Bush Foundation Learning Papers

We publish Learning Papers when we have lessons that we think could help others do their work better or help our community in a broader way. We want to share what we are learning as we invest in great ideas and the people that power them, 

Changing organizational culture takes intention and time. At the Bush Foundation, we’ve spent the last five years creating a more inclusive culture internally so that we can be more effective externally. From the people, to the programs, to the policies and processes — we’re working to build an organizational culture that is inclusive in action, diverse in makeup and driving towards equity.

In this paper, we want to highlight the questions and decisions we’ve made and what we’ve learned. Not because we’ve done it all right, or because we’re done. Other organizations have plowed this ground deeper and further than the Bush Foundation, and we’ve looked to them and learned from them. But with the benefit of some hindsight, here’s what we’ve learned, five years in.

Lessons From the Process of Creating the Native Governance Center

This report documents the development of the Native Governance Center, beginning with the Bush Foundation’s work supporting the self-determination of Native nations, through the emergence of a fully independent, Native-led 501(c)(3) organization in 2015.

Reflections on five years of working to make the Bush Foundation more permeable.

Reflections on five years of strengthening the Bush Foundation through improved Board-staff relations.

Reflections on five years of people-centered philanthropy.

Reflections on five years of embedding our belief in the power of people in our own operations.

Reflections on five years of communicating for impact.

bushCONNECT: Three Years Out

October 2017

Using events to inspire, equip and connect leaders.

We launched a new CRM platform as well as an interconnected grantmaking system on January 1, 2016 after 18 months of planning, designing and testing with a dedicated technology consulting firm. We wanted to leverage new technology solutions that could help us be more effective at grantmaking, and therefore serve the region better. One thing we really cared about was making sure our staff was prepared to use the system and that the Foundation would be able to benefit from it, so we did a number of things to ensure user adoption. This learning paper summarizes what we took away from the process that might inform others looking to make sure staff are best equipped to embrace a new system.

For over 50 years the Leadership Programs invested directly in individuals through the Bush Fellowship Program. In mid-2014, we decided to expand our reach to support organizations that foster the development of leaders while simultaneously creating networks and connections amongst leaders. This pilot program was known as Leadership Network Grants.

In 2015 the Bush Foundation took a unique approach to develop a new program strategy: we created a one-time grant program to provide operating support to exemplary organizations while involving them in the design of a new ongoing program. We did this through the Community Creativity Cohort, a learning cohort of 16 regional organizations who informed our future arts and culture strategy—work that has since become our Community Creativity Strategic Initiative. 

In 2009, we launched our ten-year Teacher Effectiveness Initiative based on the theory that better teacher preparation programs would lead to more effective teachers and, in turn, improved student outcomes. Fourteen higher education partner institutions, and their teacher preparation programs, were at the Initiative’s core; together they committed to train and place 25,000 new, effective teachers across Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the 23 Native nations that share that geography. To do this, the partners agreed to transform their approach around four key pillars—recruitment, preparation, employment and support. The Initiative also paid close attention to how partners would develop and use measurement systems to improve training strategies, and how they would understand the effectiveness of their graduates as new teachers. This learning paper examines these measurement strategies.

We launched the Native Nations Initiative in 2009 to support governance reform efforts of all 23 Native nations that share geography with Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Five years into this 10-year initiative, Wilder Research assessed our progress and challenges, interviewing program participants, tribal leadership and regional leaders from the field. This learning paper summarizes Wilder’s evaluation.

In 2014, the Bush Foundation made a number of changes to enhance the Bush Fellowship program’s flexibility, selectivity and visibility. Wilder Research surveyed the 2014 Bush Fellowship semi-finalist and finalist candidates, and selection committee members to evaluate the impact of the changes to the selection process. This Learning Paper shares insights gleaned from this survey.

We launched the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative (TEI) in 2009, with the goal of preparing and placing 25,000 new, effective teachers within our service region by 2020. Four years into this 10-year, $40 million initiative, we hired an independent evaluator, the Improve Group, to conduct a midterm evaluation to report on progress and challenges thus far. Their review was conducted through interviews and focus groups with individuals from our higher education partner institutions, their teacher candidates and K-12 partners, and initiative coaches from FHI360. This learning paper summarizes our learning from the report, and highlights implications for the initiative going forward.

Four years ago, both the Bush Foundation and Minnesota Philanthropy Partners (MN Partners) faced expiring building leases. After conversations between the two presidents, a decision was made to pursue a shared facilities project. The plan called for the organizations to co-locate in one building. By doing so, they hoped to leverage their combined purchasing power to lower costs on facilities and services, create opportunities for cross-foundation learning, and inspire other non-profits to explore the benefits of co-location.

The Bush Foundation and a group of partners launched the InCommons initiative in 2009, with the objective of increasing the leadership and problem-solving capacity of communities.  After four years of successes and challenges, we made some significant strategic changes in 2013 and ended parts of the InCommons initiative that weren’t working well and doubled down on those tactics that were working best.  The Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs conducted a review of the program in June 2011 and again in August 2013, which included interviews with dozens of individuals who were involved with InCommons, both internal and external to the Foundation.