Back to News

The Value of Time in Philanthropy: Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Releases New Guide on Assessing and Implementing Strategic Time Horizons

February 25, 2021

NEW YORK- February 25, 2021– To give as much as possible, as fast as possible, or to limit giving to a rate that enables an in-perpetuity existence? This is a question that philanthropists and charitable foundations increasingly face as more and more realize the importance of considering time horizons in a strategic way. To help funders make those decisions, today Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA)  is publishing a two-volume guide on 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 realize 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.

The supplementary publication, In Their Own Words: Foundation Stories and Perspectives on Time-Limited Philanthropy, features 12 case studies that are the result of candid conversations with numerous philanthropic leaders across the globe, as well as grantees. The stories told unpack the rich diversity of motivations, strategies and approaches driving time horizon choices and corresponding impacts.

For instance, the Chief Executive of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust explains how the Trust used the first two years of its time-limited existence to focus on strategic design of its operations, programming and exit strategy. This enabled the Trust to reduce the number of  Malawians at risk of going blind from trachoma from 8 million to zero. The Trust credits its time-limited approach for spurring a sense of urgency that delivered this result.

Another case study illustrates the process through which a 100-year-old Edward W. Hazen Foundation made the decision to convert to a time-limited organization to concentrate its impact. Another story provides an insider’s perspective on how the Ford Foundation innovated the use of social impact bonds in philanthropy to ramp up their giving and increase agility while sustaining its in-perpetuity approach.

“Wealth holders are increasingly seeking ways to be part of the solution to the world’s most persistent problems,” said Melissa A. Berman, President and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. “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 analyze 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, analyze and share global insights related to strategic time horizons in philanthropy.

Back to News

Related Links