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Building for Sustainability While Ending Grantmaking:  Lessons from The Nicholson Foundation

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This event was held on December 2, 2021 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm EST


The Nicholson Foundation started work in 2002 with the mission of improving the lives of vulnerable populations in New Jersey.  Through its grantmaking, the Foundation aimed to address shortcomings in the array of social, human service, and education systems meant to help them.  Over their 20-year history, this focus remained their guiding star, even after announcing in 2019 that they would spend down by the end of 2021.

On December 2nd, ECFC was joined by The Nicholson Foundation to discuss their strategies and planning for winding down and exiting from specific grants, initiatives, and partnerships.

The Nicholson Foundation’s experience offers lessons for all foundations – not just those planning to sunset or considering limited life, but also ones seeking to build grantee capacity for sustainability.

Moderator: Jessie Rasmussen, President, Buffett Early Childhood Fund


  • Kimberly Boller, PhD, Executive Director, The Nicholson Foundation
  • Arturo Brito, MD, President, Children’s Health Fund; immediate past Executive Director, The Nicholson Foundation
  • Shannon Riley-Ayers, PhD, Senior Program Officer, The Nicholson Foundation

Event Takeaways

Among their key lessons is the need to build sustainability into every grant from the beginning.  This includes requiring grantees address sustainability in applications and reports.  At the same time, senior program officers worked closely and regularly with grantees to identify performance objectives, including milestones for achieving success beyond the Foundation’s funding.

To exit responsibly and gracefully at the end of 2021, during its final years, the Foundation ramped up its efforts to help grantees develop their sustainability.  Strategies included supporting grantees to increase their profile and skills, and lifting up partnerships with other funders, government, and communities.  Despite COVID-related delays and necessary grant modifications, the Foundation sought to manage grantee and partner expectations by communicating clearly that there were no additional funds available and sustainability plans needed to be implemented as soon as possible.

Watch our December 2nd recording for an indepth and heartfelt discussion on The Nicholson Foundation's lessons learned. A new book, being published ahead of their closing on December 31, 2021, Changing Systems, Changing Lives: Reflecting on 20 Years, explores The Nicholson Foundation’s 20-year journey and $150 million in grantmaking to improve the lives of vulnerable populations in New Jersey.  Changing Systems, Changing Lives can be downloaded as a PDF or mailed to you as a printed book. You can also click here to read a summary of the book and preview chapters.

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