2016 at Siegel Family Endowment: Build to Last

2016 was a big year for Siegel Family Endowment — perhaps our most significant yet. We grew our staff by 5 (to a total of 7), refined our mission, interest areas, and approach, and continued to grow and diversify our portfolio of grantees.

All of this change was in service of a much larger goal — to fulfill one major imperative from our Chairman, David Siegel and make sure that SFE is built to last.

As we look back on 2016 — and look ahead to what’s on deck for the rest of 2017 — we’ll walk through our approach to achieving this mission and explore the steps we took to build an organization that’s sustainable and poised for success.

These are the major projects we took on in 2016 to ensure that SFE is positioned to continue working in pursuit of its mission for the long term:

We hired the right people: In order to expand and diversify SFE’s capacity, we hired teams in the following areas:

  • Relationships: We now have a team in place dedicated to building outside relationships and tracking their growth. No member of this team focuses their work in one particular field or interest area, which helps us to identify a diversity of new prospects, maintain more contacts, and expand our network as we work closely with grantees to advance their missions.
  • Strategy & Communications: We have a new team dedicated to charting a course for our public profile, articulating and driving our organizational strategy, and developing an approach for presenting ourselves to the world.
  • Learning & Development: As we move into a stage where we’re increasingly interested in sharing our findings and collecting the results/outputs of all of our grantees, tracking and compiling those findings is more important than ever. The Learning & Development team is creating processes for gathering grantee feedback and compiling our findings within each of our interest areas.
  • Operations & Culture: Given our growth across all aspects of our work, we established a team dedicated to articulating and keeping a pulse on our organizational culture, to ensure that we continue to operate efficiently, and in line with our core values.

We expanded our networks and built a community: We connected with people and organizations who are knowledgeable and able to lend their expertise to our continued growth. We laid the critical groundwork to eventually start sharing our findings and strategies within a community of peers, and began crafting language and developing assets to communicate about our mission, approach, and process.

We refined our mission: Our mission statement, which grounds all of our work, began the year in one place and ended it in another:

  • In January 2016, our mission was twofold: “To ensure education is increasingly relevant to today’s technology driven society. To advance creative and innovative approaches to learning through technology.”
  • Midyear, we tightened the focus: “To ensure education is increasingly relevant to today’s technology-driven society.”
  • By the end of the year, we’d taken a big step back: “To understand and shape learning in our technology-driven world.”

We shifted from aiming to better align education and technology, to a more exploratory mission that accommodates a wider variety of partners and grantees. The fact that we were able to rethink our mission so thoroughly as we continued to grow and shape ourselves as an organization speaks to SFE’s belief that building something durable can only be done by remaining flexible.

We remained open to new interests: Midway through the year, we developed a new interest area to accommodate our growing interests in open research and publishing practices. Over time, we recognized a growing overlap between what we’d been calling “Open Research,” and our previously stated interest in “Ed Tech.” Using critical elements from each, we took the opportunity to reduce redundancy and craft an altogether new interest: “Open Learning.” This new interest area informs many areas of our work, and has implications for both of our other interest areas.

Remaining open and flexible about how we focus our approach helps us to accommodate changes in a rapidly evolving field, and is another manifestation of our commitment to durability through flexibility.

We supported our Chairman: In order to ensure that our work aligns with David Siegel’s broader philanthropic vision, we made sure that we were attuned to connections made in his board service and elsewhere. David’s network and dynamic interests help to inform and guide our work, and it’s incumbent on us to make sure that SFE reflects those priorities.

It was a lot to take on in a single year, especially for such a small organization — and the process was not without bumps along the way. But we treated each moment of difficulty as a learning opportunity, and have come away with a strong understanding of where we can perform better.

We’re asking ourselves to be especially mindful of the following questions in 2017:

  • Pacing: How can we be better about creating more realistic timelines for our projects? How can we give grantees and partners a clearer picture of our timing?
  • Refining processes: How do we integrate evaluation into our grant cycle? How do we communicate about our process with grantees? How do we extract data from our evaluation system?
  • Managing curiosity: How can we effectively strike a balance between exploration and structure? How can we ensure stability on an organizational level? When is structure limiting? When can it help us work better?
  • Stability: What can we do to help our new processes develop staying power? After a year of near-constant change, how can we shift our focus away from developing and refining our mission and approach to delivering on them?

2016 was a year of great change for SFE. Over the course of the year, we devoted a significant amount of time to on-boarding new staff and learning to work around new processes and positions. Getting a full-fledged foundation off the ground is no small task. It often takes years to ramp up operations, and while much of the critical groundwork is now laid, we’ve still got a huge job ahead of us — taking on the digital transformation won’t be easily accomplished. Our network is bigger than ever, and, having made sure that SFE is built to last, we’ve been given a new imperative: Bring SFE to the world.

And that’s exactly what we‘re doing. We’ve got a new visual identity, are undergoing a thorough overhaul of our web presence, experimenting with methods for publishing our findings, and fostering relationships with a record high number of new connections. 2016 was significant — but in many ways, 2017 looks like it’ll be our most significant year yet.