The foundation approaches its role in philanthropy and its responsibilities to society with humility and respect for others.

We are committed to operating in the modest, low-key style of our founders—avoiding braggadocio, self-promotion, and actions that smack of self-importance. We embrace this approach for its own sake, because it reflects the kind of organization we want to be. But in philanthropy, humility is a virtue for other reasons as well. Most important, it helps counter the power imbalance that inherently exists between us and our grantees and beneficiaries, keeping us cognizant of the need to listen to—and learn from—them. We try to be humble for the same reasons we treat grantees as partners: because often we don’t know best, and they are better situated than us to understand what needs to be done and to know how to do it.

Humility is a way of behaving, and we must be intentional about practicing it. (We say this aware of the irony, if not impossibility, of discussing how humble we are without seeming to brag about it.) Arrogance and overconfidence come easily to those who, like us, are largely immune from market and political pressures and hold power over their chief allies in the form of a checkbook. We must never forget that our principal task is to support other organizations and people, and our intention is to enable their success. We give them financial resources, often supplemented by assistance and guidance “beyond the grant dollar.” But in the end, it is grantees who do the work, and we should not take credit for their achievements. It is they who deserve—and, as important, can use—whatever attention comes from these efforts.

We operate transparently, but for the sake of learning and sharing, not self-aggrandizement. We do not seek the limelight. We use our voice for purpose, not for ego, and employ it to advance our strategic goals and the goals of our grantees. Sometimes, as in the early stages of building a field, our voice may be necessary to attract interest and attention from other funders or NGOs or to help shape perceptions of a problem. Our ability to influence other funders, thought leaders, and public agencies likewise depends on their being aware of who we are, what we do, and how we do it. This doesn’t require bragging or boasting, and it’s not a euphemism for chasing headlines. Rather, it calls for purposeful and judicious communications to build and maintain a reputation for thoughtfulness, integrity, and reliability.

Illustrative Practices:

  • Using our voice and platform to amplify the work of grantees, through our website and by other means
  • Acknowledging when we are wrong, both internally, by reflecting formally on what did not work, and externally, by sharing lessons learned publicly
  • Communicating about the foundation’s work through a lens focused on advancing or enhancing our strategic goals or the goals of our grantees
  • Avoiding language that is boastful or that can be interpreted as bragging
  • Dedicating our communications resources chiefly to supporting programs and grantees
  • Leaving grantees flexibility about publicizing Hewlett’s support if helpful in advancing their goals, unless disclosure is ethically appropriate for reasons of transparency
  • Not requesting naming rights in exchange for our grants or support

 

RETURN TO GUIDING PRINCIPLES