The foundation is committed to working, both internally and externally, in a collaborative fashion based on mutual respect. Grantees, co-funders, and other colleagues in our work are our partners in problem-solving.
We strive to build a culture based on mutual respect and mutual support—commitments of equal importance in our internal staff relations and our relationships with grantees, co-funders, consultants, and other partners. We aspire to treat everyone who works with us with respect and understanding.
When it comes to grantees and other funders, the importance of genuine collegiality is heightened by awareness of our limitations. We need to collaborate with others, because the problems we tackle are bigger than we could ever hope to handle ourselves. We need to treat those with whom we work as partners, because they bring knowledge and capacities we lack and cannot do without.
Maintaining relations grounded in sincere respect takes effort and attention. Collegiality can be tested by other commitments, like the commitment to fostering an environment in which dissent is encouraged and people can challenge each other’s thinking. Our efforts to include diverse voices and perspectives, or even ordinary staff turnover, likewise can affect collegial relations. What matters is that colleagues and co-workers—both inside and outside the foundation—respect each other and assume each other’s good intentions.
Grantees are a special case, because the power imbalance between grantmaker and grant recipient is always present in the background. The foundation is deeply committed to treating its grantees as partners and working with them in ways that are facilitative rather than controlling. We express this perspective often, as we must, both to remind ourselves and to assure grantees of the genuineness of our intentions. Yet words, however reassuring, are not enough and must be backed by action. This means letting grantees lead and giving them credit in recognition that it is they, not we, who do the work. It means listening to what they tell us and being responsive, encouraging them to be honest and candid, and meeting with them as much as possible. It means sharing information openly and not engaging in protracted negotiations or asking for information we do not need or use. And it means giving them flexibility to use their best judgment about how to achieve our mutual goals.
However much research and analysis we do, we still are working far from the front lines. The organizations we support—not to mention the beneficiaries they support—have experience and knowledge we lack. Our grantees live with the issues up close on a daily basis, making them better situated than us to make judgments about tactics and to adjust swiftly to changes on the ground. The celebrated “HP Way,” which we aspire to apply in our philanthropy, holds that one gets the best results by finding the right people and giving them the flexibility and freedom to find the best path to achieve objectives. Both we and our grantees are stronger the more we enable, rather than control, what they do.
This commitment is reflected most powerfully and importantly in our willingness, whenever possible, to provide grantees with long-term, general operating support, and to fund grantees’ true costs when we make restricted project grants. Equally important, we listen to the voices of those who will do the work and those who are meant to benefit from it, and we try to do this continuously.
While the dynamic is different when it comes to co-funders and other organizations with whom we work, the reasons to be collaborative are largely the same. We are more likely to achieve our shared goals if we work collaboratively and as partners, treating each other with respect, learning from each other, and being flexible and accommodating in our joint efforts to achieve shared objectives.
- Being clear with grantees about expectations that come with a grant. Showing respect for grantees’ time by keeping procedures flexible and asking for reports and other materials only if genuinely needed
- Providing general support as often as possible, and taking steps to ensure that project grants fund the true costs of what we ask grantees to do
- Acting consciously and intentionally to mitigate the power imbalance with grantees by listening to their ideas and opinions without imposing our own and being flexible about budgets and process
- Building long-term relationships with grantees, and providing support (including organizational effectiveness grants and other forms of technical support) to strengthen them institutionally
- Supporting grantees that are experiencing organizational or operational difficulties with advice, organizational effectiveness grants, and by being flexible about our own needs
- Creating cross-functional learning opportunities through forums like Shop Talks and in-town weeks for members of different teams to share knowledge
- Seeking feedback from those who are intended to benefit from our work as part of the development and implementation of our strategies.
- Seeking opportunities to collaborate with other funders, including openness to whatever means will be most effective
- Accommodating our strategies and procedures to the needs of other funders when necessary
- Soliciting feedback on internal practices to ensure staff experiences are consistent with our aspirations, do not needlessly reinforce a hierarchical culture, and are conducive to achieving our best work