The Foundation concluded operations on December 31, 2020. Learn more.

Helping Colleagues Do More. Helping Philanthropy Do Better.

The Effectiveness function represented one of many experiments undertaken by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation as it worked toward audacious goals while spending down responsibly. With no field handbook or codified set of best practices to guide the process, the Effectiveness team was looked to for a combination of expertise and nimbleness. Foundation President Laurie Dachs created this group in 2013, envisioning a resource that could move with and add to program teams and all staff as they addressed emerging needs, took risks, iterated, and learned.

We found that each stage of the spend down presented its own needs and opportunities. There was nothing static across these years as the Effectiveness team was called upon to adapt and pivot to meet emerging circumstances. We experienced inevitable false starts with some of our internal endeavors: consulting relationships that were less than successful, research projects that hit dead ends, and some training programs that didn’t fully meet the needs of participants. We also took pride in several meaningful accomplishments – facilitating a strategic refresh that set direction for the Foundation’s final seven years; building knowledge about exits and spend downs; dialing up evaluation and learning, as well as strategic communication, as tools of impact; productively leading a portfolio of special grants, including capital grants; and creating a series of resources to help nonprofits and funders partner successfully, and equitably, with consultants.   

Our team was tasked with embodying a proactive stance for this Foundation with regard to encouraging knowledge sharing. Effectiveness staff, and indeed, our colleagues across the organization, listened carefully to advisors who recommended that the Foundation become more visible and influential in its spend-down years. In retrospect, their guidance seems prescient. The Foundation has benefited greatly from – and contributed to others through – preparing and circulating lessons for fellow foundations, nonprofits, and other partners. Resources generated through the Foundation’s work will live on in a Legacy Collection established with Candid.

Yes, there are miles to go before the field has promulgated best practices for grantmaker exits and spend downs. Still, the amount of knowledge – and spirit of openness to learn together – have been enhanced and enriched in recent years.

In the Foundation’s final year, COVID-19 struck. How could the organization finish strong in this context? What value could the Effectiveness team offer? We invested in updating the Foundation-funded study on nonprofit resiliency, charting how a diverse group of organizations that embrace resiliency principles weathered the immediate effects of the pandemic. Pivoting one last time, the Effectiveness team also offered training in scenario thinking and strategic foresight to interested grantees and funders, with an intent to better equip them to make decisions in what looks to be an increasingly volatile and uncertain future.

It has been my pleasure to be part of this team and the remarkable journey of the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. I share good wishes for all as we embark on the next chapter accompanied by two of my favorite questions: What’s Next? and What If?

Barbara Kibbe
Director, Effectiveness