Beldon Fund

Final Impact Assessment: Challenge #2

The Beldon Fund:
Final Impact Assessment

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Preparing grantees for its exit

One of the biggest challenges Beldon faced was preparing grantees for its exit after the infusion of generous multi-year support. Beldon’s staff and board devoted considerable resources to this aspect of its work. However, the timing of the spend out could not have been worse. Just as Beldon was closing its doors, the Great Recession was taking an enormous toll on the philanthropic sector, making it extremely difficult for nonprofits to maintain equilibrium. This made Beldon’s investments in capacity-building more important than ever.

“Beldon did one of the best jobs I’ve seen about being clear about its intention to spend out, the reasons, giving grantees lots of notice and long multi-year off-ramp, a concerted effort to recruit other funders to pick up their work. They really worked hard at it.”

Beldon began preparing grantees for its departure from day one, by clearly communicating that the foundation had a non-negotiable ten-year lifespan. There was widespread agreement that Beldon could not have been clearer and more transparent about its spend-out plans and timeline. Giving substantial notice was important because Beldon was a significant funder for a number of its grantees, and the notice allowed them time to plan for the future when Beldon’s funding would no longer be available.

In addition to giving notice, Beldon invested considerable resources in building the fundraising capacity of its Key States grantees through its Fundraising Support Program. This soup-to-nuts program included trainings by high-level experts in organizational branding, communications, small-donor fundraising, and major donor development. Participating groups were brought together for multi-day sessions and provided with one-on-one follow-up consulting by expert practitioners. Participants were overwhelmingly positive about the program when it was underway, and those interviewed for this assessment were still able to articulate the benefits of the experience a full decade later. Many felt better positioned for Beldon’s exit because of the fundraising support they received.

“The bottom line is that it was top-notch assistance [the fundraising training]...and the trainers they brought in were excellent at their craft.”

While the anecdotal results of Beldon’s efforts are overwhelmingly positive, the actual return on investment is not easy to measure. All interviewees reported that the program significantly strengthened their fundraising efforts, yet some admitted that their organizations stumbled. Organizational readiness emerged as the most significant obstacle for groups participating in this program. Some simply didn’t have the right staff or boards in place to get the most out of the opportunity. Others struggled with untimely staff transitions, which set back their efforts. And even those organizations that appeared well positioned to take advantage of the program said that it took longer for the investments to pay off than they anticipated.

Former Beldon staff echoed these observations when they reflected on the effort. Designing and implementing an effective capacity-building program is only part of the challenge. It is not uncommon for groups to think they are ready for intensive training and coaching, only to realize later that their boards and/or staff were ill equipped for the challenge.

“It is very labor intensive. It’s getting into the guts of the organization, working directly with board members. ... It almost has to be mouth to mouth...”

Despite Beldon’s best efforts, many grantees suffered when Beldon’s support ended. The fact that Beldon provided large grants over multiple years meant that groups built out their programs to take advantage of the resources. And although Beldon structured the final grants in ways that were intended to soften the impact of its departure, many groups were forced to cut programs and lay off staff.

Because of the recession, the years immediately following Beldon’s spend-out were some of the most challenging for finding new donors. Some grantees said that Beldon’s fundraising support program helped them weather the recession by providing their organizations with a more diverse set of donors and tools for better fundraising planning.

When former grantees were asked what Beldon could have done differently to help their organizations be better positioned for the post-Beldon transition, interviewees expressed nothing but gratitude for what Beldon attempted. For many, the reality was that even the most robust individual donor program could not replace the generous grants they had received from Beldon. The organizations that appear to have fared the best are those that received significant support from new donors, particularly foundations that arrived on the scene as Beldon was exiting.

“They prepared us very well. They were so clear they were not going to be here. They did so much fundraising training. They did more than any funder could be expected to do.”