Frequently Asked Questions

What is a limited-life foundation?

A limited-life foundation (also known as a term-limited, time-limited, or spend-down foundation) is an organization that commits to donate (spend down, spend out, sunset) its entire endowment during a limited period of time (sometimes called a spend down or spend-out date). The Robina Foundation was designed by its founder, James H. Binger, as a limited life foundation destined to spend down assets of more than $150 million within a time frame of roughly 20 years.

Limited-life rather than perpetuity is an option chosen by growing numbers of donors today, spurred in part by the Giving Pledge and other efforts. Another aspect of Binger’s design is more unusual, however: he designated four institutions to be the recipients of the Foundation’s funding – yet gave the board great freedom as to how each would be supported.

How did the Robina Foundation choose its designees?

James H. Binger had a personal connection to each of Robina Foundation’s designees. He was an alumnus of Yale and of the University of Minnesota Law School. He was a long-time member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and regularly attended events there. He and his wife had been treated by Abbott Northwestern physicians for many years, and he understood the hospital’s significance as a major health care provider in Minneapolis. 

Binger encouraged the Foundation’s board to make significant gifts to these institutions, ones that would be transformational for the recipient organizations and have significant impact on society.

How was the funding distributed among the designees?

In the Foundation’s bylaws, Binger accorded the board great freedom to enact his vision within the structure provided by the limited-life foundation time frame and the four designees. He did provide general guidance within the bylaws via a Mission Statement on Charitable Activities, in which he briefly outlined principles for the board’s consideration. These included encouraging innovation and creativity, forward-thinking projects and initiatives, and major projects as opposed to normal ongoing operating expenses. He also made it clear that resources did not have to be divided evenly among the designees.

Per Binger’s wishes, the board asked each designated grantee to identify potential major projects for support. One of the board’s first grant actions was to award the institutions planning grants that would help them prepare their respective proposals. 

Throughout the limited life of the Robina Foundation, the board engaged directly with the four designees, through formal opportunities to present priority requests, site visits, and informal advice and counseling.

According to those who knew him, Mr. Binger was very comfortable with the Foundation’s design, and was confident that the board would “do the right thing.” 

A summary of the distribution of funds and the projects the designees were able to take on can be found in the section below. 

What are the Robina Foundation funds being used for?

Total funded and committed grants as of December 2018:  $160,580,436*

Grants to Robina Foundation’s four designated grantees as of December 31, 2018:

Abbott Northwestern Hospital/Allina Health

Total funded and committed grants: $24,551,454


$18,426,454: three grants: 2012 – 2017

With support from Robina, Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Allina Health designed, implemented, and tested a new care model, in the health system and two senior care facilities. Patients with Alzheimer’s, Stage III and IV cancer, and heart failure and their families participated in the initiative, which was delivered by a community health worker in partnership with existing healthcare teams. The study, which used a whole-person approach, focused on improving the quality of life of patients and the reduction of costly and unnecessary/unwanted hospitalizations. Research results showed a savings of $959 per person per month, improved quality of life and care experience, reduced hospital use, and increased hospice length of stay. Following the successful study, Allina Health began to implement LifeCourse within Allina.

Care Guides in the Primary Care Office:

$6,000,000: one grant: 2008 – 2010

Robina support enabled Abbott Northwestern Hospital to test the feasibility of a new primary care model featuring lay “Care Guides” who were trained to counsel and support chronic disease patients to achieve standard care goals as part of their care. During the first phase of the program, the model was tested at an inner-city clinic affiliated with the hospital with patients who had diabetes, heart failure and hypertension. Following completion of the feasibility study, which highlighted improvement in patients’ achievement of care goals and a decrease in hospital and emergency department costs, Robina supported trials to evaluate the efficacy of care guides in a wider variety of clinical situations. The success of these trials resulted in adoption of the Care Guide model by Allina Hospitals and Clinics.

