As many of my readers and friends know, I am a firm believer that not all organizations need to exist in perpetuity. Especially in the community benefit sector, my feeling is that most organizations would do well to plan to close their doors in fifteen years from inception.
Even if you aren’t planning to close up shop, it can be very useful from a strategic perspective to think through how you might act differently if you knew you were terminating operations in, say, five years. I wrote a brief post and recorded a video about that some time ago.
Given all this, I was delighted to see come across my radar screen the story of the Beldon Fund. This is a foundation that received a significant boost in its endowment and the founder decided that it would spend out its assets completely over a ten-year period. Its goal would be to create national consensus to achieve and sustain a healthy planet.
The foundation closed its doors this month and has issued a fascinating report documenting what it learned. According to Bill Roberts, the executive director:
“Having a closing date absolutely focuses the mind. The board and staff feel a sense of urgency that’s exhilarating, and being able to go well beyond the required minimum payout for foundations is hugely positive. We’re more flexible, more nimble, more opportunistic. . . . If we try something and it doesn’t work, we have to figure out quickly how to fix it. Not having the luxury of time has largely worked in our favor.”
Of particular interest to me was the staffing and operations aspect of the spend-out. It turned out this was an opportunity to create a vibrant, entrepreneurial culture and to attract top talent.
Think about the really effective people you know. They probably don’t stay in place too long. Now, if you are managing an organization, think about what kind of people you might attract with an audacious move like this.
It may not be for everyone, but I am certain that there are more organizations that could benefit from this approach than are now taking advantage of it.