New guide for funders looks at strategic use of time horizons


Alliance magazine


To give as much as possible, as fast as possible, or to limit giving to a rate that enables an in-perpetuity existence? These are questions that philanthropists and charitable foundations are increasingly considering as more and more realise the importance of time horizons.

A new two-volume guide from Rockefeller Philanthropy Archives has just been released, aimed at helping funders make just those decision. The guide includes considerations and implementation strategies relating to strategic time horizons, accompanied by a compilation of case studies from foundations around the world.

In philanthropy, a time horizon is the length of time over which a donor or foundation seeks to engage in philanthropic giving. It can be in-perpetuity – meaning there is no end date foreseen – or it can be time-limited, defined by a predetermined end date or triggering event. Time-limited philanthropy is also referred to as ‘limited-life,’ ‘spend down,’ ‘spend out,’ ‘time bound,’ ‘giving while living,’ or ‘sunsetting.’

Volume one, Strategic Time Horizons in Philanthropy: Key Trends and Considerations, details the significance of strategic time horizons to philanthropy and how being intentional about the choice can help further one’s mission, vision, and values. Many donors don’t realise the importance of determining a time horizon and, as a result, don’t engage in a thoughtful process. Others are unsure of the basis on which to make a time horizon decision. This guide provides an essential framework for how to select a time horizon that aligns with an one’s vision and goals.  

Volume two, Strategic Time Horizons in Philanthropy: Strategy in Action, provides guidance on how to implement a chosen strategic time horizon and explores key issues such as: 

  • Important decision points for all time horizons.
  • What events might trigger a spend-down or adoption of the time-limited model.
  • When to extend, contract or leave the spend-down timeline unchanged. 
  • The stepping stones of the spend-down process.

‘Wealth holders are increasingly seeking ways to be part of the solution to the world’s most persistent problems,’ said Melissa A. Berman, RPA President and CEO. ‘Changing long-standing complicated problems takes a lot of listening, learning, collaboration and patience. Part of that strategy includes considering how the time horizon of their philanthropy can help drive impact.’

The guide and case studies follow on a pair of groundbreaking reports published by RPA last year that analyse the findings of two unique global surveys of foundations and ultra-high net worth families engaged in philanthropic giving. This research is part of a multiyear global initiative funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies for which RPA was selected in a competitive process to explore, analyse and share global insights related to strategic time horizons in philanthropy.

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