The Beldon Fund:
Final Impact Assessment
- Assessment Approach
- Beldon's Legacy
- Beldon's Challenges
- Beldon's Lessons
- Interview List
During its time-limited lifespan, the Beldon Fund sought to maximize its impact with focused investments in environmental advocacy and health. The Fund pursued three unique but interrelated strategies to advance positive change on the issues it cared about: 1) Build capacity and clout, 2) Support civic engagement, 3) Broaden the base of support. A fourth strategy, Giving more than grants, supplemented the three main strategies.
To pursue these strategies, the Beldon Fund developed two program areas through which it made long-term grants: 1) the Key States Program, which invested in building long-term sustainable infrastructure, capacity, and tools in a limited number of 'key' states, and 2) the Human Health and the Environment Program, which invested in building the field of environmental health at the state and national levels. The Fund supplemented these two grantmaking program areas with a discretionary fund so that it could support cross-program advocacy tools and activities and be opportunistic when appropriate. Learn more about Beldon's programs and grantmaking strategies here.
As the Beldon Fund was making its last grants in 2008, it commissioned a final independent evaluation (conducted by Keiki Kehoe and Dan Cramer, also the authors of this report), which was presented to its staff and board. That evaluation provided an in-depth analysis of Beldon's overall impact. It also included a compilation of lessons and takeaways for other funders considering a spend-out strategy. Read the full Final Evaluation Report here.
Key to Beldon's theory of change was the idea of building capacity that would continue beyond its lifespan. The conclusion of the Final Evaluation Report noted the difficulty of accurately assessing the 'sustainability' of Beldon's impact and the capacity it has built without the benefit of the passage of time. Given the importance of sustainability to the Beldon Fund, the board and staff made a commitment to take another look at the impact of the foundation five years after it closed. This report provides that final impact assessment
The fundamental question at the heart of this assessment is: What do we know now that we could not have known five years ago about the impact and legacy of the Beldon Fund? This assessment is meant to complement the more comprehensive Final Evaluation Report written in 2008, with a particular focus on the question of sustained impact. The specific learning objectives for this final impact assessment include:
- Providing the Beldon Fund board and staff with a final analysis of the impact of its work
- Providing other philanthropic entities with a final set of lessons and observations about effective grantmaking and spend-out strategies
To explore these learning objectives, 43 in-depth interviews were conducted with a mix of national and state leaders including former Beldon staff, grantees, colleague funders, and observers of the work. Interviewees were determined by several former Beldon staff and advisors, in collaboration with Grassroots Solutions and Keiki Kehoe. They represent a cross section of Beldon stakeholders who worked closely with or were impacted by Beldon. The interview list was determined with an eye toward ensuring that grantees in all program areas and key states were represented, with an emphasis on the Key States Program and the Human Health and the Environment Program. The interview list also included the most relevant colleague funders, Beldon staff, and observers of the work. The majority of interviews were conducted one-on-one by phone, although some took place in-person or in a small group.
Beldon Fund leadership requested that the impact assessment be made as accessible as possible to allow others to easily understand and learn from it. To that end, the assessment has been designed around three “lists” that together aim to answer the overarching question of what we know now that could not have been known five years ago when Beldon ceased operating and the final evaluation was conducted. The lists are as follows:
- Beldon’s Legacy: Five years later, what is still in place, or how have investments evolved?
- Beldon’s Challenges: Five years later, what can we see that sheds light on the challenges Beldon faced and the efforts that fell short?
- Beldon’s Lessons for Other Funders: Five years later, which elements of Beldon’s work offer the most relevant lessons for other funders?
In this report, the items on the first two lists (legacies and challenges) include a brief synopsis of Beldon’s work in different areas with a focus on the relevance of that work today. Three brief “snapshots” of work that reflect Beldon’s legacy are also included. The final list of funder-specific lessons and observations are shorter, high-level lessons that could be beneficial to a wide range of funders.
This report is not necessarily meant to be read linearly. Each of the lists (and each finding within the lists) is meant to stand alone. Therefore, some points may be repeated in several parts of the report if they are relevant in multiple places. The items on the lists reflect consistent feedback from the interviews and analysis of the materials reviewed. The items are supplemented by direct quotations from respondents that illustrate commonly held views.
Beldon’s overarching legacy is that of a bold funder that planted “seeds” that are still bearing fruit today. Another way of conceptualizing this overall legacy is that they were an “early adopter,” advocate, and catalyst of many strategies and tools that today are seen as best practices in the fields of civic engagement, advocacy, and environmental health.
Beldon’s living legacy and influence can be seen in the strong 501(c)(3) tables in many states across the country. It can also be seen in the continued work and progress of the environmental health community, a field that Beldon helped bring to life. These are just two highlights of the following list of 11 legacies of the Beldon Fund. Collectively, these are areas where five years later, the Beldon Fund has had a continuing impact and Beldon’s investments are either still flourishing or have evolved in a relevant manner.
- Beldon’s efforts to marry policy, organizing, advocacy, and nonpartisan civic engagement work in the environmental community are widely perceived to have been successful; the melding of policy advocacy with civic engagement remains particularly relevant today.
- As a national funder, Beldon helped pioneer an approach of investing heavily in state-based work, a practice that has become more common today.
- Beldon prioritized collaboration and the need for strong collaborative infrastructures; in many states, these collaborative efforts remain robust, although they have evolved in different ways both within and beyond the environmental community.
- Beldon encouraged the use of tools, technology, metrics, and evaluation in ways that were new to many grantees at the time but now represent a best practice in the nonpartisan civic engagement field.
- Beldon helped shape the field of environmental health, leading to significant shifts in public awareness, corporate behavior, and governmental policies.
