The business people out their are already questioning how a business plan works that instantly makes valuable information available for free (why don’t the foundations all sit around waiting for someone else to pay to have a report created and then use the free version?), but that’s because of a fundamental difference in for-profit and philanthropic marketplaces. In the for-profit arena, “controlling” valuable information is the key to high profit margins. In philanthropic market places, “spreading” valuable information is key to creating impact. This is because the “returns” that philanthropists generate from applying knowledge accrues to everyone. When you pay to have a report created and others use your work to generate social good, that social good is a result of your work and so you have created more impact.
In Lucy’s words this practice of information release “directly leverages the initiating foundation’s investment with other funders money.”
PS: I think what Tom and Lucy (and I’m sure other consultants as well) are doing is great. But I want to clarify that my longer term argument for foundation transparency is focused on the idea that foundations can enhance their impact by making their accumulated knowledge available to the public. This does not mean they have to spend a lot of money to package the information for general consumption. Just as GuideStar and Charity Navigator packaged up 990 info for the public, I’m sure that third parties would emerge to package up foundation information and market it to the public.