Planning Grants:

$125,000: two grants: 2005 and 2006

Council on Foreign Relations

Total funded and committed grants: $29,950,649

IIGG (International Institutions: Global Governance):

$23,305,357: three grants, including one endowment grant: 2008 – 2018

Robina support fostered the development and implementation of the Council on Foreign Relations’ IIGG initiative, designed to inform policy makers about ways to improve the world’s management of economic, security, environmental, and human challenges that require international cooperation. IIGG initiatives engage with constituencies in the US and beyond and include the Council of Councils, a newly created association of policy organizations located around the world. The Council of Councils brings together more than 25 national and regional “think tanks” in annual and sustained dialogues. As part of support for IIGG, in 2016, the Foundation endowed a new Chair in Global Governance at the Council to lead the IIGG initiative.

Expanded Diversity Initiative:

$5,898,737: four grants, including one endowment grant: 2011 – 2016

Robina grants enabled the Council to expand efforts to increase greater participation of talented and underrepresented groups in the American foreign policy community. The Council pursued multiple strategies in this endeavor. These strategies focused on identifying individuals with interest and promise and introducing them to career possibilities, professional networks, and mentorships by supporting the participation of American young people in Humanity in Action’s summer programs through funding to the Council and Humanity in Action, expanding the Council’s Franklin Williams Internship program, establishing a partnership with the International Career Advancement Program’s Alumni Association and launching a jointly sponsored diversity conference, and participating in multiple career fairs targeting underrepresented groups. In 2016, with the understanding that the Council would maintain its support of two Franklin Williams interns, the Foundation provided an endowment grant to permanently expand the Franklin Williams Internship program by the addition of six new internships for undergraduate or graduate students from underrepresented populations.

Online Video Project:

$696,555: one grant: 2011 – 2012

With the explosion in online video, the Council’s lack of video equipment and personnel trained to develop and launch videos hindered the Council’s ability to reach elite and mass audiences, including high school and college students. With Robina support, the Council acquired needed video equipment and trained Council experts in the best practices for structuring and conducting video interviews and briefings and developed new expert briefing series.

Planning Grant: 

$50,000: one grant: 2006

University of Minnesota Law School

Total funded and committed grants: $59,771,499

Binger Center for New Americans:

$28,969,510: three grants, including two endowment grants: 2013 – 2016

A multi-year grant approved in 2013 funded the Law School’s development of the Center for New Americans to respond to critical legal and social needs of diverse immigrant groups. Following three years of operations during which the Center met agreed-upon benchmarks, Robina endowed the Binger Center for New Americans and established the Binger Professorship in Clinical Law. Through the Binger Center, the Law School works with law firms that provide pro bono legal support, as well as non-profit organizations, to expand legal services to immigrant communities and to pursue test case litigation that leads to improving the laws affecting immigrants. The Center includes a comprehensive immigration clinic for law students and offers students opportunities to gain experience in litigation, policy development and advocacy. The Binger Center’s Education and Outreach Program provides comprehensive screenings to non-citizens and trains lawyers and community members to provide pro bono service to immigrants. Significant accomplishments of the Binger Center include the successful litigation of a case before the United States Supreme Court, a class action lawsuit that secured an order temporarily blocking the deportation of 92 Somali men and women, involvement of law students at the Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport to assist arriving immigrants affected by the January 2017 executive order related to immigration, education of more than 2000 immigrants about their rights, and more than 6,000 pro bono hours by the Center’s law firm partners, an investment exceeding $2.3 million.

Robina Institute of Criminal Law & Criminal Justice:

$11,857,215: two grants: 2012 – 2017

Robina funding created and supported the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, which has enabled the Law School to play a significant role in national and state efforts to rethink the aims and methods of criminal justice systems with the goal of making them more just, effective, and cost-effective. Robina’s first multi-year grant supported the Institute’s three program areas: Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law Theory, and Sentencing Law and Policy.

