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Learning How to Exit: New Resources for Philanthropy

Why do some foundations choose to spend down all their assets? What do they leave behind when they close their doors? What practices contribute to a successful conclusion? How can evaluation benefit a funder that has an expiration date?

These are among the questions explored through new resources that deepen and expand the field’s knowledge of exits.

To learn more about why foundations choose to limit their life – and how they deal with program implementation issues in that context – the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) interviewed leaders of 11 spend-down foundations. CEP’s March 2017 report is accompanied by three case studies: Lenfest Foundation, Brainerd Foundation, and the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.




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To examine an array of critical topics for those considering or conducting exits, the Foundation Review devotes its Spring 2017 issue to the subject. This peer-reviewed journal includes two features by S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation staff.

  • Breaking Up Is Hard to Do is written by Barbara Kibbe, the Foundation’s director of organizational effectiveness. This essay helps foundations consider the implications and potential results of exits, as well as gain practical insight into the question of exiting responsibly. It includes both grantee and funder perspectives.

  • End-game Evaluation: Building a Legacy of Learning in a Limited-life Foundation is co-authored by Ashleigh Halverstadt, the Foundation’s evaluation and learning officer, and Benjamin Kerman, former head of strategic learning and evaluation at The Atlantic Philanthropies. This essay shares the foundations’ emerging hypothesis about building knowledge in limited-life situations – when a funder’s time horizon is shorter than that needed to fully solve a complex issue.

Among the eight entries in this Foundation Review is an interview with Marie Colombo, director of strategic evaluation and learning at the Skillman Foundation. This Detroit-focused philanthropy has experienced the challenges associated with exiting a multi-year initiative as a place-based funder. The issue also includes an article reporting on lessons from the Hewlett Foundation’s exit of its Nuclear Security Initiative, an article that examines government partnerships as an exit strategy, and more.




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The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation is pleased to be included in, and to be contributing to, needed growth in the body of knowledge and tools that support spend-down foundations and all who are involved in time-limited initiatives.