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Lessons Learned: the “Harvest Time” reports

Atlantic staff in 2016

In 2010, Atlantic commissioned philanthropy consultant Tony Proscio, in conjunction with Duke University Center for Strategic Philanthropy & Civil Society, to write a series of reports charting the final years of the foundation, the largest endowed institution to put all its charitable assets to use in a fixed period of time and then close its doors. These seven reports examine the major decisions made  behind concluding operations and culminating “big bets,” including the founding of the Atlantic Fellows Programs.

Winding Down the Atlantic Philanthropies – 2001-2009: The First Eight Years

This first report addresses questions raised by Atlantic’s founder Charles F. Feeney decision to commit to the  “Giving While Living” philosophy, including how and where to invest and evaluate the progress of grants. These issues present new layers of complexity and an assortment of uncommon operational challenges than in foundations that operate in perpetuity.

Read the report here.

Winding Down the Atlantic Philanthropies – 2009-2010: Beginning the End Game

Published in 2012, the second report in the series covers the following:

  • staff efforts to launch an orderly process to “imagine the end of Atlantic”
  • the decision making behind two major programmes, Children & Youth in the United States and Population Health in Viet Nam.

Read the report here.

Harvest Time for The Atlantic Philanthropies – 2011-2012: Focus, Exit, and Legacy

This third report, published in 2013, covers events that occurred from late 2010 through September 2012, some four to five years before Atlantic made make its final grant commitments, including:

  • an intense 10-month strategic planning process to narrow its grantmaking focus and set a timetable for the foundation’s concluding period for each programme and each country where it operates
  • staff concerns as the realities of the end of foundation set in
  • Human Resources’ plans to help employees prepare for their post-Atlantic careers and positive reactions to the release of an explicit policy on severance
  • an examination into the issue of grantee sustainability, particularly in countries and programmes where replacement funders are unlikely.

In-depth case studies explore Atlantic’s impact and the challenge of grantee sustainability in two focus areas: efforts to abolish the death penalty in the U.S. and to promote the rights of the rural poor in South Africa.

Read the report here.

Harvest Time for The Atlantic Philanthropies – 2012-2013: Decline & Rise

The fourth report of the series covers the following:

  • Decision to fundamentally change the foundation’s model for ending grant making.
  • Creation of a new phase of work called Global Opportunity and Leverage (GOAL) – new way of thinking about the foundation’s ultimate purpose and how it would end.
  • Learnings from the 2013 ending of the Foundation’s core grant making in Viet Nam, South Africa, and Bermuda.
  • Planning and communications to employees about when their jobs would end, including instituting twice yearly staff reductions.
  • Exploration of Atlantic’s impact on and lessons learned from its work in the US on school discipline policies and on dementia care in the Republic of Ireland.

Read the report here.


Harvest Time for The Atlantic Philanthropies – 2013-2014: Final Priorities

Published in 2015, the fifth report of the series chronicles:

  • implementation of the foundation’s final priorities: integrating and synthesizing the themes and accomplishments of Atlantic’s 30-plus years
  • culminating Global Opportunity and Leverage grants (known as GOAL) that aimed for significant, long-term effects in areas where the foundation had long been involved
  • how the evaluation and communications teams developed plans to capture and share lessons from Atlantic’s experience and distribute them in multiple forms, through different media and for various audiences
  • adjustments in foundation operations resulting from ongoing reductions in staff—from more than 120 full-time employees at Atlantic’s peak to 56 by the end of 2014.

Read the report here.

Harvest Time for The Atlantic Philanthropies – 2014-2016: Finished, But Not Done

This report chronicles Atlantic’s plans to conclude its operations and its culminating “big bets” that seek to address 21st century problems and produce significant, lasting results in the fields and places where the foundation had long invested.

Topics covered include:

  • Design and launch of the Atlantic Fellows program, an international, interconnected set of fellowship programs to empower emerging leaders to advance fairer, healthier, more inclusive societies.
  • The foundation’s “unprecedented push” to communicate lessons and principles learned over 35 years of grantmaking, particularly to inform the work of new and younger philanthropists;
  • Progress Atlantic made implementing plans to manage staff needs and transitions; and
  • How the foundation managed its “ever dwindling” endowment to ensure it would be able to meet all outstanding obligations over coming years.

Read the report here.

Harvest Time for The Atlantic Philanthropies – 2017-2019: Three Endings and a Beginning

The Atlantic Philanthropies Archives at Cornell University

The final installment of the “Harvest Time” series, this report covers the events from the beginning of 2017 through the autumn of 2019, roughly one year before Atlantic completed its work and closed its doors, the report includes:

  • Efforts to crystallize the core purpose of the worldwide network of Atlantic Fellows programs and the Atlantic Institute and communicate a common goal and identity
  • Case studies of two instances (implementation of the National Dementia Strategy in the Republic of Ireland and creation of the Civic Participation Action Fund in the U.S.) where Atlantic projects to alter public policy ran into shifting currents
  • Description of final plans for the Atlantic website and the actively curated archive at Cornell University
  • Details of the foundation’s 2020 conclusion and liquidation

Read the report here.