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Why Is It Important That We Continue? Some Nonprofit Arts Organizations Rethink Their Value in Challenging Times

October 14, 2021

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many nonprofit arts organizations were facing challenges, including declining or stagnant audiences across multiple art forms, causing many to question the very value of their existence. This was certainly true for the 25 organizations in Wallace's Building Audiences for Sustainability (BAS) initiative, which ran from 2016 through 2019.This brief from arts researcher Francie Ostrower and her team at the University of Texas in Austin, who studied the BAS initiative, captures thoughts from leaders of the 25 organizations on sustainability and how they might fit into a changing arts landscape. Not surprisingly, all of the organizations felt it was important that their organizations continue. Interestingly, however, even before the pandemic and movement for a deeper reckoning with racial justice struck across the country, leaders from a majority of the organizations expressed how essential it was for them to develop and/or maintain strong bonds with their community. Since then, the need for such change has only increased.

Foundation Sunset: A Decision-Making Guide

November 29, 2011

This research-based guide represents a distillation of the author's observations from studying sunset foundations. In an earlier study the author analyzed survey data on over 800 foundations, including 70 limited life foundation and interviewed trustees, donors and staff of 29 foundations planning or considering limited life. That research sought to chart the typical and representative aspects of sunsetting, and found that many sunsetting foundations do not link their longevity to a philanthropic strategy. In more recent research, the author conducted case studies of four foundations that took a deliberate and planned approach to sunsetting. These foundations therefore are well-suited to understanding how sunsetting can function as a philanthropic strategy.

Sunsetting : a Framework for Foundation Life as Well as Death

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.

Limited Life Foundations: Motivations, Experiences, and Strategies

February 5, 2009

Compares characteristics of foundations established in perpetuity and foundations set to terminate by a specific date. Explores both personal and strategic reasons for "sunsetting" and positive and negative effects of limited life on the foundation.

Boards of Midsize Nonprofits: Their Needs and Challenges

May 12, 2008

Based on a survey of midsize nonprofits CEOs, examines boards' level of engagement, performance of various responsibilities, and recruitment and composition of members, as well as contributing factors. Includes implications and recommendations.

The Diversity of Cultural Participation: Findings From a National Survey

November 1, 2005

Provides in-depth data to demonstrate the variety of motivations, circumstances, and experiences associated with attendance at different types of arts and cultural events. Includes implications for expanding audience participation.

Motivations Matter: Findings and Practical Implications of a National Survey of Cultural Participation

November 1, 2005

Presents findings from a national survey of 1,231 Americans. Examines the motivations and expectations of those who attend plays, musical performances, and other arts events. Looks at practical implications for audience participation building.

Foundation Effectiveness: Definition and Challenges

November 30, 2004

All too often, foundations have failed to institutionalize a process to establish standards of effectiveness and regularly assess themselves in relation to these standards. The Urban Institute draws this conclusion from a series of interviews with 61 foundation leaders (CEOs and board heads) of 42 staffed, grantmaking foundations. These interviews probed foundation leaders' understanding of effectiveness, the methods they use to judge it, and how they say their foundations have changed or need to change in order to be more effective. The interviews discussed in this report are part of the larger Attitudes and Practices Concerning Effective Philanthropy study, conducted by the Urban Institute and funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in partnership with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations. Earlier study publications reported on findings from a mail survey of 1,192 staffed foundations. A sobering conclusion from that survey was that many grantmakers are not engaging in practices that, according to their own standards, are important for effectiveness. The interviews analyzed here further document that important practices are not being undertaken and reveal that all too often foundations have not made an institutional commitment to scrutinizing whether or not their practices match their stated beliefs. The Attitudes and Practices study did not start out with a predetermined definition of effectiveness, but sought to understand what effectiveness means to foundations themselves. Likewise, the research made no assumption that there is any single way to define effectiveness that is suitable for all foundations and have elsewhere detailed the often dramatic differences in approach taken by foundations of different sizes and types. It also became clear that there are major effectiveness issues in the field that are common to foundations of varied types and sizes, and that is illustrated in this paper.

Attitudes and Practices Concerning Effective Philanthropy: Survey Report

September 1, 2004

Presents findings from a survey of 1,192 grantmaking foundations. Examines approaches to communications, grantmaking and review processes, investments, self-assessments of effectiveness, collaboration and professional involvement, and staff development.

Partnerships Between Large and Small Cultural Organizations: A Strategy for Building Arts Participation

August 1, 2004

Evaluates the Wallace Foundation's Community Partnerships for Cultural Participation initiative. Includes the difficulties that arise, achievement of participation-enhancing goals, and strategies for initiating, designing, and managing partnerships.

Attitudes and Practices Concerning Effective Philanthropy: Executive Summary

April 1, 2004

Provides an overview of a survey of grantmaking foundations. Looks at the contrasts in attitudes and practices between community and private foundations, and the variations among foundations of different sizes and with different effectiveness approaches.

Cultural Collaborations: Building Partnerships for Arts Participation

January 1, 2003

Examines how partnerships were used to enlarge cultural participation by organizations in the Community Partnerships for Cultural Participation initiative.