Foundations aren’t transparent enough, leading corporate funder tells Alliance

 

Charles Keidan

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The chief executives of two leading philanthropy sector organisations have sharply criticised foundation practice in the UK.

In the latest Alliance podcast debating their philanthropy provocation paper Paul Streets of corporate funder the Lloyds Bank Foundation and Dan Corry of think-tank New Philanthropy Capital call on foundations to be more transparent, bolder in advocating for their mission, collaborate better with fellow funders and provide more appropriate support to grantees.

(L-R) Paul Streets, Dan Corry, and Charles Keidan during the recent podcast recording.

When asked about recent concerns about trust in institutions, including philanthropic institutions, in the wake of the President’s Club dinner attended by prominent philanthropists  Corry warned that there may be a time when the ‘spotlight may come onto the philanthropic sector.’

In trenchant criticism of the foundation sector, Streets argued that the foundations occupy a ‘secretive world’ and too many of them lack transparency.

‘You look at a lot of foundations and you wouldn’t even know who they fund, where they fund or what they fund. That’s not transparent. And if you’re not transparent, then you open yourself up to accusations of being secretive and therefore not trusted.

The more you can be transparent about what you do, why you do it, if you’re influencing, the more you can be transparent about the voices that you’re echoing are coming from, the more credible you’ll be as a spokesperson…the best defence is to be transparent in the way we operate.

Sadly the foundation world is not very transparent in general. Generally, it’s a secretive world and that’s not really very helpful.’

On core funding, Streets noted that core funding to pay rent and salaries is ‘critical’ to keep charities in business but too many funders are ‘obsessed’ with innovative and ‘sexy’ projects.

According to Corry, funders should be willing to lobby and ‘speak out’ on behalf of the causes they believe in but too many foundations ‘prefer to keep in the background.’ Corry also urged foundations to ensure their advocacy is ‘rooted in evidence’ and the experience of ‘grassroots’ in order to deepen its legitimacy.

Noting the Lloyds Bank Foundation’s work on domestic abuse, Streets argued that his foundation ‘echoes and amplifies’ the voices of its partners and ‘reflects back’ to the state what the foundation hears on the ground.

Streets suggested that this approach was ‘imperative’ for foundations seeking to act effectively and achieve greater impact.

In other comments about foundations adopting a growing advocacy role as ‘agents of change’:

On Brexit: it’s acceptable for foreign donors like George Soros to ‘use their wealth to support causes they want’ including to support charities and others opposed to (or in favour of) the UK’s Brexit, Corry noted, so long as such donations are made transparently and the scale remains more limited than in the US.

Streets urged funders to ‘work with their {funding} peers who have expertise that you don’t’ and foundations should develop ‘longer-term relationships’ with charities to build partnerships and help overcome imbalances of power.

Corry also called on the infrastructure bodies of the sector, including  the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF), to show ‘more leadership.’

‘The sector has a responsibility to ‘raise the bar’ noted Corry.

To listen to the full podcast click here.

Join the debate at #MoreThanGrants.

Charles Keidan is editor of Alliance.


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