Beldon Fund

Final Impact Assessment: Challenge #1

The Beldon Fund:
Final Impact Assessment

Download Full Report

Making change in a 10-year time frame

When Beldon embarked on its spend-out path it sought to have a much bigger impact than would have been possible with a more traditional foundation model. The additional resources allowed the Fund to have a big vision, and the short time frame put pressure on staff and grantees to act with a heightened sense of focus and urgency. Beldon staff and consultants pushed hard to realize their vision, at times going beyond a level of engagement grantees typically expect of foundations. Looking back, some observed that Beldon had unrealistic expectations about what could be accomplished in the time allowed, and at times acted in ways that were detrimental to some grantees.

While many grantees embraced the sense of urgency implicit in Beldon’s spend-out strategy, some perceived a level of impatience and forcefulness that was not entirely welcome. Beldon’s compressed time frame put added pressure on grantees to make significant organizational changes or be left behind. In some cases, groups with complementary missions were encouraged to merge. The mergers did not happen and the relationships between some of the groups were strained as a result. In another case, Beldon’s interest in ensuring that an organization had strong leadership led to a hasty executive transition; poor decisions were made and the organization suffered a significant setback in its work.

Another unintended consequence was the downstream impact of the winnowing of Beldon’s grantee pool. Over the course of its grantmaking, Beldon refined its priorities and made difficult decisions about letting go of grantees. In some cases, such with Florida, letting go meant giving up an entire geographic region. But in other cases, it meant leaving behind a subset of groups within a geographic area or a program area. Although this was a thoughtful process, some felt that it sent a signal to other funders that was damaging to the organizations that were left behind. Some shared the perception that Beldon anointed certain grantees with favored status, and residual tensions between groups continue to this day.

These observations, which were made by some while Beldon was still operating, emerged in this assessment as noteworthy because they continue to persist. Given Beldon’s deep commitment to encouraging collaboration, it is striking that five years later some observers continue to point to Beldon’s grantmaking as one of the factors that has made collaboration more difficult for some groups.

Every foundation makes hard decisions about where to invest, and many impose a set of expectations on grantees that force organizational changes. What made it more challenging in Beldon’s case was the compressed time frame. Given what Beldon was trying to accomplish in ten short years, it is not surprising that it ruffled some feathers.