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Quote of the Day (June 22, 2008)

June 22, 2008

Quotemarks"If the confusion about effectiveness were not enough, philanthropy is even more muddled when it comes to the meaning of accountability. Concerns about accountability are most commonly spoken about in terms of transparency -- the need to provide documents and information to the world. Thus, in the service of greater accountability, many foundations have gone to great length to make their grantmaking procedures clearer, to publish annual reports, and to meet regularly with nonprofits to explain their work. The premise of accountability as transparency is that the main problem to be overcome is one of information sharing. Donors often seem to believe that if only they could build a good web site and promulgate clear guidelines, their accountability work would be done. The problem is that accountability is not an empty vessel into which "information" about procedures can be dumped. Real philanthropic accountability demands substantive content in the form of data on the actual performance of the donor. This means instead of sending out materials that clarify the grantmaking process, donors need to actually share with the world information on whether important philanthropic objectives are really being met. Accountability, to be meaningful, must have high stakes and be grounded in disclosures about things that truly matter, namely whether philanthropic missions are being fulfilled. In this sense, it is impossible to be accountable without disclosing information about the donor's effectiveness...."

-- Peter Frumkin, "Wielding Philanthropic Power Responsibly: The Power of Legitimacy" (2005), excerpted from Giving Well, Doing Good: Readings for Thoughtful Philanthropists (Amy A. Kass, ed.)

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