New Hewlett Foundation study on where foundations go to learn


Alliance magazine


The Hewlett Foundation has published a study on how foundations seek and use information about philanthropy. According to the study, the first place that foundation staff and board members go for information is to their peers and colleagues, followed by external conferences and newsletters. Peer interaction still came up on top both in terms of the most trusted knowledge source and as the preferred method of acquiring information.

The study consisted of a survey of 738 foundation staff and board members including 75 interviews and four case studies.

The primary type of information sought by funders was ‘evaluation and assessment’ with 44 per cent of responders citing this as the philanthropic practice that they wanted the most information about, particularly referencing the impact of their grants.

One of the main conclusions about why funders seek advice from peers and colleagues is related to the way in which information is disseminated. A majority of funders noted that they often felt overwhelmed by a constant influx of information, so perhaps by looking to peers as ‘curators of information’, funders are able to connect with and potentially adopt new ideas or practices without having to spend the majority of their time sifting through large volumes of incoming information.

The study suggests several ways to better reach funders inlcuding utilizing trusted peers, providing skimmable digests, and honing in on relevance and timing.

Lindsay Louie, program officer in the Effective Philanthropy Group at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Fay Twersky, director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, offered further insight as to why this type of study is important in an article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Most notably, they hoped that the work helps to ‘understand the assumptions embedded in our strategy, and provide grantees with more-nuanced and -relevant data to inform their work’. Emphasizing their confidence in the study, they have committed to repeating it in a couple of years.

For more information, read the full study or contact the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation directly.

The March 2017 issue of Alliance – Bridging the divide between philanthropy scholarship and practice – looks at what philanthropy practitioners need from academics.

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