Foreign Policy Blogs

A Forum for Risk

Last week, a sports-fan friend introduced me to an on-line forum where he publicly posts his weekly football picks.  Coupled with the team he believes will prevail is a brief rationale of why he is making this choice and placing his bet on a particular team.  For him, its a way to keep both a historical record of his choices, but also to practice a public showing of transparency for his choices. 

As websites pop up that allow individual donors to invest in projects posted by organizations (i.e. Donors Choose and Global Giving) and track the progress of their investments, it is an interesting idea to have a place where donors (informally) or foundations (more formally) could describe the ‘why’ of their choices.  

For individual donors, it could be similar to describing corporate financial investments – accounting for each bet and articulating on why these particular bets were chosen.   A snapshot of a moment in time.  For the organizations receiving the donations, it could be a boost to their fundraising efforts – having the general public know why another donor has seen them as a good investment.

For foundations this method of telling the public ‘why’ they are investing in particular organizations and within specific initiatives would serve a number of objectives: an act of transparency for the foundation, a boost for the recipient organization, a glimmer of hope/dash of reality for future grantseekers, and an opening for public discourse. 

It can be argued that the investments made with the private money of donors and foundations don't need to be discussed.   Foundations may list which organizations they have supported, but have less often let the public in on the ‘why’. 

It's my bias that the lack of transparency shown (particularly by foundations) on the choices made on investments and risk simply continues the power imbalance (tilting in favor of foundations and away from non-profits/the public).  As a citizen, when investment is made in areas of public goods (i.e. health, environment, agriculture, education) I want to understand why option “X” was chosen over the “Y” and “Z” options.  From success or failure, donors will learn lessons for future investments.  It's simple knowledge sharing – and it need not get political or wrapped up in ego.

Maybe I’m just too nosy, but I like to know the ‘why’.  A forum for articulating these thoughts makes philanthropy more accessible – and might just convince new donors to join in.