The Transparent Foundation

An oxymoron? Maybe. Maybe not. 

So much of what foundations do may seem obscure, even secret, to those outside what admittedly is often a complex bureaucracy. But the philanthropic field itself is trying hard to shine light and create greater transparency for the field and the work we do.

One way is to ask grantees critical questions about their relationship with their funders and then ask the funder to publish the results of these surveys, along with reactions and changes to what these surveys reveal.  

The Cleveland Foundation has done just that. We recently submitted to a major survey by the Center for Effective Philanthropy of 400 of the foundation’s 2008 grantees. The 86-page Grantee Perception Report, complete with charts, graphs and anonymous comments from grantees, can be found on our website, under the Grantmaking tab.

This is the second such survey the foundation has commissioned. We were among the very first group of foundations to agree to this revelatory practice back in 2003. Then, as now, we are in general, pleased with what was revealed. The foundation scored high on most measures as compared to a similar group of funders nationwide. But there were some less than glowing reviews for our performance as well.

Many grantees thought we were not sufficiently responsive to the reports we require for our grants and wondered if anybody really read them. See Program Officer Paul Putman’s blog post about this. As a result of these comments we have resolved to communicate in a better and more timely fashion with grantees as we review their grant reports. 

We are also thinking about ways that we can share learning and information from these reports outside the foundation – but in a way that preserves confidentiality. The last thing we want is to have grantees become reluctant to be honest about the results of their programs and projects. We understand that conditions change rapidly in the nonprofit sector and many organizations are attempting things never done before. We value the learning that comes from our grantees’ creative efforts. It would be counterproductive to jeopardize the entrepreneurship and thoughtful risk-taking of those addressing problems and opportunities in the nonprofit sector. 

There is much more in the GRP, and we welcome any comments about the report from the public. We sincerely thank all our hard-working grantees who took the time to provide their insights. The results of this report will continue to fuel the foundation’s own continuous improvement efforts for some time to come.