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How Funders are Strengthening Nonprofit Capacity: Findings from a Field Scan

April 12, 2022

Launched in 2004, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Organizational Effectiveness (OE) program goal is to help nonprofits become high-performing organizations that are healthy, sustainable, and successful in achieving their goals. The program helps grantees build capacity through grants of targeted support across all the foundation's program areas.1 In late 2020, the foundation's Effective Philanthropy Group (EPG) launched a strategy refresh of its OE program.This report summarizes the results of a field scan conducted between January and August 2021 as part of this strategy refresh. The scan sought to learn how the field of nonprofit capacity strengthening has changed over time; who supports capacity strengthening, in what ways, and how they evaluate and learn from their investments; and how broader political, economic, social, and cultural trends are likely to affect the field of nonprofit capacity strengthening in the future. These trends were examined through: (a) a literature review; (b) 15 key informant interviews; and (c) discussions within the foundation's EPG team to analyze findings and their implications.By making the results of this study publicly available, the foundation hopes that it will benefit funders (both in the U.S. and overseas); consultants and support organizations who provide capacity strengthening services; and nonprofits who are interested in or already on an organizational development journey. This study's constraints include a limited set of interviewees selected by the foundation, and concepts and sources that are biased towards North American perspectives. The scan also focused primarily on funders' experiences and did not directly include the perspectives of grantees. The foundation has commissioned an independent evaluation of its OE program, which will include feedback and input from grantees, consultants, and foundation staff. Evaluation findings will be shared later this year.

Powerful Arts Education Practice

November 2, 2021

This document describes 10 dimensions of powerful arts education practice — building blocks for organizations that engage young people in this practice. It also shares examples of the kinds of things you might see and feel at an organization — indicators — that could let you know these dimensions are at play.A working group of arts education leaders illuminated these dimensions and indicators through a collaborative process co-facilitated by Sarah Crowell, an expert practioner, and Lauren Stevenson, a researcher. Stevenson synthesized the group's insights and elaborated emerging dimensions and indicators through interviews with additional arts education leaders and iterative feedback from the working group. Working group members and interviewees included youth participants, youth mentors, young alumni, teaching artists, program managers, and artistic and executive directors at organizations known for powerful arts education practice. The following dimensions and indicators reflect their collective wisdom. 

How Funders Seek and Use Knowledge to Influence Philanthropic Practice

June 3, 2021

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Effective Philanthropy Program seeks to strengthen the capacity of its grantees, and philanthropy in general, to achieve their goals and benefit the common good. One of the program's main strategies—Knowledge for Better Philanthropy—promotes more effective philanthropy by funding organizations that create and disseminate research-based knowledge about philanthropic practice. This includes support for academic centers, investigative journalism, consulting firms, philanthropy-serving organizations, and others who develop and share knowledge products about philanthropic practice. In 2020, the Hewlett Foundation commissioned Engage R+D and Equal Measure to partner on an evaluation examining how funders find and use knowledge to influence philanthropic practice, with a focus on what role organizations funded in the Knowledge for Better Philanthropy strategy play in that process. This resulting report, How Funders Seek and Use Knowledge to Influence Philanthropic Practice, builds on a 2016 study (released in early 2017) also commissioned by the Foundation entitled Peer to Peer: At the Heart of Influencing More Effective Philanthropy. The earlier report examined how staff and board members at U.S.-based foundations find and use practice knowledge, revealing that funders are more likely to seek knowledge from peers and colleagues than from the large volume of knowledge content available from organizations, associations, and publications. This evaluation follows up on the scan in 2016 and adds new findings. As the world changes around us, this study asks how funders are drawing from a range of knowledge sources in the ongoing pursuit of more effective philanthropy. The answers shed light on what information funders are seeking, which sources are most influential in creating change, and whose voices are included in the process. This executive summary highlights key findings from this study. Further detail on these and other findings from our survey of funders andfollow-up interviews can be found in the full report.

Funding Performance: How Great Donors Invest in Grantee Success

June 1, 2021

The Funding Performance campaign encourages funders to rise to the urgency of this moment. You'll find no pie-in-the-sky theory in the resources on this page. Instead, you'll find practical advice about the specific practices that produce outsized progress on urgent issues of our time.The centerpiece of this campaign is Funding Performance: How Great Donors Invest in Grantee Success (2021), a Jim Collins–style monograph intended to generate positive peer pressure among foundations and individual donors.The monograph features insightful essays by eight highly respected thinkers and doers: Hilary Pennington, Ford Foundation; Daniel Stid, Hewlett Foundation; Sam Cobbs, Tipping Point Community; Jeff Bradach and Jeri Eckhart Queenan, Bridgespan; Lowell Weiss, Leap Ambassadors support team; Hilda Polanco and Deborah Linnell, FMA. All of these essayists have vantage points that have given them a close-up look at the best and worst practices in our sector. In Funding Performance, they share both—in the hope of turning this moment of crisis into a moment of truth and then a moment of productive pivot.

Social Accountability Guidebook (2nd Edition)

January 1, 2020

The second edition of Social Accountability Guidebook for CSOs is a learning resource that is intended to support the building of a community of practice of social accountability practitioners, advocates, and champions in West Africa. This guidebook is an updated version of the first edition which was published in 2018. The Guidebook presents case studies of social accountability initiatives from the West African region, interspersed with definitions of terminologies related to the concept. It is intended to deepen understanding and foster appreciation of the concept of social accountability, its potential for strengthening accountability in the region, and the challenges that may be encountered in implementing social accountability initiatives in the West African Context. It is hoped that the Guidebook will serve as a catalyst for further development and tailoring of the concept of social accountability in West Africa, by CSOs, development practitioners, local and central government agencies, the donor community, and all others who are interested in advancing accountability in West Africa.

