In 2014, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation launched its National Character Initiative, committing $130 million over six years to advance character development practices in youth-serving organizations. Investments were directed toward organizations working outside the traditional school day and classroom environment to support learning and development that happens during recess, after-school, summer, one-on-one mentoring, sports activities, and nature-based programming. The Foundation collaborated with 13 national youth-serving organizations, several national intermediaries, policy-focused organizations, and the California after-school system. The direct-service organizations involved collectively reach over half of youth ages five to 18 years old in the United States. This brief provides Foundation staff's reflections on the Initiative, including progress made and lessons learned.
This philanthropic partnership with some of the largest youth-serving organizations in the country spans six years, involves a system of diverse supports, and builds organization and field-level capacity to advance character, social-emotional learning, and developmental outcomes in young people. The process used and lessons learned may benefit other funders pursuing similar outcomes in out-of-school time settings.