Key Points

The perception that private foundations lack accountability has led to calls for greater transparency. The literature, however, suggests that transparency is neither a panacea nor achieved without cost, and that its positive influence on the conduct of philanthropy may be less than straightforward.

This article seeks to examine transparent and opaque practice in private philanthropy, studying the literature as well as findings from interviews with foundation staff, trustees, and grantees that sought answers to two relevant questions: Does opacity exist in private philanthropy? Have foundations and grantees developed strategies for overcoming challenges related to opacity?

U.S. tax law affords private philanthropy unique discretion regarding transparent practice. Before abandoning such discretionary capacity, it might be productive for private foundations to explore how transparent and opaque practices impact their reputation and inhibit or support their activities.

Open Access