Let Me At ‘Em! Inside Philanthropy Says “Speak Truth to Money”

Y’all know that Dr. Streamline encourages funders to seek feedback about their practices from nonprofits, right?  As part of our Streamlining Champions Toolkit, we recently provided a sample survey for you to adapt and use.

Well, some nonprofits aren’t waiting around to be asked.

A new website, Inside Philanthropy, created by David Callahan (founder of Demos) invites nonprofit grantseekers to “Speak Truth to Money,” anonymously rating funders and posting reviews about their experiences with foundations, donors, and program officers. In a recent Chronicle article, Mr. Callahan described the site as part of a broader effort to penetrate philanthropy’s inner sanctums.

He encourages participating nonprofits to be honest and respectful with a set of “dos and don’ts”.   For example, DO be as concrete and detailed as you can be without giving away your identity, but DON’T use your ratings to unfairly criticize funders who may have rejected your proposals.

Once inside the review and rating form, a grantseeker can comment on strengths, areas for improvement, and then rate the foundation in terms of Responsiveness (from “very” to “black hole”) and – my favorite – Hassle Factor (from “burdensome” to “super streamlined”).  They can also rate Boldness & Creativity and Political Ideology, and provide advice about the foundation to be used by other potential applicants.

In a message to funders, Callahan acknowledges that this idea may not be popular, but calls on funders’ commitment to doing good as a rationale for transparency – a very clever inoculation to make any subsequent fussing seem petty.

We know pulling back the curtain on grant making and sharing the inside scoop on decision makers like yourselves will, at times, be uncomfortable. But we know you’re strongly committed to doing the most good with your positions and power— that’s why you got into philanthropy in the first place— and we are committed to being an honest partner with you and your grantees.

What’s been the response so far?  According to Callahan, “Anybody raising money wants more insight into what goes on in foundations and with individuals donors, and this is a one-stop shop. For funders, it’s been more of a mixed bag.  Some are wary and don’t like the idea of being rated. Some just aren’t looking for media coverage for what they do. It’s been very easy for funders to stay under the radar with no one ever writing about them.”

With Inside Philanthropy, Callahan is determined to make philanthropy more accessible – partly by greatly increasing the level of coverage about philanthropy and party by doing it in a fun, informal way. Calls for transparency are often seen as stemming from the desire to expose bad practice, but transparency can also expose the good. For Callahan, this is a key point.  “In general, we’re writing about the things we find most interesting and positive,” he explained. “We’re not just complaining for complaining’s sake.”

Ultimately, his hope is that philanthropic practice shifts with access to more feedback.  He pointed out that almost every sector in American society has been subjected to in-depth coverage and user reviews. In general, he believes, “philanthropy is more likely to have more impact if it has better mechanisms for responsiveness and is held more accountable for its actions.  You can’t ever be at your best if no one ever gives you honest feedback.”

Streamliners:  What do you see as the pros and cons of nonprofits providing anonymous and unsolicited feedback to funders?  If you’ve used or visited Inside Philanthropy, share your impressions.

Jessica Bearman

Jessica Bearman works with foundations and other mission-based organizations, focusing on organization development, facilitation, and R&D to help them become more intentional, effective, and responsive to the communities that they serve. She is also known as Dr. Streamline. Follow her on Twitter @jbearwoman.

  • IdPnSD

    Money is false, because it is not an object of nature, it neither grows on a tree nor can it be mined from underground. Can you create anything true using something false like money? No you cannot. Thus philanthropy is a dishonest practice, is an aberration of our faulty economic system created by false money, and it encourages poverty. Your comment – “It’s been very easy for funders to stay under the radar with no one ever writing about them.” – in a sense supports their concerns. Take a look at why and how poverty is created by rich people at https://theoryofsouls.wordpress.com/