September 14, 2011
The report on foundations that decide to spend all of their funds and close, rather than continue in perpetuity, by Francie Ostrower, Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, provide important lessons and a guide to decision-making for foundations that "sunset" or "spend down."Ostrower surveys donors, foundation family members, trustees, staff grantees and archival documents from four sunsetting foundations to glean best practices and lessons that can be applied to other sunsetting, as well as perpetual, foundations. The foundations studied include the Beldon Fund, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Jacobs Family Foundation, and the Pear Foundation, The study reveals that ironically, sunsetting foundations are greatly concerned about the sustainability of their values. All four foundations provided a core set of grantees with ongoing general operating support and assistance as a means of carrying on their values. The author argues that this approach, when combined with a specific philanthropic purpose, allows foundations to build unusually strong and effective partnerships with grantees. In addition, there are lessons to be learned from sunsetting foundations that can be applied to perpetual foundations. For example, perpetual foundations can view individual program areas as "miniature sunsets," with a clearly-defined beginning, middle, and end.