ICYMI: Why is there so much secrecy in philanthropy?

"How much do we really know about how the ultrarich give their money away?" said Whizy Kim for Vox. "It’s surprisingly hard to say. This week, the Chronicle of Philanthropy published its annual ranking of the top 50 donors from 2022, a list it compiles by asking nonprofits what gifts they received and philanthropists what gifts they gave. It’s a list dominated by Silicon Valley billionaires with sprinklings of Wall Street investors, real estate magnates, media moguls, and heirs and heiresses of industry, who gave hundreds of millions (and in a few cases, billions) to private foundations, universities, and medical centers."

"Despite its best efforts, however, the publication can’t create a comprehensive list; if a donor declines to disclose what they gave, it’s extremely difficult to find that information. Tax records, where tax-exempt nonprofits disclose how they spent their money, might not become public for a year or longer. Increasingly, too, the nation’s richest folks are adopting forms of mega-giving that aren’t required to be disclosed at all."

"Chronicle of Philanthropy senior reporter Maria Di Mento, who compiles the annual list, told Vox by email that she wasn’t surprised by Gates’s and Scott’s reticence to reveal how much they had given this year and where it went. It’s not uncommon for donors to not want to share details, and Scott in particular is famously uncommunicative with the press about her giving. But Di Mento added that she hoped that in the future, they’d be willing to disclose more details."

"Even when billionaires do disclose their gifts, a degree of opaqueness persists around their philanthropic efforts. How much did they give, and what was their motivation? Did the giving do any good? One example: Elon Musk, who was second on last year’s list but nowhere in the top 50 this year, was added to the ranking in a post-publication update on Wednesday after a surprise SEC filing that became public Tuesday night revealed that he had donated almost $2 billion worth of Tesla stock to charity in 2022. Which charity? We simply don’t know. His reps hadn’t said a peep when the Chronicle had reached out for its reporting."

"The last time Musk made a hefty donation, of $5.7 billion worth of shares in 2021, it aroused a flurry of speculation around where the money went, with theories ranging from a donor-advised fund to the UN World Food Program. Bloomberg reported a year later, using public tax records, that it had gone to his private foundation, which distributed just $160 million of its total $9.4 billion in assets in 2022."

"Philanthropy is a combination of public and private, in its essence. I think anyone who says it’s entirely public isn’t capturing its full nature. But anyone who says that philanthropy is entirely private is missing something pretty key: That tussle between how much accountability the public can demand, and how much discretion a donor can claim is one of the definitional tensions of the current moment."

Read the full article here.