Accountability Convergence in NYT's and Blogosphere

Yesterday, mainstream media and the blogosphere converged to advance the end of philanthropy as usual -- a stated goal of PhilanthroMedia. The New York Time’s Stephanie Strom published an article entitled, “Foundations are Facing Up to Failures” which describes how a few leading foundations (Casey, Hewlett, Irvine) are being atypically candid about grantmaking initiatives that don’t succeed. In addition to new reports on the topic from both foundations, part of their efforts to promote transparency include the fact that, according to the article, “…Mr. Canales appears in a Podcast on the blog Tactical Philanthropy.”

But because it is the blogosphere, the story only begins there. Sean Stannard-Stockton, who produces Tactical Philanthropy, invited Mr. Canales to participate in dialogue about the Podcast and comments garnered from the article. While 19 comments posted there as of this morning may be a tame number next to pop culture blogs, the nature of the interaction between bloggers, commenters and Jim Canales is worth checking out for anyone who is passionate about the need for foundations to increase their transparency and become more accountable.

Further demonstrating his tenacity to promote this dialogue, I received an e-mail yesterday from Sean that said: “It would be deeply meaningful to me if the philanthropy blogs stepped up and told Jim exactly what they want from big foundations. M from the blog Inside Foundations posted a comment today about how everyone at her foundation (one of the 30 largest in the US) were reading the NYT article and discussing the transparency issues that it brought up.”

Caught up in my 9-9, I no doubt missed the wave of readers unleashed to Tactical Philanthropy but will post a comment there later today which responds to Sean’s request. I’ll even let Sean scoop me on this because I won’t post it here until Monday!

P.S. This is a topic near and dear to my heart because, for four years, I directed a 10-year, $30 million grantmaking initiative that encountered many of the challenges outlined in these reports. You can read my 3-part series on the reports from Hewlett and Irvine, which was posted by OnPhilanthropy and will be editing for the next quarterly from Grantmakers for Education here.

Susan Herr

Posted at 6:46 AM, Jul 27, 2007 in Accountability | Philanthropic Strategy | Permalink | Comments (3)


Hurrah to the end of philanthropy as we know it and here's to more openness and accountability among foundations everywhere!!! To me, however, it's nice -- but not necessary -- that the Times and bloggers acknowledge this new stance by some foundations. The fact that Hewlett, Irvine and others have taken steps to be more open and accountable is a major development in and of itself, and which deserves to be lauded by those of us who work for, with or on behalf of foundations.

Posted by: Bruce Trachtenberg

Bruce, I actually think that the recognition is just as important as the steps that Irvine & Hewlett (and others) have taken. Not because what I think is of particular note, but because the recognition is what will cause other foundations to follow their lead. With zero forces compelling foundations to be transparent, we need them to want to be transparent. The best way to create that motivation is through the public recognition and celebration of acts of transparency.

I wrote more about this recently on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog (in the comments section).

Posted by: Sean Stannard-Stockton

You know I'm in agreement with you, Sean.

But I also don't want foundations to think they aren't succeeding at being transparent if they aren't "celebrated" for doing what should be part of the way they go about business every day.

Reminds me of the time I was working for a newspaper and an editor was reaping all kinds of compliments for tearing up the front page one night, minutes before deadline to get a major story on to the front page for the home delivery editions. He stopped me, and with a puzzled look, he said, "What is it about this place that when you do your job, people act surprised?"

Posted by: Bruce Trachtenberg