Making Impact at a Spend Down Foundation

[This is the second of three consecutive pieces examining issues relating to employee attitudes and relations within a spend down environment. In March, ACBP President Jeffrey Solomon will write on managing and supporting talented staff during spend down.]

by Amanda Levine

As a new hire at The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP), I am grappling with the notion of the foundation’s spend down while simultaneously growing my professional skills.

I arrived at ACBP in September 2013, when the spend down was already well underway. Senior management was fully transparent with me about this before I accepted the job offer, but it did not affect my decision in the least. If anything, it was an added bonus and incentive.

As a recent college graduate, I was eager to jump right in to learn and to succeed. Joining ACBP would, I believed, position me on a fast track toward understanding the role of a leader in Jewish foundations. The decision by Charles Bronfman and ACBP president Jeff Solomon to publicly and honestly share their thoughts and strategy related to the spend down resonated with my values, and so with this respect for ACBP’s leadership, I accepted a job with an expiration date.

I was hired to provide needed support to our current programs and funding commitments, which includes determining how to best preserve the stories and lessons from our relationships long after we close our doors.

When I started my position, I inherited old files. I will likely be the last person to read many of these, and how I use them is now my responsibility. Knowing that I will be the last person to inherit them is both daunting and exciting. It is my opportunity to not only build the files, but to use them to preserve the foundation’s legacy.

It is unusual to me that anyone would come into a position while already thinking of the next move, but that is what it means to be a new hire at a spend down foundation. With the foundation set to close in 2016, I will be conscious of the time that I have left. It is important to me that I have a clear direction for my own career trajectory before the end date draws near.

With spending down, employee dynamics shift and ties connect and disconnect. It is the adaptability of employees, the focused approach to philanthropy, and the dedication to core grantees that will transform the foundation and leave a lasting legacy in strategic philanthropy.

The effort that ACBP has made to publicize the activities at the foundation during the spend down mirrors the internal in-depth evaluation of ACBP’s core grantees. Aside from an evaluation of core programs, I have been working with Jeff Solomon to accomplish collective grant making agendas through ACBP-sponsored initiatives.

One of the ways that ACBP is continuing its involvement in programming is through initiatives that are either funding collectives or will strive to become their own organizations after the initial funding period. I work directly with other foundation and federation professionals on the Social Venture Fund for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society through the Jewish Federations of North America. We operate as a funding collective to organizations in Israel that are committed to our mission of coexistence in the arenas of economic development and education.

I have the opportunity to expand my network and exchange ideas with foundation and federation professionals; many concur with the ACBP business-like model of giving.

Strategic Jewish giving is growing. There is still work to be done for many social change initiatives, and those that engage multiple organizations will be successful for years to come. It is my personal curiosity in researching topics related to ACBP’s past, present, and future, along with my ability to take on responsibilities that are important to Charles Bronfman and Jeff Solomon, that will be important going forward.

The future of my career at ACBP will be filled with accomplishments, uncertainties, and challenges. It will be different than what I imagined I would be doing this early in my career, and it will be rewarding because I know I have been handed the opportunity to make the most impact in a short period of time.

Amanda Levine is a program associate at The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. She focuses on communications, research and development initiatives relating to core programs, such as Birthright Israel, that strengthen Judaism in North America and enhance social awareness in Israel, and spend down issues relating to ACBP and major grantees.

[eJP note: “Making Change by Spending Down” is a new commentary series of The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP) – in partnership with the Foundation Center – to share insights and lessons of ACBP as it spends down its endowment by 2016 and closes. Each month various stakeholders will contribute new posts that will explore how ACBP’s decision to spend down affects a broad range of interests: from mission, employees and grantees, to investments and legacy. Decision makers across the social sector will benefit from the first-hand knowledge and community of learning being created.

The series – which will run for a year or more – is being disseminated through the Foundation Center’s PhilanTopic, Transparency Talk and GrantCraft blogs and here on eJewish Philanthropy.]