#120 The $100 Million Spend Down Strategy with Bruce Lourie, Executive Director of the Ivey Foundation

Mar 13, 2023

Dr. Bruce Lourie shares why the Ivey Foundation has made the choice to spend down. He explains why the Ivey foundation decided to spend down and his tips for making the most impact possible. 


Episode Highlights:

  • Bruce’s personal journey into philanthropy
  • The reasons why  a family foundation decides to spend down
  • The best grant-making strategies to choose when you are spending down.
  • The unexpected twists and turns of spending down. 


Dr. Bruce Lourie Bio:

Dr. Lourie is one of Canada’s most influential leaders and experts on climate change and the transition to a net-zero economy. Best known for his ability to rethink climate problems and develop solutions that benefit both the economy and the environment, he has been instrumental in creating more than a dozen organizations that play a critical role in Canada’s transition to a net-zero economy, including Canadian Climate Institute, the Institute for Sustainable Finance, Farmers for Climate Solutions, Efficiency Canada and The Transition Accelerator. His focus at Ivey Foundation is the Economy and Environment program, which provides funding to these net-zero focused organizations, among others. He also liaises with government, industry, ENGOs, and the business community to ensure Canada achieves net-zero by 2050 while remaining economically competitive.

An engaging and lively spokesperson, Dr. Lourie has a unique ability to translate complex issues into timely and actionable information in both print and broadcast interviews alike and has been interviewed by most major Canadian news outlets. Dr. Lourie is also an experienced and in demand speaker, and has spoken at events such as Global Salmon Initiative’s COP26 Panel, The Trottier Symposium and the 2021 Calgary Climate Symposium, where he gave the keynote address.

In addition to his influential role in pushing Canada towards net-zero by 2050, Dr. Lourie also initiated the largest climate action in North America, the phasing out of coal in Ontario, and helped shepherd the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement and establish of the Ontario Greenbelt. He is also the co-author of two books, Toxin Toxout and Slow Death By Rubber Duck, an international bestseller. Dr. Lourie holds a Ph.D examining the intersection of risk, science and policy. 



Ivey Foundation

California Endowment

Report: Building Healthy Communities: A Decade in Review November 2020


If you enjoyed this episode, listen to these as well:

#119 Sybil Speaks: To Spend Down or Not To Spend Down That’s the Question

#109 Why do People Give, With Sybil & Fred Ackerman-Munson

#61 Strategies to Give Abundantly with Lisa Holtan, Wellness Coach, High Vibe Life


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Full Transcript

Hello everybody, I hope you enjoy this interview that I did with Bruce Laurie, who runs the Ivy Foundation; they just announced a spend down of their $100 million endowment. I hope you find It very interesting. He offers the reasons that they did the spending down and everything else like that. First, I want to apologize for my intro; the sound isn't the best because I'm on the road, and I couldn't bring my microphone with me, but I really want to get this interview out for you. So anyway, enjoy, and I hope that you have a wonderful day. 

Bruce, thank you for being on my podcast. It's so great to talk to you, and It's great to have an excuse to talk to you because you know we used to see each other all the time at the fund. These funder collaborative meetings where we talked about strategy and everything, but with COVID, we just haven't been able to see each other recently. So, thanks for taking the time. I really appreciate it. 

My pleasure, Sybil. It's just, you know, a thrill to be able to see you. I wish it was in person, and I wish we were sitting looking out over a beautiful mountain setting, sipping a coffee while chatting instead of having a zoom call. But here we go. 

This will do. This will do, I guess.

But the reason I wanted to reach out to you, Bruce. I am focusing on a key question for philanthropy, and that is -- a lot of folks are talking about spending down these days. They're talking about, instead of having a foundation in perpetuity, giving all of their wealth away to well-deserving causes in their lifetime. And Bruce, you work for the IV foundation, and you're a long-time philanthropist.  as well as an activist and just in general, a great guy who does a lot of important things to help people and the community. And I just thought it would be e great. I saw your announcement, and I'm like, Bruce, can we talk about why the Ivy Foundation, which is based in Canada, has decided to spend down and what are the pros and cons of it? I thought you'd have some great advice for us on that. 

Before we go there, though, Bruce, talk to me a little bit about who you are and what got you Into this line of work and what do you care about? 

Yeah, thanks, Sybil. Looking forward to chatting about all of those things; I think this is to start with, I've worked on environmental stuff all my life, all my career, I did a Master’s degree many, many, many years ago in environmental studies. And I guess at the time. It just seemed like an obvious thing to do. 

Looking back, I guess it's maybe less obvious. Sadly we haven't made as much progress as we need to make on most environmental issues. So what keeps me going every day is knowing we've got a lot of work to do, and you know it is a bit of a slog. 