Tracking progress: Setting, collecting, and reflecting on implementation markers

July 13, 2018

Tracking progress is an important component of the Hewlett Foundation's practice of outcome-focused philanthropy (OFP), which emphasizes being rigorous, flexible, and adaptive while staying focused on results and actively learning throughout the strategy lifecycle.The outcomes they hope to achieve through their strategies take years to accomplish. Implementation markers represent interim steps toward these outcomes. "Implementation marker" is a catchall term referring to particular activities, developments or events (internal or external) that help staff understand whether they are making progress in the near term.This guide is a deep dive into implementation markers—what they are and how to set, collect, reflect on and use them. It is intended primarily for Hewlett Foundation staff; however, they hope other organizations, including grantees and other foundations, will find it useful.

Social Media, Political Polarization, and Political Disinformation: A Review of the Scientific Literature

March 19, 2018

This report provides an overview of the current state of the literature on the relationship between social media; political polarization; and political "disinformation," a term used to encompass a wide range of types of information about politics found online, including "fake news," rumors, deliberately factually incorrect information, inadvertently factually incorrect information, politically slanted information, and "hyperpartisan" news.

The Value of our Evaluations: Assessing Spending and Quality

February 8, 2018

In 2013, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation adopted a clear framework for how it evaluates strategies. The foundation formalized a set of Evaluation Principles and Practices; hired its first dedicated Evaluation Officer to support programs to commission, manage, interpret, and use evaluation findings; and made several recommendations to our Board (which were adopted) regarding evaluation spending and quality. Of course, foundation staff learn in many ways, but this set of activities represented a significant step towards a more disciplined approach for foundation staff to learn from independent third parties about the effectiveness of our grantmaking strategies. This report takes stock of progress of these recommendations to ensure the foundation is not just increasing spending and funding more evaluations, but increasing the utility and value of evaluations for more effective grantmaking. The assessment uses financial data, ratings of evaluation documents, and interviews with program staff, for a set of 46 evaluations contracted directly by program staff between 2009 and 2016.

Campaign Finance in the United States: Assessing an Era of Fundamental Change

January 1, 2018

The goal of this report and the larger research effort that produced it is to clarify the dynamics of the modern campaign finance system in the United States. To this end, the effort produced a set of studies and a bipartisan report drawn from the best social science relating to the changing dynamics of the U.S. campaign finance system. The report examines the legal, political, and technological shifts that have combined to shape the current campaign finance regime.

Analysis of Philanthropic Opportunities to Mitigate the Disinformation/Propaganda Problem

November 2, 2017

While the problems of disinformation, misinformation and propaganda are not new, certain aspects of modern technology and communications appear to be contributing to a rapid polarization and democratic deterioration in the U.S. and abroad. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Madison Initiative focuses on making democracy and its institutions — especially Congress — more effective in a polarized age, and is currently exploring opportunities to address the disinformation/propaganda problem. An analysis conducted in 2017 for the initiative explores whether a larger, more sustained investment from the foundation is warranted.To examine the problem and potential philanthropic interventions, researchers conducted interviews with leaders from academia, digital media platforms (both current and former employees), think tanks, and civil society organizations. Informants identify many actors seeking solutions to the current disinformation/propaganda problem, with most funders focused on improving the quality of journalism, fact-checking, or news literacy.They identify several elements germane to understanding the problem, including:the democratization of information creation and distribution;the socialization of information sharing;the atomization of news away from reputable brands to individuals;the anonymity of content creators and distributors;the increasing level of content personalization; andThe sovereignty of the technology platforms.All of these factors combine to elevate the internet and, in particular, social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, increasingly Instagram, and others) as the most critical point for intervention. The authors outline options for investing in a research agenda related to popular social platforms, where lack of information about the problem, how technology impacts it, and the efficacy of proposed solution creates a hurdle to crafting effective interventions.

Strategic Assessment and Grant Review: Hewlett’s Three-Year California Drought Initiative

October 1, 2017

In 2015, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation launched a 3-year, $6-million California Drought Initiative to help ensure that local communities and natural systems both have adequate and sustainable water supplies. This Board-approved action was a response to 1) approval of a $7.5-billion water bond in California, 2) landmark state legislation to create a groundwater management system and 3) a gripping 5-year drought that ended early in 2017. Now in its final year, Hewlett seeks to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of its California Drought Initiative and understand lessons learned that are important for future Californiaspecific and/or other investments associated with the Foundation's broader Western Conservation portfolio.

Peer to Peer: At the Heart of Influencing More Effective Philanthropy

February 1, 2017

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has had a long-standing commitment to increasing the effectiveness of grantmaking organizations, a commitment reflected in its Philanthropy Grantmaking Program. In 2015, the Foundation commissioned Harder+Company Community Research, in partnership with Edge Research, to conduct a field scan to inform its own strategies in this area as well as those of other organizations working to increase philanthropic effectiveness. Drawing on data from multiple sources, the field scan identified which knowledge sources and formats are most likely to be accessed by funders, how that knowledge is assessed by its users, and the ways in which knowledge is used to shape the practice of philanthropy.