Bringing New Information Into the Mix

Expectations and experience evolve, and so does the exit strategy a grantmaker may have imagined at the start. A good ending often depends on cultivating a dialogue with the grantee and remaining flexible enough to gather and weigh new information about what’s actually happening in a few key areas:

  • The grantee’s accomplishments. It’s a mistake, an experienced grantmaker warned, to limit your vision only to what was originally planned: “We need to be alert to unexpected successes and open to redefining what constitutes ‘success.’ We shouldn’t let what was initially agreed upon blind us or our grantees to achievements that may be as or more important.” Toward the end, a fresh look at achievements may even justify a different approach to exiting — such as helping the grantee communicate unexpected findings, making a connection with a new funder, or even deciding to stay involved a little longer.

  • The future of the funded work. From the grantee’s perspective, one grantmaker noted, “many programs and most enterprises are actually not devised to have an end point. You may think of your funding on a project basis, but it often supports activities that are expected to run on a permanent basis. This is just one of several roots of the disconnect between grantors and grantees.” Acknowledging a grantee’s funding realities can help a funder be more creative about addressing them. The grantee’s organizational growth. Grantmakers also recommend keeping tabs on a grantee’s growth and development — in size, role, and capacity.

  • Success with other funders. “Consider making a check-in on issues like raising funds from other sources part of reporting,” suggested one grantmaker. “Asking grantees where they are in terms of identifying other funders,” said another, can be “one of the most important uses of reporting requirements.” This doesn’t mean “constantly reminding the grantee that you will one day say goodbye”; it means building up trust and engaging the grantee “as an ally in building the field.” The time it actually takes. Another topic that deserves periodic discussion is the time it will take to do the work — a frequent source of miscommunication between funders and grantees. A seasoned grantmaker observed, “...there are very few projects or organizations that don’t require a good amount of time to succeed. While short-term funding approaches may be well geared to short-term projects, generally they are also applied to longterm projects and to organizations.” A grantmaker whose foundation prides itself on sticking with grantees over the long term offered this piece of advice: “When goals and timeframe get out of synch, renegotiate the promised products. And technical assistance can help a lot.”

  • Expectations inside your foundation. Thinking upfront and staying flexible also mean managing expectations within the foundation. One grantmaker noted that she’s careful to keep the board updated on evolving situations: “One of our ongoing tasks is to ask grantees difficult questions, which sometimes lead to making more conservative projections. We, in turn, try to set our board’s expectations realistically. There have been numerous times over the years when we have needed to bring difficult news back to our board and reset their expectations. We are always calibrating expectations — downward or upward — in an attempt to have expectations and reality be as close as possible.” Another person made a related point about keeping others at the foundation in touch with grantees’ changing circumstances, including problems. "We shouldn’t punish all bad news with cuts in funding,” she said. “We can position ourselves and our programs to offer problem-solving help. This means, however, that the foundation’s management and board need to be kept aware and in alignment with this ‘helpmate’ role.”

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from The Effective Exit.