The Bush Foundation’s tagline is also our strategy: “Investing in great ideas and the people who power them.”
This focus on people has been part of the Bush Foundation from its very beginning. It is not a typical foundation approach. In fact, programs like our Bush Fellowship require special approval from the IRS. (With good reason; the IRS wants to be very careful about how foundation dollars flow to individuals.)
While we’ve been known for our Bush Fellowship program for decades, in the past several years we have dramatically expanded the number of additional opportunities we offer to individuals. We fund scholarships that send people to national conferences (like Upswell) and support people to participate in leadership programs like National Arts Strategies Creative Community Fellows program and we sponsor great events in the region that connect leaders working on community change, like RuralX and many others.
In 2019, we did a survey to find out whether the opportunities we are funding are valuable to leaders in the region, to know what other events and programs they would value most, and to understand what barriers they faced to participating. (Thanks to all of you who took the survey!) At a high level, here’s what we heard:
- We asked people what made events and programs useful to them. The top three responses were: (1) building diverse networks and connections, (2) peer learning and advice and (3) relevance to the real world/ability to apply what they learned.
- We asked what events and programs people wished they could participate in to develop their leadership skills and three themes emerged: (1) cohort opportunities to provide peer learning, coaching and support, (2) organizational management skill building, especially intercultural competence and (3) opportunities to build national and international networks.
- In terms of barriers, people overwhelmingly said time and money were the biggest barriers to participating in leadership events and programs.
We are considering all the suggestions we got from folks as we think about our future work supporting individuals in their leadership growth.
In my last note, I talked about how we are pushing ourselves to be more open and responsive to the communities we serve. As part of that, we have been thinking about how we can be more open in determining which opportunities we fund for individuals to become more effective in leading change. We’ve also been considering how we can build awareness of these opportunities, to be useful to more people in more communities all around the region.
More to come soon!