The Foundation provided a second multi-year grant to jump-start four targeted projects within the Sentencing Law and Policy program area:

1)Criminal History Project, which included the publication of the Criminal History Enhancements Sourcebook, an in-depth examination of criminal history scores and their impact on sentencing and policy; 2) Multi-State Probation Revocation Project to research probation revocation practices nationally and work with specific jurisdictions across the United States to reform their existing revocation practices; 3) Sentencing Guidelines Repository Project, which collected sentencing reform materials from states and created the online Sentencing Guidelines Resource Center to facilitate the exchange of information, expertise and experience on sentencing policy, guidelines, and commissions and to promote the adoption and retention of best practices in sentencing guidelines systems; 4) Parole Release and Revocation Project, which worked to inform and improve prison release and parole revocation practices nationwide by gathering and publicizing information about current practices and directing law reform work with selected jurisdictions.

Robina Public Interest Scholars Program and Bridge Fellowship Program:

$8,208,375: three grants: 2012 – 2020

Robina funding launched the Law School’s Public Interest Scholars Program aimed at attracting top students committed to public interest work to the Law School. The program offers scholarships and a seamless path to public service through summer internships, year-long post-graduate fellowships that help launch students’ careers, and loan repayment assistance to make those careers affordable. The program has increased the Law School’s reputation as a top public interest law school, attracted strong public interest students, increased the number of students employed in public service, and has encouraged other donors to support law students’ public interest careers. Students in the classes of 2012 – 2020 have benefitted from 91 three-year scholarships, 128 summer fellowships and 31 post-graduate, year-long fellowships. A dedicated public interest career counselor provides support to students in the program.

LaPPS (Program on Law, Public Policy, and Society):

$8,061,399: two grants: 2008 – 2012

Robina’s multi-year grant funded the development and implementation of the Law School’s Program on Law, Public Policy, and Society, which supported public policy research and helped prepare law students to serve as agents of social transformation. For five years LaPPS funding supported two research chairs, a clinical chair, a research fund and annual conferences in LaPPS. Four new capstone courses were created during the five years, and the Law School began to provide student internships in public policy. The Law School’s “Law in Practice” course (originally referred to as “Practice and Professionalism”), a required first year course developed with LaPPS funding, is ongoing, as are other elements created during the five years of Robina funding.

Strengthening the Law School’s Fundraising: Robina Scholars Match Program, Endowed Scholarship Match Program and Class Agent Pilot Program:

$2,200,000: three grants: 2012 – 2020

To challenge the Law School to secure donor commitments for scholarships, the Robina Scholars Match Program was created with a grant of $1,250,000 from Robina payable over five years beginning in 2012. As of May 2017, the Law School has been paid or has received $1,158,380 in commitments for the Robina-matched scholarships. The matching gift program is an important incentive for new giving to support students at the Law School. In 2017 Robina committed an additional $500,000 to support the Endowed Scholarship Match Program by providing a 1:2 match for major scholarship support of $100,000 for scholarships at the Law School. The Foundation’s multi-year grant of $450,000, beginning in 2016, funds the development and implementation of a new Class Agent Pilot Program, which involves “class agent” alumni volunteers who solicit their peers on behalf of the Law School. Funding for the final years of the grant will be based on an evaluation of the effectiveness of the first three years of the initiative.

Faculty Retention:

$250,000: one grant: 2008

Robina provided funds to support the incoming dean’s efforts to strengthen significantly retention packages for key faculty at risk of leaving the Law School. Retention of the faculty through augmented salaries, research accounts, and travel and conference budgets were critical to the curricular and research objectives of the school.

Dean’s Innovation Fund:

$100,000: one grant: 2018

Robina’s one-year grant seeks to determine the potential of a dedicated, flexible funding source available for the Dean to support and foster strategic opportunities that fall outside the school’s annual budget.

Planning Grants:

$125,000: two grants: 2005 and 2006

Yale University

Total funded and committed grants: $45,599,709

Robina Foundation Human Rights Fellowship Initiative (Yale Law School):

$22,000,000: seven grants, including two endowment grants: 2008 – 2016

From 2008 through 2016, the Foundation provided annual support for the Robina Foundation Human Rights Fellowship Initiative designed to support human rights leaders at all stages of their careers, from JD scholars to senior-level fellows. The initiative provides scholarships for the academic year, summer fellowships for work with human rights organizations around the world and postgraduate fellowships to students interested in human rights and experienced senior-level fellows who teach at the law school. In 2016, the Foundation provided an endowment grant to sustain the initiative and endowed the Binger Clinical Faculty Chair in Human Rights to teach human rights-related courses and clinics and lead the Robina Human Rights Fellowship Initiative. Robina’s grant required that Yale Law School augment Robina’s endowment funding with an additional $1 million provided by gifts from alumni, friends and the Law School.

