Beldon Fund

Final Impact Assessment: Legacy #8

The Beldon Fund:
Final Impact Assessment

Download Full Report

Beldon’s influence on philanthropy continues today and can be seen in the culture, strategies, and collaborations among funders, particularly environmental grantmakers.

John Hunting was never shy about his funding philosophy. He took every opportunity to encourage others to be bold in their giving. His staff followed suit, playing leadership roles in funder affinity groups, helping to educate newcomers, and convening colleagues in powerful collaborations. Five years later, many of the ideas promoted by the Beldon Fund are woven into the fabric of environmental and civic engagement grantmaking.

Foundations that partnered with Beldon point to a legacy that underscores the value of strong relationships between state and national funders, the importance of investing in infrastructure, and the necessity of thinking intentionally and strategically about building the power of the environmental movement and its allies. As more funders focus their attention on state-based strategies, their work is being informed by the Beldon experience.

“When I get asked about relationships with national funders, I always point to Beldon. ... They were the model for how a national funder can engage state funders in an authentic way.”

“It was a real learning that we could make a difference by funding the connective tissue, not just the organizations.”

Beldon’s influence also continues in the conversations among program officers and foundation leaders during briefings, retreats, and collective strategy discussions. Hunting pushed other funders to consider politics in their giving strategies by hosting lunches and dinners outside of the confines of official meetings. This tradition continues at funder gatherings, as others have stepped up to serve as hosts.

“If we are not talking about power when we are talking about the environment, then you are irrelevant. ... the Beldon legacy is very clear.”

The infusion of nonpartisan civic engagement into environmental grantmaking has also expanded noticeably in recent years. The Environmental Grantmakers Association and the Funders Committee on Civic Participation are collaborating more closely, co-sponsoring briefings and coordinating events. Participants in the Climate and Energy Funders Group are also paying increased attention to states, nonpartisan civic engagement, and infrastructure.

Many point to Beldon’s role in helping establish environmental health as a field within philanthropy as one of its enduring contributions. The Health and Environment Funders Network (HEFN) grew out of strategy sessions led by Beldon and its colleagues more than a decade ago. Over the past decade that network has grown considerably. Since Beldon’s spend out, the amount of giving represented by its members has reportedly tripled. As the ranks of HEFN members have expanded, chemicals policy reform is no longer a central focus. Nevertheless, new funders are bringing new interests and passions to the network, and its changing leadership includes some important new players in philanthropy.

Finally, a growing number of funders are embracing John Hunting’s philosophy in interesting new ways. In recent years, some foundations with living donors have begun to adopt legal structures that allow them to be more directly involved in activities that would otherwise be off limits to private foundations. For example, the Brico Fund (see snapshot) is maximizing its flexibility as a donor interested in policy and the power of nonpartisan civic engagement. Other philanthropists are embarking on similar directly strategies, seeking ways to maximize the impact of their resources. These philanthropists may not point to John Hunting as their inspiration, but the actions they are taking could easily have come straight from Hunting’s playbook.

Snapshot: The Brico Story

The Brico Fund, was created in 1989 by philanthropist Lynde B. Uihlein, and “aims to secure full participation in society for women and girls, to sustain our natural environment and to promote a just and equitable society, and to support the culture and community organizations that enhance the quality of life in Milwaukee.”

At the same time that Beldon was beginning its Key States Program, Brico shifted away from funding direct-service programs and became increasingly interested in longer-term systemic change efforts. In addition to women’s issues and the environment, the Brico Fund also expanded its focus to include building long-term progressive capacity and organizational leadership. This shift for Brico was prompted by the realization that funding individual organizations was not producing the systemic impact it had hoped to see, and by Brico’s belief that funding coordination and collective action would produce greater systemic impact and policy change in Wisconsin.

As Beldon was entering Wisconsin through its Key States Program, it connected with the Brico Fund. As was its practice, Beldon was looking for potential in-state funding partners and colleagues. The two organizations quickly realized that they had similar ambitions for Wisconsin and that they thought about advancing change in similar ways. They became close collaborators, with a shared vision of building long-term power for collective impact and policy change in Wisconsin. Brico became Beldon’s trusted colleague and state-based funding partner. Beldon served as a national partner to Brico, offering a national perspective and lessons and insights from its work in its other key states. Ultimately, the Beldon Fund and the Brico Fund (in cooperation with several other funders) partnered in developing and funding the Wisconsin Blueprint Project, an overarching 10-year plan for building nonpartisan civic engagement infrastructure in Wisconsin.

To be more flexible and less constrained by formal processes and restrictions on giving, Brico ultimately shifted its legal structure from a foundation to a limited liability corporation. This change allowed it to be nimble, make decisions quickly, and pursue more political work than was permissible when it was a foundation. This is a strong example of a colleague funder to Beldon that fully embodied Beldon’s philosophy of maximizing 501(c)(3)resources. Brico understood how 501(c)(3) work and more advocacy-oriented work can be integrated in a legally permissible way to have a bigger impact and effect change.

Since the Beldon Fund spent out, the Brico Fund continues to follow the model that it and Beldon developed together and to serve as a significant funder of civic engagement infrastructure in Wisconsin. The Brico Fund remains a strong funder and partner to Wisconsin Voices, the State Voices affiliate, and has been a strong advocate in Wisconsin for c oordination and collective action as the best way to achieve policy change. Of all the funders Beldon partnered with, Brico was identified as one of Beldon’s closest collaborators.