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Recipients of Hewlett Foundation Grants Grade the Foundation's Performance

May 02, 2012


MENLO PARK, Calif. – In a periodic survey designed to solicit the opinions of nonprofit organizations that receive funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the organizations say the Foundation has improved on nearly all measures since the surveys began in 2003.

The nonprofit organizations give the Foundation higher than average marks for having impact on the fields in which they work, rated the clarity of its communications higher than average, and found its administrative process to be helpful over the course of a grant, among other measures.

But while the grantees found mostly improvements in Foundation performance, some said they struggle with aspects of the Foundation’s requirements designed to demonstrate underlying thinking and progress toward their goals.

Those are among the key findings of a survey of more than 500 Hewlett Foundation grantees that the Foundation commissioned the Center for Effective Philanthropy to undertake on its behalf. The resulting report compared the Hewlett Foundation to other big foundations, to the foundation world at large, and to the responses that Hewlett Foundation grantees gave in previous surveys.

“These anonymous surveys, benchmarked against our peers in the foundation world, are an invaluable way for us to learn more about how we are doing and how we can become more effective,” said Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest. “The result helps not just us, but our grant recipients, too, as we respond to their comments and look for better ways to support their work.”

The Center for Effective Philanthropy, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, received completed surveys from 535 recipients of Hewlett Foundation grants in September and October 2011—a 69 percent response rate—on a broad range of topics. This is the fourth time the Foundation has commissioned the survey, the first being in 2003.

Results of the latest survey suggest that the staff at the Hewlett Foundation have listened to previous feedback and worked to incorporate what they've heard into their work.

For example, responses to the 2009 questionnaire noted a lack of clarity by the Foundation in conveying its goals and strategies, but the new survey places the Hewlett Foundation near the top of all large foundations surveyed in this regard.

Grantees’ critiques about the Foundation’s reporting requirements specifically pertained to documents designed to show the underlying thinking, or logic model, that they employ in their work, as well as documents that describe progress toward their goals. A logic model is intended to show how a grantee’s specific intervention in a problem contributes to an intended result. While the majority of respondents considered these helpful, others reported finding them redundant with other reporting requirements or inapplicable to their work.

That survey result has prompted internal discussions at the Foundation about ways to refine questions of this sort and to avoid redundancy. In a cover letter that accompanies the release of the results of the new survey, Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest suggested that Foundation staff would review the applicability of logic models to some grants and look for ways to avoid duplication with other required reports. He also said they might provide additional training for grantees in the use of these reports, among other possibilities.

One area of decline from previous surveys is how grantees rated the Hewlett Foundation’s impact on their ability to sustain the work that the Foundation funded.  Typically, grantees' responses on this measure correlate with ratings of a foundation’s understanding of grantees' goals and strategies, its understanding of the fields and communities in which they focus, and the strength of its relationships with the grantees – all areas in which ratings of the Hewlett Foundation did not decline in 2012. After much analysis, neither the Foundation nor the Center for Effective Philanthropy has been able to understand what may underlie this finding. The Foundation has said that it will continue to work to better understand how it can help grantees sustain work.

A summary of the Grantee Perception Report is available here. More information on the Grantee Perception Report process is available from the Center for Effective Philanthropy at www.effectivephilanthropy.org.

About The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has been making grants since 1967 to help solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. The Foundation concentrates its resources on activities in education, the environment, global development and population, performing arts, and philanthropy, and makes grants to support disadvantaged communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

About the Center for Effective Philanthropy
The Center for Effective Philanthropy is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing the practice of philanthropy by providing management and governance tools to define, assess, and improve overall foundation performance.


Media Contact:
Jack Fischer
Hewlett Foundation Communications Officer
(650) 234-4500 x5744
jfischer@hewlett.org