A Note from Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest about the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s 2003 Grantee Perception Report
2003 Grantee Perception Report
The Hewlett Foundation’s grantees are our partners and agents in serving our shared beneficiaries, and their perceptions of the Foundation are critically important.
Therefore, in 2003 the Hewlett Foundation commissioned the Center for Effective Philanthropy to survey the Foundation’s grantees and prepare a Grantee Perception Report™. Phil Buchanan, the Center’s Executive Director, recently presented a summary of the Report to our Board of Directors. (The Center protected the confidentiality of individual grantee responses: results were presented only in aggregate and open-ended comments were stripped of any self-identifying language. In addition, grantees were given the option of responding anonymously.)
Much of the Grantee Perception Report struck my colleagues and me as positive. But, of course, it was the less positive aspects that got our attention and from which we probably have the most to learn. Here are some comments.
Community Impact (page 7)
The Hewlett Foundation’s “community impact” rating was the same as other national foundations, but substantially below the average of all foundations in our cohort. Although the large majority of our grants are national in scope, we feel a special obligation to the Bay Area, where Bill and Flora Hewlett lived and worked. The Performing Arts Program, the Education Program’s support of initiatives such as the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative, and the Neighborhood Improvement Initiative focus on the Bay Area, and we are currently exploring how the Foundation can continue and perhaps increase its commitment to disadvantaged populations in the region.
Grantee Interactions (page 10)
Although the Hewlett Foundation was at the average level for all foundations and slightly above average for large and national foundations with respect to grantee interactions, we were concerned about comments about the Foundation’s being understaffed to the detriment of grantees and the Foundation’s mission. On the one hand, we greatly value having a lean, non-bureaucratic organization, and the concomitant low administrative costs (see slide 21). On the other hand, our organizational structure should be responsive to the effective pursuit of our mission, not vice versa. We will pay close attention to the quality of our interaction with grantees, and stand ready to make adjustments if necessary.
Communication of Goals and Strategy (page 11)
The Hewlett Foundation is committed to transparency as an essential aspect of our accountability to society. We were therefore very concerned with the Foundation’s low marks on communications.
We attribute most of the criticisms of our communication with grantees to the fact that, in the years encompassed by the survey, almost all of our programs were in flux—the result of Foundation-wide planning processes in response to the Foundation’s increased assets and changing social needs. Although we engaged grantees in the process and tried to stay in touch with others, it seems evident that we did not communicate as well as we could have.
We have now come to closure on the plans of most of the Foundation’s programs; their plans and guidelines are on our website. Also, since the CEP survey was conducted, the Foundation has employed its first Director of Communications and has completely revamped its website. We hope and believe that, together with the addition of a senior staff member to guide the Foundation’s communications, our communications will improve significantly.
Selection Process (page 17)
The Foundation’s application form, which asks an organization to describe its objectives and provide a logic model or workplan for achieving them, is a work in progress that began during the period for which grantees were surveyed. Based on feedback from grantees, the application has gone through at least one revision since the time of the survey, and we are continuing to work to improve it.
The current application form is posted on this website. At its core are questions that ask a potential grantee to describe its goals and how it plans to achieve them. Especially because these are questions one might think an effective organization would ask itself independent of an application for funding, my colleagues and I were surprised at how many applicants have found it difficult to answer these questions.* One clue is that applicants seem to find it easier to answer them with respect to proposals for project grants than for general operating support grants. Perhaps it is daunting to have to describe the theory of change underlying an entire organization, especially when it has multiple goals and strategies. In any event, we are continuing to work to simplify the application, and are hopeful about the efforts of organizations such as Innovation Network and TheoryofChange.org to assist organizations in creating such strategic plans.
Evaluation (page 19)
The Foundation has conducted very few formal evaluations, and the survey occurred before most grantees had submitted reports under the new application format. Thus, we imagine that respondents were referring to the narrative and financial reports that the Foundation has traditionally required annually and at the completion of a multi-year grant. We do not think that the Hewlett Foundation’s requirements differ significantly from those of other foundations. However, we wonder whether we have failed to communicate adequately to grantees that we have reviewed the reports—especially when they raise no problem. On the hypothesis that such failure of communication could lead grantees to believe that the reports were of no value, we will work to implement we have begun to provide regular feedback on all reports.
I would welcome your comments on any aspects of the Grantee Perception Report.
*For a short essay on the difficulties of doing this, see “What the Nonprofit Sector Can Learn from Home Improvements,” published in the Winter 2003 issue of The Nonprofit Quarterly.