At the same time, I think things would be much worse in the world if it weren't for all the great NGOs and the great foundations supporting work in communities and all the great people. Working on those issues.

I've worked on conservation issues and toxic pollution issues and a lot of work on energy and climate change. And so, I've seen the whole range of environmental work and been involved in the boards of lots of NGOs in Canada and foundations and foundation groups in Canada and the US and abroad. 

So I guess for me It's just fun now to combine the kind of you know, the tail end of my career with the Ivy Foundation, deciding to spend down with the idea that we're going to spend it all basically on the climate crisis, spend it down reasonably quickly and five years. 

So, a lot of stuff kind of is coming together in a way that just makes sense. You know, sense for the foundation, and I'm super excited about it. And yeah, happy to talk more specifically about maybe some of the thoughts at the foundation behind our decision. 

Bruce, tell me first, it sounds like you're five years and, and what made you decide to shift from funding and doing grants year by year and instead to have this initiative which I assume is a conversation with the trustees, with the whole foundation, to talk to my listeners and us about your thought process there. 

Yeah. I mean, first and foremost, I guess what's interesting just to step back is where the Ivy Foundation, which is I think is the 6th oldest foundation in Canada. So, we're just coming up on our 75th anniversary. 

And now for an ad. But don't go away. Because Bruce has a lot more to say. 

You know your listeners may or may not know. Philanthropy started a little later in Canada than it did in the US and there's not nearly as much wealth in Canada as there is in the US, so we are sort of a small foundation by American standards. We have about, you know, on roughly $100 million endowment right now, a little smaller than it was a year ago. 

But the fact that we're, you know, we're identified with. You know, one of the most prominent business schools in Canada, the Ivy School of Business, was known, you know, as a kind of a historic foundation that's been around from the very beginning. In the early days, you know, funding hospitals and universities, kind of traditional old-school philanthropy. 

So, I think the decision for us to spend. Down caught some people by surprise because we were seen as kind of a very mainstream part of Canadian philanthropy. But when you sort of look into it and so, we're, we're basically our board of directors; there are five of us Ivy family members and this really very much came out of the family and their strong belief that creating a foundation in perpetuity wasn't necessary, you know, the thing that makes the most sense today and also just the circumstances of the family. It's been very much a family project, and the family's been working together, and I've been working with them for 20 years now and so I think for all of us, it's been like a collective project and we've worked on it for 20 years. 

And it just feels like for a bunch of reasons that this is the right time to say, OK, let's just, you know, kind of go big and support the issue that we think is the most important environmental issue right now facing the globe.  

And I guess recognizing as well that we were one of the first and largest environmental funders in Canada. So, we started making environmental grants 50 years ago at the IV Foundation and, for the last almost 40 years, have been predominantly putting all our money into environmental causes. 

So, so you know the family and my role, like, we're all just really committed to the environment, and it just really felt like, OK, well, this is the biggest issue, and we've, you know, we're looking at kind of 20-30 facing us in terms of climate targets that we need to get to. We're not nearly on track in this country. 

So let's see what we can do in the next five years and be really focused, and we go, sorry, I'll add one more thing. So well, we're over the last, say, ten years we've developed this program. The Ivy Foundation has been focused on how we build the capacity in Canada to deliver on our climate and energy transition. So essentially, you know, how do we get to net zero? 

And so, part of the decision was confidence in the people that we're supporting right now, like really believing that we've got some of the smartest people right now the country is focused on all different aspects of the climate challenge here. So, everything from, you know, understanding, you know, maybe the effects of peat land; to supporting indigenous communities and their transition to, you know, energy system, modeling, electric vehicles, building retrofits, like we're deep in understanding, like technically, how do we need to make those changes and then what are all of the social and political elements that we need to pull together. We just think we've got a really amazing group of people that we can support for the next five years. 

So, you see that, that there's this big transition. I see it as too big a transition that's about to happen in our lifetime in the next five years or so, and you're putting your money into that, you're seeing this big opportunity to catalyze this energy and move forward. 

You did say there were some reasons that the family decided to shift, and it's a pretty significant shift because of you. Such a large foundation in Canada and such a well-established one. What are some other reasons? I mean, it looks like there's an issue reason right? You see that you can invest a lot in climate change and really make a difference now. It sounds like That's clear. 

Were there any other internal considerations? That the that you all. And the foundation. And sort of spurred you into wanting to think through doing a spend down or was it really about only the issue, which is also totally fine? Of course. But I think some families will want to know that because sometimes there are those internal dynamics and not. Only the external ones. 

Yeah, yeah, I think it's a combination. I think as I said, the really the main internal dynamic would be the family really feeling like this was a project that they all worked on together, and that project is now coming to a close.

