The philanthropy programme at the Hewlett Foundation is changing. Fay Twersky, director of its Effective Philanthropy Group, tells Caroline Hartnell how and why. She talks about Hewlett’s new emphasis on ‘two-way openness’ and collaboration and the need to create incentives to encourage foundations and grantees to be more open. Finally, she offers her views on ‘emergent philanthropy’ and effective altruism.
Why was the decision made to phase out the Hewlett Foundation’s Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative?
Originally, the Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative came about as a result of research that showed that 70 per cent of giving in the US is from individual donors. The foundation’s goal was to get 10 per cent of that giving moving from organizations that were less effective to programmes and organizations that were highly effective. We realized, however, based on some independent research that we commissioned and an independent third party evaluation, that we were not making progress towards that goal. Individual donors, for a variety of reasons, are highly loyal in their giving and we didn’t see any signs that having more non-profit performance data would change current patterns.
Critics have suggested that rather than being a response to evidence, this decision had as much to do with change of leadership and the fact that Hewlett president Larry Kramer is less interested in ‘effective philanthropy’ than his predecessor, Paul Brest. How do you respond to this?
It’s not true. We tried to be very open about our reasons for closing down the Nonprofit Marketplace programme. We shared the information openly with our grantees; we posted a video on our website to thoroughly explain why we were making this decision. I was the one to lead the analysis and make the recommendation to Larry and to the board. Larry continues to be committed to effective philanthropy, as is shown by the fact that the budget stayed intact for our effective philanthropy grantmaking, and we will continue to make grants to strengthen the field of philanthropy broadly.
Can you talk a little bit about Hewlett’s new strategy to foster openness and transparency and collaboration?
We are in the process of developing a collaborative approach with other funders to foster ‘two way openness’. This means building on traditional notions of transparency where foundations are more open about what we do and how we do it, and also open to hearing from our grantees and from the ultimate intended beneficiaries of our work – students in schools, trainees in vocational education programmes, women in domestic violence shelters – and incorporating their insights into the foundation’s considerations as we develop strategies for grantmaking. So support for systematically listening to beneficiary voice and ultimate constituent feedback loops will be part of our new openness funding effort.