Beldon Fund

Final Impact Assessment: Challenge #3

The Beldon Fund:
Final Impact Assessment

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Finding replacement funders

“One of the hardest things a foundation can do is persuade another foundation to support its grantees.”

In addition to helping grantees become more effective at raising money from individual donors, Beldon worked hard to cultivate a new set of foundations and large donors to fill the gap when it left. This was made more difficult with the timing of the recession, which prevented many foundations and donors from expanding their grantmaking. Former grantees in Beldon‘s key states have benefitted from continued support from state-based funders, and some have experienced an influx of funding from national donors. Since Beldon selected battleground states that were in the national spotlight, it is not surprising that funder interest in these states has continued beyond 2008. But what is surprising to many is that Beldon‘s attempts to hand off its environmental health work to other foundations were far less successful.

As it was making its final grants, the prospect of leaving the field with a new set of funders focused on chemicals policy reform seemed fairly certain. Promising new philanthropists were poised to enter the field, and some long-standing supporters appeared ready to increase their commitments. Unfortunately, that did not happen. During the past five years, philanthropic support for Beldon‘s environmental health priorities has declined. A number of funders that were expected to step up have either reduced their giving or withdrawn their support altogether. The irony of a declining funding base just at the time that federal policy makers appear ready to act is not lost on the advocates or remaining donors.

“The lack of replacement money is the single biggest disappointment for me. ... support for environmental health should be growing. The issue was expected to spark a lot of passion and it didn‘t.”

Many who were interviewed for this assessment were perplexed about the lack of sustained funding for Beldon‘s environmental health grantees. Candid observations by donors and others attribute this to several factors. Some pointed to the problem of scale, and the challenge of funding a set of very small groups, many of which lacked established institutional structures. Others felt that the conflicting points of view between some of the leaders in the field made it difficult to discern which groups were most effective. And still others pointed to funder fatigue and the difficulty of sustaining (much less increasing) funder interest in policy battles that can take decades to resolve.

Beldon was certainly aware of these challenges and took deliberate steps to address them. It helped grantees knit together coalitions so that the work of many small groups was more connected and coherent. It invested in groups that disagreed with each other and worked hard to help them find common ground. And it served as a tireless cheerleader each time progress was made on the long path to policy reform. Nonetheless, five years later, replacement funders remain elusive.

At the time of this assessment, one of Beldon‘s former environmental health funding partners was using the Beldon experience to inform its own strategy for bringing new funders to the table. By analyzing the obstacles preventing other funders from committing to the field after Beldon left, this foundation is developing alternative approaches that may be more promising. It is too early to tell whether these efforts will be successful, but it is a clear example of others building on Beldon‘s legacy.