Can we help create a more open philanthropic sector—one where we routinely share how we work, the lesson we learn, our successes and our failures?  Can we help develop more open channels of communication where foundations can hear the voices of the people we seek to help?  The Hewlett Foundation is part of a new group of funders that have joined forces to try.  

Fay Twersky, Director of our Effective Philanthropy Group, and Hilary Pennington, Vice President of the Ford Foundation, announce the new Fund for Shared Insight with an Op Ed in The Chronicle of Philanthropy:

What if the people meant to benefit from the programs that foundations support, as well as the nonprofits we finance, could contribute their needs, opinions, and experiences to help us improve our current grant-making programs and suggest ideas for the future? Imagine if all of us working for social and environmental change understood better what the intended beneficiaries of our work think and what we could do differently to ensure that we achieve our goals.

How can we learn more about the ways people experience the services and products our grantees provide? Do they find the services useful? Relevant? Are the hours of operation convenient? Is there room for improvement? If we knew the answers, might we also improve the outcomes?

It’s time to make gathering such feedback routine so that all of us, at both foundations and other nonprofits, reliably consider the perspectives and experiences of those we seek to help.

But we know such efforts are costly, in both time and money, and too few experiments have been conducted to figure out the most effective ways to get feedback that matters.

To help elevate the voices of the people our grant money is designed to help, we have joined with five other grant makers to create the Fund for Shared Insight, which will award $5-million to $6-million a year over the next three years.

In addition to the Ford Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation, initial funders of the effort include the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The JPB Foundation, Liquidnet, the Rita Allen Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, working together through a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Other funders are welcome to join, and proposals for funding are being accepted through October 15, 2014.