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Information-Expectation Mismatch: Philanthropy's Story Continues to go Untold

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In a reminder that philanthropy's story goes untold, a recent survey of civically engaged Americans reports that only 19 percent had heard or seen anything in the news about philanthropy's response to the economic downturn.

Reflecting previous surveys from the foundation-funded Philanthropy Awareness Initiative (PAI), very few respondents could cite an example of how a foundation had benefited the community or an issue about which these citizens care. Yet PAI reports in High Expectations, High Opportunity that these engaged Americans, who represent the 12 percent of the adult population who are active in their communities as civic or business leaders, are looking to foundations to find solutions to society's problems. Specifically, they think foundations should voluntarily shift funding priorities to ease the pain of this economic recession. Given the fact that many foundations are already taking such steps, there is an information gap that needs to be filled, according to the PAI report. PAI notes that nearly 90 percent think foundations should be more open with the public about their activities, mistakes and lessons learned.

Points taken... I think.

Although they acknowledge the significance of PAI's findings, it is deep within the culture of most private foundations to shun the spotlight and instead direct attention to the issues that concern them or the grantees they support.

Among the topics on the agenda of the Aspen Philanthropy Group is the question of whether foundations can be truly effective in advancing the public good while falling silent on the strategies that guide and the unique role that foundations play.

As this and previous PAI surveys demonstrate, it is a conversation that is overdue.