Giving Compass' Take:

• Judy Belk argues that large foundations need to wield their philanthropic power responsibly by making themselves accountable to the communities that they intend to serve. 

• How can the privacy, anonymity, and autonomy that foundations enjoy be properly balanced with accountability? 

• Learn more about engaging stakeholders for increased impact

Those of us who run major private foundations have the key to what many would say is true happiness: choices and the money to go with it.

And, boy, do we have choices. We get to choose the issues we want to spotlight, the groups we want to fund, how much they get, when they get it and when they don’t, how we want to use our voice, who manages our investments, who we collaborate with, and who calls the shots in our board rooms and executive suites.

We also have significant money, power, and influence with little accountability. Our work in philanthropy is often invisible, even to those we’re trying to serve.

Even though most days I agree I have one of the best gigs in California, I worry about how we can most effectively leverage all the assets we have at our disposal given so many choices and so little oversight.

In 2014, shortly after I arrived at The California Wellness Foundation—a private foundation with a mission to protect and improve the health and wellness of the people of California—I began asking everyone I met how we could do better. One response was pretty consistent: “Use your institutional voice.” While some people recognized us as strategic, thoughtful grantmakers, many felt we were missing an opportunity to use our platform, influence, and power to highlight the issues we funded. One community leader put it bluntly, “What do you stand for? And why are you so quiet?”

So we strengthened our internal strategic muscle by creating a new integrated public affairs department. Building on our legacy of investment in strategic communications, we set about modernizing our approaches. We embraced digital media and integrated communications, public policy, and community relations strategies to spotlight issues and amplify the impact of the dollars we provide to partners. In the process, we got clearer about what we stand for as a funder committed to social justice and voicing our point of view alongside our grantees.

Read the full article about weilding power responsibly by Judy Belk at Stanford Social Innovation Review.