Watchdog Group Calls for More Funding to Benefit Society

A new report from the Washington, D.C.-based National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy argues that foundations and other grantmaking institutions are not delivering as much social benefit as they could. To help foundations and others do more, NCRP has released a set of measurable guidelines that funders can use to maximize their contributions to society.

The report, Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best: Benchmarks to Assess and Enhance Grantmaker Impact, focuses on values, effectiveness, ethics, and commitment, and includes benchmarks related to each criterion on issues such as payout, general operating support, board composition, compensation, disclosure, mission-related investing, and support for underserved communities.

"NCRP makes the essential point that organized philanthropy is obligated by its tax advantage to operate on behalf of the common good," said Gayle Williams, executive director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston Salem, North Carolina, an early endorser of the guidelines. "A great strength of American philanthropy is its diversity, but overall the field invests too small a proportion of its assets in advancing the well-being of low-wealth people and communities."

Prior to the official announcement from NCRP, more than one hundred and twenty nonprofit and foundation leaders endorsed the guidelines, which also received support from Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee. At the same time, objections from philanthropic organizations and trade associations were voiced. Said Council on Foundations president and CEO Steve Gunderson: "[While] the council supports the diversity of philanthropy...we cannot endorse mandates or imposed measures that seek to promote a one-size-fits-all approach."

According to NCRP executive director Aaron Dorfman, such objections were expected. "What we're calling for requires foundations to change the way they do business and acknowledge that they are partners with tax payers and nonprofits," said Dorfman. "It won't be easy, but important choices almost never are. It will require from the sector real leadership and deep commitment to the greater good."

"National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Publication Philanthropy at its Best." Council on Foundations Press Release 03/02/2009. "New Guidelines Target U.S. Foundation Practices." National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Press Release 03/03/2009.