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Best Practices

Photo Credit: Hill-Snowdon Foundation

HSF’s mission is to work with low-income families and communities to create a fair and just society by helping them develop the capacity and leadership skills necessary to influence the decisions that shape their lives.

We understand that achieving this vision will take a tremendous amount of work, creativity, sacrifice, and courage on the part of families and communities, as well as a great deal of time. However, we also understand that as an organization committed to social justice, we need to begin to create a fair and just society by first building an organization that is an exemplar of fairness, justice and well-being. Therefore, the staff and board of HSF have been deliberate in developing personnel policies and operational practices that reflect our values and open a dialogue about “what a social justice organization should look like.”

Constantly evolving, our effort to create a work environment at the Foundation that is grounded in the principle of “people first”. HSF’s “people first personnel policies” , pushes us to seek ways to support the well-being of staff by providing abundant support to help them and their families to thrive, with the understanding that as they thrive so to will the Foundation, our allies and our grassroots partners.


We feel it is critically important to integrate our political values in our operational practices, such as providing domestic partner benefits and family healthcare coverage to full and part-time employees and including gender expression and identity in our anti-harassment policies. We also strive to create an organization that fosters a family environment of inter-dependence, mutual support and respect, direct and open communication, accountability, appreciation, caring, laughter, and fun.

It is our hope that these personnel policies combined with the core work of the Foundation, will allow us to achieve HSF’s vision of a fair and just society society.

Longterm Grantmaking & Eight Year Time Limit

Grassroots Partners

Rolling Blackout

Sabbatical Policy

Board Discretionary Grants

Employee Matching Grants

Interviews, Articles & Resources

How Hill-Snowdon Foundation Became More Creative, Responsive, and Trust-Based

Practicing What They Preach: the Hill-Snowdon Foundation’s Progressive Personnel Policies​

Hill-Snowdon Foundation's Courageous Philanthropy Defends Democracy

Funder Spotlight: Hill-Snowdon Foundation

Longterm Grantmaking

As a funder of social change, we believe in providing funding to grassroots organizations for an extended length of time. However, as a small family foundation with limited resources, we also found that this limited our ability to respond to new needs and opportunities and bring on new groups.  Therefore, we began looking to figure out a balance, a ‘middle-way’ that worked for the Foundation.


Starting in 2015, we began slowly cycling off our current partners that have received funding for eight or more years, at the rate of about 2-5 groups per year through 2020 (when all these groups would have been transitioned).  All grassroots partners who met a reasonable level of performance would receive at least a year’s notice and a final tie-off grant of at least $25,000. It is important to recognize that at this point in time, many of our grassroots partners had been funded on an average of 8+ years, and that for any groups currently being cycled off, many have been funded by the foundation for 13+ years.

At the same time as we begin to roll-off our partners, we also implemented an idea that was proposed by some of our grassroots partners during feedback calls that we had prior to making a final decision to institute the 8-year limit -- to allow former grassroots partners to access our Small Grants fund after they have rolled off. Staff thought this ‘Alumni Fund’ was a good idea worth exploring and our Board agreed, since it would help organizations become more stable and sustainable by continuing to support important capacity building needs. 


Board and staff try to ensure that the foundation’s values are reflected in all aspects of its grantmaking. For example, HSF chooses to not use the word "grantee" and instead funded groups are called “grassroots partners.” It’s an important distinction to the staff and board. We recognize that the power dynamics between grassroots groups and their funders can be a major barrier to developing authentic relationships. HSF considers our groups to be partners in social change, and we rely on them to learn and enable HSF to achieve its mission.

Rolling Blackout

In response to the 2008 stock market crash, we created something called “A Rolling Blackout.” This fund reinforced our commitment to our grassroots partners, or what other folks call “grantees,” by saying that for the first two years after the market crashed, we were not going to change our grant sizes. At the time, a lot of the foundations were cutting back and trying to find ways to save their bottom line. At the Hill-Snowdon Foundation our bottom line was the work our grassroots partners did in their communities to create a more and fair and just society. So, that’s what we were trying to protect. This took some creativity on our part. The solution we came up with was to ask our grassroots partners to sit out of our funding for one year, over a 4-year period. This allowed us to reinvest those “saved” grant funds; the groups that sat out were able to come back after their year off. One of the most important parts of all of this process was that we were in dialogue with all of our grassroots partners as we were developing this policy. We were transparent in with our situation and in our descriptions of the new policies. We explained the why and the how of the policy  and asked for feedback. Additionally, we gave our partners at least 12 months lead-time before they sat out of the grant cycle for a year to allow them to find additional funding sources.  All of our partners appreciated us explaining our plans BEFORE we implemented them, and they felt they could trust us because of our prior relationships and partnerships.

