President’s Update, Spring 2015

poppyjuneDear Colleagues,

We are now halfway through our spend down at the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and in the midst of our most intense period of strategic grantmaking in pursuit of defined outcomes. With less than six years remaining to accomplish our work, we recently asked for advice and feedback from a community of more than 20 advisors, including some of our long-time grantees, consultants, and colleagues in the funding community. They offered us insights into how the Foundation is viewed, as well as thoughtful advice about how to pursue the work of the remaining years. Specifically, they asked us to communicate more about our plans and lessons learned along the way and to work alongside our grantees and our colleagues in philanthropy as they plan for our departure and its implications for their work and their organizations.

This letter represents the first in a series of what will be quarterly communications from Foundation leadership. I will write regularly about the issues we are grappling with and the decisions we are making in connection with the spend down. Our Education, Environment, and Organizational Effectiveness directors will make regular contributions about progress on strategies, course corrections, capacity-building, and lessons learned along the way.

With this update we are also adding new content to our website. Updated FAQs endeavor to answer some of the questions people are asking us. And as new questions arise that we are able to answer, we will add to the list. We are also sharing a transcript of my prepared comments for a recent Thrive Network conference panel on “Bold Strategies for Accelerating Impact” where Christopher Oechsli, CEO of Atlantic Philanthropies, and I discussed what we see as some of the opportunities and challenges for limited life foundations. Regarding program work, on our website you can see descriptions of our strategic lines of work as well as grantee highlights featured in a combination of stories and micro-documentaries in all of our major lines of work: Character, STEM Education, Water, and Land.

  • The National Character Initiative is the Foundation’s newest line of work and, as such, represents the last major initiative we are launching. Our goal for this initiative is to improve the character development practices of adult staff and volunteers working with youth at national and selected California youth development organizations.

  • We continue to make big commitments to STEM education, focusing on implementation of Common Core State Standards for Mathematics through our Math in Common® initiative and Next Generation Science Standards through an Early Implementers initiative. And we are supporting initiatives in teacher preparation through the California State University system.

  • Our work to build knowledge and pursue solutions that will lead California toward a sustainable and integrated system of water management has seen major successes this past year with the passage of historic groundwater legislation. A major grant to support the launch of a new Water Policy Center at the Public Policy Institute of California is highlighted.

  • Our work in land conservation advances effective stewardship and management of California’s protected, as well as private and unprotected, lands. Support for the Parks Forward Initiative, to reinvigorate California’s state parks, is an example of an effort to improve a statewide system.

  • And finally, our Organizational Effectiveness team, which functions as an internal consulting unit, is actively supporting programs with a range of issues from best practices in grantmaking and evaluation to coaching on capacity-building for grantees. Future website updates will include a “For Grantmakers” section where we will share insights and tools with our colleagues in philanthropy.

In each program area, we are taking on big problems, hoping to make significant progress with the time and resources remaining. We are investing in programs and initiatives that explore the links across research, practice, and policy, by investing in strengthening systems and building the capacity of our grantees. We know the work will not be done when the Foundation closes its doors in 2020. We hope to with the help of funding partners leave the fields we so deeply care about stronger, more resilient, and more capable of carrying on the work after the Foundation’s departure.

With our refined strategic focus, the Foundation is now investing in a much more limited portfolio of grantees. Over the past year, in a difficult but necessary step, the Foundation made final grants to more than 100 long-time grantees, where excellent people continue to do impactful work, often in direct service to members of the community. However these organizations no longer align with the Foundation’s strategies as now defined. The goal of the final grants is to position these grantees to succeed without the Foundation’s funding going forward.

With deepest appreciation to all our partners and the dedicated and capable staff of the Foundation, I assure you that we will do everything we can to make good on the promise of the Foundation’s values as well as the program outcomes we pursue.

Sincerely,

Lauren B. Dachs