Key Points

This article shares insights and lessons from a research project commissioned by The California Endowment in early 2016 to inform the planning for its transition out of Building Healthy Communities, a 10-year, place-based, policy- and systems-change initiative. The goal of the nationwide study, which included literature reviews and interviews with 30 executives and directors from 17 foundations, was to tap into philanthropic leaders’ accumulated wisdom about exiting out of similar initiatives.

In generalizing the study’s findings for the broader philanthropic audience, this article presents a guiding framework for exit and sustainability planning in the form of a set of recommendations that relate to issues such as managing relationships between funder and grantee partners during the exit, using the initiative’s theory of change as a tool for decision-making, finding a balance between demonstrable success and equity, and managing the internal processes of the funding organization.

The research shows that even though an exit is inherently difficult, it is possible to carry out in a way that does not undermine the accomplishments of the initiative and leaves the foundation and its grantee partners in strengthened positions.

Open Access