Irony abounds in the world of philanthropy. Take the idea of transparency. Foundations, understandably, want proof that grant recipients put their money to good use and so they measure performance accordingly.
The degree of rigor varies. Through its Arts and Innovation Management program, Bloomberg Philanthropies measured progress at recipient organizations through its first round of funding from 2011 to 2013 using metrics of their own choosing. Meanwhile, the Portland, OR-based James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation allows its Operating Support Initiative cohorts to select their own benchmarks. Two foundations, two varying approaches toward measuring effectiveness and boosting transparency.
So, naturally we can expect the foundations themselves to apply the same sort of quantitative rigor to their own grantmaking activities, right?
Not so fast.
As IP's David Callahan noted, the world of philanthropy remains a black box. Of the top 25 U.S. grantmaking foundations, perhaps half release grants info in real time, and things only get worse as you go down the list. The National Christian Foundation, which manages multiple donor-advised funds, some of which back right-wing political causes, made $662 million in grants in 2013, most of it untraceable to any one particular individual. And one of the bigger environmental funders of recent years, the Kendeda Fund, is backed by anonymous money, as much climate denial work on the other side has been.
We could go on.
But incremental, glacially slow progress is better than no progress, and for our purposes here in the Arts sector, we feel compelled to point your attention to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's online grant database. Check it out and you'll find 2,927 grants listed by grantee, project name, date, amount, the location of the recipient organization, and the corresponding Mellon program. Taken in total, the database accounts for $1.46 billion in grant dollars.
You can also drill deeper. Take, for example, the $50,000 grant to the Memphis Symphony Orchestra's Multicultural Musician Fellowship Program, issued December 14, 2015. Click on the name of the program and you'll be taken to a page where you'll get a brief description, the length of the grant, the area of focus (in this case, Arts Ecosystem) and a reference number.
It's a well-designed, simple, and intuitive interface. That said, it currently lacks the searching and sorting capabilities that you would find in, say, the Doris Duke or Getty Foundation databases. (The latter launched its database last year.) But given the persistent lack of transparency across the philanthropy world, we're not complaining. Quite the opposite in fact.
Take a spin through Mellon's database here.