Madison Initiative


What will it take for members of the United States Congress to deliberate, negotiate, and compromise in ways that more Americans support? The Hewlett Foundation’s Madison Initiative is joining with former and current government leaders, nonprofit advocates, academic researchers and other funders to answer this question.

Our grants support organizations working to address the intense political polarization and hyper-partisanship that have made it so difficult in recent years for Congress to fulfill its responsibilities as the first branch of our government. We are nonpartisan in approach, and seek to help create the conditions in which Congress can craft solutions to our country’s most pressing challenges.


  • Foster bipartisan problem-solving in Congress by supporting the kind of leadership and relationships that it requires.
  • Strengthen Congress as an institution – its rules, norms, and processes as well as its capacity to carry out its constitutional responsibilities.
  • Improve campaign finance and electoral rules of the game in order to set the stage for negotiation and compromise in Congress.

Ideas + Practice

Madison Initiative

We can’t take popular government on a continental scale for granted. Making that work is the great American experiment.

Larry Kramer, president, Hewlett Foundation

Our Grantmaking

Our Team

Learn More

It is hard to look at events in recent years without concluding that democracy in America is in trouble. Surveys routinely find that most Americans think poorly of the federal government and, in particular, of Congress. Such frustration and mistrust do not bode well for our system of government.

Against this backdrop, the Hewlett Foundation considered how to help alleviate the problem of polarization, with a special focus on Congress. Our initiative is named for James Madison, who warned against “the mischiefs of faction.” He and his peers among the founders understood that governing a nation as diverse as the United States would require leaders capable of reaching agreement among representatives of people with very different, and often conflicting, interests, beliefs and agendas.

We are explicitly agnostic on particular policy outcomes, and work with organizations from across the political spectrum with whom we share the goal of improving our system of government. To proceed otherwise would miss the point. Moreover, as a private charitable foundation, we are strictly prohibited from attempting to influence election outcomes, including participating in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elective office.  Ultimately, the health of a representative democracy depends on whether its legislative institutions are working in ways that its citizens support.

The Madison Initiative is meant to be time-limited. An initial three-year, $50 million investment was approved in 2014 and the initiative will be under consideration for renewal in November 2016.

Search Our Grantmaking

By Keyword