TITLE: President and Vice Chair
FUNDING AREAS: STEM education, environment, health, character development, and citizenship
CONTACT: LDachs@sdbjrfoundation.org, 415-284-8675
IP TAKE: Dachs has a background in psychology, and she's pretty savvy about weeding out proposals that don't align with her father's objectives. Stick to STEM education or water and land system improvements that benefit the Bay Area and the rest of California.
PROFILE: Some Bay Area foundations are a family affair, and the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation is certainly one of them. Lauren Dachs is the daughter of the foundation's donor, Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr., who established the philanthropy in 1957. Many family philanthropies have impenetrable methods, but others make complete sense. Lauren Dachs is so qualified for the position of president and vice chair of the board that she would have probably gotten the gig despite her family affiliation.
Dachs got her start with an undergraduate degree in psychology from Stanford and a fellowship at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, later founding a non-profit preschool in Oakland. A mother of four kids of her own, she has served as an adviser and/or board member at a number of organizations related to education, environment, and health including the Nature Conservatory of California, the Worldwide Natural Conservatory, Head Royce School, Lawrence Hall of Science, Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, and the Center for Underrepresented Students in the College of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.
For several years now, Dachs has served as the Bechtel Foundation's (not to be confused with the separate entity, the Bechtel Group Foundation) president, overseeing mostly STEM education and environment grants. She leads a moderate size staff at Bechtel in carrying out her father's grantmaking visions. STEM education has always been the foundation's primary focus area, and California is the target. Dachs specifically looks for programs that implement math learning standards for K-8 students and those that expand STEM learning outside the classroom with after-school activities. Dachs's environment program is all about water and land. Whether they involve groundwater management, flood planning, or agricultural use, Dachs is looking for programs that bring resilience to California's water supply. And land grants involve strengthening state protection systems like state parks, and improving stewardship of private land.
On the STEM education front, Dachs likes to invest in long-term strategies at organizations with successful track records. After approving a five-year, $25 million grant to Caltech's campus life and outreach programs, she commended the institute for playing a "vital role at a critical time in educating the brightest young minds in the country." Dachs also joined forces with dozens of other organizations in a multi-sector movement to secure and train 100,000 new math and science teachers in the next decade.
In another larger-than-average grant, Dachs recently approved another $25 million to San Francisco's Presidio. This grant was the largest cash gift in the history of the national parks system. This gift went toward the roadway construction and expansion of youth program facilities. "We are honored to help put the capstone on a quarter century of Presidio park-making," Dachs said in an official statement.
Although STEM education and the environment are the primary focus areas, Dachs and her staff do consider other types of grant proposals as well. For instance, the foundation has contributed more than $500,000 in grants to support San Francisco and Marin food banks over the years.
Also important to note: The S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation intends to spend down assets by 2020, and is no longer accepting uninvited letters of inquiry, or proposals. So grantmaking is on the rise, but opportunities are getting tougher.