September 21, 2012

White House Philanthropy Event Was a Closed-Door Affair

People who promote innovative approaches to social problems usually stress the importance of sharing knowledge so that everyone can learn about the most effective strategies.

But organizers of Thursday’s closed-door White House Forum on Philanthropy Innovation must not have gotten the memo.

The event—hosted by the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation and attended by philanthropists, nonprofit leaders, government officials, and others—was not announced publicly and was closed to the news media.

There were no news releases, White House blog mentions, or Webcasts.

A few participants blew the event’s cover, however. One nonprofit group sent out a news release about its founder’s plans to attend. Several attendees tweeted throughout the day at #WHInnovation. And some discussed it with The Chronicle afterward.

When asked about the meeting’s purpose and who was there, a White House official offered this statement “on background,” which means we can’t use his name:

“Today, the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation hosted leaders from across the field of philanthropy, including executives from private, corporate, family, and community foundations along with select academics, analysts, and thought leaders to share best practices and discuss how leaders can work together to strengthen local communities.  This meeting was closed [to] press.”

Why the secrecy? "The White House regularly holds many various meetings and briefings—some are closed press and some are open," the official responded by e-mail.  "Visitors to the White House are regularly made public and meeting attendees often give their views on events they have attended."

As for who attended, we were invited to check out the White House visitors records. We did and discovered that so far it includes only visits made through the end of May. So stay tuned. Maybe a few months from now, we can offer an update.

Send an e-mail to Suzanne Perry.