All foundations confront exits.
Whether due to shifting strategic priorities, limited-time enterprises, or other organizational changes, the decision to leave a field challenges foundation leaders, staff, routines, relationships and results. Writing on the subject is sparse and primarily focuses on ideas to minimize the harm while pulling out. Foundation staff members are advised to communicate the decision to grantees early and often, to offer them one last grant to ease the transition, or even to try to help them find replacement funding. All of this is good advice. However, the emphasis on limiting collateral damage overlooks the special opportunities inherent to ending well, and it begs the question about how to leverage the planned end for accelerated impact.
Both of us work for limited life foundations, coordinating diverse efforts to reflect, learn and share knowledge about the work and the experience of spending out. We are seeing that doing this work successfully means harnessing the energy from these many dynamic tensions and requires a different emphasis if not a different approach to evaluation altogether.
An exit can, and perhaps should, be a time of increased focus and urgency, an opportunity to build knowledge and capacity, and a focal point for attention to achievements and enhancement of expectations for success along the road ahead. But how do you seize the opportunity with so many other urgent priorities competing for attention? And how do you ensure that what is learned through “Terminal Evaluation” is relevant and acted upon by others when the foundation has left the field?
Our CEP conference session on May 21st at 9:30am will address these questions and more. We hope you’ll join us in-person or join the conversation online at #CEP2015.
Benjamin Kerman is Executive, Strategic Learning and Evaluation, Atlantic Philanthropies and Barbara Kibbe is Director of Organizational Effectiveness, S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.