At the Forefront of Philanthropy with Fay Twersky, Hewlett Foundation

Thursday, February 11, 2016

We were fortunate to have Fay Twersky, director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, join us on February 11, 2016 at the Mingei International Museum to share her thoughts about effective philanthropy. Fay was our first featured "Rabble Rouser" speaker of 2016, a programming series designed to connect grantmakers with leaders whose experience, expertise, and opinions will help push the envelope for philanthropy in San Diego and challenge funders to give in ways they might not have previously considered. Below are some of the key takeaways from our conversation with Fay.

Fay’s perspective on:


The three main personal values that Fay also applies to her professional work: 1) heal and repair the world, 2) seek meaning, and 3) prioritize family. She also suggests that, whatever your values, you articulate them clearly when leading new professional projects or teams, and then get to work applying them along with being practical, rigorous, and creative.

Strategic vs. Responsive Philanthropy

The need for strategic, evidence-based philanthropy that includes evaluation is critical, but should not be so heavily relied upon that it becomes dogmatic or impervious to change even when the conditions that necessitated it change. to paraphrase: evidence-based decision making is important as long as it does not blind us to on-the-ground circumstances and creative solutions.

Nonprofit Capacity/Operational Support

The Effective Philanthropy Group at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has five categories of giving; the Organizational Effectiveness category, which provides “targeted support to help strengthen existing grantees’ strategies, leadership and organizational systems” and comprises just one percent of their budget, is the most popular.

Foundation Leadership

Finding a lack of quantitative research about foundation executive leadership, Fay spent a year conducting her own qualitative research that was published in summer 2014 as the report Foundation Chief Executives as Artful Jugglers. Fay concluded that effective management of three management responsibilities were key to success: board management, organizational management (staff), and managing for results (organizational outcomes). Maintaining excellent board relations proved the critical factor: continuous communication—leading, but not exceeding, the board’s strategic vision, meant a foundation went farther, faster and better.

Philanthropy Infrastructure

The philanthropic sector is growing; the number of foundations has tripled in the last two decades. The need to build up infrastructure to support philanthropic work is a natural phase in the sector’s maturation. This is accomplished through support for organizations like regional associations of grantmakers and national affiliate groups (e.g. shout out to San Diego Grantmakers and our peers). The Hewlett Foundation’s Fund for Shared Insight is one way they contribute to this.

Funder Collaboration

Co-funding and collaboration are critical. No one foundation is likely to solve a problem alone. And it’s not likely to be “side car funding” (I-have-a-plan-that-you-should-fund), either. Rather, it will be through co-creation and collaborative decision making, like  Blue Meridian Partners. (Related: “10 Donors Join Forces to Make $1 Billion in Grants to Help Youth Charities Grow.” Chronicle of Philanthropy, Feb. 1, 2016.)


Funders need to evaluate their giving, and the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Grantee Perception Report is a great tool for doing that (full disclosure from Fay that she’s a CEP Board member). It’s also important for funders to not place too much emphasis on outcomes and impact measurement, because sometimes measuring outputs and processes can tell us a lot about effectiveness. This is particularly important when nonprofits don’t have the resources necessary for such rigorous evaluation. (Related: “Two Types of Evaluations.” Chronicle of Philanthropy. Feb. 27, 2015. Subscription required.)

Impact Investing

Has potential for good, but success is still unrealized. Fay’s cautious side wonders whether the social returns of impact investing will actually be better than those of traditional philanthropy, and whether it could detract from the philosophy of just being charitable. Wait and see!