Shifting the Spend-Down into High Gear

Joel L. Fleishman


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The previous two reports ("First Annual Report to the AVI CHAI Foundation" and "Gearing Up to Spend Down") in this series describe a general atmosphere of confidence and pride about the prospect of wrapping up what would eventually be more than a quarter-century of philanthropy. But the two respective periods, 2008-09 and 2009-10, were also years of soul-searching, painful choices, and some uncertainty among staff, Trustees, and grantees. To begin with, the decision to spend down the Foundation’s assets had imposed a kind of finality on the remaining work to be done, a need to focus strategy and husband resources, and a short, strict time-limit within which to accomplish as much as possible. Because the Foundation had traditionally worked as a solo player in philanthropy, rarely seeking or joining partnerships with other funders, it would now have an uphill struggle to help many of its grantees find other sources of support and build bridges to other contributors. Trustees, who had previously focused considerable energy and attention on individual grants, grantees, and projects, realized they would need to work differently, widen their horizons, delegate more routine responsibility to senior staff, and devote the greater part of their time to overall strategic deliberation and decision-making as they pilot the institution toward its conclusion. But as if all that weren’t pressure enough, many of these changes in thinking and practice were beginning to reach a critical juncture just as the world economy was unraveling, and the value of endowments were plunging across the philanthropic world, in the Great Recession of 2007-09.

The reports for the past two years reflected these anxieties, along with all of the normal thinking, questioning, and planning to be expected in any period of organizational change. This third year of reporting, however, marks a significant change: a period of exciting, promising, and sustained—indeed, reassuring—action and direction. Highlights of the year are summarized region-by-region.


Fleishman, Joel L., 2011. "Shifting the Spend-Down into High Gear: A Foundation Begins Implementing Its Strategy: Year Three Report on the Concluding Years of the AVI CHAI Foundation." Durham, NC: Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University.


The report is also available on the website of the AVI CHAI Foundation (link is external).

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