A bold step towards changing the culture of deference in philanthropy

posted on: December 10, 2013


by Aaron Dorfman 

We all know about the culture of deference that permeates philanthropy: nonprofits are too afraid of reprisal to be critical of donors, many foundation assessments don’t get past foundation walls (sometimes they don’t go beyond executive offices!) and grantmakers rarely provide honest feedback to their peers.

Although there is a lot of talk in philanthropy these days about transparency and shared learning, not many foundation are walking the talk. This is hampering foundations’ abilities to learn from successes and failures – from our own work and those of others.

So it is with much excitement that we release the results of our assessment of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. (Learn about our findings: View the press release.)

NCRP developed a new comprehensive appraisal tool based on our report Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best and recommendations from Real Results: Why Strategic Philanthropy Is Social Justice Philanthropy to examine WRF’s impact on Arkansas’ communities.

We looked at how the foundation’s strategies and practices aligned with its goals, the outcomes and impact from its “Moving the Needle” agenda, the quality of WRF’s partnership with its grantees and other operational practices. It includes input from former and current grantees, applicants that did not receive funding, and other stakeholders such as government representatives, peer institutions and others.

We appreciate WRF’s staff and leadership, especially Sherece West-Scantlebury, in their willingness to test out our methodology, receive critical feedback from NCRP and its stakeholders, and publicly share the results.

We need unvarnished, nuanced assessments like this to boldly change the culture of deference in our sector. And we need your help to make this happen!


Share your voice! Tell us why honest, constructive feedback in philanthropy is important to nonprofits and the communities we serve.

Aaron Dorfman is executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Follow NCRP on Twitter (@ncrp).