Center for Effective Philanthropy: Aligning for Impact

After a week of writing about the impact creation opportunity available to those who are willing to share knowledge about smart grantmaking, I’m off to the Center for Effective Philanthropy conference Aligning for Impact, where I’m sitting on a panel about information sharing in philanthropy:

Foundations and Information: When to Share What You Know
How open should foundations be? About what? Do foundations have an obligation to share what they know about the successes — and failures — of their strategies? About the performance of the grantees they fund? Or the diversity of their grantees, staff, and boards? Beyond sharing information, what obligation do foundations have to develop the nonprofit sector’s information infrastructure? Panelists from inside and outside organized philanthropy will debate these and related questions about foundations and information.

Speakers: Bill McCalpin, Independent Consultant and former Executive Vice President and COO, Rockefeller Brothers Fund
Mark Sedway, Director, Philanthropy Awareness Initiative
Sean Stannard-Stockton, Principal and Director of Tactical Philanthropy, Ensemble Capital Management
Moderator: Teri Behrens, Editor-in-Chief, The Foundation Review

I’m struck by the focus of the session description on the word “obligation.” My focus in all of last week’s posts was on impact focused reasons to share information. I know that Teri Behrens, the editor of the new Foundation Review, gets that the reason to share information is that doing so can help further a foundation’s mission. But the word obligation in the session description reminds me just how frequently this conversation is framed as a compliance/disclosure/accountability issue.

Personally, I believe that it is a good thing that private foundations are “private” and free to act in the way they believe is most appropriate. I don’t think that foundations have an obligation to share knowledge anymore than an investor has an obligation to make smart investments. I think most foundations should want to share their knowledge because it is an effective way to further their mission.

Frankly I don’t care of a foundation posts its 990 on its website. I don’t care if they list the salaries of their executives. That’s a disclosure issue and while compliance and appropriate disclosures are important, they are issues that should be decided upon and then required of everyone.

But knowledge sharing, there’s a subject for a hearty debate! How far can we push the envelope? How much can we learn? To what degree can we figure out how to harness the accumulated knowledge of institutional foundations and combine it with the massive capital flows provided by individual donors to revolutionize philanthropy in the 21st century?

This is about impact, not accountability.

Note: If you are twittering from the conference, use the tag #CEP to indentify your tweets as conference related.