Q: Why did Beldon founder John Hunting decide to spend out all of the foundation’s assets and income in ten years?
A: The decision was in keeping with Hunting’s belief that foundations should not exist in perpetuity and that today’s donors need to solve today’s problems. Hunting also wanted to enjoy the results of his philanthropy in his lifetime and felt confident that the intergenerational transfer of wealth would replenish the philanthropic pipeline. Most important, as a committed environmentalist Hunting believed that the accelerating pace of environmental destruction made it urgent to try to make a difference now. To read an interview with John Hunting click here, PDF.
Q: What is the difference between spending out and spending down?
A: Often the two terms are used to mean the same thing. We refer to Beldon as a spend-out foundation because it committed to spending all its resources over a limited period of time and set a specific date for closing its doors. "Giving While Living: The Beldon Fund Spend-Out Story" PDF
Q: What was the total of Beldon’s grant making?
A: We began our grant making in 1998 with assets of $100 million. After our first two years, annual grant making fluctuated between $9.5 and $15 million, three to four times more than is typical of foundations with similar asset size that have been set up to exist in perpetuity. In ten years we spent nearly $120 million in grants and foundation-directed projects.
Q: What was the average grant size?
A: Our smallest grant was $1,000; our largest $1.5 million. Median grant size was $100,000.
Q: What type of organizations did Beldon support?
A: We made grants to public charities that are state-based and national environmental advocacy organizations, often supporting coalitions or collaborative efforts that brought groups together for greater impact. We also supported advocates from outside the traditional environmental community – such as groups representing nurses and breast cancer survivors – that are concerned with health dangers posed by toxic chemicals in consumer products. Finally, we supported organizations that translate and disseminate the latest scientific findings on environmental health hazards for the public, policymakers, and the media.
Q: How did spend-out affect grant making?
A: Spending out forces you to be disciplined and keep a tight focus. There's a smaller margin for error. We had to learn quickly from our mistakes and make appropriate revisions in order to have the kind of impact we were aiming for within a tight time frame. At the same time, knowing that we had only ten years to make a difference also made us a little bolder in our policy-oriented grant making. For example, we helped grantees expand their toolkit beyond traditional education and advocacy to include nonpartisan civic engagement activities. Beldon's Programs and Strategies.
Q: How did spend-out affect Beldon’s relationship with grantees?
A: We tried to be clear from the beginning about the end date. We gave large, multi- year general support grants because we wanted to build strong public policy and advocacy organizations that would be well-positioned to continue their work after we closed. Being a spend-out foundation allowed us to provide larger grants over a sustained period of time – something we might not have been able to do if we were structured to exist in perpetuity.
Q: What specific steps did Beldon take to prepare grantees for your exit?
A: We put a lot of energy into helping grantees get additional support from other funders, and about five years before our end date we provided a number of them with intensive fundraising training. We also asked grantees to include with their final grant request a multi-year income and expense budget showing how they planned to fill the gap left by Beldon’s exit. Our final grants were structured as matching or challenge grants. Responsible Exiting Principles PDF
Q: How did Beldon evaluate its work?
A: We relied heavily on independent external evaluations to make early and mid- course corrections to our program strategies. Instead of assessing individual grant outcomes we focused on the overall success of grant-making strategies and developed internal benchmarks to measure impact.
In our last two years, we funded four external evaluations – anonymous grantee and grant applicant perception surveys, a qualitative assessment of the impact of Beldon’s program strategies and a separate assessment of the impact of the foundation’s nonpartisan civic engagement work.
Q: What were Beldon’s most significant achievements?
A: Spending out and focusing on policy change had a synergistic effect. By spending out, Beldon was able to concentrate the resources necessary to strengthen environmental advocacy. And by focusing on public policy, Beldon’s programs were able to achieve some concrete results that will last long after our exit.
For example, campaigns led by Beldon grantees to ban toxic chemicals from consumer products have won scores of state policy victories, led to a federal ban on lead and phthalates found in toys and other children’s products, and paved the way for comprehensive national policy reform.
The power and clout of state environmental groups and coalitions funded by Beldon have grown steadily since 1998. Their collaborative strategies and effective use of new tools to educate and engage the public have attracted funding from other donors for successful issue-specific campaigns that have won important environmental policy changes. Beldon-funded advocacy organizations are stronger, more effective, and well-positioned to continue their policy-oriented work.
Q: What did not work out well?
A: Beldon’s short time frame and ambitious mission led us to take risks, and not all of our bets paid off. For example, our work in Florida PDF, one of five states we focused on, was very challenging and did not pan out as we had hoped.