Radical Transparency in the World of Philanthropy?

Paging through the agenda in the lobby outside the Council on Foundations annual meeting earlier this month, one session jumped out at me. Media expert and blogger Jeff Jarvis leading a discussion about what constitutes the “radically transparent foundation” looked to be 90 minutes well spent.

In the session, Jarvis, who heads the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, argued that we face a choice as a society between private vs. “publicness.” Closed vs. open. Then, he produced a long list of ways organizations can benefit from choosing the public route:

  • create relationships
  • enable collaboration
  • build trust
  • disarm the myth of perfection
  • enable the wisdom of the crowd
  • grant immortality

The list went on, but those alone seem to weigh heavily toward the choice of publicness. Jarvis, who pens the popular Buzzmachine blog, offered two more reasons philanthropy should be moving in the direction of transparency and a more open grantmaking process:

  • Publicness = generosity. Going public is about sharing, helping and working together, and who should be more attuned to generosity than foundations?
  • Leading the way. Jarvis argues that we need more openness in government and other institutions, and foundations have an opportunity to set an example.

A week after the conference, Bill Silberg of Silberg Consulting and I interviewed Jarvis for our “Talking Philanthropy” podcast series with the Philanthropy News Digest. Jarvis acknowledged in that conversation that he is not sure what the radically transparent foundation would like; he is just trying to get the conversation started. Then he threw the question back to us.

So, what do you think? What would an open foundation look like? Can you think of any examples of foundations right now that are leading the way?

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