Strengthening Leading Institutions
of Higher Education

Despite their regular appearance in the news, grantmaking foundations remain something of a mystery to most people, surveys show. Recently the Hewlett Foundation newsletter took a look at some of the many forms foundation work can take. Here’s one. To see the others, click here.

Along with making grants to nonprofit organizations to solve pressing social problems, the Hewlett Foundation supports great universities, which Foundation Board Chairman Walter Hewlett has described as the think tanks of American culture.

It was belief in the importance of these institutions that led the Hewlett Foundation Board to make substantial endowment gifts to two of the San Francisco Bay Area’s leading institutions of higher education.

In 2001, shortly after Foundation founder William Hewlett’s death, the Foundation gave $400 million to his alma mater, Stanford University, to be used for humanities, sciences, and undergraduate education. At the time, the gift was the largest on record to a university. It was at Stanford that the senior Hewlett met classmate David Packard, with whom he went on to found Hewlett-Packard Company, one of the first major technology companies of Silicon Valley.

In 2007, the Foundation gave $113 million to the University of California, Berkeley, to create 100 new endowed professorships to help ensure that California’s preeminent public university remained competitive with the nation’s best private universities, the Hewlett Board said at the time. That gift was the largest in that university’s history. As with the Stanford gift, the gift to UC Berkeley also included a matching component to encourage significant giving to the university from other donors.

“I personally felt that the size of the Stanford gift was a very important element,” says Chairman Hewlett, who has been on the board of the Foundation since his parents created it. “It raised the bar for other donors. Now, if you want to say you’ve given a major gift to a university, it needs to be well into eight figures. And that’s begun to happen.”

“Universities really deserve this support,” he says. “These institutions are not just the bedrock of higher education for the world. They are the sites of some of the most important research and thinking being done anywhere.”