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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.
In October 2020, Nick Tedesco, president and CEO of the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP), talked with Lauren B. (Laurie) Dachs, president and vice chair of the board at the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, about spending down all assets. The Foundation was founded in 1957; in 2009 it became a limited-life philanthropy and completed its spend down at the end of 2020. Nick's questions and Laurie's responses are captured here for reference by other grantmakers that are implementing or considering spending down.
California's water system supports nearly 40 million people, the world's fifth largest economy, diverse natural ecosystems, and one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Yet this critical system is under significant stress: Californians face increased water scarcity, declining water quality, greater flood risk, and the deteriorating health of ecosystems.Promising solutions exist, and there are many examples of innovation and collaboration to address the state's water challenges. However, the speed and scale of change are often limited by a lack of cohesion in practices, fragmented institutions, complex technical challenges, under-resourced nonprofits, and the lack of political will. In this context, between 2009 and 2020, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation awarded more than $130 million in program funds to support California's transition to a more sustainable water future.Grants were orchestrated within three interconnected strategies: building knowledge to improve decisions, pursuing integrated solutions to complex challenges, and engaging more funders. These strategies spurred progress on interrelated goals involving groundwater management, flood protection, stormwater and urban resilience, drinking water quality, and open data. Foundation grants also helped bring forward billions of dollars in new public funding as well as more than $400 million in new philanthropic capital.Milestones achieved are transforming how California manages water. This impact was the product of difficult, dedicated effort by many individuals, organizations, and coalitions committed to change. Their progress was aided by public attention and desire for solutions emanating from an historic, extreme drought. Their work was supported by flexible risk capital and capacity-building outlays for the water field provided by philanthropy.This brief further describes the primary strategies, outcomes, and takeaways from the Foundation's water program. While drawn from one grantmaker's experience in California, this content can have broad relevance to practitioners, policymakers, and funders everywhere who seek a secure water future for people and nature.
The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation's water program is rooted in the belief that California can manage its water to meet the needs of people and nature – but only if these needs are considered together and only if management strategies jointly address surface water, groundwater, water quality, and flood protection challenges.The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation envisions a California that manages, stewards, and conserves its water and land to support a resilient environment and healthy communities. This snapshot, prepared as the Foundation nears conclusion in 2020, documents essential aspects of the Environment Program's water portfolio.
The 2020 Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum virtual sessions are exploring what constitutes good water governance through the lenses of water affordability and equity. While this topic was chosen prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the pandemic has further revealed and exacerbated health and financial disparities across racial, gender, and geographic lines. The first virtual session explored the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on urban water utilities. The second session focused on the unique water affordability and equity challenges present in rural communities, colonias, and tribal nations. The third session explored federal assistance programs related to food and energy, and taxes that have been developed to support low-income Americans struggling with poverty. The last three sessions explore the roles and responsibilities of local (September 28), state (this session), and federal governments (November 16) in ensuring the equity and affordability of water services.
The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research.PPIC delivers actionable, fact-based research to help the state find practical responses to a range of policy challenges. Publications range from one-page fact sheets to comprehensive, in-depth reports. The PPIC Water Policy Center spurs innovative water management solutions that support a healthy economy, environment, and society.
Many foundations that are guided by a long-term commitment to move the needle in a finite set of issue areas also hold "special grantmaking" funds. These program dollars can be flexibly deployed for nascent opportunities, innovative ideas, emergencies, local causes, and/or areas of high interest to their leaders.Little has been written about special grants as a vibrant resource for philanthropy. While these funds are not always advertised publicly, they are more than purely discretionary. On the contrary, special grants can be made with purpose in mind and aim to advance the holistic goals of their respective foundations.This essay is rooted in the experience and observations of Matthew La Rocque and Barbara Kibbe, members of the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation's Effectiveness team. It explores the purpose of special grants, how they are made and monitored, and their advantages and challenges.
The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation invests in capacity building to enhance the effectiveness of our water and land grantees and enhance the systems and structures surrounding their work.The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation envisions a California that manages, stewards, and conserves its water and land to support a resilient environment and healthy communities. This snapshot, prepared as the Foundation nears conclusion in 2020, documents a core strategy within its Environment Program.
The Nature Conservancy's scientists in California are working to inform, influence, and inspire conservation in today's human-dominated world, to build a future in which people and nature thrive together. California is one of the most hydrologically altered landscapes in the world. As water becomes ever more scarce and the human population continues to grow, that vast engineered system strains to meet the needs of people let alone the needs of nature. Water rights allocations far exceed actual surface water supply, and millions of wells tap groundwater to meet the increasing demands of farms and communities. As groundwater reservoirs are depleted they can in turn reduce surface flows – exacerbating a vicious cycle in which people and nature both lose. Rivers, wetlands and groundwater-dependent ecosystems are caught in this struggle for an increasingly limited resource. Nearly half of California's roughly 4,000 freshwater species are considered vulnerable to extinction. Of the taxa that are found nowhere but California – our endemic freshwater biodiversity – 90 percent are at risk. But there is hope. While it is impossible to return natural flows to most of California's rivers and streams, we can – through science, technology, and innovative market tools – endeavor to deliver water when and where nature needs it most. This collection features The Nature Conservancy's publications on freshwater sytems in California.
With its long-standing commitment to STEM education, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation viewed California's 2013 adoption of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as an excellent opportunity to support educators and their students as they transition to these rigorous and engaging standards. This opportunity aligned with the Foundation's overarching emphasis on supporting adult leaders as the most effective way to achieve our goal of providing students with high-quality STEM education.The Foundation launched the six-year NGSS Early Implementers Initiative in 2014. It supports eight diverse California school districts committed to implementing NGSS in their K-8 schools. All districts are incorporating the state's preferred integrated course model for science instruction in middle school. The K-12 Alliance at WestEd, a highly respected provider of professional learning and technical assistance services to school districts, leads the Initiative. Two charter management organizations also participate through funding provided by other sources.The broad goal of the Initiative is to successfully support initial implementation of the science standards in a set of districts to inform state-level decisions and set the stage for statewide implementation. The experiences of the Early Implementers, as well as the tools developed through the Initiative process, are expected to make it easier for other California districts as they implement NGSS. A separate arm of WestEd documents the Early Implementers' approaches, successes, and lessons learned in a series of evaluation reports. The Foundation has invested approximately $25 million in service of this goal.
In 2014, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation launched its National Character Initiative, committing $130 million over six years to advance character development practices in youth-serving organizations. Investments were directed toward organizations working outside the traditional school day and classroom environment to support learning and development that happens during recess, after-school, summer, one-on-one mentoring, sports activities, and nature-based programming. The Foundation collaborated with 13 national youth-serving organizations, several national intermediaries, policy-focused organizations, and the California after-school system. The direct-service organizations involved collectively reach over half of youth ages five to 18 years old in the United States. This brief provides Foundation staff's reflections on the Initiative, including progress made and lessons learned.This philanthropic partnership with some of the largest youth-serving organizations in the country spans six years, involves a system of diverse supports, and builds organization and field-level capacity to advance character, social-emotional learning, and developmental outcomes in young people. The process used and lessons learned may benefit other funders pursuing similar outcomes in out-of-school time settings.
Recognizing that adults -- both in and out of the classroom -- play a pivotal role in building character in young people, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation invests in youth-serving organizations in California and across the nation that are committed to using data to improve and sustain the character development practices of adult staff and volunteers.The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation envisions children and youth developing the knowledge, skills, and character to explore and understand the world around them, growing into caring, informed, and productive adults. This snapshot, prepared as the Foundation nears conclusion in 2020, documents essential aspects of the National Character Initiative.