and even more in the paper), so please click over and take a read. If you find it interesting, we encourage you to comment on the Chronicle website. We would like to get a discussion going.