Non-profit organizations that receive money from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation say they value the Foundation’s impact on the fields in which they work, but wish its application process were easier and its staff more available.

Those are among the key findings of a survey of more than 500 Hewlett Foundation grantees that the Foundation commissioned the Center for Effective Philanthropy to undertake on its behalf.  The resulting report compared Hewlett to other big foundations, to the foundation world at large, and with the responses that Hewlett grantees gave in 2003.

“These surveys give us a chance to hear from grant recipients in a way we never would otherwise,” says Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest. “A grantee might otherwise be reluctant to be candid with its funder, but this tool encourages the kind of candor that lets us improve our grant-making.”

The Center for Effective Philanthropy, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, received completed surveys from 504 recipients of Hewlett grants in 2005 — a 69 percent response rate — on a broad range of topics. Individual recipients remained anonymous. This is the second time the Foundation has commissioned the survey, the first time being in 2003.

The Foundation received encouragement is some areas, and candid critique in others, Brest said. Its grantees rated it higher than average for large, private foundations on several important measures. That group included fifteen comparably sized foundations that, like Hewlett, have a national or international focus. Hewlett was rated above average in three key areas:
-Impact on the grantees’ fields
-Influence on public policy
-Ability to advance knowledge in the fields where it makes grants

Nevertheless, Brest says he is concerned that grantees reported a significant drop in how they rated the Foundation with respect to its evaluations of them and the reports it requires of them, even though the drop still gave it an average rating.

“In light of the grantees’ opinion that our staff sometimes seems pressed for time-a view shared internally as well-it is noteworthy that grantees whose program officers did discuss the results of reports and evaluations with them rated the process as far more helpful than those who did not,” he observed.

“We believe a relatively small staff contributes to collegiality and reduces bureaucracy,” he said, “but we’re reviewing needs to ensure that the size our staff is appropriate for its workload.”

He adds that insights gleaned from the survey will inform a just-begun yearlong project to streamline the foundation’s grants process, including simplifying the application without sacrificing its strategic value.