His experiences with other philanthropists and philanthropic organizations had taught him a great deal about how he wanted to share his fortune. He wanted to support a range of competently run organizations serving specific areas of interest. He did not want to raise money from other philanthropists directly, but want his gifts to inspire others in the form of matching donations. He wanted some control. For these reasons, he decided to start his own foundation, manage it independently, and build it to last.
The founding board members were Bill, Flora and their eldest son Walter, a 22-year-old Harvard graduate who planned to pursue further studies at Stanford University.
Walter remembers 1966 to 1972 as the “living room years” of the foundation, when family members met at home and together decided how the Hewlett Foundation could do the most good.
During its first decade, the foundation made approximately $15.3 million in grants. The structure of its programs began to take shape, and remains largely intact to this day.
The range of grantmaking reflected the Hewletts’ lifelong interests in other cultures and societies, and in improving the quality of life of people locally and globally. Early grants were made to organizations in education, population, performing arts, environment, health, and vital services to support the needy in the Bay Area.
In 1972 sons William A. Hewlett and James S. Hewlett joined the board of directors. In 1974 the foundation hired its first executive director, John May, the former chief executive of the San Francisco Foundation. The Hewlett Foundation operated like many of the 50 other Bay Area family foundations with assets greater than $500,000—as a conservatively managed hybrid of family philanthropy and community trust. Years later, Walter would characterize the time when John was executive director as grantmaking through “networks” rather than “categories.”