Knowledge for Better Philanthropy

Overview

“Never stifle a generous impulse” was a favorite saying of Bill Hewlett. His background as an engineer influenced his philanthropic approach and has led the foundation to combine generosity with a willingness to learn, improve, and to support an ethos of learning and adaptation in the growing philanthropic sector.

The Hewlett Foundation seeks to support all foundations to achieve results with their giving, regardless of the issues they focus on. We view ourselves as citizens in a larger community of philanthropy. If we work together, learn from each other and from research about what works and what doesn’t, we can all make a bigger difference. We give grants to organizations that produce independent, high-quality knowledge about practical matters facing foundations. We support work ranging from academic centers to investigative journalism. We encourage a spirit of inquiry that promotes dialogue and debate.

Goals

Inform and improve funders’ thinking and decision-making through the creation and dissemination of independent, high-quality research about philanthropic practice.

Our Grantmaking

Stanford University
for support of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society
Bridgespan Group
for general operating support
Center for Effective Philanthropy
for exploring a YouthTruth initiative in the Bay Area

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In the early 2000s, we began grantmaking in this area by supporting basic infrastructure for the field of philanthropy as well as knowledge about philanthropic practice. We provided seed funding for organizations such as the Bridgespan Group, Center for Effective Philanthropy, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations. These organizations and many others that we fund are now considered mainstays of the field, providing practical, research-based guidance to practitioners all stripes.

In 2013, the first formal and independent evaluation of our strategy affirmed that our grantees were producing high-quality and useful research.  But there were gaps in the grantee portfolio with respect to audiences, methods, and distribution channels.

We made some incremental but notable shifts in refining our strategy in 2014. First, we clarified our statement of purpose to provide better guidance about what we will and will not fund. We are focused on organizations whose research and communications can serve the practical needs of staffed foundations. Specifically, our criteria include funding organizations that create knowledge that is independent and objective, research-based, and applicable to foundation practice. With regard to dissemination, we seek organizations reaching relatively substantial foundation audiences. Second, we expanded our grantmaking to encompass a more diverse portfolio of grantees, including those who target leanly staffed foundations as well as organizations engaged in investigative journalism about the solutions and challenges of philanthropy. We try to support diverse research methodologies and, across the portfolio, try and reach diverse audiences of foundations. Third, we have taken more steps to actively measure and understand whether the work we are supporting is in fact influencing philanthropic practice. We hope this research will make the field more effective, buoying the important charitable work done by all philanthropies.

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