Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 75 year–old, Colorado-based Gates Family Foundation was ready to build on decades of success and take their work to the next level. At the end of 2020, the staff and Board of this high-performing leanly-staffed foundation engaged Boldly Go to push Trustees’ and staff’s thinking, facilitate outreach to diverse stakeholders, and develop a new, highly ambitious strategic plan for statewide impact. Having led foundations ourselves, we understood what the Foundation was looking for.
“Bringing the Foundation into a new day required looking outside ourselves, and so we engaged Boldly Go not just to drive the planning process, but to do so in a way that brought in more, diverse perspectives.”– Tom Gougeon, Gates Family Foundation President
Lightening the Load
Boldly Go served as a quarterback for the strategic planning process. We started by soliciting Board member perspectives on Foundation priorities for the next five years of impact. This early step helped ensure that the Board was aligned and highly engaged. We then supported program officers to do their own deep-dive research, interviews, and focus groups with stakeholders, using templates provided by Boldly Go. We connected the Foundation to experts with deep knowledge in their areas of focus, expanded their outreach to bring in new and diverse perspectives and experiences, and provided our own critical thoughts on the path forward drawing on our decades of philanthropy experience. We helped launch a first of its kind opinion survey with state leaders to understand the Foundation’s ability to influence key issues in the state. And, understanding that operations can propel or hamstring a leanly-staffed foundation, we surveyed the state of operations and made substantive recommendations for improvement.
We handled the granularity of strategic planning and project management, which freed Gates’ Board and staff to focus on big ideas and go deep on content. They shared that the combination of our process support, and the knowledge and networks we helped them tap into, enabled the Board and team to unleash innovative thinking, move faster, and cover more ground.
Deepening the Impact
The Foundation recently launched the 2022- 2026 strategic plan we helped them develop. Overall the plan builds on their history of highly effective grantmaking and proactively identifies multiple tools (advocacy, partnerships, research, capacity building, etc.) that will be used to drive change. Stand-out features include:
- Leveraging team capacity and expertise: Leadership fully embraces that staff involvement is often more valuable than its financial contributions. The Foundation is clearer about the issues where staff will lead, convene, and catalyze activity in Colorado and how staff will focus their time and energy going forward.
- Prioritizing cross-cutting issues: After a landscape analysis and a gut-check around shared values, it was determined that equity and climate change are two issues that will prominently run through all grantmaking and change efforts.
- Tackling critical focus areas: Most importantly, the new plan features greater specificity and accountability in its four focus areas. For example:
- The Foundation will now focus on rural education (developing teacher talent, climate change education) in Education, forest health and watershed restoration (two crises facing the state) in its Natural Resources area, and affordable housing and economic mobility within its Community Development portfolio.
- Where supporting local journalism has been an ongoing area of interest, the Foundation will expand its investments with a new program area: Informed Communities.
- Gates is also codifying and doubling down on impact investments, where it is considered a leader in the state, and reaching out to new, individual donors to crowd-in additional funding for its renowned capital project program.
As is the case for all of our clients looking for strategic planning support, Boldly Go equipped the Gates Family Foundation with right-sized, innovative, and actionable strategies for impact that were deeply grounded in the Board’s vision and goals. That’s the Boldly Go way.