2020 Annual Report
Letter from the President & Board Chair
It is an understatement to say 2020 was a year unlike any other. The COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement shaped so much of what we all experienced. Like many other organizations, Gates Family Foundation had to pivot quickly to respond to the public health challenge and the widespread economic impacts caused by the shutdown of so much activity. We did so by shifting a significant amount of our previously allocated grant dollars to help meet the most pressing priorities in our community.
From April through the fall, the Foundation made a total of $1.9 million in COVID-related relief grants. These grants addressed a wide variety of needs including the public health response, food insecurity, small business support, assistance to particularly vulnerable populations, and support to sustain many of our long-term nonprofit partners. The Foundation also participated in a number of collective efforts, including the Governor’s COVID relief fund, the Arts and Culture Relief Fund, the Black Resilience in Colorado Fund, the Energize Colorado Gap Fund, the Colorado Farmer and Food System Fund, the Informed Communities Fund, the Left Behind Workers Fund, a relief fund focused on rural theaters, and multiple emergency food distribution efforts.
The Foundation also used it assets to commit more than $7 million in program-related investments (PRIs) to provide support to thousands of small businesses through nonprofit and community development financial institutions (CDFIs), as well as ensure those lenders could provide access for very small businesses to two rounds of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
Throughout 2020, the staff and board also continued its internal work to explore how each of us and the Foundation as an institution of privilege can address systemic racism, and work toward a more just and equitable Colorado. As the murder of George Floyd and countless other Black Americans drew hundreds of thousands of Coloradans to the streets in protest, Gates Family Foundation made a commitment to focus our priorities and strengthen our internal accountability systems and policies in ways that address the needs of communities of color. These shifts will be articulated in an updated five-year strategic plan the Foundation will complete in 2021.
In total, the Foundation put $44 million to work for charitable and mission-aligned purposes in 2020. That total includes $21.5 million in grantmaking ($12 million of which occurred through the eight family funds housed at the Foundation), $2.4 million in operating expenditures, $3.8 million in COVID-related and non-COVID-related PRIs (including an additional $5 million in PPP support), and $3.5 million in new mission-related investments (MRIs) within the Foundation’s portfolio.
As you will see in the highlights provided below by the various staff teams, the Foundation’s work in 2020 addressed not only the COVID-19 crisis, but other important challenges – and opportunities – facing the state as well.
Unprecedented disruptions to student learning inspired widespread innovation, cross-system collaboration, and more focus on the needs of students and families.
Addressing the climate crisis was a top priority, with new support for projects on forest health, water scarcity, and the multi-partner RESTORE Colorado effort.
Community wealth-building, small business support, smart growth, and strengthening local news for informed, engaged communities were among our focus areas.
We shifted focus and funding to prioritize food and housing insecurity, communities most impacted, and small business owners left out of other aid programs.
As a grantmaker with a mandate to serve Colorado communities in perpetuity, the Foundation continued responsible stewardship of its assets. Despite the precipitous declines early in the year associated with the virus outbreak the shutdown of so much economic activity, the portfolio achieved a 14.4 percent return for the year. As of December 31, 2020, the Foundation’s total assets were just over $557 million.
The Foundation’s responsive capital grants program received 123 requests in 2020, and we committed $3.35 million to 62 projects. Among the most noteworthy were a $700,000 commitment to the Highline Canal Conservancy, and significant commitments to the Montbello FreshLo hub, the renovation of Denver Public Library’s central facility, the Artspace Space to Create project in Ridgway, and support to the National Wildlife Federation to continue its work bringing active play and nature experiences to early childhood education facilities throughout Colorado.
In addition to COVID-related grantmaking, 2020 was an active year in all of the Foundation’s initiated grantmaking areas. The education team worked with other funder partners and Lyra Colorado to launch the Education Innovation Fund to help educators respond to the pandemic and the rapid transition to remote learning. Building on that experience, the team went on to support the Governor’s RISE education fund (Response, Innovation, and Student Equity) and to also launch the RISE Planning and Design Support grant program to provide support to RISE applicants that needed assistance to develop competitive applications. Gates and Lyra also collaborated on the launch of the Environmental Science and Climate Institute working with multiple school districts and Fort Lewis College in southwest Colorado.
In other areas, the natural resources team helped advance the ReStORE Colorado fund with partners Great Outdoors Colorado, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The pooled fund facilitates investment in significant habitat restoration efforts throughout Colorado. The team also provided support to the Quivira Coalition for its work advancing regenerative agriculture practices, soil health, and natural climate solutions. The community development program provided significant grant support to the Montbello Organizing Committee FreshLo Hub, a mixed use project that will provide affordable housing, a community-focused grocery store, health and nutrition resources, and a performance venue and rehearsal spaces to the Montbello community in northeast Denver.
The past year was also a significant year for the informed communities program. The Colorado Media Project — supported by Gates, Rose Community Foundation, Democracy Fund and a coalition of local funders — launched the Informed Communities COVID Response Fund that provided support to trusted news sources that provided essential pandemic information to underserved communities. In addition, CMP joined with the Colorado Press Association, the Colorado Independent, and other partners to launch the Colorado News Collaborative (COLab), a statewide network of journalists including 10 founding tenants of the shared COLab Newsroom at Rocky Mountain Public Media’s new Buell Public Media Center. In April, COLab launched its first statewide collaborative project, COVID Diaries, that captured the dramatic impacts of the pandemic on Coloradoans statewide.
Highlights of the Foundation’s impact investing work, in addition to the COVID-related commitments already noted, included multiple PRI and MRI commitments. PRI commitments included $1.5 million to help scale The Colorado Sun as a trusted statewide news source and $1.25 million to the Metro Denver Impact Facility to support important community development projects undertaken by the Urban Land Conservancy. The Foundation also made three MRI commitments in 2020. Two were focused in the education technology area, including a $1.25 million commitment to Reach Capital Fund III and a $3 million commitment to Owl Ventures IV. The Foundation also made an investment in the Avesta Prologue Fund to help launch this venture fund focused on graduates of top tier accelerator programs with an emphasis on companies addressing climate and economic inequality.
Finally, the Foundation said farewell to trustee Dori Biester, who retired from the board at the end of 2020 after 13 years of dedicated service. The board and staff will miss her wisdom and kind spirit immensely. In 2020, the board added two new trustees, Rich Gates Kiely as a family trustee, and longtime public and community servant Rosemary Rodriquez as a non-family trustee. Their terms on the board began in January of 2021.
2020 was a year that stretched all of us in many ways. We are grateful for the creative and collaborative ways in which our staff responded to the many needs and emerging issues throughout the year. We also greatly appreciate the willingness of the Foundation’s trustees to be nimble and open-minded as we all navigated the events of the past year and tried to use all of our resources to support partners and communities through a very trying time. Lastly, our thanks to all of those who were on the front lines throughout 2020 caring for and serving people in communities across Colorado.
Dane G. Harbaugh
Gates Family Foundation
Thomas A. Gougeon
Gates Family Foundation