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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Featured

Sooner Rather Than Later, Chapter 3: 2018-2020

December 14, 2020

In 2009, following five decades of Foundation growth and impact, the Board of Directors for this family philanthropy chose to spend down all assets. In the words of its founder, this decision reflected a commitment to finding lasting solutions to California's critical challenges "sooner rather than later." The spend-down horizon was initially set for eight years and then adjusted to establish 2020 as the Foundation's end date. In the series, "Sooner Rather Than Later: The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Spend-down Journey", the Foundation documented its journey to inform the interests and practices of other philanthropies that are considering or conducting a spend down. Chapter 3 of the series reports on the Foundation's final years and carries perspectives on major programs and operations across the spend down.

S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Story
Featured

Sooner Rather Than Later, Chapter 2: 2014-2017

May 1, 2020

In 2009, following five decades of Foundation growth and impact, the Board of Directors for this family philanthropy chose to spend down all assets. In the words of its founder, this decision reflected a commitment to finding lasting solutions to California's critical challenges "sooner rather than later." The spend-down horizon was initially set for eight years and then adjusted to establish 2020 as the Foundation's end date.In the series, "Sooner Rather Than Later: The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Spend-down Journey", the Foundation documented its journey to inform the interests and practices of other philanthropies that are considering or conducting a spend down. Chapter 2 of the series describes the evolution of the Foundation's major program investments and initiatives during the central spend-down years.

S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Story
Featured

Sooner Rather Than Later, Chapter 1: 2009-2013

November 1, 2019

In 2009, following five decades of Foundation growth and impact, the Board of Directors for this family philanthropy chose to spend down all assets. In the words of its founder, this decision reflected a commitment to finding lasting solutions to California's critical challenges "sooner rather than later." The spend-down horizon was initially set for eight years and then adjusted to establish 2020 as the Foundation's end date.In the series, "Sooner Rather Than Later: The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Spend-down Journey", the Foundation documented its journey to inform the interests and practices of other philanthropies that are considering or conducting a spend down. Chapter 1 of the series is a chronicle of the activation of spend-down practices, including the "strategic refresh" that would guide Foundation program investments through its conclusion.

S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Story
Featured

Sooner Rather Than Later, Prologue: 1957-2008

November 1, 2019

In 2009, following five decades of Foundation growth and impact, the Board of Directors for this family philanthropy chose to spend down all assets. In the words of its founder, this decision reflected a commitment to finding lasting solutions to California's critical challenges "sooner rather than later." The spend-down horizon was initially set for eight years and then adjusted to establish 2020 as the Foundation's end date.In the series, "Sooner Rather Than Later: The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Spend-down Journey", the Foundation documented its journey to inform the interests and practices of other philanthropies that are considering or conducting a spend down. This series prologue summarizes the evolution and work of the Foundation across five decades of grantmaking, culminating with the decision to spend down all assets.

S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Story

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

Spending Down: Laurie Dachs Answers Questions for Family Philanthropies

December 17, 2020

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.

S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Story; Spend-down and Exit Practice

Rehearsing the Future: An Introduction to Developing and Using Scenarios

December 14, 2020

Scenarios are stories about different future environments in which today's decisions might play out. We cannot predict the future. However, by thinking creatively and rigorously about a range of scenarios, we can rehearse future possibilities and prepare for what might be next.In the summer of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, job losses mounted, and the movement for racial justice grew across the U.S., one thing was clear: nonprofit leaders were trying to figure out how to manage in such a volatile, highly uncertain, and complex environment. The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation had long been committed to helping nonprofits cultivate resilience and grow the related capacities for responding and adapting to significant change and uncertainty. Scenario thinking was a natural fit for this moment. In the second half of 2020, the Foundation offered a training program, Rehearsing the Future, to four cohorts of grantees, partners, and staff. Through a series of virtual working sessions participants were introduced to the discipline of scenario thinking and the core steps of the scenario-creation process. 

Organizational Resiliency

S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Spend-Down Timeline

December 10, 2020

In 2009, following five decades of Foundation growth and impact, the Board of Directors for this family philanthropy chose to spend down all assets. In the words of its founder, this decision reflected a commitment to finding lasting solutions to California's critical challenges "sooner rather than later." The spend-down horizon was initially set for eight years and then adjusted to establish 2020 as the Foundation's end date. This timeline summarizes the Foundation's most significant programmatic activities in relation to relevant external events, as well as key information about the Foundation's grants, endowment, and staffing, from 2008 (the year prior to the spend-down decision) through 2020.

S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Story

Water Solutions That Meet the Needs of People and Nature

December 9, 2020

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.

Water

Environment Program Snapshot: Water Portfolio

December 9, 2020

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.

Water

Resilience in 2020

December 9, 2020

In fall 2018, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, along with fellow funders and the authors of this report, set out to study what it takes for nonprofits to survive and even thrive amid disruption, and to better understand how grantmakers can help grow this resilience. "Resilience" was defined as a nonprofit's ability to respond effectively to change and adapt successfully to new and unforeseen circumstances while staying true to mission. Ultimately, seven characteristics emerged as critical to organizational resilience, presented in the resulting report, Resilience at Work. None of the stressors profiled in the original study reached the magnitude of the multiple and interconnected crises that defined 2020 – the pandemic, the uprising for Black lives and racial justice, the economic downturn, the crescendo of natural disasters. The authors wanted to know: What does it take for nonprofits to be resilient in the face of the profound and far-reaching change and uncertainty that no organization was immune from in 2020? Can nonprofits bounce back better equipped to weather future crises? To find out, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation commissioned this update.

Organizational Resiliency

Resiliency Guide, Version 5.0

December 9, 2020

Nonprofits that are intentional about cultivating organizational resilience are better at anticipating and adapting to the disruption, uncertainty, and significant change that are a constant in our world. There is no one recipe for resilience. Context matters -- a lot. And, adapting to disruption and uncertainty will never be a linear journey. Resilience is a way of being, not an endpoint. This is a reality many nonprofits know well. However, it's less readily acknowledged by funders and, even less, a topic for open discussion among funders and their grantees.The Resiliency Guide is designed to help funders and nonprofits engage in candid dialogue about the complex, turbulent environments nonprofits operate in, and to reflect on organizational strengths as well as areas that may benefit from attention. As a tool for grantmakers, it can help deepen thinking about where, when, and how to invest in capacity building.

Organizational Resiliency

About this collection:   Presidents reflections | Intellectual property