exiting with purpose

What’s in a Name?

Countdown to Sunset

One of the earliest challenges we faced in managing the foundation’s sunset was what to call it. While not as significant a problem as ending community partnerships respectfully and productively, or managing finances, or communicating with employees, it has been a vexing issue. What’s in a name? If we were going to extricate ourselves from partnerships we had spent over a decade developing, we needed clear and consistent language to sum up what we were doing.

As the strategic vision for the shut-down shifted, so did our thoughts on that language: Would the work be taken up by another foundation (“conversion”)? Would it be better to use a literal description for the financial realities (“spend down” or “spend out”)? Would “retirement” be accurate (for the organization maybe, but what about for our people)?

We had found several examples of organizations that initiated a “spend down,” so early on, we adopted this terminology to describe the literal exhaustion of our assets. Internally, this term was used interchangeably with “spend out” but in the end, neither phrase really captured the essence of what we are doing. Maybe those words were too technical, maybe too dry. We let those terms fade, and for a while, gave “retirement” a little air time. But that didn’t seem to fit the bill either, and ultimately, we settled on “sunset,” which seems to capture both the finality and sentimentality of what is occurring. If nothing else, this subtly shifting nomenclature has been symbolic of the constant evolution of process itself.

Eventually settling on the graphically emotional image of a sunset, at times dramatic, but peaceful, gradual, and expected, we realize now that in so many ways, the foundation we knew actually experienced “sunset” two years ago—when we announced our end date and the work of winding down began. That’s when our culture changed. That’s when our work changed. That’s when our tools and style changed. That’s when our vision and strategy changed. That’s when our team began tapping into different skill sets.

Publically and officially, we are shutting our doors on December 31, 2015, but for all intents and purposes, the sun began setting on the Orfalea Fund in the spring of 2013, and we’ve been in a steadily evolving twilight since then. Our hope, however, is that even when our twilight fades later this year, if we’ve done our job well, the sun will continue to shine brightly on the work being carried forward by our partners for many long days to come.