Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

July 9, 2007

Foundations need to reach out

A handful of U.S. foundations are turning to the public to help make some of their grants.

As The New York Times reports, the Case Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation all are asking the public for ideas they might invest in, and the Case Foundation even is inviting the public to vote on the best ideas.

All foundations and nonprofits would benefit by engaging the public in their thinking, and by becoming more inclusive in the way they do business.

According to a new study by the Urban Institute, the boards of public charities are akin to restricted clubs, with members who are overwhelmingly white.

And many foundations, while paying lip service to diversity and transparency, are deaf and dumb in the face of nonprofits’ urgent and ongoing need for operating support.

The effort to put grantmaking to a popular vote may sound like a philanthropic gimmick that apes reality-TV shows like American Idol, but at least that effort recognizes the reality that ideas are not the monopoly of the in-bred and well-heeled crowd that rules organized philanthropy.

And while it may be a sign of our plugged-in times, reaching out certainly is not new: Some foundations have worked diligently for years scouting the landscape to identify problems and solicit ideas for solutions.

An ongoing practice of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem, N.C., is to visit communities throughout the state to find out how it could better meet the health-care needs of their underserved residents.

Those visits have generated innovative grantmaking programs that otherwise might never have seen the light of day.

But while many foundations profess their commitment to diversity and demand that nonprofits practice it, far too few foundations are willing either to ask for ideas or truly listen to them.

All foundations would be wise to loosen up and open up.


  • At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great Article!


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