S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation

Legacy Collection

In December 2020, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation concluded operations. Founded in 1957, the Foundation was committed to building a productive, vibrant, and sustainable California. In 2009, the Foundation decided to invest all of its assets, or spend down, by 2020 in order to spur significant progress on the challenging issues facing the state in education and environment. This collection features knowledge produced by the Foundation and its partners during its final decade of work. Read concluding reflections from the Foundation's president and learn more about its grantmaking.

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Learning Alongside Grantees: Environment Program Examples and Reflections

December 17, 2020

This essay describes the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation's approach to evaluation in its Environment Program. This approach was grantee-centric, shaped by the varied needs of nonprofits in the environment field as well as the Foundation's decision to spend down all assets by 2020 – which limited the number of years available to conduct evaluations and put new lessons to use. The Environment Program funded grantees to evaluate work they deemed critical to their missions or to build organizational capacity to conduct ongoing learning and evaluation. Knowledge gained through grantee activities informed their internal improvement efforts as well as the Foundation's grantmaking decisions.Seven examples illustrate the range of nonprofit learning and evaluation efforts supported by the Foundation. These experiences surfaced challenges as well as recommendations, presented later in this essay, that might be instructive to other environment funders who value learning and evaluation as means to greater impact. 

Evaluation Practice; Land; Water

Better Together: How Evaluator Collaborations Can Strengthen Philanthropy and Increase Collective Knowledge

October 20, 2020

Partnerships between evaluation firms have many benefits for both funders and evaluators. The benefits can include increased quality of evaluation and collaboration, greater equity for all stakeholders, and stronger field capacity for learning at scale.Over the last six months, we assembled a work team of seven funders and 11 evaluators to explore how more formal partnerships between evaluation firms can increase collective knowledge within the field and ultimately strengthen philanthropy.Our group identified key rationales for establishing such partnerships as well as emergent best practices in creating and maintaining successful partnerships, analyzed barriers that impede funders and evaluators from pursuing partnerships more frequently, and articulated some field-level strategy to counteract those barriers. In this brief, we share some of our most valuable insights, and a working draft of a best practice guide and decision tool that could, if further developed, aid the field in establishing stronger collaborations between evaluation firms.

Evaluation Practice

Evaluation Is So White: Systemic Wrongs Reinforced by Common Practices and How to Start Righting Them

October 20, 2020

What will it take for evaluators of color to flourish in the evaluation ecosystem? Our Action Team set out to answer this question, reviewing research and exchanging perspectives across our members, which included evaluators of color and white evaluators, representing foundations, evaluation firms, and pathway programs.The recent civil uprisings and the disparate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color have thrown into stark relief the need for more equitable systems throughout American society. As philanthropy strives to address that need, it is imperative to make evaluation a tool "for and of equity" as called for by the Equitable Evaluation Initiative. Funders, evaluation firms, and pathway programs each have an important role to play in cultivating an ecosystem that is more inclusive of diverse perspectives and lived expertise.While our work is situated in a broader landscape and perspective, this document focuses on systemic challenges evaluators of color face in their educational and career pathways. We draw attention to common practices in the field of philanthropy that have negative consequences for evaluators of color and provide early-stage ideas on mitigating strategies and processes. The ideas are organized around three key stakeholders:FundersFoundation staff in evaluation and learning roles as well as program staff who work directly with evaluators.Evaluation FirmsSmall to mid-size evaluation firms are the focus here, although ideas may also apply to larger academic institutions and research centers.Pathway ProgramsProfessional development programs which support evaluators of color through mentorship, internship, job placement, contracting, and networking.We recognize and state plainly that the challenges and barriers evaluators of color face are systemic and deeply rooted in our culture and society. They are products of a longstanding history of discriminatory practices, policies, and narratives. We share ideas and recommendations that may begin to mitigate these challenges, while honoring the fact that creating a truly equitable field goes well beyond the solutions we offer here. We seek to identify immediate and actionable steps that can be taken now while recognizing there is broader work to be done, and conversations to be had, to dismantle white-dominant culture and practices within philanthropy and evaluation.

Evaluation Practice

Good Intentions Are Not Enough: Making Evaluations More Useful for Foundation Strategy and Practice

October 20, 2020

In 2019, the Evaluation Roundtable for the first time broke with historic practice and invited evaluation consultants to join a gathering that had previously been exclusive to foundation evaluation staff. As part of the meeting, the facilitators asked all participants to write down what they most wished the other would do differently. The number one request of foundation evaluation staff? Ask harder questions. The number one request by external evaluators? Let us ask harder questions.If we both want the same things (harder questions addressed) for the same reason (equitable progress toward the ambitious, inspirational missions that foundations aspire to), why aren't we doing better?Clearly, good intentions are not good enough.This paper presents six cross-cutting areas for focus and change along with specific actions that can be taken by external evaluators and foundation evaluation staff to help accelerate the meaningful use of evaluation for foundation strategy and practice.

Evaluation Practice

Knowledge Sharing is a Mission Imperative: Why We Cannot Afford to Keep Evaluation Findings to Ourselves and How We Can Do Better

October 20, 2020

Improving how evaluation lessons are shared will require both foundation and evaluation professionals to develop new capacities and embed new norms and practices in the way they work. To help jumpstart the necessary shifts in that work, this document offers a set of reflection questions for funders and evaluators to consider together, at the start of every evaluation and learning engagement, to ensure that the knowledge built is shared. The dissemination planning tool that follows these questions can help move the conversation from reflection to action.

