To capture the magic of compounding. For spritely Gisèle Huff, that is both reason and reward for a limited-life foundation. Looking back over her 17 years as executive director of the Jaquelin Hume ­Foundation, she believes the big bets and sharp focus of its grantmaking have sparked outsized results. When you put significant money to work early, she advises, “you can change the world in front of your own eyes.”

Questions abound regarding how best to sunset. When should the spend-down begin and end? What practical challenges does it entail? There’s no one right answer. But with foundations of all shapes and sizes now in the midst of disbursing all of their assets to maximize their effect before folding up their tent, the recent experience offers a variety of lessons.

Whether they want to magnify their impact, prevent mission drift, see results with their own eyes, avoid bureaucracy, or eliminate family conflict—or perhaps all of the above—donors have many motives for pushing their gifts over a limited, immediate period.

"You can become musty if you keep doing everything as you always did,” Kim Dennis observes. “The lesson for other donors is clear: sharpen your mission and plan to sunset.” Otherwise, she warns, “be content knowing that things will change."

What staff learn from these “big idea” gifts will determine how grantmaking proceeds after 2016. From the shortlist of 200 grantees, suggests executive director Hank Beukema, McCune may be able to strengthen 50 or 60 of them well into the future. The board will direct $60 million to build up rural community foundations in the locality, for instance, but will also look for small organizations it can buttress.

Read the full article about foundations by Joanne Florino at The Philanthropy Roundtable.