It's hard for me to believe that it has been 10 years since I got my dream job: president of the Bush Foundation.
Like other intense experiences, it feels like a flash and feels like forever at the same time.
I took this 10-year milestone as a good opportunity to drive around the region and meet with partners and grantees and Fellows to get their counsel. As I met with folks over the past few months, I asked for any and all feedback they had on how I am doing in my job and what they'd like to see from the Bush Foundation. (I also tried to visit as many Taco John's as possible. See pic at a Taco John's in Bismarck with Cheryl Ann Kary - who is a Bush Fellow, a key partner through the Good Relatives Collaborative, and a very good sport for taking this picture with me!)*
Overall, the feedback was very encouraging. When I first went around meeting folks 10 years ago, there was a lot of tough criticism about how we were operating. That became a starting point for what could change, so it was especially gratifying to hear that those changes made a difference - even to some of the same people who had been critics.
I heard appreciation for our shift from having no way to apply to the Foundation for grants to having open process for all our funding opportunities. I heard appreciation for our increased focus on equity and how that shows up in our work. I heard appreciation for our openness to funding on any issue and our recent shifts to fund ideas at whatever amount and over whatever time needed to see impact.
I also heard ideas for how we can have more impact. I heard about people's hopes that I (and Bush) will do more to influence the field of philanthropy - particularly around understanding and prioritizing Native and rural communities and on giving more flexibility to grantees.
People raised a lot of issues that I will write about in future Notes from Jen - like how political polarization is making community problem solving harder and the challenges of doing equity-focused work in non-metro communities. I took this input straight back to my colleagues. We focused a big a part of our recent board retreat in learning more about these challenges and how we might be helpful.
This 10-year anniversary has been a valuable time of reflection for me as I think about the kind of leader I need to be at this time - for Bush and for the communities we serve. If you have other feedback for me or for the Foundation at this milestone moment, please share it! You can get it to us here.
While I've had plenty of hard days in these 10 years, there's never been a day that I don't feel lucky to have this job. It is a joy to get to learn about and to support so many amazing people doing the hard work of making this region better for everyone!
*I really love Taco John's. It is comfort food to me and reminds me of "Softshell Sundays" with my family after church when I was growing up. And they are all over the Bush region! We had a staff competition to guess how many Taco John's I could visit (at least the parking lot) in one 11-day travel stretch this summer. I made it to 27! (Fittingly, my gift from the Bush Foundation board for my 10 years of service was a $100 Taco John's gift card.)