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In October 2020, Nick Tedesco, president and CEO of the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP), talked with Lauren B. (Laurie) Dachs, president and vice chair of the board at the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, about spending down all assets. The Foundation was founded in 1957; in 2009 it became a limited-life philanthropy and completed its spend down at the end of 2020. Nick's questions and Laurie's responses are captured here for reference by other grantmakers that are implementing or considering spending down.
A special program in The Commonwealth Club's series recognizing recipients of the Club's 2020 Distinguished Citizens Award. This program honors Lauren (Laurie) Dachs and her colleagues at the S. D. Bechtel Jr., Foundation.
When a foundation chooses to wind down and close its doors, it will at some point confront the question of what to leave behind. In approaching that question, some consider establishing a foundation archive.While there is no common playbook when it comes to archiving, foundations considering an archive might ask:1. Do we have knowledge or experience that could benefit others?2. Which people, organizations, and networks do we most want to reach with that knowledge?3. Is an archive the right or best way to reach them?This essay seeks to help foundations confront these questions. It examines what foundations leave behind when they close, the benefits and challenges of establishing archives, how and where archives live, and how foundations can begin the archiving process.
Funding relationships begin, and they end. An exit might occur as planned in a time-limited initiative, arise through new research or evaluation insights, or follow shifts in funder priorities. Whatever the reason, grantmakers can take steps to advance positive relationships and outcomes for grantees. What do funders leave behind when they exit? What approaches to exits are most effective at preserving or extending the results of good work? At ensuring that grantees and fields thrive?These and other questions were explored through interviews with a combination of funders and grantees, drawing from stories of more than a dozen exits. The greatest exit challenges related to the confluence of three factors: (1) the central role the funder had chosen for itself; (2) the scale of support offered, especially when it outpaced other support for the issue or organization; and (3) the difference between the expected and actual duration of that support.While much more needs to be understood about why and how funders exit as well as about the effects, below are some sensible practices that can immediately improve both relationships and outcomes related to funder exits.
These are words an organization never likes to hear, but let's be honest: funding relationships eventually come to an end. Sometimes, the end is carefully planned -- a funding initiative with a limited life span, a foundation that decides to spend down. At other times, it's a mutual decision when funder and grantee discover that their goals are not aligned or that their partnership has simply run its course. It might even be a surprise -- such as when the stock market or the legislative appropriations process take a turn that leaves the funder with fewer assets than anticipated.No matter what the reason, the end of a funding relationship can be cordial and affirmative, advancing and demonstrating the grantee's resilience. But it can also be turbulent or even catastrophic, damaging relationships, reputations, and the grantee organization's prospects for future success. The different outcomes depend, surprisingly, less on the magnitude of funding lost and more on the degree of care taken by both partners to prepare for the change -- and to anticipate the challenges and opportunities it will bring.
The Ciesla Foundation is dedicated to producing documentaries with an uplifting social and historical message about unsung Jewish heroes. Our newest film project is Rosenwald, a documentary on the incredible story of how businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald joined with African-American communities in the South to build schools for them during the early part of the 20th century. This historical partnership as well as the modern-day attempts to maintain or reconfigure the schools is a great dramatic story, yet too little-known.
In 2020, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation concluded operations, following 64 years of grantmaking and a 2009 decision to spend down its assets. During the 12-year spend-down period, as the Foundation made and implemented decisions about its final initiatives and areas of emphasis, a number of lines of work were concluded. The salient aspects of many of these efforts were documented by the Foundation through retrospectives, which were originally intended to support internal learning but were also made public. This retrospective summarizes the Foundation's Alzheimer's disease grantmaking, which consisted of support for the work of 15 scientists, seven multidisciplinary research centers, and a regional scientific symposium beginning in 1998. Final payments on grants awarded were made in 2015. Overall, the Foundation invested $19.2 million, making 47 grants to seven organizations across five states (California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Alabama).
Retrospective: Making a Difference for Bay Area Youth: The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation’s Bay Area Youth Development Grants 2008-2015November 1, 2017
In 2020, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation concluded operations, following 64 years of grantmaking and a 2009 decision to spend down its assets. During the 12-year spend-down period, as the Foundation made and implemented decisions about its final initiatives and areas of emphasis, a number of lines of work were concluded. The salient aspects of many of these efforts were documented by the Foundation through retrospectives, which were originally intended to support internal learning but were also made public. This retrospective summarizes the Foundation's Bay Area youth development grantmaking, sharing the perspective of selected grantees through direct quotes. The case studies explore how grantees experienced the Foundation as a funder and partner in their work, and what was accomplished with the grant funds awarded. The report also includes a short set of lessons and recommendations based on observations of and feedback from the field.
