Portfolio Management Considerations for Multi-Year Grants

Portfolio Management Considerations for Multi-Year Grants

Foundations support a variety of causes and initiatives through grant-making. One common strategy used by foundations is the utilization of multi-year grants. This approach provides a grantee with a stable source of funding over a period of time, typically 2-5 years, to support a specific project or program. There are many benefits of utilizing multi-year grants but also challenges to consider as to how they can impact portfolio management.

Benefits of Multi-Year Foundation Grants:

Multi-year grants can provide foundations and their grantees with a number of benefits, including:

  • Increased Impact: Multi-year grants can help foundations achieve greater impact by allowing grantees to pursue long-term goals, implement sustainable programs, and achieve meaningful outcomes. By committing funding for multiple years, foundations can help grantees plan and execute long-term programs that can achieve greater impact than one-time grants.
  • Increased Efficiencies: By committing funding for multiple years, foundations can reduce administrative and reporting burdens for themselves and their grantees, allowing both parties to focus on their respective missions.
  • Stronger Relationships: Multi-year grants can help foundations build trust and stronger relationships with grantees by providing them with a stable source of support. The grantees can rely on the continued support and resources of the foundation over time.
  • Increased Predictability: Multi-year grants provide grantees with a predictable source of funding, allowing them to plan and implement their programs with greater certainty.
  • Improved Program Continuity: Long-term funding helps grantees maintain the continuity of their programs, avoiding the need to spend time and resources on fundraising.

Challenges of Multi-Year Grants:

While multi-year grants can offer many benefits, they also come with some challenges that must be carefully considered and managed, including:

  • Increased Risk: By committing funds for a longer period, foundations are taking on greater risk if the grantee's program does not achieve its desired outcomes.
  • Reduced Portfolio Diversity: Allocating a significant portion of funds to multi-year grants can result in a less diverse portfolio for a foundation by committing to fixed obligations, reducing its overall risk tolerance and limiting appropriateness of certain investment opportunities.
  • Investment Risk: The longer the time horizon of a grant, the greater the risk that changes in market conditions could impact the foundation's portfolio value.
  • Liquidity Constraints: Overcommitting to multi-year grants may lead to excess distributions in any given year. This may limit a foundation's ability to adjust its portfolio to changing market conditions, which could impact the foundation's long-term financial stability.
  • Limited Flexibility: Multi-year grants can limit the foundation's ability to respond to new opportunities or changing circumstances, as the funds have already been committed for a set period of time.
  • Increased Monitoring Costs: Multi-year grants often require ongoing monitoring and reporting to ensure that grantees are meeting their obligations, which can increase administrative costs for the foundation.

Impact on Portfolio Management:

The use of multi-year grants can impact a foundation’s portfolio management in several ways. First, the use of multi-year grants impacts the foundation’s asset allocation, as the grants require a long-term commitment of funds and may require a different mix of assets.  Related, due to the impact of multi-year grants on a foundation’s liquidity, the foundation’s portfolio should take into consideration the liquidity constraints associated with these grants. Finally, by locking up funds over a longer period of time, the foundations risk management strategy may be impacted.

While there may be some challenges when considering multi-year grants, there are multiple ways to help manage these challenges. Foundations should consider the following portfolio management strategies when incorporating multi-year grants into their asset allocation:

  • Diversification: By diversifying their portfolios across multiple asset classes, foundations can help reduce the risk of loss due to market volatility.
  • Dynamic Asset Allocation: By regularly reviewing and adjusting their portfolios in response to changing market conditions, foundations can help ensure that their investments remain aligned with their charitable objectives.
  • Use of Private Alternatives: Private alternatives such as private equity, private debt, and real assets can help provide the foundation with additional sources of return, which can help offset the impact of market volatility.
  • Regular Monitoring and Reporting: Regular monitoring and reporting of the foundation’s liquidity relative to future obligations can help the foundation maintain a proper cash buffer in the event of a market downturn.


In conclusion, foundations often face unique challenges in managing their portfolios to meet their charitable goals, especially when it comes to utilizing multi-year grants. Ultimately, the decision to use multi-year grants should be based on the foundation's mission, goals, and risk tolerance. These grants can play an important role in helping foundations achieve their objectives, but they also require careful consideration and management to ensure the foundation's long-term financial stability. It may be advantageous for foundations to  start a multi-year grant program slowly to see how to further incorporate it into their grantmaking strategy. Foundation’s will also be able to understand what other systems and processes they can utilize to customize their multi-year grant strategy in a way that works best for them. By incorporating effective portfolio management strategies, foundations can help reduce the risks associated with multi-year grants and achieve greater impact in support of their missions.

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