Anonymity Altered: Two foundations that have given millions to K-12 education while trying to stay out of the public eye have decided to make their grant-making more transparent.
The foundations, the Atlantic Foundation and the Atlantic Trust, awarded all grants anonymously until 1997, when Charles F. Feeney revealed to the news media that he was the donor behind the foundations. His acknowledgment that he had given away more than $600 million with little attention created quite a stir.
Mr. Feeney was able to give so much money away without publicity in part by basing his foundations in Bermuda. Only when the foundations sold a major business holding—Duty Free Shoppers—did Mr. Feeney talk about his philanthropy, knowing it would be described in a public document for the sale.
But after the media publicity in 1997, Mr. Feeney and his foundations still tried to keep a low profile. For example, they prohibited grant recipients from revealing the source for the money to anyone outside their organizations. Editorial Projects in Education, the publisher of Education Week, has been among the recipients of the foundations’ grants.
Last month, the foundations reversed the nondisclosure policy and implemented other changes that have made information about them more readily available. The foundations now permit grant recipients to disclose that they’ve received money. And the philanthropies have created a Web site, at www.atlanticphilanthropies.org , that describes their worth and giving priorities.
The Atlantic Foundation and the Atlantic Trust also have a new name: the Atlantic Philanthropies. But the directors of the Atlantic Philanthropies still hope the foundations can operate quietly, spokesman Peter S. McCue said in a telephone interview last week.
“We’re not coming out and holding a tea party,” Mr. McCue said. He said Mr. Feeney and the foundations’ directors will not grant interviews. They also will continue to refuse to accept unsolicited requests for aid.
Mr. McCue said the foundations have changed their policies about the release of information to the public merely to help grantees. “The board has decided, in response to grantee requests over time, to allow grantees to call attention to their connection with Atlantic Philanthropies in an effort for them to generate additional funds.”
Atlantic Philanthropies is worth about $4.6 billion and plans to give away about $400 million annually. From 1998 to 2000, the foundations gave $98 million to K-12 education.
—Mary Ann Zehr
A version of this article appeared in the July 11, 2001 edition of Education Week