Just in terms of the history of the HIV family philanthropy. There have been a number of Ivy, you know, related foundations and each one has been set up around a particular family and those families then tend to, rather than one big foundation that grows and family members through the generations all become sort of coalesced around one big foundation.

The Ivy family has tended to create separate foundations and then have those foundations split off into families, so they're all very unique. You know, sort of family-based foundations. And so, I you know from my sense of it is that this is this part of it and so sort of this family unit has decided that. You know, it's time for this foundation to wind down.

And then just those other factors of just, you know, feeling, feeling strongly about the issue, feeling strongly about the work that we're doing and the urgency of the issue it all. It all just sort of fit together and made sense. And they the family spent several years really thinking this through like they did a lot of Deep thinking around this and you know it's a big, you know, a big personal decision for them. 

Well, this is all super helpful. So it sounds like internally the family was saying, OK, we as a family unit, this is our family project and we want to make a mark through our family project and not have it continue after that.

And then also they looked around and there's an issue that really could benefit from a significant infusion of funds in these next five years. I really think that's helpful, and it might help some folks too in terms of if they're thinking about how to do whether to do spend down or not and to think about the issue, yeah, they care about, right? 

I guess the other piece of it is. You know, just the increasing awareness that it probably isn't good public policy for foundations to exist in perpetuity, right? There's a huge tax benefit that goes to families when they create a foundation. And so part of the question is, do you sort of extend that tax benefit? And dribble out the benefits in perpetuity. Or do you take that tax benefit? 

And this is, you know, after having been around for 75 years, but do you then sort of take it and recognize and especially what you know how we understand it now? You know and really make that benefit much more, you know, directly available to the generation now that needs it most. 

And so I think another, you know, another slice of all of the things that sort of made sense was just this increasing recognition that there is there, there is an issue around you know who is benefiting from the creation of these foundations and you know, and is it like, how much of that is really benefiting the generation today that probably needs it most to, you know, succeed in the future. 

Thanks for that addition, Bruce. 

OK, so now let's talk about grant-making. So now you have a lot more money than you. I'm guessing a lot more money than you've had before, and the reason I say I'm guessing is that sometimes when there's a spend down, you actually don't have more money, but you're giving away sort of the same amount. It just depends on how things are going. 

I would think there's a lot more money that you have to give in a five-year period. Let's talk about the logistics of that and how you are now approaching long-time grantees and or reaching out to new grantees. So how are you just actualizing that larger amount of money to make sure that it is reaching your goals and not your goals but the communities’ goals around this climate issue that you're focused on and your, family are focused on. 

So yeah, we definitely have more money than we've ever had before probably you know about five times our annual granting budget. So it's, you know, $100 million / 5 it's you know it's 4/5. So, I guess the most important part of all of this is. So, it very much stays the course double down, supports the stuff that we think is working really well and supports it more.

It's not like it's like, oh, wow, we have all this money. What will we do or what are all these new things we can work on? If anything, we're becoming even more focused with more money on the things that we think need to get us like quite frankly we're very deep in understanding what it will take for Canada to meet its 20-30 climate targets like it a very rigorous kind of wind. 

And if you think about getting 2030, that's only well now seven years away, you actually have to start getting most of that stuff. I mean some of it's thankfully in I think in play right now, but you really want to start getting as much done as possible as quickly as possible because it takes a while for these things to kick in, in terms of a policy perspective. 

So, I guess one, yeah, one useful point to make is that we primarily focus on supporting public policy. I guess the theory of change if you will, is that we need a large constituency of Canadians that are supporting, you know, the most advanced public policy efforts all across the board, everything from, you know, decarbonizing buildings, the electricity grid, transportation and communities.

As I said at the outset, we've helped support a number of organizations that are kind of at the forefront of that in Canada. So, the way we're structuring the overall funding will most likely be identifying and if you read us know our press materials, you'll see that we identify a number of our you know what we call kind of our core partners. 

So, we're going to make sure that our core partners are well supported for the next five years and figure out, you know, some of them. Frankly, the question will be you know, how much money can they absorb for some of them, you know, the interesting conversation we're having internally now is like, what is the arc of funding for different organizations look like?

Some organizations we think might be able to ramp up over five years and really take off some organizations, we think you know maybe they'll, you know, have a steady state kind of funding for five years and some maybe they'll, you know, go up and go down. 

So, we're having those conversations directly with all of our grantees, to understand, you know where what they're comfortable with and what we're comfortable with. It does open up some, I would say, some areas where we probably might be a little get a little riskier in terms of a few things that we would do that we wouldn't do if we didn't have the resource. 