Binger Center for New Theatre (Yale School of Drama):

$21,825,000: three grants, including one endowment grant: 2008 – 2012

Robina Foundation provided four years of annual support for the launch and implementation of the Yale Center for New Theatre. In 2012, following four years of successful operation of the Center, Robina endowed the Binger Center for New Theatre to provide annual commissions of new plays and support these commissions through all stages of development, including residencies, readings, workshops, and full productions. In addition, the Binger Center facilitates playwrights’ residencies as lecturers at Yale School of Drama and includes a “Production Enhancement Fund” to support other not-for-profit theaters producing world premieres or second productions of plays commissioned by the Center. The Binger Center’s 50 commissions have supported the creation of 10 plays that have had multiple productions in American theaters, including on Broadway. Fifteen theaters have received Production Enhancement Fund grants.

Dean’s Innovation Fund (Yale School of Drama):

$100,000: one grant: 2018

Robina’s one-year grant seeks to determine the potential of a dedicated, flexible funding source available for the Dean to support and foster strategic opportunities that fall outside the school’s annual budget.

Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition:

$1,424,709: one grant: 2016 – 2019

The Gilder Lehrman Center is dedicated to acquiring and disseminating knowledge concerning all aspects of slavery, including contemporary forms of forced labor and human trafficking. Robina’s grant supports the organization and work of the Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery Working Group, increased use of media to provide online curricular resources for teachers and the implementation of a major Teacher Outreach and Africa Teachers’ Institute to be held in 2018 and 2019.

Tom Crosby Memorial Gift:

$200,000: one endowment grant: 2013

To honor Crosby, who served as advisor to the Foundation and long-standing board chair, the Foundation established a fund at Yale to provide scholarships for students who demonstrate the values, character and leadership he demonstrated during his life.

Planning Grant:

$50,000: one grant: 2006

*In addition to grants to Robina’s designated grantees, Robina provided a small number of grants to organizations aligned with the spirit and vision of Jim Binger in recognition of his professional accomplishments and the work of others to launch and support the Foundation. These grants accounted for less than 0.5% of the Foundation’s total grants.

The Robina Foundation Board of Directors may consider additional grants as part of the Foundation’s “spenddown.” 

The Robina Foundation Legacy Report emphasizes that Robina Foundation operated with a small actively engaged board of directors, very small but experienced staff, and selective use of consultants. The Foundation’s limited infrastructure resulted in operating and administrative expenses that averaged 2.5% of the Foundation’s qualifying distributions.

What are the guiding principles for Robina Foundation Grantmaking?

Principle: a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.

The Robina Foundation will:

  • Work closely with Robina Grantees to hear their ideas and ensure a full partnership with them; 
  • Fund programs that fill an important niche with the possibility of substantial achievement, with particular emphasis on impacting people’s lives rather than producing abstract ideas; 
  • Be willing to go through trial and error processes to get things right and be ready to persist despite criticism; 
  • Seek to influence the larger environment in which programs operate and increase the chances of impact and sustainability through partnerships with other funders and substantial matching funds raised by Robina Grantees; 
  • Invest in leadership of institutions and individuals;
  • Strive to establish a Robina legacy of impact in areas of need. 

Programs involving several Robina Grantees are desirable but will not be required. In addition to programs that address the Foundation’s Guiding Principles, the Robina Board is interested in programs, whether joint or individual, that:

  • Advance human rights, justice, fairness and equality
  • Make diversity an asset, not a liability
  • Prepare the next generation of leaders
  • Foster artistic / cultural creativity
  • Ease human suffering