Making Change by Spending Down

In September 2013, the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP) and GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center, partnered to tell the story of the ACBP spend down. Few stories of foundation spend downs—that is, spending all of a foundation’s endowment deliberately with the intent of closing—have been publicly told, and none to our knowledge using a primary medium of a blog series. ACBP’s goal was to build on GrantCraft’s strength of sharing funder wisdom by highlighting more than 20 voices connected with the spend down over the 28-month period until it closed its doors. Both organizations value transparency, and so periodic blogs felt more visible and candid than a polished and long final report might be.

As Charles Bronfman, the chairman of ACBP, wrote in his first post:

"This post is the first in a series—to be penned by executives within ACBP, and beyond—where that transparency is on display and, we hope, informs a significant degree of peer learning within the broader community. Our expectation is that the series will invite much commentary and become a repository of diverse perspectives, creating a continuum of thought and observation and a sustained philanthropic dialogue on spend-down issues—a platform that does not yet exist."

Promoting ongoing learning is a core value for ACBP, and so the foundation very consciously built reflection, learning, and through this partnership, sharing into its spend-down approach. The body of posts produced offers numerous perspectives on the spend down that result in a detailed collective story. We’ve learned a lot. We learned about the tension between striving for sustainable impact and pulling a safety net out from under grantees. We learned ways that foundation staff shift their approach and roles during a spend down. We learned about the processes by which programmatic goals and operational necessities were implemented, and the balance between foresight and iteration that drove that implementation. And, we confirmed what we thought we might learn: there’s no one right way to do or think about spend down, but sharing and listening help build a strategic approach. We didn’t reprint most of the blogs in full, but wanted to organize the collection here in this comprehensive case study to give a flavor of all of the voices and perspectives, and to tell the cohesive story of how ACBP is completing a legacy of making change by spending down. The complete story of the foundation is available at acbp.net, and complete blog posts are linked to throughout and available at grantcraft.org.

Finally, as with other GrantCraft resources, we encourage you to read each section and then reflect. How does this resonate with my work? What can I learn from ACBP’s thought process and questions? Do I agree with ACBP’sapproach? If not, how might I have made different decisions? Who might I want to connect with to deepen my understanding?

To continue reading the full case study click the Download PDF button.

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