Poster Paper: Foundation Accountability through Openness

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jihye Jung, University of Colorado, Denver

This paper examines grantmaking accountability to beneficiaries and the public by investigating private foundation grantmaking openness. Despite the critical role of foundations in society, researchers mostly focus on public charities and how they are held accountable by foundations rather than accountability of foundations themselves. This paper contributes to a better understanding of the dimensions of accountability and overcomes the above limitations by creating new measures examining patterns of foundation openness over time.

Foundation openness is a key concept to comprehending foundation accountability and, in turn, societal impact. If a foundation is open, then they may fund a broad range of organizations. Alternately, a closed grantmaking system might stick with grantees that are familiar and/or known to be effective. Measuring societal impact is difficult or impossible, but understanding the trend of openness offers an insight into accountability and the impact of their giving. Thus, I propose the question, what do patterns in foundation grantmaking tell us about a foundation’s openness? I develop new measures of openness utilizing IRS Form 990PF e-file datasets from 2011 to 2016 including 201,541grantmaking foundations. The measures overcome the limited coverage of foundations and the theoretical limitation of the lack of a democratic dimension in accountability studies. The relationship of openness with organizational characteristics is then explored to identify correlates of accountability.

The findings indicate that foundations increasingly diversify their grants over time while continuing to work with the grantees that they have worked with. This research provides new insights into patterns of grantmaking that show diverse grantmaking portfolios and how foundations impact society through their giving decisions. Policymakers and the public can use these insights to help assess the reasonableness of openness requirements in grantmaking and the proper balance between autonomy and public benefit.