And so there might be some new, like national campaign work that we're excited about. So, we're with some we're very much a foundation that's all about collaboration and convening. So, most of our work is projects that are kind of designed with a group of grantees and us working together, sometimes over a year or two just to develop an initiative. 

And so, we've had a couple of those in the works that I think without revealing all the details I think will be exciting on the landscape of Canada. That will be, you know for the campaigns. 

Can't wait to hear about that. Can't wait to hear about that when it's public, Bruce, that'll be great. 

And now for an ad. But don't go away. Bruce still has more to say. 

And so, the big idea is you've got, you know, like, you know, or anyone that's, you know, been deep on these issues, you know, you know, we're hoping to have some hard-hitting campaign work, some public support work, some business alliance work. 

And some, you know, direct public policy work. And so it's just, it's just really trying to make sure that all of those pieces come together in fact, next week we're having a having meeting in Ottawa with, you know, 25 or 30 of our kind of main partners basically to help plan out what five years might look like. 

So, all of our decision-making is done basically in collaboration with our grantees, and often with all of the grantees in the room together, basically debating priorities and issues. I think it's super fun. I really love it. 

Thanks for saying that. I think that's important. I just want to reiterate a couple of things you said. One thing is you said, even though you're giving away more in this time period, you're still super focused, so you're not trying to invent new things to run after random objects, but you are allowing yourself to be a little risky in some stuff. So that's interesting as well. 

And Bruce, when we were talking offline, you also were talking about how the foundation you're working with it also has funds and supports think tanks and some other things that support the work you're doing. Can you talk a little bit about that and how that plays into the spend-down model as well? 

Yeah, certainly. I guess one of our assessments was that Canada didn't have the capabilities that we didn't really look broadly around the world, but we certainly you know, have a lot of connections, in the US and the UK. 

And we really didn't think that Canada had comparable sort of capacity in you know, think tank slash. You know, really. You know, the solid, rigorous, analytical side that out of you know the big US and UK NGOs have. 

So, we set out to try to build some new capacity, examples are things like setting up the Institute for Sustainable Finance, which is a collaboration across some business schools. We helped create something called the King Institute Education Climate Institute, which is now a federally funded, you know, research body doing, you know, policy analyst on climate change, we helped set up something called the Transition Accelerator, which brings together businesses and academics, and NGOs to really look at very specific like it's going to sound overly analytical at the end of the day, but it's really to move public policy. But how do you actually, you know, get the right people in the room to solve these problems? 

So, in a lot of ways we've, you know, we've established these organizations, we work with them super closely and then we try to get those organizations to be the capacity for the larger community and in some. Because, frankly, the capacity for governments, so they're these, these organizations are actually helping advise the government on implementing energy and climate policy. So, we've just decided that that was a critical missing piece. We put a lot of resources into it and we think that there's a real opportunity to kind of accelerate that going forward. 

That's great. So you saw a gap you want to fill and you're filling it right now? So before we go Bruce, thanks for all your words of wisdom and your advice. Before we go, I would really love to hear now that you've made the announcement and everything, is there anything unexpected, anything that you didn't anticipate now that you've shifted over? 

Well, we certainly didn't anticipate the extent of the response like it you know it ended up being quite a big media story in Canada and even before we, you know, sent notices around colleagues, you know, in in the US, we're sending me notes saying, wow, so exciting. Like, how did you even hear about it? Like it was sort of amazing to me that there was just so much interest in it. And for kind of all of the reasons we talked about like different people have different pieces of it that they find interesting. I guess, not surprisingly, a lot of people think that they're the next great, you know, partner organization for the Ivy Foundation. 

What actually did surprise me and not and I don't want to sound, you know, too arrogant here, but a lot of people said, well, what are we going to do at the end of five years when the Ivy Foundation and you're not around because you've, you know, we've played a known leadership role in the sector for so many years. 

That didn't really dawn on me as a thing. So, we're actually giving some thought to, you know, are their things that we can be doing to support and, you know, have some, some foundation colleagues come to me or saying, oh, well, maybe you can, you know, kind of be a coach to some of us over the next five years. As you know, we're building our programming and developing. 

So, we're, you know, we're conscious of that and I think there's going to be a lot of, you know, great opportunities to continue to partner. We work very closely with a number of Canadian foundations who are, you know, completely, you know, aligned in our thinking and in granting. So yeah, I think it's just going to be a super fun time and I'm pretty excited about it. 

That's great, Bruce. Well, thank you for being on my podcast to talk about this. I it's such an important topic and it's just great to catch up with you in general. So have a great rest of your day, Bruce. 

Thank you, Sybil. Always a pleasure and can't wait to see you in person. 

I know I can't wait too.