Jennifer Ford Reedy

Working Beyond Ourselves: The President’s Innovation and Partnership Fund

February 23, 2023

The idea for our President’s Innovation and Partnership Fund came from Bob Bruininks back in 2012. Bob had just recently retired as president of the University of Minnesota and was serving as interim president of the Bush Foundation.

At the time Bush Foundation was focused on very specific goals. We weren’t easily able to be responsive or collaborative on issues and opportunities that weren’t squarely aligned with those goals. Bob felt like we were missing a lot of opportunities for impact. He proposed a new fund “to support short-term innovation and partnership opportunities to address important community needs” in our region. The board approved the fund at their August 2012 board meeting.

I was an observer at that meeting and had mixed feelings. (I had accepted the job of president but not yet started work.) I liked the strategic flexibility, but worried that it would be challenging to manage fairly and well. I have come to love it! The fund has proven to be a terrific way for Bush to make some very high-impact grants quickly, and has allowed us to partner on scores of important efforts in our region.

Since it was created in 2012, we have made 110 grants totaling $15,440,000 from the President’s Innovation and Partnership Fund (which we have called the “President’s Fund” for short). This has allowed us to do things like…

…provide early and flexible start-up funding to a number of groups that have become important leadership networks for the region, like LatinoLead, the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, and Leadership South Dakota.

… support efforts by funders to come together to solve problems like Sioux Falls THRIVE, MN Girls are Not For Sale, Rapid City Collective Impact and other collaborative efforts on issues like workforce development, early childhood education, and ending homelessness.

…respond to short term crises and opportunities in the region, like supporting communities impacted by changes in immigration policy, responding to rises in hate, and ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

… attract resources to the region, like supporting efforts to compete for federal funding from opportunities like Promise Zones and the American Rescue Plan.

We also used the fund in unusual ways during 2020 and 2021 as we were responding to the needs and opportunities stemming from the pandemic and the racial reckoning after George Floyd’s murder. We spent an additional $10.3 million through the President’s Fund in those two years and made grants larger than our usual $100,000 limit. This included repurposing money we had intended for BushCON and the Bush Prize, as well as digging into our community reserves at that critical time. We contributed to response efforts across the region including work to ensure students had access to high-speed internet and technology for remote learning, to support community-driven property development in the commercial corridors most impacted by the 2020 uprisings, and to develop new approaches to public safety.

We conduct strategy reviews of all our programs every five years and just recently reviewed the President’s Fund. Based on that review, we are making a couple of significant changes starting in 2023.

Individual grants in the past were $100,000. We’ve upped that amount to $150,000 to better reflect trends we were seeing in requests and the value of $100,000 in today’s economy. The annual grantmaking cap is increasing to $1.5 million.

We are also changing the name. Calling it the “President’s Fund” suggests it is discretionary dollars that I can grant by whim. We have never operated like that. We have worked really hard to manage the fund with consistent standards on criteria fit and with an equity focus on both the process and what gets funded. We have always involved lots of Bush Foundation staff in vetting proposals and making decisions on what we will fund. To better reflect the nature of this fund, we are changing to the simplified name “Partnership Fund.”

Whenever you see opportunities that may fit, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Anita Patel, our Grantmaking vice president, manages the fund and does initial review any ideas that come in to us. Here’s the link to more information and how to submit an idea.

One of our operating values is to “work beyond ourselves,” which includes the commitment to both lead and follow. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to be an initiator of action. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to join with others leading. The Partnership Fund gives us flexibility in how we respond to needs and take advantage of opportunities, to lead or to follow for impact. We will continue to make the best use of it we can!