Centering Equity: Evaluating our Organizational Effectiveness program

Since 2004, Hewlett’s Organizational Effectiveness (OE) program has awarded $67 million to more than 750 grantees to support foundation grantees’ organizational strengthening needs. These grants have supported areas such as diversity, equity, and inclusion; strategic planning; communications planning; and leadership transitions — areas often not funded by other funders. With our latest evaluation, we hoped to better understand the value and benefits, as well as areas for improvement, of the OE program, from the perspective of grantees, consultants who work with grantees, and Hewlett program staff.

The OE program, which is part of Hewlett’s Effective Philanthropy Group, is a supplemental grantmaking program; only current grantees of the foundation are eligible for an OE grant. We have found over the years that even with general operating support grants, our grantees were not always able to invest in their organizational capacity needs. With the scarcity of flexible dollars overall in the philanthropic sector, grantees often use flexible funding to backfill administrative costs not covered by other funders or cannot carve out a budget for organizational capacity due to competing internal demands. The OE program provides an additional grant, enabling grantees to prioritize organizational strengthening needs.

Our last evaluation in 2015 as well as three Grantee Perception Reports since, have consistently shown how much grantees value the OE program. The 2015 evaluation showed that short-term, targeted support has positive and immediate effects on grantees’ capacity. And in our surveys of grantee perceptions, OE recipients have consistently rated “Hewlett’s impact on their organization” higher than non-OE recipients.

In 2021, we launched our OE strategy refresh process with the goal of reassessing the program and refining how the OE team supports grantees and Hewlett staff. Our first step was to commission an external field scan to better understand trends and developments in how philanthropy was supporting (or not supporting) nonprofit capacity strengthening.

With this evaluation we sought input and feedback on the OE program from the perspective of grantees, consultants, and Hewlett program staff. The primary questions we focused on in this evaluation were:

  • Grantee selection: How have we selected grantees in the past and how are equity considerations factoring into who gets access to OE funds?
  • Priority needs: Are our OE grants supporting organizations’ highest priority needs?
  • OE team support: What is the value that our OE team is providing and what more can we do, as a small team, to provide better support?

And lastly, this evaluation looked at the COVID-19 Financial Technical Assistance program, which was launched in the spring of 2020 to match financial coaches with nonprofits who needed support to address the financial impact of COVID-19. This was a new approach for Hewlett and we wanted to learn what worked well, what didn’t, and implications for future programming.

What did we learn?

Our evaluation partner Creative Research Solutions used an equity-centered approach to conduct surveys, interviews, and focus groups of grantees, program staff, and consultants, as well as analyzed grant data and reviewed literature. Highlights of findings include:

OE grants are improving organizational health and the ability to make progress toward overall mission and goals. Overall findings confirmed the value of OE grants for recipients, including 89% of grantee respondents citing improved organizational health and ability to make progress toward overall mission and strategic goals.

However, there is inequitable access to OE grants when disaggregated by race. In looking at the data more closely and disaggregating by respondents’ race, there are some areas for us to consider. BIPOC respondents were less likely to request OE support compared to white respondents (37% vs. 51%) and less likely to have received an OE grant before (12% vs. 22%).

OE grants fill a need that is hard to find funding for, especially for organizations with smaller budgets. Notably, 49% of grantees would have delayed or chosen not to invest in capacity-strengthening work if they had not received the OE grant, and 75% of grantees say the OE grant provided funding for a project they would not normally receive funding for. This is even more true for organizations with smaller annual budgets.

Help and assistance provided by the OE staff is one of the main strengths of the OE program. Among program staff, 87% agreed that the OE team provides knowledge about prioritizing and supporting grantees’ capacity needs; 91% find the support effective. We also heard that program staff were eager to have more peer learning opportunities internally to share lessons learned and provide feedback.

Relationship and trust with Program Officers are essential to better address an organization’s priority needs. Among grantees, 90% most frequently agreed that their relationship with their Program Officer (PO) was built on trust and transparency, 93% of grantees feel comfortable talking to their PO about organizational challenges, and 88% feel heard by their Program Officer. Stronger relationships allow for more candid conversations where POs can better help to ensure that OE grants are addressing priority areas of need.

The COVID-19 Financial Technical Assistance program was overall well-received by grantees and came at the right time. However, not surprisingly, the experience was heavily dependent on the financial coach that they were paired with. If we were to launch such a program again in the future, we would want to be more intentional about the consultant matching process.

Where do we go from here?

Data from the evaluation and landscape scan are informing our current OE strategy discussions. It is clear from everything we’ve learned so far that OE fills an important and unmet need for our grantees. We also want to ensure equitable access and continued investment in grantee relationships, supporting grantee capacity strengthening where they need it the most. As we look to refining the OE program in this next phase, our ultimate goal is to strengthen our support and guidance so that we can help grantees build the organizational capacity they need to successfully achieve their mission and goals.

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