Billionaire investor Warren Buffett once said that there is no market test for philanthropy. Foundations with billions in assets often hand out giant grants to charity without critique. One watchdog group wants to change that.
The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy has created a new Web site that posts public feedback about a foundation’s giving. Think Yelp for the philanthropy sector.
Along with public critiques, the new Web site, Philamplify.org, uploads a comprehensive assessment of a foundation conducted by researchers at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.
The assessment includes a review of the foundation’s goals, strategies, partnerships with grantees, transparency, diversity in its board and how any investments support the mission.
The site also posts recommendations on what would make the foundation more effective in the community. The public can agree or disagree with each recommendation and then provide feedback about the grantmaker’s performance.
People who post to the site can remain anonymous.
NCRP officials hope the site will stir debate about the giving practices of foundations.
“Foundation leaders rarely get honest feedback because no one wants to get on the wrong side of a foundation,” said Lisa Ranghelli, a director at NCRP. “There’s so much we need to do as a society that we just want these philanthropic resources to be used as powerfully as possible and for everyone to feel like they have a voice in how philanthropy operates.”
With nonprofit rating sites such as Guidestar and Charity Navigator, Philamplify is just one more move to create more transparency in the nonprofit sector. But the site might be one of the first to force transparency and public commentary exclusively about the organizations that give grants.
Foundation leaders are open to the site, but say that some grantmakers already use various evaluation methods to improve their strategies.
Groups such as Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and the Center for Effective Philanthropy provide best practices for foundation giving.
The Council on Foundations, an Arlington-based membership organization of foundation groups, offers a list of tools and ideas for foundations to make their giving more effective.
“We will be paying close attention to Philamplify and new developments related to it as the project unfolds,” said Peter Panepento, senior vice president of community and knowledge at the Council on Foundations.
Currently there are three foundations up for review on the Web site: the William Penn Foundation in Philadelphia, which focuses on improving the Greater Philadelphia community; the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation in Atlanta, which gives grants in science and education; and the Lumina Foundation for Education in Indianapolis, which focuses on access to higher learning.
Officials say Philamplify will focus on the top 100 largest foundations to start. Large foundations would include groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and the foundations of companies such as Wal-Mart, Wells Fargo, Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline.
Although there are concerns about the site’s ability to keep comments objective, grantees hope it will start a dialogue that has been absent in philanthropy.
“My hope is that it will generate conversation,” said Diana Leon Taylor, head of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington. “Not just negative or reactionary conversation, but proactive conversation where the philanthropic leaders have a better understanding of the nonprofit sector needs and vice versa.”
NCRP said it will be monitoring comments to make sure the posts remains constructive.