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Building Knowledge: Grantmaking with an End Date

While foundation exits and spend downs are gaining interest in philanthropy, they have fueled relatively little research to date. Being able to effectively end an initiative, prepare grantees for continued success, and sustain results is vitally important to funder investments.

The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation is preparing to sunset in 2020. Along the way, it intends to help increase knowledge about this topic – shining a light on the reasons why some foundations choose to exit, and increasing awareness of practices that help funders conclude program work in a manner that serves their objectives as well as those of grantees.

The resources below contain information and tools developed through the experience and knowledge of multiple philanthropies involved in exits – including the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.

Strategic Lifespan and Limited Life Foundations

This content collection, curated by the National Center for Family Philanthropy, is aimed at new donors considering what strategic lifespan will best work for their foundation, as well as existing foundations that have already set a closing date, or any family or board contemplating the question.



Keeping What Counts: Should Your Foundation Create an Archive?

This essay summarizes why spend-down grantmakers do, or don’t, create archives. Authored by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, it draws on the Foundation’s own experience as well as research into the decisions of other philanthropies and consultation with archiving experts.



Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

This Foundation Review article helps grantmakers consider the implications and potential results of exits, as well as gain practical insight on the question of exiting responsibly. Authored by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, it includes both grantee and funder perspectives.

Download excerpt.



210 Goodbyes210 Goodbyes

In this companion piece to Breaking Up is Hard to Do, consultant Ruth Norris offers insights and practical details gleaned from her experience with more than 210 exits. It combines her reflections with analysis of data from grantee reports and conversations with grantees and colleague funders.



End-Game Evaluation: Building a Legacy of Learning in a Limited-Life Foundation

This Foundation Review article shares emerging hypotheses about building knowledge in limited-life situations – when a funder’s time horizon is shorter than that needed to fully solve a complex issue. It is co-authored by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and The Atlantic Philanthropies.



Foundation Review: Exit Strategies

To examine an array of critical topics for those considering or conducting exits, the peer-reviewed Foundation Review devotes its Spring 2017 issue to the subject. This journal includes the articles referenced above, as well as several other features that can inform effective program conclusions.




A Date Certain: Lessons from Limited Life Foundations

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) interviewed leaders of 11 spend-down foundations to learn more about their approach. The resulting report is accompanied by three case studies: Lenfest Foundation, Brainerd Foundation, and the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.



What Does It Take to Spend Down Successfully?

Responding to research indicating that growing numbers of foundations are opting for a spend-down strategy, in 2015 GEO conducted a review of existing literature and spoke with several grantmakers to capture emerging lessons. This publication includes five principles generated from that study, presented in “The Smarter Grantmaking Playbook.”