ON-Lion Letter
Recent calls for more transparency in private philanthropy have increased the need for philanthropic organizations to carefully plan and think about what information they will release to the public and how they will do it.  To help answer these questions, the Philanthropy Roundtable in Washington, D.C., has published a new book, Transparency in Philanthropy:  An Analysis of Accountability, Fallacy, and Volunteerism, by noted legal scholar John Tyler, general counsel of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Philanthropic organizations are obligated to provide certain types of transparency -- the types that are required by the federal tax system and by state laws aimed at maintaining the donor's intent.  But current heightened calls for more transparency are based on other rationales:  transparency is a good unto itself and more should be required of all institutions; more transparency is needed to further ensure that philanthropy serves "public purposes;" more transparency will counteract the "power asymmetry" between foundations and grantees; and more transparency is necessary to evaluate philanthropic effectiveness.

In Transparency in Philanthropy, Tyler argues that none of these rationales justifies additional legally imposed philanthropic transparency, which is what advocates demand.

Even though there is not much of a legal argument for requiring more philanthropic transparency, there are good arguments for organizations being transparent on a voluntary basis.  This would be not a wholesale disclosure of information, but measured transparency, undertaken in light of a foundation's mission and the potential costs that would go along with that disclosure.  In the book, Tyler encourages philanthropies and nonprofits to plan their transparency strategy and to do so carefully and thoughtfully.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee substantially supports the Philanthropy Roundtable.
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