President’s Update: Spring 2018

President's Update: Spring 2018

For the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, 2017 was a challenging year in many ways.

The context for our major program areas, Environment and Education, continued to shift. A broad range of federal policies and funding streams were rolled back or seriously threatened. Fires and floods devastated communities in California and beyond. New immigration policies tore apart families and created added stress for many students and teachers. Violence in schools and heightened concerns for safety further affected the learning environment.

These changes and events placed new pressures on state agencies, nonprofits, and donors working to enhance Education and Environmental policies and practices. In a time of instability, the Foundation felt a greater-than-ever need to work toward our goals and to collaborate with our partners. Through the diligent and adaptive efforts of our grantees and partners, 2017 was a year of significant progress in each of the Foundation’s priority areas. Following are several highlights for the year, summarized within the Foundation’s major lines of activity:

Environment

California made progress toward implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Local communities formed new groundwater sustainability agencies to bring groundwater basins into balance, and state agencies and research partners published data, tools, and guidance to help those local agencies succeed.

The Water Foundation completed a successful incubation period and launched as an independent nonprofit organization, and a new Water Solutions Network came together to accelerate cross-sector collaboration among leaders focused on the future of water management in California.

Foundation grantees continued to develop innovative new tools, including dynamic conservation practices that recognize change as an inherent ingredient in ecosystems, Regional Conservation Investment Strategies, and Habitat Exchanges providing incentives for landowners, businesses, and communities to work together for conservation.

Transformation of the California State Parks system achieved important milestones in implementation of recommendations from the Parks Forward Commission. 

Education

Active learning communities were developed to facilitate collaboration among the Foundation’s cohort of 13 National Character Initiative grantees, who collectively reach half of the children in the United States. Program and organizational leaders came together to share successful strategies and lessons learned, and to pursue new synergies and partnerships.

The Foundation’s work with state universities advanced through 11 campus partnerships focused on transforming how educators are prepared to meet the needs of students and communities today. Emphasis on teacher residencies and other forms of high quality clinical preparation led Governor Brown to propose significant new budget dollars to improve teacher preparation in California.

Math in Common® grantees and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Early Implementers continued their progress in a diverse set of districts across the state. Evaluation-based lessons and successful strategies were disseminated by these parties to inform the practices and enhance the results of all California school districts.   

Effectiveness

In addition – and as a complement to many of the Foundation’s major initiatives – grantees released timely evaluation resources. Foundation staff helped generate extensive new knowledge for grantmakers who seek to conclude initiatives in ways that support the success of nonprofits and sustain results.

Throughout 2017, the Foundation team was guided by its core values of Integrity, Excellence, Optimism, and Respect. Progress made in this challenging 12-month period encourages our staff and board as we continue implementing the strategic initiatives that mark our course through the Foundation’s sunset in 2020.

Congruent with our spend-down planning, in 2017 total Foundation grantmaking dollars declined for the third year in a row. For a summary of our twelve-year journey to conclusion, we invite you to view the Foundation’s updated spend-down timeline.

With less than three years remaining in the Foundation’s lifecycle, our staff size, expectations for impact, and energy remain strong – as do our relationships with and belief in the many nonprofits and funders who share our commitment to a productive, vibrant, and sustainable California.

Sincerely,

Lauren B. Dachs