An Open Book:
How AVI CHAI’s Spend Down is Impacting its Work

Perpetual / Ghetu Daniel

By Deena Fuchs

At a recent gathering, conversation turned to AVI CHAI’s impending spend-down at the close of 2019. A number of colleagues expressed interest in hearing more about the spend-down and its implications. I was actually surprised by the request for more information. Since announcing the spend-down more than a decade ago, I feel like we are the ever-spending-down foundation, and there was nothing more to say.

That is, until I read Professor Joel Fleishman’s latest installment in his chronicle of AVI CHAI’s concluding years, and I realized that in fact there really is what to share.

We began this bi-annual documentation when we first made the spend-down public in 2010. At that time, we were looking for any and all literature on spend-down foundations so we could learn best practice and glean lessons from others’ experiences. We learned that there was little to nothing available. We decided to fill that gap and make our experiences transparent for anyone who might find themselves in a similar place. Our journey has been documented for everyone to see. For anyone interested, our prior six reports are available on our website.

Fleishman’s latest report is more than just a chronicle of our programmatic work during our last years. He succinctly captures our partnerships with other funders, a culture shift directly related to our spend-down and the urgent realization that go-it-alone philanthropy was not sustainable. He documents different ways in which we are approaching capacity building for our grantees and ways in which we are working to facilitate their growth and strength before we close in an effort to leave them prepared for a post-AVI CHAI world. In both areas, consistent with our goals of transparency, he opines on what is working and on what isn’t working as well.

Fleishman’s report also offers insights on some new developments: where the foundation stands on new initiatives (not too many as we near spend-down) and staff morale (generally good but with some growing unease.) The spend-down is approaching (we have 17 more months to go) and, as is to be expected, has begun to temper some of the programmatic creativity the staff has employed (and enjoyed) to date.

In his conclusion, Professor Fleishman raises a question he had not considered publically before – the question of AVI CHAI’s thought leadership in the philanthropy field. He cites our work in capacity building and data-driven decision making as two areas in which he believes the foundation will leave a lasting impression on the fields in which we work. And he references a new direction we are planning to implement in our remaining 17 months: “convening and giving people opportunities to learn and to think together with us.” We are excited about this focus and look forward to sharing more with you in the weeks and months ahead.

Deena K. Fuchs is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for The AVI CHAI Foundation.