The Hewlett Foundation’s Next President

Last week I wrote about Paul Brest retiring as the president of the Hewlett Foundation and why I think he has played such an important role. Since then I’ve heard lots of off the record ideas from people in the field about who the Hewlett Foundation board should name to replace Paul. So I thought we should let the guessing games go public. Why? Because I think the Hewlett Foundation should pick not just the person that the Foundation needs right now, but the person who is needed by the field of philanthropy.

Even though Hewlett’s philanthropy program is their smallest grantmaking area, it has been highly influential within the growing philanthropy “industry”. Only the relatively new Gates Foundation philanthropy program (outlined in a guest post on Tactical Philanthropy here) really compares and its impact has yet to be seen; although the program’s indirect connection to the Giving Pledge makes it instantly relevant.

We are at a time in philanthropy where most everyone within the field of philanthropy recognizes the importance of focusing on the practice of philanthropy, but very few people know exactly what that practice should look like. For instance, the Center of Effective Philanthropy has found that while most all foundation CEOs say they seek to be strategic, most foundations do not display even the most rudimentary elements of strategic behavior. At the same time, individual donors, who as a group give 10 times what organized foundations give each year, are beginning to pay more and more attention to the concept of results based philanthropy.

I believe that the Second Great Wave of Philanthropy is a long, multi-decade event and talk of a “revolution” going on in philanthropy is correct in characterization, but implies a speed of change that is simply not occurring. However, it also seems to me that we may be close to a kind of tipping point when it comes to the practice of results based giving.

What the field of philanthropy needs at just this moment is a leading figure backed by a significant grants budget to step up and help to accelerate the mainstreaming of results based giving. The Hewlett Foundation is well positioned to name a successor to Paul who can fill this role. But in order for this to occur, the board will need to recognize the importance of picking an individual that fits the needs of the field at this moment in time, not just someone who meets Hewlett’s internal needs.

What might this person look like?

  • They will need to be an extroverted, media friendly spokesperson for the field, not just someone who can execute internally.
  • They will need to understand the role of “soft power” and their ability (as well as limitations) to influence the world around them in ways that go beyond their grantmaking.
  • They will need to be a convener, a community leader, a “storyteller in chief”.
  • They will need to understand the historical importance of the moment in which philanthropy finds itself. In the midst of a Great Recession, a century after the rise of the Carnegie-Rockefeller industrialist philanthropists, as a significant number of the nation’s wealthiest citizens come together and commit to give away a majority of their wealth, the next leader of Hewlett will need to understand that they have an opportunity to nudge our field in ways that may have a profound influence in how the future history of philanthropy unfolds.

So who should they choose? Who might fit this rather large set of expectations?

Leave a comment with your thought or send me a private email with your thoughts. Any emails will be treated as off the record except I may include the name of any suggested successor in an upcoming list of potential candidates. However, I will keep private the name of anyone who emails me a suggestion.

One Comment

  1. I think it’s good to discuss the qualities of great leadership. The qualities you share are strong characteristics that are important in today’s environment for just about any organization’s leader (I would hope). Even the last bullet, I’d hope any leader of an organization would understand, track and get involved in how “doing good” is transforming.