How does a foundation whose charitable mission spans different problems, issue areas, and geographies build a common philosophy to its grantmaking? For the Hewlett Foundation, one part of the answer is in our grant practices – that is, the methods and activities through which grants are executed. These practices include, but are not limited to, how we conduct due diligence or understand grantee capacity; how we use technology to interface with grantees; and how we collect and use grant data.
Alongside our Outcome-Focused Philanthropy (OFP) Guidebook, which guides our approach to philanthropic strategy, a new paper based on extensive interviews with our program, grants management, and other staff lays out how the foundation’s core principles play out in day-to-day grant practices. Our processes and procedures aren’t standardized; indeed, our programs and initiatives tailor their grant practices to the specific needs of their strategies and circumstances, with choices rooted in a consistent and enduring institution-wide philosophy.
- As part of our day-to-day operations, we are thoughtful about our grantmaking process, making tweaks as needed to forms or communications, and often incorporating staff and grantee feedback.
- Trust is core to our grant practice, whether it be trust in our grantees, each other, other collaborative partners or stakeholders.
- Learning – both ours and our grantees’ – is something we strive for with our organizational effectiveness grant program, technical support to grantees, and strategy evaluations.
The challenge to our staff is to ensure that the practices we follow continue to evolve as circumstances require, yet remain consistent with the philosophy embodied in our guiding principles. The full paper, which will be a part of our onboarding activities, will help all staff understand each other’s work; help facilitate discussions that inform grant-by-grant decision making; and inform the development of new practices.
In sharing this paper with the field, we’re eager for feedback and to learn what others are doing so that we can continue to adapt our approaches. In fact, while this philosophy stemmed from a review of the Hewlett Foundation’s grant practices conducted by our Grants Management team that was positive overall, there are several questions with which we are still grappling:
- How do we best maintain grantee relationships when many program staff have eight-year terms and we value long-term strategies and consistent support of “anchor grantees”?
- How do we adapt our grant practices to more fully honor our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
- How can we articulate consistent and clear decision-making criteria when we value flexibility and autonomy among our program areas?
If you have thoughts or feedback, we’d love to hear from you. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org