The Beldon Fund - Lessons from a time-limited fund with an environmental mission

A national funders' network recently circulated notice about an impact assessment report of the Beldon Foundation. Beldon was an environmental fund whose board designed its philanthropic strategy around a ten-year spending horizon. They made $120 million of grants during that time and the last of their grants included funding for an impact assessment to be conducted five years after they closed shop.

As you can imagine, there were significant lasting impacts from the Beldon Fund's investments and they are worth reading. I found the challenges and lessons for other funders particularly interesting. More information about the successes, challenges, and lessons for other funders is available in the full report.

Notes from the assessment report:

Challenges

Interviewees were asked to reflect on areas where Beldon's efforts fell short. Three central challenges shed light on the areas where Beldon struggled:

  • Making change in a 10-year time frame;
  • Preparing grantees for its exit;
  • Finding replacement funders

Lessons for funders

A full set of funder lessons was included in the Final Evaluation Report conducted when Beldon completed its spend-down. Many of the funder lessons from that report resurfaced during this assessment. The most frequently cited included:

  • Don't bite off more than you can chew;
  • Invest in leaders who share your vision;
  • Be willing to take risks;
  • Be diligent in evaluating your impact and be ready to pivot if things aren't working.

There were also 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.

The full, final impact assessment is now available on the Beldon website.