GiveWell’s Holden Karnofsky wrote a thoughtful blog post about the Hewlett Foundation’s decision to end the Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative, which we announced publicly earlier this year. The post looks at the Initiative, and our decision to end it, from a grantee’s perspective. Karnofsky offers this helpful summary of his thinking:

In short:

-We believe that Hewlett’s philanthropy program was a strong use of philanthropic funds. The program is reported to have spent a total of $12 million over 8 years, and we think its impact on GiveWell alone will likely ultimately be responsible for enough influence on donations to easily justify that expenditure.

-We believe that ending this program may have been the right decision. With that said, we disagree with the specific reasoning Hewlett has given, for the same reason that we disagreed with its strategic plan while the program was running. We believe that Hewlett’s goal of influencing 10% of donors was unrealistic and unnecessary, at least over the time frame in question. We believe the disagreement may reflect a broader difference in how we see the yardstick by which a philanthropic program ought to be evaluated. 

-We are very positive on how Hewlett ended the program. Great care was taken to end it in a way that gave grantees ample advance notice and aimed to avoid disruptive transitions. We also applaud Hewlett’s decision to publish its reasoning in ending the program and invite a public discussion, and we broadly feel that Hewlett is delivering on its stated intent to become a highly transparent grantmaker.

Philanthropy Program Officer Lindsay Louie responds in comments to the post:

The question you raised about by what yardstick a philanthropic program should be evaluated is a timely one for us. At the Hewlett Foundation, we have just recently been grappling with the question of when to set precise, quantitative goals and when a directional goal may be most appropriate. Our motto in the Effective Philanthropy Group is “purpose first” and that certainly applies to this question. Sometimes, a bold target like influencing 10% of donations can serve to inspire and galvanize support AND serve as a yardstick by which to measure progress. Other times, the goal can be so audacious as to be unrealistic and unhelpful in measuring progress or to inform future strategic direction.

Former Philanthropy Program Officer Jacob Harold has also responded to Karnofsky’s piece, in a blog post at the GuideStar blog, where he currently serves as CEO.