Becoming a Beneficiary When a Foundation Closes its Doors

Recently, The Hagedorn Foundation in New York joined the ranks of an increasing number of foundations that have adopted a plan and a policy to spend down their assets and close their doors within a prescribed time frame (in this case, 2017).   For me, the news of the Foundation’s strategy and intent raises an interesting question:  do we try to position ourselves to benefit from a foundation’s final largesse?  And if so, how do we go about it?

First question first: do we even try to get on the list?  If our organization is a current/recent grantee AND the experience has been a good one for both parties, the answer is quite obviously “yes.”  But what about a situation where we have no prior relationship?  Then the strategic questions become:

  • Does our mission and work offer the foundation to leave an impactful legacy within our given field or community of service?
  • How would we logically fit into the foundation’s philanthropic history?  Are we a next generation legacy grantee?  Are we a traditional organization that may have a growing reach or an evolving program that might present an interesting opportunity to the grantmaker?

Assuming we decide to approach the funder, what is the best tactic to do so?  Networking always heads the list so, of course, we turn to our leadership, our current grantors (who have a vested interest in our obtaining new revenue to grow/improve/help sustain a program), our network of colleagues looking for an introduction.

But what about the case where we have to make the cold approach?  Yes, a grant proposal will likely be in order.  But I observe that most foundations that are in “sunset mode” tend to close their application process as they begin to select legacy recipients.  What then? Minus a personal introduction, the best way to ask for their support is to not ask for their support keeping in mind that, sometimes, the greatest permission to ask occurs when there is not expectation that an ask will be made.

Case: I was working with a very large, very well-known national charity a few years ago when we considered an approach to a large foundation that did not accept applications.  The client and I saw a very clear connection between the foundation’s recent giving in Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast States and work the client was trying to do to rebuild community schools.  Instead of trying to force an unwanted proposal through the door, we agreed that the client’s public policy staff would develop a “white paper” with information gleaned from their field work with community schools in the region.  In a section titled “Solutions,” the organization’s work and results were highlighted.  This was sent to program professionals at the grantmaker; ultimately, following a few  emails and phone calls, a leadership meeting was convened with the outcome being that the client was selected a  new grantee.

Legacy grants can be generous and game-changing. They always worth pursing where you have build a relationship.  They may be worth pursuing when perhaps the best legacy a foundation can leave is to invest money in a worthy new grantee .


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