For Impact


‘Sunsetting’ Foundations

For Impact Ideas | | Tom Suddes

A lot of our coaching work with For Impact organizations involves strategy and presentations to FOUNDATIONS.

I won’t make this a Tom Peters-like rant (which I love, by the way)… but merely a statement of fact.

  • 22,000 ‘Charitable’ Foundations in the United States control $652 Billion of resources.
  • 814 of these have more than $100 Million in assets.
  • Almost every one of these foundations is driven by the ‘spending no more than 5%’ of the interest income (from the corpus).
  • Many of the larger foundations are no longer controlled by the original ‘investor’, but run by a board and/or (bureaucratic) staff.
  • A lot of these large foundations spend a lot of money on program staff and evaluation and other expenses.
  • Most foundations (the large ones, the community foundations, the corporate foundations, etc.) demand jumping through ‘hoops’ (that are on fire, criss-crossed with barbed wire, 100 feet off the ground with no belay system). They won’t fund ‘operations’ (as if you can deliver on your impact without people and programs and places). They can’t spell ‘innovation’. They demand ‘measurement’ without accepting that much of the impact is not quantifiable in just numbers… but lives.


WHAT IF… every foundation in the United States (world) decided that the would give away at least 50% of their corpus/endowment in the next three years? Heck, even in the next 10 years?

WHAT IF… just one-half of the foundations in the United States agreed to ‘sunset‘ (close up, give away ALL of their assets) in the next 3-5-10 years… the IMPACT on the WORLD would be immeasurable.

There’s certainly nothing better than a beautiful sunrise, especially at the beach or in the mountains.

The same, however, is true of a gorgeous sunset.

***If you don’t believe this ‘sunsetting‘ thing works, I want to share two quick examples from Ireland. We are working with two of the largest and best foundations in Ireland. Both of them had 10-year time limits. Both are getting very near to the end of their existence. Both are having a HUGE IMPACT as they look to put all of their resources into the Social Enterprise and For Impact space.

We knew through our work with them that they are literally changing the ‘face’ of Ireland, changing the education model, the immigrant integration model, the dealing with abuse model and much, much more.

It can be done.