Spend Down / Methodology

From its establishment, The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP) – based in Montreal, New York and Israel - intended to spend down its funds at a future date and not exist beyond the lifetimes of its founders. Founders Charles and Andy z”l made this decision after robust conversations with their family and serious consideration of implications. It was clear to them that their philanthropic interests and investments were expressions of their own particular values, experiences and interests and that ACBP should phase out its grant-making as they began to anticipate entering a less engaged chapter of their lives.

Tragically, Andy’s untimely death in 2006 robbed the Foundation of her unique blend of focus, energy and street smarts that so positively influenced ACBP’s work. Still, at the heart of the decision to spend down is Andy and Charles’ belief that each generation should be free to engage philanthropically in support of their chosen individual commitments and passions and do so in their own ways. Charles made clear that he did not want to direct his children’s’ philanthropic choices and had great confidence in their abilities to make informed and wise philanthropic choices of their own, and 2016 was designated as the concluding year for the spend down process.

All Foundation grantees were notified of ACBP’s scheduled closure and a public announcement was made in June, 2011. ACBP then retained Cambridge Leadership Associates (CLA) to assist with the spend down methodology and process. To align with ACBP values, the following steps were outlined to prepare for 2016:

  1. Continue to be transparent with Foundation grantees about the grant support available to them through 2016.
  2. Continue to nurture grantee organizations, providing advice and back office assistance on a regular basis.
  3. Continue to play fluid and varied roles as these organizations grew and matured, offering assistance and counsel on a range of matters including governance, advocacy, and technical issues.
  4. Maximize and preserve the potential represented by incubated organizations and help ensure their missions would be sustained.
  5. Ensure as much as possible that the organizations themselves, if they are to continue, will be sustainable and best in class.
  6. Make certain that the people involved will be treated with sensitivity and concern throughout this transition.
  7. Share future letters and briefing papers that discuss the roles played and the lessons learned in order to chronicle the sunset process.

Over the course of six months, the CLA team conducted interviews with 43 individuals and visited grantees in Canada, Israel and the U.S. to understand the potential capacity of the ten operating grantees to sustain their missions after the spend down in 2016.

Each consultation resulted in an individualized grantee report to ACBP. These assessed the grantee organization’s current status, what sustainability for each would look like, and key barriers to their sustainability, including an itemization of challenges and potential options for moving forward.

These findings allowed ACBP to a) determine responsibilities to achieve shared objectives of maximizing sustainability of the organizations, the missions and the people; and b) enable ACBP to leverage its limited available time and money.

The CLA work complemented ACBP’s deep relationships with each grantee and helped ACBP develop a fuller, more objective, and clearer picture of realities and challenges on the road toward sustainability for each.

In addition to working with CLA, ACBP created an internal staff dialogue on the spend down process to identify opportunities and leverage already fully committed foundation resources. ACBP asked its own staff: What can we achieve without additional grantmaking? The staff determined that ACBP could:

  1. Create intellectual capital: The Art of Giving: Where the Soul Meets a Business Plan and The Art of Doing Good: Where Passion Meets Action by Charles Bronfman and Jeffrey Solomon are examples of important publications with potential to help others become more effective in their philanthropy and social entrepreneurship. If the books achieve their purposes, the benefits to society far exceed costs to the Foundation.
  2. Provide meta leadership: By leading across organizations and leading those for whom there is no formal responsibility to do so, ACBP has and continues to establish ongoing relationships with key grantees, organizations across the Jewish communal world, and within the social entrepreneurship movement.
  3. Build infrastructure for social entrepreneurs: Working through existing associations and entities to provide leadership and direction in infrastructure support, ACBP helps the field through the creation of shared services including, but not limited to human resources, physical space, information technology, and program-related investments. Human resources as well as potential investment resources can easily expand opportunities in this arena.
  4. Mentor: Senior leadership of ACBP should use their experience and skills in a series of formal and informal mentoring efforts that bring home our tagline, “Investing in Next Generations.”

ACBP is pleased that almost all of the operating programs that were physically housed at ACBP now live in their own spaces, governing, programming and leading their organizations independently.