Hewlett Foundation: Grants for Higher Education

OVERVIEW: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s main programs are Education, the Environment, Global Development & Population, and the Performing Arts. The foundation also funds special initiatives on a case-by-case basis, and has a heavy interest in serving the San Francisco Bay Area.

IP TAKE: Higher ed fundraisers should focus their energies on Hewlett’s Education, Environment, and Global Development and Population programs. Check the Grantseekers page to find out if the program you’re interested in is accepting unsolicited letters of inquiry.

PROFILE: The Hewlett Foundation’s central mission is "to promote the well-being of humanity," by addressing "the most serious problems facing society." Its major program areas are Education, the Environment, Global Development & Population, and the Performing Arts, though it also funds some special projects and has a heightened interest in serving the San Francisco Bay Area. By the foundation’s accounting, it holds assets of $9 billion and gave out more than $360 million in grants in a recent year.

Since Hewlett’s Education program is oriented toward K-12 schooling, there is no specific program in the foundation’s portfolio that exclusively funds higher ed. But postsecondary institutions are not out of the running when it comes to grant support from this funder. In fact, in one recent year alone, more than 60 grants were distributed to a range of U.S.-based and international universities for work in various project areas, with grant amounts ranging from $10,000 to more than $2 million. In fact, institutions of higher learning have received funding through each one of Hewlett’s program areas.

Hewlett’s Education program is, as stated above, focused on the primary and secondary levels, but colleges and universities have played a key role in its progress. A key concept for Hewlett is “deeper learning,” which the foundation defines as students “mastering core academic content... while learning how to think critically, collaborate, communicate effectively, direct their own learning, and believe in themselves.” Beyond the classroom, however, the Education program also seeks to increase “economic opportunity and civic engagement.” Recently funded projects include a research study on “becoming an effective learner,” support for the creation and dissemination of open source online textbooks and other educational materials, a study on civic engagement, and a major award to the University of Kentucky’s National Center for Innovation in Education, which “provides advice and support to states to make K-12 school systems more accountable.”

In terms of its Environment program, Hewlett supports “efforts to conserve the North American West and tackle energy and climate challenges.” Compared to the Education program, comparably fewer colleges and universities have received funding in this program, which includes funding for “public education, nonpartisan research and analysis, and permissible policy-related activities.” Recent grant recipients in this funding area are among the top names in higher ed, including UC Berkeley, Harvard and Georgetown.

For the Global Development and Population program, there are two main focal points. The first is “grants to expand women’s choices about whether to have children, how to raise their family, and how they earn a living.” The second is to “amplify the voices of people calling for government officials to deliver better results” in delivering public services and ensuring a good quality of life, including ensuring that non-governmental groups have access to the data needed to advocate more effectively, particularly in terms of “how governments are financed and how they spend their money.” Most recent grants awarded in this area have been in the six- and seven-figure range, and a large number are multi-year awards. Unsurprisingly, U.S.-based university and college grantees frequently proposed projects with an international focus, and served or collaborated with local target groups or locally-based organizations.

The Performing Arts program at Hewlett has three sub-areas: Continuity and Engagement, Arts Education, and Infrastructure. This program has given the fewest number of awards to higher ed organizations in recent years. That said, Bay Area organizations appear to stand the best chance of receiving funding, and in recent years, universities in that region have been the only higher ed organizations to receive Performing Arts funding.

While most projects that Hewlett Funds fall within one of the above categories, it does also set aside “funding each year to support special projects that do not necessarily align with the foundation’s primary strategies.” Colleges and universities have sometimes benefited from this funding stream as well, though as with the Performing Arts program, these initiatives have generally been local to the California Bay Area.

Hewlett is no small player in its giving: average grant size across all programs in a recent year was close to $500,000, while the median grant amount was $180,000. For more information, fundraisers can explore the foundation's grants tool, which allows for deep digging into the specifics of its giving history, or its more traditional grants database.

Before getting too deep into preparing your application, be sure to review Hewlett’s Grantseekers page to determine which programs are currently accepting unsolicited letters of inquiry.

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