Foundations are strange animals. Large foundations are even stranger. We’re different in fundamental ways from other institutions, whether for-profit or nonprofit, public or private. And that makes deciding how to use our website—and really any way we communicate, online or off—something of a challenge. The Hewlett Foundation’s $8 billion endowment gives us the scale, at least financially, of a midsized corporation or a small government agency, but we don’t have any widgets to sell or citizen services to provide. We share a tax designation, and a commitment to mission, with the nonprofits we support, but we don’t conduct activities (or have a core need to raise funds to continue our work) like they do. Without products to sell or services to promote, with no organizing or membership drives to conduct or donors to encourage: What’s a foundation website for? That’s the question that Eric Brown, our director of communications, posed to our team when we kicked off a review of our website’s information architecture last December with Quor, a user experience design firm based in San Francisco.
There are some clear answers, of course. Our website, and all of our communications, should make it easy to understand what we fund (and what we don’t). Our peers should be able to identify opportunities for collaboration. Our grantees should understand how their programs fits into the strategies we are pursuing. And potential grantseekers should be able to quickly and easily determine if there are opportunities for them to receive funding from us. That saves time for them, and for our staff, as well. These are the core features of our current site (and of most foundation websites), and any changes we make will be to improve and enhance them.
But we’ve got the nagging feeling that we can and should be doing more. The Hewlett Foundation, like many of our peers, is sitting on a huge amount of data that comes out of our grantmaking. We believe it could be valuable to a wider audience: policymakers, funders contemplating grantmaking in fields where we fund, nonprofits who wouldn’t be eligible for a grant, but whose work is adjacent to what we fund. We regularly conduct evaluations of our strategies to determine what’s worked and what hasn’t. And the end result of much of our grantmaking is research that could have important implications for policy. Our commitment to transparency means we can, and should, do everything in our power to ensure that all of that information is not only available, but easy to find and to use.
While the What We’re Learning section of our current site shares some of the information we have, there is a lot more we can do. That’s where we’re focusing our attention as we assess what we’re sharing, and how it’s arranged on our site—its information architecture. We’re contemplating changes that will clarify the connections between the practices that underlie our grantmaking (both strategy development and grantee selection), the grants we choose to make, and the results they produce. That’s where our broader online strategy comes into play. As both Eric and I have written before in separateposts, it’s not enough to simply publish everything to our website—that’s transparency in letter, but not in spirit. It runs the risk of obscuring rather than illuminating what is most valuable to people who care about what we do. A redefined information architecture for our site can help make those connections more explicit, and our other online channels can help tell the story of our work, tailored to particular audiences and taking full advantage of the unique attributes of Twitter, Facebook, email, or any other social media available today or as-yet undreamt of.
Quor has completed an initial round of research. They conducted interviews with peers, grantees, and organizations who we think really understand online communications in 2014; they examined our current site’s analytics; and they analyzed how others are communicating online. Over the course of the next month, they’ll be finalizing a set of recommendations to us. We’ll share that report when it’s ready, along with the parts of their research we feel could be helpful to others asking similar questions.
In the meantime, we want to put the question to you. Whether you’re a foundation communications professional, a grantee or grantseeker, or just someone who cares about the work that the Hewlett Foundation supports, what do you think we should be doing differently? What aspects of our current website, social media, and email communications are most helpful to you? What do you wish we did more of? What else could we be sharing that would make your job easier, or our work more effective?
Large foundations like ours are in the enviable position of being able to think broadly about how we can use the tools at our disposal to support the change we want to see in the world, and how best to serve the community of people and organizations who share our concerns.
We would be grateful for your help in reimagining what a foundation website can be.
Ten digital news innovators recently came together to visit about current practices and future possibilities at a workshop hosted by the Engaging News Project, part of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civil Life at the University of Texas at Austin.
The group, representing major television, newspaper, radio, and online-only newsrooms, discussed a wide range of topics including how they define success and connect with their audiences.
A full report on the workshop is now available on the Project's website.
Today, we expect our students to be ready for the 21st century. Now more than ever, they are asked to learn more, to master new technology, and to apply what they have learned. These skills, including critical thinking and problem solving, effective communication, collaboration, and academic mindsets are competencies often referred to as “deeper learning.”
A new issue of theState Education Standard, the National Association of State Boards of Education’s award-winning journal, is dedicated to the topic of deeper learning, and how state policymakers — and state boards of education in particular — are in a position to adopt policies that ensure students graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills to succeed in college, career, and civic life.
Since 2005, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, with collaboration and co-funding from research councils in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, and Norway and from the World Bank, has invested in a portfolio of social science research on the relationship between population dynamics and micro- and macroeconomic outcomes; the portfolio is known as the Population and Poverty Research Initiative (PopPov). The initiative also supports doctoral dissertation fellowships, conferences, and a range of dissemination activities.
In November 2012, the foundation issued a request for proposals (RFP) for an evaluation of PopPov, to help guide the foundation’s decisions about both the substance and means of future investments in it. The RAND Corporation was selected to conduct the evaluation.
This report should be of interest to individuals who have been supported by PopPov or otherwise involved with PopPov activities; researchers, donors, and advocates with interests in population and development; and analysts who may conduct evaluations of similar initiatives.
As part of our Grantmaker Speaker Series, Melanie Cervantes and Quinn Delaney of Akonadi Foundation visited the Foundation to discuss their concept of "ecosystem grantmaking." Their approach focuses on a"diverse web of relationships among communities, organizations and political formations" in order to support movement building and social change.
It was great to see this post by David Bornstein on his New York Times “Fixes” blog asking: Can Government Play Moneyball? That is, can government shift funding for social services and education programs to invest more in evidence-based solutions? Bornstein’s post highlights the work of Hewlett Foundation grantees Results for America and the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, and includes some observations from our own Daniel Stid.
Last month, Hewlett Foundation President Larry Kramer participated in a webinar with Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice and Aaron Dorfman of the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy on "Breakthrough Philanthropy: Leadership to Move Policy." AFJ later created a Storify about the webinar, and shared highlights from it on their Bolder Advocacy blog.
The OERu [Open Educational Resources universitas, a group of colleges and universities committed to providing free education to students worldwide] made history when a distance education student in our Open Learning Division who had completed an open course in the OERu received formal credit for this course by my university.
As part of our Grantmaker Training Series, Bill Somerville of Philanthropic Ventures Foundation talked to Hewlett Foundation staff about "Investing in People." During his talk, Bill challenged us to reduce the paperwork burden we place on our grantees and focus on people we believe can make a difference rather than our own concepts and strategies.