Under Paul Brest's 12-year guidance as its president, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation—one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world—grew to 100 employees and a $7 billion endowment. Known for his focus on outcomes measurement, the philanthropy thought leader was not afraid to spend money during his tenure on capacity building, organizational effectiveness, general operating support, and new ideas, areas many other philanthropists are reluctant to fund. Brest also was not afraid to take risks or to be candid if such a risk failed.
Bridgespan interviewed Brest just before he retired from Hewlett last year—he's now co-director of Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society—during which he shared the following three lessons on strategic philanthropy.
With a view that is still somewhat rare in philanthropy, Brest believes that providing general operating support to nonprofits is key. Such grants can be made to provide for the organization as a whole or for only specific work, depending on where the grantmaker's and grantee's interests intersect, but within that context should enable as much autonomy as possible. Brest says that since funders aren't on the front lines doing the actual work, an unrestricted grant is in everybody's best interest since it allows an organization the autonomy to maximize resources. Of course, such a grant cannot be given to just any organization—the nonprofit must meet strict standards, in particular, outstanding leadership and the will and capacity to think about outcomes and strategies in the same way as the grantmaker.
Paul Brest is also the co-author of Money Well Spent: A Strategic Plan for Smart Philanthropy. For some additional resources, see the below:
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