Private Eyes

Privacy

Autonomy

Perpetuity

These are the tenets that underlie the classic model of the charitable foundation in the U.S. Our field is structured so that the combination of these three factors is the default. Different kinds of funders have different “scores” on each of these “variables” – community foundations are less autonomous because they’re driven by the interests of many different donors, public foundations choose to sacrifice privacy in favor of transparency, and a number of private and family foundations are choosing to spend down rather than exist in perpetuity.

But an institution that is private, autonomous, and designed to exist in perpetuity is the archetype of a charitable foundation.

So where does this leave one of my two questions – namely, is philanthropy a democratizing force? Let’s take each of the factors in turn. In today’s post, I’ll tackle privacy.

Privacy has a complicated relationship to democracy. The right to individual privacy is critical to democracy, but the right to organizational privacy is not necessarily as central. Sunshine laws, reporting requirements, transparency laws – these suggest that in a democracy, public institutions have a limited sphere of organizational privacy.

So while the right to individual privacy is enhanced by having foundations able to keep their affairs private, the desire for organizational transparency, the sunshine that’s integral to democracy, is…compromised? Countervailed? Complemented?

So the privacy of the archetypal foundation model is democratizing at an individual level, but not at an organizational level. How does that related to the autonomy also central to the model? For next time….

P.S. Happy belated second blog-o-versary to me! I started two years ago on April 21st. Looking back over old posts, I’ve covered a lot of ground. On to the next one!

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2 Responses to “Private Eyes”

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » On My Own Says:

    […] The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" BETA version, new title in the works. New post each Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday (for now). « Private Eyes […]

  2. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » Who Wants to Live Forever Says:

    […] I’ve talked about the last two times, these are the tenets of the archetypal charitable foundation in the U.S. How does […]

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