A Legacy of Change: A History of the Beldon Fund
The Beldon Fund was created by John Hunting in 1982 as a national foundation committed to promoting sound environmental policies. In 1998, Beldon received a major infusion of funds from the sale of Hunting’s stock in the Steelcase company. Hunting set the foundation on a new course by deciding to spend all its principal and earnings over the next ten years, with the goal of building a national consensus to achieve and sustain a healthy planet. This decision was in keeping with Hunting’s philanthropic philosophy and also reflected his conviction that worsening environmental problems required urgent attention.
1998-2000: Setting Up to Spend Out
Beldon moved its base of operations from Washington, DC to New York and hired new staff, built a board of directors, organized office space and operations, and developed and launched its grant making programs.
The accelerated timetable for accomplishing the foundation’s mission shaped decisions about grant making strategies. The goal was to build public and policy support for environmental protection, and the needs in the field were many – environmental advocates were struggling on multiple fronts to bring change, or prevent further degradation, in a policy environment increasingly unfriendly to their goals
2000-2003: Sharpening Focus
Beldon at first staked out a wide grant making canvas that included five program areas. Two years into this work, however, an external evaluation found that the foundation’s diffuse programs were not likely to yield the results it hoped to achieve in its limited time frame. The findings led Beldon to tighten its focus and refine strategy. The foundation reduced the number of grant making areas to two programs where it saw particular potential to make a difference – Key States and Human Health and the Environment – and created a third, more flexible Discretionary Fund for opportunistic grants.
2003-2008: Positioning Grantees to Win
Subsequent program strategy reviews between 2003 and 2005 led to further adjustments. In particular, the research revealed that while the Human Health and the Environment program did a good job of identifying the best advocates, there was little coordination among organizations and no consistent policy demand. As a result, Beldon narrowed in on chemical policy reform as its signature issue for this program, organizing grantees and philanthropic partners around this theme.
With the clock ticking, Beldon became bolder in its grant making, developing strategies to help embattled environmental advocates shift from playing defense to positioning themselves to win. To accomplish this goal, Beldon sought to:
- Strengthen the infrastructure for environmental advocacy
- Promote collaboration among environmentalists and with other advocacy groups whose work complemented the environmental agenda
- Bring in new voices for policy change
- Support sophisticated tactics that allowed advocates to spotlight their issues with policy makers and conduct strategic nonpartisan outreach to voters and candidates
- Engage other funders by demonstrating the viability of new grant making approaches.
2008-2009: Evaluating Impact
Four external evaluations over Beldon’s last two years identified a range of ways the foundation made a difference. Beldon’s dual goals of spending out and influencing public policies had a synergistic effect. By spending out, Beldon was able to concentrate the resources necessary to help shape the field of environmental health and build a strong infrastructure for environmental advocacy in its key states. And by focusing on policy change, it was able to leverage its financial and programmatic investments to achieve some concrete results that will outlast the foundation itself.