As part of our Grantmaker Speaker Series, Joel Fleishman of Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy visited the Foundation to discuss spend-down foundations. While the Hewlett Foundation is intended to operate in perpetuity, a growing number of foundations plan to grant all of their assets within a specific timeframe.
Mr. Fleishman served from 1993-2003 as president of the Atlantic Philanthropic Services Company, the U.S. program staff for the Atlantic Philanthropies, which is scheduled to spend down by 2016. During this session, he discussed his reflections on the advantages and limitations of spend-down foundations as compared to perpetual foundations.
Nell Edgington interviews Fay Twersky, DIrector of our Effective Philanthropy Group, for the Social Velocity blog. Topics covered include need for openness in relationships among funders and grantees, our Organizatonal Effectiveness grantmaking, and the importance of evaluation for examining nonprofit effectiveness.
Fay Twersky, Director of our Effective Philanthropy Group, writing in Stanford Social Innovation Reviewabout research she has conducted into philanthropic leadership and the qualities of successful foundation CEO:
My research led me to conclude that successful CEOs at foundations of all sizes tend to be artful jugglers—people who can pursue multiple high-pressure goals at once. They are able to tend to their board of directors, to manage their organization internally, and to drive their foundation to make an impact externally. By their own reckoning, few CEOs are equally successful in all three domains.
Fay Twersky, the Director of our Effective Philanthropy Group, has responded to Bill Schambra’s recent op ed about our decision to end the Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative in a letter to the editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy:
As we have already shared openly, we took advantage of the fact that a whole new team had arrived—not just a new president but also my own arrival as head of the newly created effective philanthropy group and Lindsay Louie’s coming to replace Jacob Harold as program officer for philanthropy grant making—to take a fresh look at the initiative.
By then, we had more information than just the Money for Good data from 2010, including several more years of experience and a recently completed external evaluation from Arabella Advisors. Taking all that data into account, we concluded that we were not making the headway we had hoped for and were not on track to do so. After a discussion with our board of directors, we ended the initiative and shared the decision and reasons publicly.
Congratulations to the Co-Founders of First Voice, a Performing Arts Program grantee. Mark Izu and Brenda Wong Ioki were honored recently in different ways: Brenda was named the recipient of the 2014 Circle of Excellence Award from the National Storytelling Network, and Mark is the subject of a documentary film, "Don't Lose Your Soul," about his music airing on PBS this month. Mark also scored two other films in the same PBS series, Japanese American Lives.
The more we engage in meaningful collaborations, the greater the likelihood that an increasing number of them will succeed with widespread benefits; the more we send the message to everyone that this is something we value precisely because it yields across the board positive benefits for everyone - at least in the long run - the more of us are likely to at least try to say "yes" to invitations to collaborate - even if we have to carefully and judiciously pick and choose between numerous opportunities. And as we get more into the 'habit' of collaboration, the easier it will be to incorporate it as a given in our strategies to move forward.
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.