The Rolling Blackout Fund was also possible because we made adjustments to our personnel policies; some of which our still in place. For instance, for several years we lowered the the employer contribution fund to our 403b, suspended our professional development fund, and decreased the Board's discretionary pool to $15,000 per board member per year (it was previously of $25,000 per member). While our personnel policies are generous, they were also expensive. Our goal was to balance our desire to provide for our staff with our purpose of providing resources to the groups that are helping to make a fair and just society. So, after the compensation and benefits review we did in 2012, Staff proposed to the Board that Staff merit increases be capped at 3% (the previous cap was 6%, not including bonus).  We did this in order to try to lower our administrative costs relative to our grantmaking budget (or our grants to admin ratio). All in all, the Rolling Blackout policies and the self-imposed caps on staff salaries (in addition to the stock market rebounding) helped us to fully recoup our losses and add about $5 million to our corpus. It should be noted that this is all the while using a socially responsible investing model for the overwhelming majority of our assets. 

When we live our values, even in times of intense challenge and demand, we learned that this showed our staff and grantee partners that we are committed to practicing what we are preaching.

Sabbatical Policy

The Foundation believes that effective institutions are guided and sustained by creative, committed and dependable people. Leaders need time to think, rest, reflect and rejuvenate if they are to keep their organizations and programs innovative and moving forward. To achieve this and help prevent job related stress and burnout, the Foundation endorses a discretionary paid sabbatical benefit to employees.


All full-time and part-time employees are entitled to a three-month (prorated for part-time employees) sabbatical after five years of employment and three month sabbaticals (prorated for part-time employees) after every three years of employment thereafter, subject to approval.


Staff have been able to spend this time with their family, travelling, pursuing hobbies and more. Internally, everyone helps to ensure the work of the Foundation continues while someone is out on sabbatical, and it offers an opportunity for staff to learn more about the individual work of their colleague. We are now on our second cycle of sabbaticals, and would say that this has been a great success.

For more info on Hill-Snowdon's Sabbatical Policy, please Contact Us.

Board Discretionary Grants

The responsibility to help others was and continues to be a value deeply shared by the third and fourth generations. So was the value of stewardship. At HSF's first board retreat back in 1997, the family made the decision to cede control and give up funding for their personal interests so that the Foundation could focus on a common goal. They stressed that as stewards of a public trust, and responsible for using those resources wisely, the endowment was not there just to further personal projects.


At the retreat, trustees agreed to establish a small pool of limited funds for discretionary grants, agreeing that if something was important enough to family members they could fund it separately on their own. Originally set at $25,000 per person, the amount was lowered to $15,000 after the 2008 stock market crash, and had remained at that level until 2020.


With the impact of Covid-19, the decision was made to reallocate half of those funds towards Covid-19 relief, with many of the trustees opting to contribute the full amount. Going forward the amount of Board Discretionary funds is set at $10,000 per trustee. 

*Please note, each HSF Board member has a discretionary pool from which to make grants to organizations that support their personal interests. These grants may fall outside of the major focus of the Foundation overall and are made at the sole discretion of each Trustee. If you are trying to reach the individual donor of your grant, please contact us at

2020 Board Discretionary Grants

Ashley Inc.

Best Buddies DC & VA

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Duke University

Greater Washington Community Foundation

National Cathedral School

National Children's Museum

St. Patrick's Episcopal Day School

The Fortune Society

The Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

The Light House

University of Illinois Foundation

University of Virginia Law School Foundation

Wellness House

Employee Matching Grants

All employees are entitled to participate in an Employee Matching Grant program, where Hill-Snowdon matches any employee contribution to an accepted 501(c)(3) organization for up to $4,000 per year for full-time and up to $2,000 for part-time staff. Actual amounts are based on annual budget allotments and are subject to change on a yearly basis.

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