Work of US Foundations Largely 'Unknown' - New Study
16 June 2008 at 12:16 pm
Can you name an Australian Foundation and give an example of its impact in your community? In the US, where there are tens of thousands of Foundations, this question proved rather tricky and provided some surprising results for researchers.
The US study posed questions about foundations to a group described as ‘engaged Americans" – those individuals who hold a leadership, committee or board-level role in an organisation working on community or social issues as part of their community leadership role – and the findings paint a picture of foundations as being ‘little known’ for their efforts.
In fact, it found that US Foundations are isolated from many citizens on the front lines of local, regional and national efforts to improve American society.
It says fifty-six percent of those surveyed, for example, could not name a foundation on their first try!
Another 60 percent considered themselves somewhat or not at all informed about foundations, only 15 percent could cite examples of a foundation’s impact on their community, and only 11 percent could give an example of a foundation’s impact on an issue they care about.
When asked to list ten foundations only four of them were foundations, the others were major charities…and perhaps not surprisingly the Gates Foundation was on the top of the list.
The Philanthropy Awareness Initiative which included the survey is a project supported by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Joel Fleishman, a professor at Duke University and author of The Foundation: A Great American Secret says these findings are even more shocking than the Council on Foundations 2003 survey that found only 11% of the general public could name a foundation.
He says the survey speaks volumes about the invisibility of foundations and how they are not doing a good job of getting out the word to the public about what they are and do. It also suggests that the very organisations that foundations support are remiss in their obligation to keep their own leaders, board members and volunteers informed of the funding landscape in which they exist.
The head of Philanthropy Australia, Gina Anderson says the surprising results should serve as a lesson for Australia which is at the beginning of the philanthropic journey.
Anderson says the Australia’s objective is to build a strong case around philanthropy and bring community, government and business leaders together to understand the role of philanthropy.
She says that role is unique and foundations and philanthropists, while not replacing government funding, can be risk takers and fund for the long term.
At the same time, the US survey brings some good news for organised philanthropy.
Despite the sobering indicators of the US sector’s distance from the most civically engaged, this and prior surveys also reveal an undercurrent of positive feelings about foundations.
Earlier research indicates that a majority of engaged Americans support foundations’ continued role in the Not for Profit sector and trust their stewardship of private charitable funds without the need for government regulation.
The latest study indicates that they believe their community would suffer if US foundations no longer existed.