Established in 1954 by the founder of Donrey Media, the foundation has awarded some $1.8 billion in grants over the last twenty years, primarily to organizations and institutions in Arkansas, Nevada, and Oklahoma. After Reynolds' death at the age of 86 in 1993, Donrey Media was sold to the Stephens Media Group, with most of the proceeds going to the foundation. Foundation president Steve Anderson told the AP the decision to sunset the foundation in or before 2022 originally was made in 1994.
"It was never meant to go on in perpetuity," said Anderson, who added that the 2017 date is tied to the completion of existing programs and initiatives. "In the last five years," he added, "we've made significantly more grants than most foundations our size." Anderson also noted that the foundation, which shut down its capital grants program in 2009, has exceeded the 5 percent payout requirement every year since 1994, while the foundation's tax filings show that its payout increased from 9 percent in 2006 to 49 percent in 2012, before falling to 31.6 percent in 2013, as its assets dropped below $200 million.
According to research by Foundation Center and the Center for Effective Philanthropy, between 12 percent and 13 percent of foundations plan to limit their lifespan and spend down their assets. "There's debate about whether more foundations should be spend-down foundations," said Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation. "Keeping the large amount of money you find in an endowment tied up for perpetuity really reduces the impact of the foundation over time. There are some that say every foundation should consider being a spend-down foundation....The general consensus is that one size doesn't fit all."