In 2020, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation concluded operations, following 64 years of grantmaking and a 2009 decision to spend down its assets. During the 12-year spend-down period, as the Foundation made and implemented decisions about its final initiatives and areas of emphasis, a number of lines of work were concluded. The salient aspects of many of these efforts were documented by the Foundation through retrospectives, which were originally intended to support internal learning but were also made public. This retrospective summarizes the Foundation's grantmaking in support of engineering education. From 1985 to 2014, the Foundation provided over 150 promising students access to high-quality education in engineering. This support included need-based financial aid at some of America's top universities as well as support of other scholarship funds. In some cases, the Foundation specified its support for populations that have been historically underrepresented in engineering, including women and students of color. In total, this portfolio encompasses 128 grants across 30 years. Grants totaled $6.9 million to 25 organizations and universities, with the largest share ($4.14 million) going to the named "Bechtel Engineering Scholarships."
While the benefits of beginning evaluation efforts at program inception are well known, many organizations simply cannot do so. There are a variety of practical reasons for this: funding concerns, lack of capacity, the need to focus energies on program development and implementation, and changing program goals and activities. As a result, many such efforts begin closer to a program's conclusion -- they are often termed "sunset evaluations."The "sunset" descriptor has been used since the 1970s in such phrases as "sunset review" and "sunset evaluation" -- public-policy terms referring to an almost always mandated periodic review of a statute, agency, or program to determine whether it should be terminated, continued, or modified. Here, we reframe the phrase "sunset evaluation" to describe a rigorous and useful evaluation that is conducted at or nearing a program's conclusion. Characteristics of these sunset evaluations are that they are voluntary and are intended to provide a road map for other foundations by describing program effects, accomplishments, and lessons learned.We previously reported findings from an evaluation conducted at the end of a community-wide effort to improve school food sponsored by the Orfalea Foundation. This sunset evaluation of the foundation's School Food Initiative (SFI) showed positive outcomes from the initiative's activities and provided recommendations for organizations interested in engaging in similar efforts (Carmichael Djang, Masters, Vanslyke, & Beadnell, 2016). Because the evaluation was begun as the foundation was spending down and exiting initiatives, it required creative.This article uses the evaluation of the Orfalea Foundation's initiative to provide a case example of a rigorous and useful sunset evaluation, and discusses other possible extensions of these kinds of methods. design approaches. This article's goal is to use the foundation's SFI evaluation as a case example showing methods for engaging in this kind of sunset evaluation. This example illustrates approaches we implemented as well as other extensions of the methods used.
Exiting from an initiative is an inevitable part of philanthropy. Yet the process is too often treated as an afterthought, and funders rarely devote enough time to planning for and working through the tensions and issues that arise. Pointing to a lack of consistency around exit planning, Jaffe and Mackinnon (2007) write, "Exiting tends to be regarded as something discrete and separate, a phase in the life of a grant or program that is fundamentally different from what comes before" (p. 2).Among the studies on foundation exits, research tends to focus on how funders can exit from specific grants or programs (Association of Charitable Foundations, 2012; Kerhoven & Herweijer, 2013). A few focus on strategies for exiting from a field or on spend-down foundations specifically (Fleishman, 2011; Jaffe & Mackinnon, 2007; Petrovich, 2011; Gardner, Greenblott, & Joubert, 2005; Markham & Ditkoff, 2013; Ostrower, 2009, 2011). To date, however, no studies have examined how funders have managed to effectively exit from major, time-limited, place-based initiatives that aimed to simultaneously change policies and systems at multiple levels.
Changing in Place: The Skillman Foundation, Detroit, and the Good Neighborhoods Initiative -- How did a hometown grantmaker conduct and conclude its largest-ever initiative?April 1, 2017
In 2006, the Skillman Foundation committed $100 million to a decade-long investment in six neighborhoods. Through this Good Neighborhoods Initiative, the foundation directed a majority of its grantmaking toward an intensive focus on changing the conditions where, at the time, one-third of Detroit's children lived. The goal was to ensure that children in those places were safe, healthy, well educated, and prepared for adulthood.The initiative concluded in 2016, ultimately spanning 11 years and involving $122 million in grants, which represented 67 percent of the Foundation's total grant spending in this time frame. Along the way, the foundation reset its strategy and sharpened its goal in response to seismic shifts in the local context and informed by indicators of progress.To capture information on the unique challenges facing an embedded funder as it changes program direction, Bob Tobin, senior consultant at Williams Group, interviewed Marie Colombo, Skillman Foundation director of strategic evaluation and learning. The interview took place on Dec. 8, 2016.