- The infrastructure connecting environmental health advocates remains strong, despite Beldon’s exit and the absence of increased funding.
- Health professionals and health-affected organizations continue to bring powerful voices to a range of environmental campaigns, building on work that was seeded by Beldon more than a decade ago.
- Beldon’s influence on philanthropy continues today and can be seen in the culture, strategies, and collaborations among funders, particularly environmental grantmakers.
- Beldon’s funding and leadership support significantly strengthened League of Conservation Voters Education Fund’s affiliates in Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, helping increase the capacity of the environmental movement in those states in a manner that remains impactful today.
- By creating a roadmap for spend-out foundations, Beldon’s work has informed and advanced the field for a growing number of donors.
- Core Beldon staff (and others in the ‘Beldon family’) represent a living Beldon legacy, as they continue to champion many of Beldon’s theories of change and they remain active leaders in the field of environmental philanthropy.
Beldon’s efforts were not without challenges and part of its legacy includes those aspects of its work that did not go as well as its board and staff hoped. Interviewees were pressed to reflect on areas where Beldon’s efforts fell short. Three central challenges shed light on the areas where Beldon struggled.
A full set of funder lessons was included in the Final Evaluation Report. Many of the funder lessons from that report resurfaced during this assessment. The most frequently cited included: 1) Don’t bite off more than you can chew, 2) Invest in leaders who share your vision, 3) Be willing to take risks, and 4) Be diligent in evaluating your impact and be ready pivot if things aren’t working.
The following list is a final set of funder-specific lessons and observations that could not have been discerned in 2008, but are apparent five years after Beldon closed its doors.
- Don’t equate continuation with success.
- Spending out can mean that more than just money is leaving the field; your voice and leadership can also be lost.
- Prepare grantees for your departure, but have realistic expectations.
- Plan for the contingency of surplus funds after the foundation closes.
- Live with your bets.
When the Beldon Fund embarked on a spend-out strategy, it did so with a bold vision of what it hoped to achieve over the course of ten years. It sought to maximize its impact with focused investments in advocacy and civic engagement infrastructure, and in an expansion of the base through its work on environmental health. In 2008, a comprehensive evaluation provided the Fund’s board and staff with an extensive review of its many accomplishments. Because that evaluation was conducted just prior to the Fund’s closure, it could describe the trajectory of Beldon’s work, but it could not predict what would happen in the future. This final impact assessment provides an inventory of Beldon’s legacy, five years after its grantmaking ended. It tells the story of a foundation that brought innovative ideas to its grantees, built capacity and infrastructure, and planted seeds that continue to bear fruit. As a spend-out foundation, it struggled with challenges that other spend outs share, and the lessons learned from this assessment are intended to help others embarking on similar paths.
One of the striking aspects of this assessment was the deep regard that interviewees had for Beldon’s founder and staff. Many observed that the very fact that Beldon was willing to ask hard questions five years after its spend out was remarkable. Beldon’s desire to embark on an exploration of this nature is a testament to its extraordinary commitment to strengthening the field of environmental advocacy and civic engagement.
“People looked to Beldon as a landmark in philanthropy. It holds a very important place because of John’s vision and boldness and willingness to commit to success and failure. Take risks, and the disappointments, and learn from the latter to inform a new level of success. He had a tremendous impact that will continue to accrue: civic engagement infrastructure, tables, technology, and tools. It is an evolving field, and its success is rooted in those investments from Beldon.”
Below is a complete list of those interviewed, either by phone or in-person, to develop this assessment report.
- Kathy Aterno, Clean Water Action/Fund
- Paul Austin, Conservation Minnesota
- Allison Barlow, philanthropic consultant
- Patricia Bauman, Bauman Fund, former Beldon board member
- Mike Belliveau, Environmental Health Strategies Center
- Bob Bingaman, Sierra Club
- Jeff Blodgett, Consultant to Alida Messinger
- Brian Buzby, NC Conservation Network
- Denise Cardinal, Progress Now
- Carrie Clark, North Carolina League of Conservation Voters
- Stuart Clark, Town Creek Foundation
- James Clift, Michigan Environmental Council
- Stanley Dole, West Michigan Environmental Action Council
- Sarah Doll, SAFER States
- Carrie Doyle, Energy Foundation
- Diane Feeney, French American Charitable Trust
- Shelley Hearne, Forsythia Foundation
- Ruth Hennig, John Merck Fund, former Beldon board member
- Andy Igrejas, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families
- Diane Ives, The Kendeda Fund
- Gene Karpinski, League of Conservation Voters, former Beldon board member
- Ron Kroese, McKnight Foundation, formerly with Minnesota Environmental Partnership
- Cathy Lerza, philanthropic consultant
- Jeff Malachowsky, Wellspring Advisors
- Dick Mark, Buttonwood Partnership
- Steve Morse, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
- Anita Nager, philanthropic consultant, former Beldon staff
- Mark Redsten, Clean Wisconsin
- Bill Roberts, former Beldon staff
- Barb Sattler, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments
- Kerry Schuman, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters
- Jane Schwartz, Paul Rapoport Foundation
- Jon Scott, Clean Water Action, Singing Fields Foundation
- Kathy Sessions, Health & Environmental Funders Network
- Amy Solomon, Bullitt Foundation
- Anne Summers, Brico Fund
- Laurie Valeriano, Washington Toxics Coalition
- Joy Vermillion, Z Smith Reynolds Foundation
- Sarah Vogel, Environmental Defense Fund, formerly with Johnson Family Foundation
- Antha Williams, former Beldon staff
- Lisa Wozniak, Michigan League of Conservation Voters
- Marie Zellar, formerly with Clean Water Action
- Ed Zuckerman, League of Conservation Voters, State Capacity Division