Evaluation Practice

Advancing Global Evaluation Practice to Meet the World’s Challenges: A Call to Action and Reflection

October 20, 2020

Working together, foundations and evaluators can contribute to global transformation necessary to address the world's most pressing problems.Funders and evaluators based primarily in the US and Canada have been collaborating on shared priorities through the Funder and Evaluator Affinity Network (FEAN) since 2017. The goal of FEAN is to change the relationship between funders and evaluators from a transactional one to a partnership, shifting the field of philanthropic evaluation to become fairer, more equitable, and more effective. In 2019, the conversation expanded to consider issues of interest to FEAN members working in the international arena.The vision inspiring this paper is one in which North American foundations and evaluators can make significant contributions to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as allies with people across the globe whose lives are most closely impacted by pressing challenges including climate change, migration, pandemics, growing authoritarianism, disparities and instabilities, and the depletion of critical resources.The recommendations outlined in this paper are a starting point, an invitation to both reflection and action. We explore how foundations and evaluators can nurture and grow a robust, inclusive ecosystem of what we are calling evaluation for global transformation (EGT). Such an ecosystem is necessary to co-create the paths by which funders and evaluators can catalyze innovative thinking and undertake coordinated action with others in support of global transformation.The working paper takes a critical look at the current state of EGT and what it will take to position evaluation to advance effective, equitable and sustainable global transformation efforts. It begins with defining global transformation and its importance, describing the ways in which global development is evolving, and the growing role that philanthropy is playing within this arena.Next, it lays out an analysis of the current state of evaluation and resulting recommendations, building from conversations that took place among members of the Funder and Evaluator Affinity Network during 2019.

Evaluation Practice

Equitable Evaluation Initiative Theory of Change

June 1, 2020

The Equitable Evaluation Initiative (EEI) seeks to shift the evaluation paradigm so that it becomes a tool for and of equity. EEI's Theory of Change is informed by:Co-crafting and co-leading this work with all players across the ecosystemWorking with each sector individually to meet them where they are and identify strategic next stepsWorking across sectors to build shared understanding, challenge assumptions, and craft new approachesFocus on early adopters to practice new ways of thinking and doingApplying design thinking at the project-and field-building scales, generating new ideas, investing in prototyping, and testing for greater impactSharing learning and ideas generously, creatively, and strategically to engage, inspire, and advance the workLearn more at equitableeval.org.

Evaluation Practice

Center for Evaluation Innovation Publication Collection

April 30, 2020

Center for Evaluation Innovation is a nonprofit that works with foundation leaders and other evaluators to advance evaluation and learning practice in philanthropy. This collection includes teaching cases, presentations, insights, event summaries, and other publications on a variety of topics related to philanthropy evaluation.

Evaluation Practice

The Tensions Series

April 19, 2020

This series of writings by Jara Dean-Coffey, Equitable Evaluation Initiative Director, explores the tensions inherent in the initiative's five-year effort to shift the evaluation paradigm so that it becomes a tool for and of equity. Originally conceived as a blog series following a Fall 2019 initiative convening, the series was shared with core partners first and eventually disseminated more broadly.Learn more at equitableeval.org.

Evaluation Practice

Learning in Context: Reflections on the Education Team’s Approach to Evaluation

April 1, 2020

The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, a spend-down foundation sunsetting in 2020, invested in four major education initiatives during its final decade of grantmaking. A firm believer in the importance of building and sharing knowledge, the Foundation also made significant, complementary investments in evaluation that were intended to help grantee partners improve their work and to capture lessons learned that funders, nonprofits, policymakers, and other education actors might benefit from. This essay offers a high-level comparison of the evaluation approach taken in each initiative and shares reflections on why we took the paths we did.

Character; Evaluation Practice; STEM - Math; STEM - Science; STEM - Teacher Preparation

Strategy and Evaluation: The Twin Engines of Effective Philanthropy

February 1, 2020

This essay provides a fast-paced tour of grantmaker approaches, launching with the advent of long-range planning in the 1980s and visiting scenario planning, social return on investment, human-centered design, big data, and other developments that have influenced practice. The author lands on strategy and evaluation as the anchor approaches that will fuel greater philanthropic impact in the new decade.This writing draws on content the author originally published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog in March 2014. It makes the case that philanthropy needs to reclaim the meaning of strategy and conveys insights via "five things strategy isn't" -- e.g., strategy cannot be inflexible, insulated, or disconnected from those responsible for implementation. The author concludes with a refreshed set of predictions for the next chapter in the unfolding story of strategy and evaluation.

Evaluation Practice

Benchmarking Foundation Evaluation Practices 2020

January 1, 2020

In 2019, the Center for Evaluation Innovation administered a benchmarking survey to collect data on evaluation and learning practices at foundations. This is an ongoing effort (previous surveys were conducted in 2015, 2012, and 2009) to understand evaluation functions and staff roles; the level of investment in and support of evaluation; the specific evaluative activities foundations engage in; the evaluative challenges foundations experience; and the use of evaluation information once it is collected.The survey was sent to 354 independent and community foundations in the US and Canada reporting at least $10M in annual giving during the previous fiscal year, and to foundations that participate in the Evaluation Roundtable network (the vast majority of which meet the annual giving criterion). This report includes survey data from 161 foundations, a 45% response rate.We conduct the survey so that foundations can compare their evaluation and learning structures and practices to those of the broader sector. The results offer a point-in-time assessment of sector practice. They do not necessarily represent "best" or even "good" practice. They do, however, offer valuable inputs on key questions, such as: How should the evaluation and learning function be staffed and resourced? What kinds of evaluative activities should be prioritized? How can evaluation and learning link to strategy?

Evaluation Practice

About this collection:   Presidents reflections | Intellectual property