William and Flora Hewlett and the Hewlett Foundation


"Never stifle a generous impulse," was a favorite saying of entrepreneur William Redington Hewlett, who established the Hewlett Foundation in 1966 with his wife, Flora Lamson Hewlett, and their eldest son, Walter B. Hewlett. Indeed, Bill and Flora believed in charitable giving all their lives. In addition to a lifetime of personal philanthropy, in 1966, the Hewletts committed the vast amount of their wealth to their newly-created foundation. The founding board members were William, Flora, and son Walter, who was twenty one at the time.

For the first ten years, the Foundation, then known as the William R. Hewlett Foundation, made approximately $15.3 million in grants. The structure of the Foundation's programs was beginning to take shape, and remains largely intact to this day. Early grants were made to organizations in education, population, and the arts, as well as environment, health, and vital services to support the needy in the San Francisco Bay Area.   

The range of this philanthropy reflected Mr. and Mrs. Hewlett's lifelong interests in other cultures and societies, in strengthening and improving the quality of life for disadvantaged people living in the Bay Area, and in the health of the environment (the Hewletts were early members of the Sierra Club – then known as the Sierra Club of California).

In 1972, sons William A. Hewlett (who served until 1981) and James S. Hewlett (who served until 1975) joined the board of directors, and in 1974, the Foundation hired its first executive director, John May, the former chief executive of the San Francisco Foundation.

The Endowment Grows as the Foundation Gains Stature

In 1977, Mrs. Hewlett passed away, and in recognition to her contribution to the Foundation, it was renamed The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. It was at this time that the Foundation began to increase its stature as a national philanthropic institution with the naming of former University of California Chancellor Roger W. Heyns as the Foundation's president.

Mr. Heyns enjoyed a great friendship and close working relationship with Bill Hewlett, and Roger's fifteen year tenure as president was marked with great achievement. During those years, Roger is credited with strengthening the Foundation's programs, putting together an extremely talented staff, and building strong nonprofit institutions by providing long term, general operating support, which has become a hallmark of the Foundation's grantmaking approach.

When Mrs. Hewlett passed away, she transferred the bulk of her estate to the Foundation, and by 1981, the endowment had grown to more than $300 million. 

By this time, Bill and Flora's daughter Eleanor Hewlett Gimon had joined the board, reflecting a further desire by Bill for his children to participate in the Foundation's work (daughter Mary Hewlett Jaffe would join the board in 1990). While Bill was eager for the family to be involved, it was nevertheless a priority for him to create a professional board, and non family members have constituted a majority on the Foundation's board since 1981. 

By the time Roger Heyns retired in 1992, the Foundation's assets had increased more than thirtyfold – to more than $800 million, and the Hewlett Foundation was highly respected for its work in the fields of conflict resolution, education, environment, performing arts, and population, and was a key source of funding to a host of institutions that provide vital services to disadvantaged Bay Area communities.

In 1993, former University of California President David P. Gardner succeeded Roger Heyns as president of the Foundation, and served for six years, during which time the Foundation's assets increased to more than $2 billion, and annual grantmaking rose from $35 million in 1993 to $84 million in 1998. During that period, the Foundation focused environmental grantmaking on the Western United States and Canada, expanded its education funding to emphasize K-12 reform, launched far-reaching neighborhood improvement initiatives, and developed the U.S.-Latin American Relations Program, among many successful efforts.

Paul Brest served as President of the Foundation from 2000 to 2012. Mr. Brest became an outspoken advocate for carrying on the Hewlett Foundation's long tradition of providing core operating support to nonprofit organizations in order to build a vibrant pluralistic society. He also became a leading voice among philanthropists – overseeing grants and publishing a host of articles dedicated to improving the way foundations make and evaluate their grants.

Larry Kramer became President of the Foundation on September 1, 2012, having previously served as Dean of Stanford Law School.

Flora Family Foundation is Formed to Meet Additional Needs

Throughout Bill Hewlett's life, many worthy proposals would cross his desk that did not fit the Hewlett Foundation's funding guidelines. Frequently, Bill would make a donation from his personal account, often preferring to remain anonymous. This allowed the Hewlett Foundation to focus on specific areas of interest, with Bill's personal giving covering worthwhile proposals that fell outside these areas. When Bill was no longer able to continue his active personal philanthropy, his son Walter and board member and longtime family friend Herant Katchadourian decided to establish a second foundation, whose purpose would be to continue to provide funding for the kinds of proposals that Bill would often fund on his own. Incorporated in 1998, the Flora Family Foundation, during its first four years in operation, made a total of 351 grants for $19.4 million. Perhaps as important is the fact that the Flora Family Foundation has given the next generation of Hewlett family members an opportunity to learn about philanthropy and to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Continuing the Hewlett Legacy

Nearly fifty years after Bill and Flora started the Hewlett Foundation in the living room of their Palo Alto house, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is one of the nation's largest private foundations. The Foundation now makes hundreds of grants per year totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, but the principles that guide its grantmaking are the same as those that inspired Bill and Flora to begin the institution so many years ago – a sincere and heartfelt commitment to help build strong institutions that make a difference in the community and around the world.