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2006 Grantee Perception Report

A Note from Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest about the Center for Effective Philanthropy's 2006 Grantee Perception Report

To download the full report, please click here.

The relationship between a foundation and its grantees is by its very nature complicated. Both share the desire to solve the world's problems, but their perspectives are necessarily different. The foundation's goals can be achieved only through the efforts of its various grantees. A nonprofit organization often works on a discrete aspect of a foundation's grantmaking strategy. As a result, a grantor's and grantee's goals may differ in both the short and the long run. And, needless to say, the foundation's control of grant funds creates a fundamental power differential in the relationship.

Given these differences in perspectives, the Hewlett Foundation has, for a second time, engaged the services of the Center for Effective Philanthropy in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to survey how we are perceived by our grantees. The Center conducted its research in late 2006 and received completed surveys from 504 recipients of Hewlett grants in 2005 (a 69 percent response rate) on a range of topics, including perceptions of the Foundation's influence on public policy, the responsiveness of its staff, and its application process. The resulting Grantee Perception Report compared Hewlett to its peers, to the foundation world at large, and with the responses that our grantees gave in 2003.

By and large, the Hewlett Foundation has reason to be encouraged. Our grantees rated the Foundation higher than average for large, private foundations on several important measures. That cohort included fifteen comparably sized foundations that, like Hewlett, have a national or international focus. Hewlett was rated above average in three key areas:

  • Impact upon the grantees' fields
  • Influence on public policy
  • Ability to advance knowledge in the fields where it makes grants

There were not many big changes since the 2003 survey. One area in which grantees say there has been significant improvement is the clarity with which the Foundation and its program staff communicate to them about its goals and strategies. In the grantees' estimation, Hewlett now ranks better than the average large, private foundation (although still only average within the larger universe of all foundations). However, grantees reported that Hewlett staff sometimes does not have enough time to communicate adequately with them.

Even though Hewlett remains about average with respect to our reporting and evaluation processes, we are concerned that we dropped quite a lot since 2003. In light of the grantees' opinion that our staff sometimes seems pressed for time-a view shared internally as well-it is noteworthy that grantees whose program officers did discuss the results of reports and evaluations with them rated the process as far more helpful than those who did not.

Together with some concurrent internal reviews, the report suggests ways that we can do better. We have just begin a yearlong project to streamline our grants process, including simplifying the grant application without sacrificing its strategic value. While we believe that a relatively small staff contributes to collegiality and reduces bureaucracy, we are reviewing needs to ensure that the size and allocation of our staff is appropriate for the number and complexity of our grants.

The Grantee Perception Report has helped us learn how to improve relations with our most important group of stakeholders. We appreciate the efforts of the Center for Effective Philanthropy for its contributions not just to our work but to the practice of philanthropy as a whole.

Paul Brest
October 2007