In 2013, more than 80,000 foundations collectively awarded nearly $50 billion in grants, benefiting people and causes in nearly every corner of our nation and the world. Grantmaking institutions have an enormous amount of influence in sectors such as health and education, in fields such as community change and economic development, and in the spheres of public policy and advocacy, and more.
Recently, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy launched Philamplify, which couples evidence-based assessments by experts with an interactive website featuring commentary from people with first-hand experience in philanthropy, nonprofits, and communities. Together, they create a comprehensive picture of what's working well and what could be working better. The impetus to build this new interactive website stems from the belief that transparency, mutual accountability, and knowledge-sharing can transform communities and maximize the impact of the country's grantmakers by creating a safe space for all of us to provide honest, constructive feedback.
As the president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation – an institution that values excellence and accountability in its grantmaking – I welcome the feedback Philamplify promises. Empowering our communities to thrive and enabling the dreams and possibilities of those in need through the power of philanthropy should always be a receptive, responsive, and, above all, effective process.
A just, inclusive society is one that welcomes all voices, and philanthropies should be the best ambassadors of these principles. Being heard has never been easier in the Internet age, and we are more connected than at any other time in human history. Online communication facilitates collective knowledge and experience on the practical application of charitable giving that touches so many lives in America and across the globe.
We rate our restaurants, our dry cleaners, and our shopping malls. Philamplify provides nuanced feedback in the way we steward billions of foundation dollars to serve the individuals and families that need it most and to address the most pressing problems of our times. At the same time, we suspect that grant recipients, grant seekers, and others shy away from offering their ideas for what could be done differently, lest their feedback be interpreted as criticism and not received in the constructive way it was intended.
We need to push back on this isolation bubble in philanthropy. I work in the charitable sector not because I believe I know better than the communities with which I work, but because I want to engage in a dynamic conversation with them in the hope of finding innovative, potent ways to solve pressing issues together. I subscribe to the belief that no matter what field you work in, the passion that you find in your mission is only enhanced by the feedback from those whose lives you impact – which is why the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation volunteered to participate in NCRP's foundation assessment process. We found that this impartial, third-party evaluation of our strategies to bring economic, social, and racial justice to the lives of Arkansans was not only helpful, but also necessary to bolster accountable, open, and effective grantmaking activity.
With Philamplify, I believe we've taken an important step in transforming the philanthropic world into a transparent, inclusive space that celebrates the diversity of opinions from those who are our partners in improving the lives of individuals, families, and communities. When philanthropy proactively taps into the rich ideas that come from openness and mutual accountability, the possibilities are boundless. I believe that day has come.
Dr. Sherece West-Scantlebury is president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, which works to improve the lives of Arkansans in education, economic development, and economic, racial and social justice. She also serves as board chair of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a national watchdog, research, and advocacy organization. This post originally appeared on the NCRP blog and is reposted here with permission.