Thankful for you: Community feedback from across Colorado fuels progress on our strategic plan - Gates Family Foundation

This year, as Gates Family Foundation embarked on the process of developing our next five-year strategic plan, our board and staff solicited guidance from the community.

We reached out broadly to those with deep knowledge in our areas of focus, as well as diverse perspectives and experiences.

Our team surveyed hundreds of people with whom we have collaborated over the years — some even for decades — including grantees, partners, subject-matter experts, community leaders, families, and young people.

This effort included outreach to many of you who are stakeholders in our program areas of education, natural resources, community development, and informed communities.

We asked for your feedback and you delivered, with frank and enlightening insights.

We’re so grateful for the time and thought each one of you provided; you went deep and we learned so much from you! Your unvarnished comments acknowledged the high stakes Colorado is facing and the urgent need for meaningful action on many fronts.

If you didn’t have a chance to share your views, you will. In the coming months, we’ll host a series of virtual sessions to unveil and discuss the strategic plan.

What we heard

Today Colorado faces an unprecedented convergence of challenges, from widening gaps in educational attainment and economic advancement to crises driven by climate change and a tsunami of disinformation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of our state’s challenges and expanded fault lines. Many of the problems can’t be fully addressed without facing up to the persistent inequities at their core.

One respondent to our survey suggested that we “take a more prominent role in serving as a bridge among seemingly disconnected issues like natural resources and urban and rural development.”

Another noted: “I appreciate Gates Family Foundation’s leadership role in both Building a Better Colorado and the Colorado Media Project because both of those efforts are fundamentally focused on strengthening Colorado’s sense of statewide community.”

This respondent added: “If we can’t figure out HOW TO WORK TOGETHER respectfully as a state to address our statewide challenges, without pitting one segment of our Colorado community against another, then I fear we will lose the essence of what has made Colorado great. And whatever gains we might make in any individual policy area such as education or natural resources will pale in comparison to the overall loss of our great state’s sense of community.

Program officers at Gates Family Foundation who work in education, natural resources, community development, and informed communities each did their own deep-dive research, interviews, and surveys with stakeholders. We’re pleased to share this series of blog posts highlighting broad themes and specific comments that came in response to their invitations to stakeholders to share their views:

While these blogs are organized by our issue areas, we know we can’t address our portfolio of priorities without confronting the sweeping impacts of climate change and the historic racial inequities that still divide our society. That means that equity is a natural resources issue, for example, and climate change is a community development issue.

Feedback also highlighted the importance of — and continuing demand for — capital grants to support investments in land and buildings that are critical to local communities.

We also heard confirmation of Gates’ role an active impact investor, using our assets and balance sheet to extend our impact and deploy more capital in mission-aligned ways through both market-return and below-market vehicles.

What’s next?

These insights informed and are woven into our five-year strategic plan, which will guide our work through 2026.

Our board votes on the final plan this month, and in early 2021 we’ll be taking it back into the community to continue and expand on the conversation.

There will be formal opportunities for engagement, including webinars with program officers covering specific areas of work. And we’ll be going deeper into Colorado communities to hear from those who haven’t traditionally had an opportunity to be part of these types of processes.

At Gates Family Foundation we can leverage significant resources to address challenges and create opportunity. But we realize that lasting solutions to these issues far outstrip our capacity and we can only be successful when we collaborate with a diverse and broad range of community partners.

Therefore, we hope that the hundreds of partners and community members who have weighed in so far on our strategic plan are just the first to participate in an ongoing dialogue that will keep us grounded in the realities of the people we serve.

If you have participated already, I want to give you our sincere thanks. If you haven’t yet participated, please consider this an invitation to engage in the next phases — and beyond.

We can only be successful if we harness the strengths of the entire community, including you.