As 2016 draws to a close, we can look back at eight years since the Board of the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation made the decision to invest all its assets. We began to form the Foundation spend-down strategy in 2009; since that time the Foundation’s focus, goals, and programs have been strongly influenced by external forces and shaped by timely opportunities.
For example, California’s adoption of Common Core State Standards set the stage for Math in Common®, our multi-year initiative supporting math standards implementation. Our years of investment in strengthening the water field helped position key players around the state to take important action in response to the drought that began in 2011. Similarly, the Foundation acted to establish the Water Foundation in collaboration with other funders.
The story of our spend-down to date has many themes, and represents a dynamic interplay between external events, Foundation knowledge and relationships, and our human and financial resources. One way we are depicting these themes, and their connections, is through a spend-down timeline (PDF). This new tool highlights major Foundation investments in the context of changes affecting California’s environmental and educational landscapes, and it tracks the size of our staff, endowment, and grantmaking over the spend down years. It charts ground covered, conveys current priorities, and points to the scale of the investment yet to come as the Foundation heads to conclusion in 2020.
In viewing the timeline, you’ll see that in 2008, the year before the spend-down process began, the Foundation committed grants of $17 million. In 2013, grant commitments of $109 million funded 387 grantees. This year, grant commitments will approach $150 million, reflecting both larger grants as well as fewer grantees.
You’ll also note that, because of continued gifts from our founder, 2016 is the first year in which the Foundation’s endowment begins to decline. The energetic and expert Foundation team of 37 professionals will stay busy putting more than $300 million to work over the final years with increased attention to capturing and sharing findings and lessons of value in the fields where we invest.
The Foundation story is far from complete. Our work in the Education and Environment arenas continues to be highly dynamic, and we can expect new challenges and possibilities to emerge. In sailing terms, the Foundation will spend its final four years with a clear eye on the destination and tacking with the wind.
We commit to updating the Foundation spend down timeline annually, and hope this information will be of use to other funders considering or pursuing spend downs, as well as to all colleagues interested in our Foundation’s trajectory. We welcome questions and feedback on this timeline, and look forward to future dialogue, and learning.
Lauren B. Dachs