exiting with purpose

A Journey Without A Guide

Countdown to Sunset

A few foundations have been deliberate about sharing their strategies, including the Beldon Fund, Markey Charitable Trust, Atlantic Philanthropies, and AVI Chai, but the resources we found, while helpful, were specific to their circumstances and insufficient to guide us on our unique journey. There are hundreds of books  on exit strategies available to for-profit enterprises. But in the social sector, no clear set of guidelines exists.

Partnerships played a key role in our founder’s business—Kinko’s, the business services chain—and that approach deeply influenced the foundation’s philosophy toward philanthropy, seeking opportunities for collaboration and concentrated initiatives. But therein lurked an ironic complication for the sunset process: We had worked so diligently to foster strong and enduring relationships; how would we extricate ourselves from those connections with loyal co-workers, community nonprofits, government agencies, and other grantmakers? At the earliest stages of sunset planning, the directive from the founders and the board was clear: Do it with integrity, do it mindfully, do it efficiently, and do it strategically so that all parties end up stronger in the end. Our work in sunsetting had begun.

To that end, we devoted intense planning and preparation. Our work continues to evolve, but we have learned valuable lessons along the way, and our sense is that sharing what we have experienced and learned to this point (missteps and all) may be of value to other organizations with similar wind-down goals.

To make it all easier to digest, we’ve broken up our experience into six areas, each of which needs intense effort (and each of which has come with a steep learning curve.) Here they are:

  • Aligning the foundation’s finances
  • Strategizing about internal and external communication
  • Paying attention to personnel logistics
  • Engaging co-workers in the transition process
  • Purposefully changing the foundation’s culture
  • Ensuring our partners’ and projects’ continuity