Foundation Center Website Shows Importance of Nonprofit Transparency

share-financial-infoThe idea of transparency has been a growing trend in the for-profit and nonprofit worlds, and now, foundations are the targets. But this is not a new concept.

Back when the Foundation Center was founded in 1956, its founding quote was that "foundations should have glass pockets," meaning there is a need for transparency from institutions that are created to serve the public good. The organization has since developed a website,, which is devoted to promoting foundation transparency.

The Center looked at the websites of 600 foundations and developed criteria and best practices for their online presence that are listed on -- ones that are similar to Charity Navigator’s criteria for nonprofits. This criteria includes the following seven categories:

1) Contact Information

It sounds basic, but you wouldn’t believe how many foundations don’t list their address on their websites. This should also includes the foundation’s mission statement.

2) Governance

Are the foundation’s bylaws and committee charters available? Is the code of conduct and conflict of interest policies available? Is there a list of the board of directors on the website? These are things the Foundation Center deems should be made available to the public.

3) HR/Staffing

This includes whistle-blower procedures, executive compensation, diversity practices, and a list of the staff and their respective bios.

4) Financial Information

In terms of financial info, the Center is referring to the availability of a foundation’s 990 form and investment policies, as well as its most recent audited financial statements.

5) Grantmaking Information

Does a foundation’s website provide how they select grantees? Are its grant strategy and priorities outlined? Is there a searchable grant database or list? Does it explain how the economy is affecting their grantmaking? This info provides the public with a clear idea of its grants process.

6) Performance

The Center notes its imortant for organizations to collect grantee feedback and publish the findings and provide an overall evaluation of its performance.

7) Communication Channels

The Center noted it's ideal for an organization to provide a website that features its current annual report available, an e-newsletter, and blog, as well as have a presence on various social networks.

You can see the full breakdown of "Glass Pocket Indicators" and those foundations that have glass pockets on

By working with foundations, the Foundation Center currently has 50 partners that have overhauled their transparency, including the Gates Foundation, which is helping to move the sector forward without working against it. 

Demystifying Transparency With Big Data

The Foundation Center also provides a transparency heat map of those national organizations that are listed as having glass pockets. This map shows which organizations are the most transparent and in what areas:


There are a number of other similar resources for foundations, including Facts About Philanthropy, compiled from data that has been collected and analyzed by the Foundation Center.

In a recent podcast, Foundation Center President Brad K. Smith said he thinks the Center is "very good at handling data" and takes a different approach to the concept of "Big Data."

He added that this concept is about collecting or accessing different types of data on the activity of institutions across the sector and then analyzing the data to pull out information that you would not be able to find otherwise. You’re looking for "things that fit together." The Foundation Center then provides this information to their network of foundations (and the public) to promote transparency.

This is just the beginning of a very important conversation about the philanthropy sector opening its vaults to the public. 

Do you consider your foundation as one that has “glass pockets”? Share with us how you’re adopting transparency at your organization.

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