Can we help create a more open philanthropic sector—one where we routinely share how we work, the lesson we learn, our successes and our failures? Can we help develop more open channels of communication where foundations can hear the voices of the people we seek to help? The Hewlett Foundation is part of a new group of funders that have joined forces to try.
What if the people meant to benefit from the programs that foundations support, as well as the nonprofits we finance, could contribute their needs, opinions, and experiences to help us improve our current grant-making programs and suggest ideas for the future? Imagine if all of us working for social and environmental change understood better what the intended beneficiaries of our work think and what we could do differently to ensure that we achieve our goals.
How can we learn more about the ways people experience the services and products our grantees provide? Do they find the services useful? Relevant? Are the hours of operation convenient? Is there room for improvement? If we knew the answers, might we also improve the outcomes?
It’s time to make gathering such feedback routine so that all of us, at both foundations and other nonprofits, reliably consider the perspectives and experiences of those we seek to help.
But we know such efforts are costly, in both time and money, and too few experiments have been conducted to figure out the most effective ways to get feedback that matters.
To help elevate the voices of the people our grant money is designed to help, we have joined with five other grant makers to create the Fund for Shared Insight, which will award $5-million to $6-million a year over the next three years.
In addition to the Ford Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation, initial funders of the effort include the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The JPB Foundation, Liquidnet, the Rita Allen Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, working together through a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Other funders are welcome to join, and proposals for funding are being accepted through October 15, 2014.
Nice article from Josh Dulaney, writing for the Long Beach Press Telegram, on efforts underway in the California State University system to address the rising costs of textbooks, including those of MERLOT, a grantee of our Education Program:
Twenty campuses in the CSU system run their own Affordable Learning Solutions programs.
“For most classes, students do have to purchase a textbook one way or another,” said Naomi Moy, who heads the initiative at Cal State Dominguez Hills in Carson. “Sometimes those textbooks are $200 or more. Most students can’t afford that when they have four or five classes.”
More than 200 of the 750 faculty members at CSUDH chose to use no-cost or low-cost alternatives to textbooks in 2012-13, according to CSU officials. At Cal Poly Pomona more than 140 chose no-cost or low-cost alternatives to textbooks.
“Those faculty have an alternative to the print textbook that would either be available in the library or a resource that is an Internet-based resource that may not be the traditional books,” Moy said.
The CSU provides more than 45,000 free instructional materials through MERLOT — Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching — which is accessed by more than 500 universities and colleges.
Carla Rivera covered similar ground for the Los Angeles Times earlier this month.
Lucy Bernholz has a short (as in two white-board sketches short), fascinating blog post about a conversation she had recently with Sara Davis, the Hewlett Foundation's Director of Grants Management, on the past and future of philanthropic organizational structures.
The Madison Initiative has had some productive back and forth with David Callahan of Inside Philanthropy this summer—here's his initial critique of the Initiative and our response. David subsequently talked with Madison Initiative Director Daniel Stid to discuss our strategy and how it's beginning to unfold. While we have agreed to disagree with David on some issues, his post from earlier this week, Inside the Madison Initiative: Here Is How Hewlett is Taking On Polarization, provides a helpful overview of the early efforts on the Madison Initiative. We especially appreciate his point that “There are no rigid milestones or metrics or predictive models here. Rather, Hewlett's plan is to engage in three years of exploratory funding of work that could point the way to more moderates getting elected, reduced gridlock in Congress, and more constructive public engagement in civic life.” And while it's clear that we see the world a bit differently, we appreciate the discussion of our work that's come out of Callahan’s blogging.
A new report from Latino Decisions and Hispanic Access Foundation (a grantee of our Environment Program) analyzed nine public opinion polls from the past three years to find strong, consistent support for environmental conservation among Latinos in the United States:
“This report provides definitive proof to what we’ve seen across the country – there is a significant, growing Latino movement that is advocating for greater environmental protections of our parks and public lands and is willing to support candidates that share that same value,” said Maite Arce, president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation. “The Latino population is the fastest growing segment in the country — their engagement in conservation is critical and could have a far-reaching impact.”
Hundreds of thousands of books have been written about business leadership, with new titles coming out each year. There is a growing literature about what it takes to build and lead high-performing nonprofit organizations, and a trove of research and writing exists on military and political leadership. Precious little has been written, however, about what it takes to successfully lead a philanthropic organization.
While a number of good books about philanthropy have been published lately, each touches only lightly on the subject of leadership, and none focus much attention on the role of the CEO. A recent National Center for Family Philanthropy report about the role of the CEO in a family foundation context makes an important descriptive contribution to the field, but there is room for more research and insight into what it takes to be a successful foundation CEO.
In the past two decades, the number of foundations in the United States alone has more than tripled, rising from about 32,000 foundations in 1990 to approximately 115,000 today. Given the proliferation of foundations, and the hundreds of billions of dollars in assets that foundations control, it is essential to ask: What makes foundation CEOs successful? What makes them fail?
These are deceptively challenging questions to answer.
As part of our Grantmaker Speaker Series, Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation spoke to our staff about his organization's philanthropic model. Mulago funds organizations "built around a big idea and focused on maximum social impact" in order to help meet the basic needs of very poor people.
Kevin Starr "had a perfectly good career in medicine when he stumbled into philanthropy in 1994." When his friend and mentor Rainer Arnhold died suddenly, Arnhold's family asked Starr to support his legacy through the work of the Mulago Foundation. Since 2003, Mulago's Rainer Arnhold fellowship program has helped social entrepreneurs "turn good ideas into lasting change at scale."
GiveWell's Holden Karnofsky wrote a thoughtful blog post about the Hewlett Foundation's decision to end the Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative, which we announced publicly earlier this year. The post looks at the Initiative, and our decision to end it, from a grantee's perspective. Karnofsky offers this helpful summary of his thinking:
-We believe that Hewlett’s philanthropy program was a strong use of philanthropic funds. The program is reported to have spent a total of $12 million over 8 years, and we think its impact on GiveWell alone will likely ultimately be responsible for enough influence on donations to easily justify that expenditure.
-We believe that ending this program may have been the right decision. With that said, we disagree with the specific reasoning Hewlett has given, for the same reason that we disagreed with its strategic plan while the program was running. We believe that Hewlett’s goal of influencing 10% of donors was unrealistic and unnecessary, at least over the time frame in question. We believe the disagreement may reflect a broader difference in how we see the yardstick by which a philanthropic program ought to be evaluated.
-We are very positive on how Hewlett ended the program. Great care was taken to end it in a way that gave grantees ample advance notice and aimed to avoid disruptive transitions. We also applaud Hewlett’s decision to publish its reasoning in ending the program and invite a public discussion, and we broadly feel that Hewlett is delivering on its stated intent to become a highly transparent grantmaker.
Philanthropy Program Officer Lindsay Louie responds in comments to the post:
The question you raised about by what yardstick a philanthropic program should be evaluated is a timely one for us. At the Hewlett Foundation, we have just recently been grappling with the question of when to set precise, quantitative goals and when a directional goal may be most appropriate. Our motto in the Effective Philanthropy Group is “purpose first” and that certainly applies to this question. Sometimes, a bold target like influencing 10% of donations can serve to inspire and galvanize support AND serve as a yardstick by which to measure progress. Other times, the goal can be so audacious as to be unrealistic and unhelpful in measuring progress or to inform future strategic direction.