Time is of the Essence: Foundations and the Policies of Limited Life and Endowment Spend-Down

Resource type: News

Five U.S. foundations that spent all of their assets offer lessons for modern donors who might also consider a limited lifespan for their foundations, according to this report by the Aspen Institute’s Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation.

Time is of the Essence: Foundations and the Policies of Limited Life and Endowment Spend-Down, written by John R. Thelin (University of Kentucky) and Richard Trollinger (Centre College), combines detailed analysis of two famous historic foundations (Rosenwald Fund and General Education Board) with case studies of selected contemporary foundations (Lucille P. Markey Charitable Trust, Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation and Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust) to provide donors and foundations with models for consideration in their own policies and planning in the 21st century.

In examining the lessons drawn from these five foundations, the authors advocate for donors to consider a limited lifespan for their foundations and offer specific suggestions for those starting their own foundations:

  • Donors should invest time and effort from the very beginning in defining “donor intent” as they see it;
  • Donors that decide to establish limited-life foundations need to ensure that the foundation’s leadership aligns the goals of the foundation with its resources and programmatic work in order to be successful;
  • Donors should engage people with expertise, shared passion and shared values to lead their foundations as opposed to relying on friends or business associates.

Time is of the Essence: Foundations and Policies of Limited Life and Endowment Spend-Down is also available online as a free download at www.aspeninstitute.org/psi.

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Foundations, limited life