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Philanthropic Benchmark Report Draws Ire From Foundations

Resource type: News

Philanthropy News Digest |

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Criticism has intensified in recent days over a National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report that suggests foundations should devote half their grants to minorities, the poor, and other disadvantaged groups, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Released earlier this month, the report, Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best: Benchmarks to Assess and Enhance Grantmaker Impact, argues that foundations should meet ten benchmarks, including increasing their annual payout rate to 6 percent, improving transparency and board diversity, and directing half their grants to “lower-income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized groups, broadly defined.” The grant allocation benchmark, in particular, has drawn the ire of many foundations, with several foundation presidents arguing that it is overly prescriptive and could hamstring foundations that primarily fund the arts, medical research, and education. Others are concerned that the report could lead to stricter regulation of foundation activities.

In a post on his blog, on of three that he has devoted to the report in recent weeks, Hewlett Foundation president Paul Brest called the proposal “breathtakingly arrogant,” while the California Wellness Foundation, whose president, Gary Yates, criticized the report as “an attempt to endorse a one-size-fits-all approach for all foundations,” has decided to cancel its NCRP membership and has asked the watchdog group to return a $10,000 grant.

Still, many nonprofits and foundations, including Atlantic Philanthropies, have endorsed the report. According to Lori Bezahler, president of the Edward W. Hazen Foundation, another endorser, critics of the report are misreading it. “This is a set of ways we can look at our work,” said Bezahler, who added that it is not the first time that a group has urged foundations to examine their best practices.

In a follow-up statement addressing the criticisms, NCRP noted that “flexibility is important” for foundations and that their leaders should decide whether to meet or exceed the proposed benchmarks. “We couldn’t have been clearer that this isn’t intended to be a set of legislative suggestions or mandates in any way,” said NCRP executive director Aaron Dorfman. “This is a document to spark discussions among the leaders of our nation’s grantmakers and to challenge them to be more responsive to marginalized communities.”

Spector, Mike. “ Foundations Oppose Call to Target Grants.” Wall Street Journal 3/23/09.