Hewlett Foundation President Larry Kramer and Fay Twersky, Director of our Effective Philanthropy Group, respond to new research from the Center for Effective Philanthropy on Foundation CEOs' assessment of their own organizations' impact. 

From the CEP Blog:

According to the survey, CEOs are not—by their own admission—as well informed as they believe they should be about the extent to which they are achieving their goals. When asked what would improve their ability to assess progress, they cite a need for improved communication across organizations about what is being learned and a need for more evidence-based information. Despite feeling less than fully informed, the CEOs nevertheless say they believe that their foundations have “contributed a lot” to what progress has been made.

We think these data underscore the need for foundation leaders and staff to be at once more reflective and more open. By reflective, we mean that foundation leaders would be well-served by asking and actively seeking answers to questions like: How would we know if we are on a path to achieving our goals? Are we on that path? What progress are we making and what obstacles are we encountering? What are the key enablers and inhibitors to progress for us and our grantees? Which of our assumptions about how change would happen have been proved right and which wrong? Given such lessons, what might we do differently next time? Fully engaging with questions like these requires some data, some deliberation, and a healthy dose of open-mindedness and humility.

Somehow we need to change incentives, make it so foundations are expected to share—are, indeed, rewarded for sharing—what they have learned about what works and what doesn’t. That way, we can learn from each other and accelerate progress towards achieving important, shared goals. While some cynics thought it gimmicky, the Giving Pledge launched by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett has been quite effective in moving wealthy individuals to give most of their wealth away. Maybe it’s time for foundations to think about doing something analogous, a kind of Openness Pledge that helps move our default position to one of sharing information.