Philanthropists’ accountability in question: to whom, for what, and how?
In theory philanthropists enjoy a remarkable freedom to use their funds as they see fit. While governments and public agencies are accountable to taxpaying voters, and other nonprofit organizations to their members and donors, private foundations with independent funding apparently have no obvious constituency to be accountable to, provided they do not infringe the law. This feature of philanthropy has been celebrated as a source of independence and innovation, which are key to addressing rare, unpopular problems or to invent new solutions to older issues. However, many observers fear that unchecked philanthropy exerts too much power and influence, especially in sensitive fields like healthcare or education. To counter these criticisms, private foundations and their representatives have published accountability reports and guidelines of “best practices”. Beyond self-regulation, other initiatives exist to ensure higher degrees of accountability, such as feedback from beneficiaries or peer evaluation. To whom should philanthropists be accountable? For what should they be accountable? What justifications are expected from philanthropists by their stakeholders? How do cultural and political contexts shape the nature and degree of accountability that is expected?
- Noomi Weinryb, Chercheuse, Uppsala University (Suède), auteur de Free to conform: A comparative study of philanthropists’ accountability
- Dominique Lemaistre, Directrice du Mécénat, Fondation de France.