Involved Americans look to foundations

Even without a good sense of what foundations do or the impact they have on society, America’s most “engaged” citizens have high expectations of organized philanthropy, a new report says.

Engaged Americans are defined as adults who hold leadership positions, either staff or volunteer, with organizations working on community or social issues, says the report from the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative.

Of those people, who include city officials, church leaders and grassroots advocates, only two in 10 can identify an example of how a foundation has impacted their community, and fewer than four in 10 can name a foundation on their first try.

But more than three in four say their communities would suffer without the work of foundations, and foundations’ importance in their minds has grown during the recent economic downturn, the study says.

As of this year, about 79 percent of engaged Americans say foundations should focus their grantmaking on finding new solutions to problems, a sharp increase from 48 percent in 2006.

And nine in 10 respondents say funders should share their activities with the public, including the mistakes they’ve made and the lessons they’ve learned.

While most respondents say additional government controls on foundations are unnecessary, virtually all say it’s time for funders to step up and fulfill their responsibility to serve the public.

“Foundations must do a much better job of building understanding and relationships with citizens and policymakers in order to maintain the flexibility that we need to achieve the greatest impact,” Paul Brest, president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, says in a statement. “To do that, we need to be more articulate about how our foundations are making a difference in people’s lives.”

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