May 12, 2014

Change of CEO Not the Reason Hewlett Ended Grant-Making Effort

To the Editor:

In his article, “Hewlett Foundation Should Be More Open About Shuttered Program” (May 8), William Schambra asserts that the foundation didn’t end the Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative for the reasons we stated publicly on our blog, on our website, and in the media—namely, that evidence showed we were not achieving the results we had hoped for and sought.

The real reason, he says, was “the foundation’s transition to a new president, who simply has interests different from his predecessor’s.”

He adds that a foundation genuinely committed to being open and transparent would have “admitted as much, rather than trying to persuade us that it was resolutely abiding by the demand for measurable outcomes.”

As we have already shared openly, we took advantage of the fact that a whole new team had arrived—not just a new president but also my own arrival as head of the newly created effective philanthropy group and Lindsay Louie’s coming to replace Jacob Harold as program officer for philanthropy grant making—to take a fresh look at the initiative.

By then, we had more information than just the Money for Good data from 2010, including several more years of experience and a recently completed external evaluation from Arabella Advisors. Taking all that data into account, we concluded that we were not making the headway we had hoped for and were not on track to do so. After a discussion with our board of directors, we ended the initiative and shared the decision and reasons publicly.

We have other grant making in our effective-philanthropy group that we are enthusiastically continuing. The funds that were used to support the marketplace initiative remain part of our effective-philanthropy group grant making. They were not appropriated to some other focus area, as one might expect if the decision to end the marketplace initiative was based on lack of presidential interest in making philanthropy more effective.

On the contrary, the new strategy we are developing (in partnership with others) to foster increased openness in the sector will likewise collect and consider evidence of efficacy as we proceed.

Aligning our internal commitment to openness with a grant-making effort to promote openness in the sector generally reflects the extent to which transparency and sharing information is a Hewlett priority.

This makes Mr. Schambra’s accusatory tone all the more unfortunate, as it sends an ironic message to the sector that the only thing being open does is to invite cynical, irresponsible, and unfounded charges of lying and trying to mislead. We are eager to discuss our work and our decisions and genuinely happy that explaining why we ended the marketplace initiative has prompted dialogue. It’s what we hope to accomplish by sharing information.

Fay Twersky
Director of the Effective Philanthropy Group
William & Flora Hewlett Foundation