There have been so many different responses, both inside movements and inside philanthropy, to the Chorus Foundation’s decision to spend down.

On the one hand, responses from movement practitioners have included telling every funder they know that every foundation should spend down. Sometimes these practitioners mention reparations (as though reparations were synonymous with charitable giving) or abolition (because they believe, as we do, in a world where philanthropy no longer exists). Other responses reflect fear that comes from years of scarcity: “What will we do when Chorus isn’t around to fund us anymore?” The question suggests that the money to do the work is limited and might be affected to such an extent that organizations will no longer be able to secure funding for their own work. There is the feeling that the necessary relationships, and capital resources that come with them, will not be easily available or accessible after Chorus.

In philanthropic circles, there is also a spectrum. Some take an absolutist position that everyone should spend down and do so on the quickest timeline possible, because folks on the ground need the money and because philanthropy should not exist in a liberated world. Others express the belief that spend-down strategies are utopian, extreme, irresponsible, and not strategic in the world that exists.

Chorus has written multiple articles about the tactic of spending down. Spending down is a response to the relational, experiential, and data-driven research that has informed (and continues to inform) choices and recommendations regarding philanthropic strategies. Our conversations about the strategic utility and tactical intervention of spending down—whether philanthropy- or movement-oriented—might seem to be all over the place.

Even though Chorus has shared assessments and lessons in the hope that other philanthropic institutions (and the humans that sustain and maintain them) might shift their approaches, not only when it comes to what gets funded but also how movements are funded, we seem to be stuck in a feedback loop: transformational versus transactional impact, long-term versus short-term or one-time funding, general operating versus project-/program-specific grants, the 5 percent versus the 95 percent, and more.

How do we move past these sound bites to a multisector strategy for social justice funding? How do we stop the cyclical overcorrection of movement demands that are often more tactical than strategic, as well-intentioned as they might be? How do we challenge philanthropic strategies that are informed more by donor and trustee politics and the opinions and interests of the wealthy than by what is happening on the ground?

Read the full article about the strategy for spending down by Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson and Farhad Ebrahimi at Stanford Social Innovation Review.