State of the Hewlett Foundation 2012

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For the past twelve years, I have had the extraordinary privilege of being president of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. As I prepare to turn its leadership over to Larry Kramer, this seems an appropriate time to reflect on the state of the Foundation and on the challenges that lie ahead.

Let me begin by summarizing how we define our mission and position our work among the 90,000 foundations and millions of individual philanthropists in the United States. To capture our approach in a single phrase, the Hewlett Foundation is outcome-oriented.

Philanthropy is outcome-oriented when donors and their grantees articulate clear objectives for what they hope to accomplish, design realistic strategies to achieve those objectives, assess their progress, and modify their strategies as needed. Within this general rubric, our approach to philanthropy is characterized by several principles and practices:

  • A passion, shared by the Board and staff, for making the world a better place.
  • A tradition of pursing highly ambitious goals, focusing on some of the most serious problems facing society.
  • A preference for addressing issues “upstream,” where experimentation and changes in policies and systems have potentially large effects.
  • A commitment to base our work on the best available knowledge, whether in the natural or social sciences, with an understanding that many important decisions must be made in conditions of uncertainty.
  • A willingness to take considered risks in grantmaking—making big bets that can have big payoffs.
  • A collaborative problem-solving approach with both our grantees and our funding partners.
  • A process of continuous learning to improve our work.
  • A belief in the value of our grantees’ autonomy, reflected in our relations with them and in our willingness to offer an organization general operating support when its mission and activities are well aligned with the Foundation’s goals.

Our approach requires that the Foundation be a highly engaged philanthropist. Engagement involves continuous consultation and dialogue with grantees, other practitioners, and experts in a field. It also requires the judgment to know when to step back and allow grantees independence in designing and implementing strategies.

With this overview, I’ll turn to the Foundation’s culture and internal organization and the roles played by the Board, president, staff, and programs; and then, our relationships with grantees and other funders. After summarizing the elements of outcome-oriented philanthropy, I’ll conclude with thoughts about the challenges that face our sector and some personal observations.

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