Note from Jen: Strategy Push

December 10, 2019

The Bush Foundation exists to do the most possible good with the resources left to the community by Archibald G. Bush. 

That’s an amazing opportunity and a big responsibility. It requires us to continuously ask how we can be smarter and more effective in how we work. This year we’ve been asking ourselves big questions, focusing on how we can be more simple, more cohesive, and more open and responsive to the communities we serve. I think of it as a strategy push – pushing ourselves to do better. 

We are not creating a new strategic plan. We are not switching out issue priorities. We are focusing on the how of our grantmaking. 

We have worked hard over the past several years to be more open and responsive. When I arrived at the Foundation in 2012, 9% of our funding went out through open grant processes. Last year, we were up to 68%. (By open grant processes, we mean programs that were open for anyone to apply, rather than by invitation.) 

Along with this shift, we have been doing things like holding office hours in communities throughout our region, offering hotlines and feedback calls for applicant coaching, and promoting our grant and fellowship opportunities at events around the region. We are putting a lot of effort into making sure people know we are available as a resource and supporting people with less experience working with a big foundation. 

We view open processes as a core part of our strategy for living our commitment to equity. We want to be more truly open to ideas from people all around the region. We believe having clear processes for how to get ideas considered is critical for equitable access in philanthropy. We are ready to take that commitment to the next level. 

We are now working to put processes in place so that all our grants and program related investments can go out through open processes. We have adopted two standards to define “open process”: 

  • We publicly share every funding opportunity and explain its purpose and our process for decision making.
  • Any eligible organization/person in our region who believes they are a fit has a chance to apply.

We will still be out in communities talking with people and encouraging them to develop promising ideas. At some point, however, every idea must come into our process and be considered alongside ideas from people we don’t know yet. 

It will take some work to get there. We’ll be spending time in 2020 adapting our programs and processes to support more open grantmaking. This will mean some changes to our current open grantmaking programs to adapt and expand them. We’ll keep you posted as we figure out what the new processes look like. 

We are not shutting down any of our work in the meantime. Go ahead and apply to our programs as usual. We will give as much notice as possible before any application changes and will try to make any transitions as easy on applicants as possible. 

We are excited about this as a way to more fully live our commitment to equity. We are also excited to learn about more great ideas and the people working to make them happen. We believe this will help us make smarter investments, to make our region better for everyone. 

Throughout 2020, I’ll use my Notes from Jen to give progress reports on our strategy push — what we are thinking about and what change might be coming. Stay tuned!

-Jen