We went into 2020 with a plan for strategy change. We emerged far more changed than we imagined.
The events of the year — the impact of the pandemic and recession on the communities we serve and the reckoning around racial justice that intensified after the murder of George Floyd — spurred us to deeper reflection and greater adaptation.
The Bush Foundation exists to do the most possible good with the resources given to the community by Archie Bush. As communities change and needs change, our approach to doing good should change as well. We are adapting our approach in a number of ways to be a stronger force for equitable change in our region.
We have deepened our commitment to racial justice.
The Bush Foundation has a long-standing commitment to racial equity. How we have understood and lived that commitment has changed through the years as we learned more and owned more of our own impact. In our founding documents, it was in the form of non-discrimination. Today we strive to be anti-racist. While we will continue to care about and work on issues of equity in all forms, we will more clearly prioritize advancing racial equity in all that we do. This commitment runs through every aspect of our grantmaking and operations.
We recently issued $100 million in social impact bonds to give more in this time of extraordinary need and opportunity for impact. We are viewing these funds with a reparative and restorative lens, with particular focus on supporting wealth creation in Black and Native American communities in our region. In March, we will share how we are committing to address racial wealth gaps with the proceeds from our social bonds, on top of commitments through our regular grantmaking.
We will be more open and work in deeper partnership with community.
It has been core to our Bush Foundation approach to be accessible and supportive to people throughout the region. We are stepping up these efforts. Among other things, we are creating new staff positions dedicated to engaging communities across all our programs. All of us at the Bush Foundation need to be connected and informed on community issues to do our jobs well. These dedicated positions will build our capacity to do this more deeply and more broadly. They will work to ensure we hear great ideas from people all around the region and have good community perspective in all our grantmaking. Also coming soon is a new Bush Foundation hotline, combining the hotlines we currently have for each program into single number to call to talk with someone at Bush about anything we do.
We have actively involved community stakeholders in our grantmaking for a long time. This includes having community leaders make decisions on who gets funding through our flagship programs, the Bush Fellowship and the Bush Prize. It also includes giving grants through community partners, such as our Community Innovation intermediary grant programs. We want to do more to share power in our grantmaking. This summer, we will announce how we will give more grants with community-based partners, through community-led processes. This will include redesigning the Bush Prize to be more locally rooted to invest in those organizations that are most valued and respected in the communities they serve.
In recent years, our funding has been a mix of grants made through open processes and through invitation. Now, we are committing that all grant decisions will be made in open and transparent ways. To us, this means we will make sure every funding opportunity is publicly shared and that anyone who believes they are a fit for the funding opportunity has a chance to be considered. We will still be out in communities learning about issues and talking to people about their ideas. We will encourage them to apply to be considered alongside people we haven’t met, using the same criteria and the same process. Toward this end, we have adapted our biggest grant program, Community Innovation grants, to be more simple and more flexible as the main entry point for grant seekers.
Research shows public trust in institutions, including foundations, is low. We have tried to operate and communicate in ways that build trust — like sharing learning papers and grant reports on our website. We are excited to test new ways to build understanding of and accountability for our work. This fall, we will launch a foundation dashboard, publicly tracking our performance on key indicators and answering common questions from community members. Between now and then, we will be asking for your help to understand what you want to know that would tell if we are living our values and doing our work well.
We will think bigger and think differently to make bigger impact.
We want to support organizations to dream and act big. We see extraordinary organizations hustling to patch together grants to bring big ideas to life. We will give fewer, larger grants, ensuring we are making commitments at a large enough amount, for a long enough time to support transformative change. We are looking for ideas that can make the biggest difference in making the region better for everyone. We are looking for ideas that fix the ways systems fail people and create new and different ways of ensuring truly equitable opportunity. To do this, we are adjusting our Community Innovation grant program to be open to larger requests, both for grants and program related investments.
We will make big investments in any issue area if there is true community energy and ownership of an idea that could have transformative impact for the region. We know the best chance for transformative impact comes when ideas are fueled by community belief and commitment. We have had priority areas in the past — such as tribal governance and student-centered learning — and we will continue to invest in great ideas that people propose in these areas. And, at the same time, we will be more open to investing in other ideas and priorities. We will assess every proposal on the same terms, to do the most possible good with the resources we steward.
To support these changes in how we work, we are making changes to how we are structured. We are redesigning roles to align with the impact we want to make. We will be sharing more on new roles and changes in staff responsibilities in the coming weeks.
There is a lot about the Bush Foundation that is NOT changing. Our purpose is unchanged: to inspire and support creative problem solving — within and across sectors — to make our region better for everyone. Our core strategy holds: to invest in great ideas and the people who power them. We will still invest in ideas, in even bigger ways, through our Community Innovation program. We will still invest in individual leaders through our Bush Fellowship program. We will still provide operating grants to organizations that support others to solve problems through our Ecosystem grant program.
These changes are not a shift in direction. They are an evolution. They focus us on making the greatest impact we can. And they will make us more of what we remain deeply committed to be: more open, more responsive, and a stronger force for equitable change in the region we serve.