The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation has played a pivotal role in PCA’s ability to expand rapidly across the country over the past three years. In this interview with Foundation Program Director Marcia Argyris and CFO Pat Leicher, PCA Founder Jim Thompson asks them about the foundation’s commitment to character development, how its focus on organizational sustainability plays out in the grants it makes and why they are enthusiastic about their work with Positive Coaching Alliance.

Jim Thompson: How was the connection between PCA and the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation made?

Pat Leicher: Three years ago when I attended the Philanthropy Roundtable conference in Colorado Springs, I sat next to David Weekley, who had spoken earlier in the day. I knew he had an interest in the Boy Scouts, as does Mr. Bechtel so I started up a conversation. He said he had scoured the country for the best character development program and said to me, “It’s right in your backyard—Positive Coaching Alliance.” He put me in touch with you, Jim, and that is how it all started.

Jim: Pat, you have a background in sports that factored in to the first grant the Foundation made to PCA to work with AAU (Amateur Athletic Union). Tell us about that including being an AAU cover girl at one time.

Pat: When we first started talking, Jim, you and we were looking at opportunities to introduce PCA to a national organization that would promote PCA training for all its coaches and one that included both boys and girls. That approach had tremendous appeal because it aligns so well with the Foundation’s objectives. When you mentioned the AAU as a possibility, there was a special intrigue. For many years growing up I had been an AAU athlete through a program sponsored by the San Francisco Parks & Recreation department. Ultimately I won 15 national titles, was a five-time All American and was elected to the International Synchronized Swimming Hall of Fame, and yes, I was on the cover of the AAU magazine. So working with the AAU at the grassroots level struck a chord with me. But the most important driver was the perfect fit between PCA and the character development goals of the Foundation.

Jim: Marcia, you have a long background in philanthropy. Tell me how you got into it.

Marcia Argyris: I was working as a paralegal for a Wall Street law firm and decided I wanted to be more connected to the community. When a corporate social responsibility job opened up at one of the major banks, I jumped at it. I liked being able to apply business practices to solving community issues.

Jim: Why is character so important for your foundation?

Marcia: The Foundation believes it is critical for all young people to have access to good mentoring and character education to reach their full potential and become responsible community members. The Foundation invests in character development in order to increase opportunities for children and youth to interact with exemplary role models and learn the values which will serve them well in their lives.

Pat: Developing young leaders is very important to our founder and the board – the Foundation hopes to help our youth become effective and responsible contributors to their communities and in turn serve as an example to others—mentors creating new mentors.

Jim: Why was the Foundation interested in PCA?

Pat: As you’ve pointed out, Jim, next to school, youth sports is where the kids are, and the infrastructure (fields, gyms, pools) to use sports to teach character already exists. It’s such a perfect opportunity, and PCA provides an ideal way to take advantage of the opportunity.

Marcia: You’d like to think that this would happen naturally but, unfortunately, that is not always the case. What PCA brings out reinforces the best instincts of coaches and supports those instincts. I certainly saw the need for this when my son was a young athlete.

Pat: PCA puts in front of coaches the opportunity to teach respect, perseverance…

Marcia: And the tools—the "Flush It!" (laughter)

Pat: And not just the coaches, but educating parents, athletes, everybody involved.

Unlike many programs, PCA is full spectrum, working with very young kids until they go to college.

Marcia: And at all economic levels.

Pat: Training for athletes and parents is so valuable. My eight-year-old daughter was a good soccer player, but one game the parents on the other team were yelling, “Take her down!” and other really awful things. She came off the field bewildered and said, “I’m playing a clean game. What’s this all about?!” Those parents would definitely benefit from PCA training.

Jim: So you both have a lot of personal experience with the need for PCA! I want to ask you about capacity building. S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation is relatively rare among foundations in that you actually fund capacity where many foundations only fund programs. Can you talk about why capacity is important to the Foundation?

Marcia: The for-profit sector understands that companies can’t grow if they aren’t capitalized. Non-profits also need a strong infrastructure if they are to achieve results and be sustainable. Our board believes in supporting infrastructure because they want to ensure that the organizations that are key to our mission are able to build their capacity to serve more children and youth for a long time to come.

Pat: Sustainability is a key word. The Foundation has decided to “spend down” its endowment by 2020 and thus we want the organizations that are key to our mission to continue long after we close our doors. These organizations need infrastructure or they will die on the vine rather than grow and prosper.

Jim: Is the idea of spending down the Foundation’s endowment an idea that is gaining traction in the foundation world? It seems like a bold course of action.

Pat: The board recognizes that there are absolutely critical issues that need to be dealt with now. In 2009, the board decided to try to move the needle on some of these problems by going beyond the 5% payout (the amount of their endowments that foundations are required to spend each year).

Marcia: Long-term, we hope to have more impact by supporting selected organizations to become sustainable.

Jim: The Foundation recently made the biggest grant in PCA’s history with our “High-Tech, High-Touch” capacity-building initiative. I think our readers would enjoy hearing how that came about.

Pat: We asked you a broad open-ended question: What did you need to be successful? What will it take to grow the PCA Movement? This question and its answer helped guide PCA and the Foundation as we jointly developed a proposal.

Marcia: The Foundation values a strong partnership with its grantees. Over the past three years, PCA and the Foundation built such a partnership. PCA had shown measurable results, and, the board felt very positive about the grant.

Pat: Your coming to the board meeting was great. We hear from a lot of academics and your work in the trenches and having a sense of humor about it really engaged the board.

Marcia: PCA is an organization that complements the Foundation’s mission and goals.

Jim: I know STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Education is a high priority for the Foundation. Is there a tie-in between PCA and STEM in your mind?

Marcia: The Foundation believes strongly in nurturing the scientific and design power of the young mind. Quality character instruction enhances the public education system by promoting responsibility, respect, and positive behavior in the classroom, and ensuring that every child can concentrate on learning. Sports, when taught the PCA way, can help kids feel good about themselves and get them in a ready-to-learn mode so that they can absorb the science and math lessons.

Pat: There is also a remarkable convergence between the values taught by PCA and the social-emotional skills that are being incorporated in the new "Common Core" standards that will be introduced into classrooms over the next few years.

Jim: This reminds me that a big idea for PCA in our Triple-Impact Competitor® Model (making self, teammates and the game better) is having a “Teachable Spirit” and being like a sponge.

Marcia: And there is a big difference between a dry sponge and a wet sponge. A dry sponge doesn’t pick up much but a wet one soaks up knowledge. By helping athletes become like a wet sponge, PCA is contributing to their ability to absorb the Common Core standards and acquire what are being called 21st Century Skills.

Jim: What hopes do you have for PCA in the future?

Pat: The Foundation is excited that PCA is scalable and is taking off in new cities. People are hungry for what PCA offers. The Foundation also applauds PCA’s model of challenging the local community to come up with funding before you go in. Having them have “skin in the game” is something that Laurie (Foundation President Laurie Dachs) comes back to again and again.

Marcia: I think of Candy Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. When she started some people thought she was a crazy woman but now it’s, “Of course, you don’t drink and drive.” PCA is similar in that it can create a sea change in the way people think about sports as primarily about developing leadership and character and not just winning. A movement often starts slowly but as people begin to see the value, it builds and eventually it becomes an “Of-Course” part of the culture. PCA is on its way.