By Alex Parkinson, Research Associate, The Conference Board, and David Callahan, Founder and Editor, Inside Philanthropy
The donor-recipient power dynamic is often one sided, with rich organizations wielding the influence over their nonprofit partners. In one of my first posts on Giving Thoughts late last year, I posed the question of whether nonprofits ever have “reverse influence” over their corporate donors: could a nonprofit decline funding until its backer upped its game in a certain area? It might be a stretch to think that a nonprofit would ever have enough clout to turn its back on funding, but it’s also wrong to suggest that nonprofits should always have to pander to donors. Wouldn’t the donor-grantee relationship be more effective if scrutiny were a two-way street? Enter Inside Philanthropy, a new website that allows grantees to anonymously rate and review their funders.
The site’s founder, David Callahan, who co-founded think tank Demos and is the author of The Cheating Culture and Fortunes of Change: The Rise of the Liberal Rich and the Remaking of America), answered my questions about what this could mean for corporate philanthropy.
Q: Can you give me an overview of Inside Philanthropy?
A: It’s a digital media site that covers the world of giving, looking at private foundations, corporate philanthropy, and major individual donors. The site covers big recent gifts, but also includes funding guides to help people understand who’s giving money for what and why. Users can rate funders, too!
Q. Why did you start the site?
A: This is a profoundly exciting time in philanthropy, as the great fortunes built during our Second Gilded Age get harnessed to giving. A growing river of private money is increasingly shaping all sectors of society, including education, healthcare, science, the arts, and more. But until we came along, there was no media site focused exclusively on covering philanthropy and really getting down into the weeds.
Q: What was the impetus for the rating model on the site?
A: Crowdsourced feedback is everywhere these days. But while my local dry cleaner has numerous reviews on Yelp, foundations that give away millions rarely hear candid feedback from grantees, since there’s such a big power imbalance in this kind of relationship. We think it’s important to “speak truth to money.”
Q: Why should donors heed what their grantees say about them?
A: Because they want to get better at what they do, just like people involved in any endeavor, and because nobody likes to inadvertently cause grief. As well, everyone likes to hear when they’re doing something right.
Q: Do you envisage corporate foundations and their program officers facing any particular vulnerability in this crowdsourced feedback model?
A: Corporate foundations tend to be far less transparent than major private foundations like Ford, so there’s definitely room for more public discussion of how they operate. Some of that may be uncomfortable, but the overall results will be positive.
Q: You’ve earmarked “emerging billionaire philanthropists” as candidates for tracking in coming years. Which corporate grant-making organizations interest you and why?
A: Lots of new money is starting to come off the sidelines as more billionaires turn to philanthropy. Some of these donors will establish foundations that are among the biggest in the U.S. So, we think it’s important to keep an eye on these folks. Meanwhile, many corporations are stepping up their giving and getting more sophisticated about philanthropy. In particular, we’re closely watching how tech companies are giving away big chunks of money for science education and to bolster tomorrow’s workforce.
About the guest:
David Callahan is founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy. Previously, he co-founded Demos, a national think tank. He is best known as the author of the books The Cheating Culture and The Moral Center.
About the author:
Alex Parkinson is a Research Associate in the Corporate Leadership division of The Conference Board. He specializes in corporate philanthropy and sustainability. He is the Executive Editor of the Giving Thoughts blog and monthly publication series. Before joining The Conference Board in September 2013, Alex worked as a Senior Consultant in London and New York for corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultancy Context. He has advised some of the world’s leading multinationals on CSR communications and strategy development. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AlexParkinsonNY.