How to be a transparent funder

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We’re pretty lucky, us funders.  We don’t usually pay tax. We can’t easily go broke.  We rarely receive public criticism.  And, unlike the US, where private foundations are required to give away at least 5% of their investment assets per year, funders in Aotearoa NZ are subject to few legislative requirements.

In other words, we are trusted to do the right thing and serve the public good.   So how can we show that this trust is deserved?

The answer is to be transparent – which simply means to be open and honest about what we do and how we work, so we can clearly show how we benefit communities.

Thanks to Philanthropy NZ, we now have draft guidelines for how to be a transparent funder.    I was very pleased to be part of the group who drafted these, along with Lani Evans, Katy Love and the team at Philanthropy NZ.  We were particularly appreciative of the help and support from Janet Camarena from the excellent US transparency initiative, Glass Pockets, on which these guidelines are based.

See Philanthropy NZ’s draft transparency guidelines here.

The thinking behind these guidelines is that it should be very easy for anyone to find answers to questions like:

  • How much money was given?
  • Who received funding?
  • Who decides who should receive funding – and how are those people selected?
  • Is the amount of money spent of running the organisation fair and reasonable?
  • Is the amount of money given away fair and reasonable when compared to assets of the organisation?
  • Do conflicts of interest occur, and if so, how are these handled?

These questions are important for all funders – but in my opinion they are particularly important for funders who are responsible for public money like Statutory trusts (eg Community Trusts, Gaming Trusts, Licensing Trusts, Energy Trusts and Lotteries), and also arguably for commercial companies administering trusts and foundations.   The guidelines have two levels to cater for both small, private funders, who may have no staff and a legitimate need for privacy, as well as for larger and/or publicly funded philanthropic organisations.

It is great to see support and guidance for funder transparency in Aotearoa NZ and I look forward to seeing how these guidelines are developed and used in practice.

Your feedback welcome.

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