Advancing Knowledge and Practice about Foundation Spend-down

Resource type: Grantee Story

While understanding of foundation activity has increased significantly in recent decades, there are still major gaps in knowledge about these important institutions. Unfortunately, the knowledge gaps make it difficult for donors, foundation and nonprofit leaders, policymakers and others concerned about foundations to make informed decisions about the work of these institutions.

One issue that is especially ripe for additional research and discussion is the foundation practice of “sunsetting” or spending down assets within a specified time frame. While some foundations have already spent down or are in the process of spending down their assets, there is not much research-based information available about spending down and little informed discussion about this practice in the field.

Purpose and Impact of the Grant

This grant from Atlantic will fund research focused on high-priority questions about spend-down, communicate findings to relevant stakeholders, and engage these stakeholders in strategy discussions about spend-down. The types of questions that could be explored include:

  • Who do some donors and/or foundation trustees and executives choose to spend down foundation assets?
  • What are the key operational decisions that must be made by foundations that spend down their assets?
  • How are sunsetting foundations measuring the impact of their spend down?
  • What are the short and long term effects of foundation spend down on grantees?
  • How does the grantee relationship of sunsetting foundations differ from other grantmakers? For example, do such foundations expect faster results or different reporting vehicles?