We’re giving all our money away by 2025.
For over 30 years, the Foundation had been spending between seven and 11 percent of its assets each year — significantly above what’s legally required. As that spending chipped away at the endowment, the question of how much to spend each year became more pressing, and forced more difficult questions:
- Should we cut back on our grantmaking now to preserve the institution “in perpetuity,” or do we spend all our money now to support the issues the foundation was created to address?
- How much impact could we have by going “all in” at this moment, and how will we know?
- Is the Compton Foundation’s core purpose to preserve itself and its legacy, or to contribute to organizations and individuals working to change the world?
- Why do foundations enjoy such privileged tax status without being accountable to the public?
- How can private philanthropy bolster democracy and equity, rather than contribute to imbalances in power and wealth?
- Is philanthropy as we know it worth saving?
These awkward questions raised issues of family history, privilege, and purpose. Like many of our allies, we deepened our learning journey about structural racism and economic inequity. We listened to the rising critiques of traditional philanthropy. Spurred on by the urgency of the rising political, cultural, and ecological chaos, we found the decision to spend out was clear: giving all our money away now and talking about it was the most important action we could take.
Scroll down to meet some pioneers.
The Compton Foundation is a relatively small private foundation, one of over 85,000 in the U.S. alone, whose collective assets (as of 2015) total over $860 billion dollars. As we’ve gone deeper into this spend-out journey we’re excited about the growing number of new foundations that are also limited in lifespan. Many are designing grantmaking and investing practices that build agency and wealth in historically marginalized communities through reparations and investment.
Obviously, foundations cannot single-handedly shift power in ways that fix our broken systems — nor should they be expected to. Only people-fueled movements can do that.
This is what we call “igniting change.”
We’re Learning From These Spend Out Leaders
S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation
Bechtel provides extensive information about operational issues related to their spend-out, as well as sections on learning and evaluation.Learn More
The Brainerd Foundation
A succinct and personal account of the foundation’s decisions, procedures, and lessons learned during spend-out offers an inside look into the legacy of a small family foundation.Learn More
Edward W. Hazen Foundation
Hazen’s spend-out rationale was very similar to ours. Their website shares a lot of resources about how they have worked with grantees during their spend-out.Learn More
This is one of the first foundations that the Compton team talked with regarding spending out, back in 2011. They were committed to transparency and grantee-centered decisions in a way that inspired us.Learn More
The Whitman Institute
The Whitman Institute has been one of our closest partners in our work for many years, centering the importance of relationship and trust-based work. Their spend-out has been well documented and remains one of the most inspiring spend-out journeys we’ve followed.Learn More