What We're Learning

As a foundation that believes in the value of strategic philanthropy, the Hewlett Foundation is constantly evaluating its efforts and reflecting on what we’re learning. We also want to share what we’re learning, so that others can apply what’s worked for us and avoid what hasn’t.

In this section, you will find a library of the publications produced by our staff and our grantees, as well as a collection of President’s Statements from the Foundation’s past Annual Reports, that reflect on our approach to philanthropy. This section also includes Grantee Perception Reports from the past decade. These reports, based on surveys completed anonymously by our grantees, are compiled by the Center for Effective Philanthropy. They provide us with valuable insight into how others understand our strategies and how they feel about our grantmaking processes.  

The Foundation articulated its approach to philanthropy in a 2012 paper called "Outcome Focused Grantmaking," which addresses both the theory that underlies our work and the processes we use to put it into practice. More recently, the Foundation’s Effective Philanthropy Group published a working paper on Evaluation Principles and Practices, which explains our approach to understanding how well our grantmaking has achieved its intended outcomes.

With any investment, philanthropic or otherwise, comes risk. Not every new idea will pay off, but we’re willing to take the chance because the potential rewards often rise as the risk involved in a given grant does. Our commitment to risk-taking makes careful reflection on our successes and failures all the more important because it can help us make more grants that succeed, and fewer that do not. When a strategy or grant falls short, we need to be honest and open about why. For example, in 1996, the Hewlett Foundation invested in an effort to improve opportunities for people living in three disadvantaged communities in the San Francisco Bay Area—the Neighborhood Improvement Initiative. After ten years and millions of dollars, the Initiative was deemed a failure. To understand why, we commissioned a report, Hard Lessons about Philanthropy & Community Change from the Neighborhood Improvement Initiative. In the years since the report was written, applying those hard lessons has helped us achieve more positive outcomes in our local grantmaking.