Jennifer Bradbury – Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation

Jennifer Bradbury - Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation
About Jennifer Bradbury

Jennifer (Jen) Bradbury is the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation. Jen studied Sociology and Anthropology at UCLA and followed it up with an MBA at the UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business. She worked in events right after college and, from there, managed the Anaheim Ducks Foundation working with the owners, players and their families on charity work in Southern California. She then moved to Oakley and worked specifically on running their global cause marketing efforts. She produced charity events tied to sporting events.

Jen began her Taco Bell career in 2016 as the Senior Manager, Marketing & Business Development. She then worked her way up to Director, Strategic Development and was then promoted to the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation in 2021. In her position, she oversees the daily management of the Taco Bell Foundation as well as Taco Bell’s philanthropic efforts.

Connect with Jennifer: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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Resources Mentioned

Sociology at UCLA

Anthropology at UCLA

Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at the UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business

Anaheim Ducks Foundation


Taco Bell Foundation

Live Mas Scholarship Renewal Program – Taco Bell Foundation

Ambition Accelerator – Taco Bell Foundation

Summer of Inspiration – Taco Bell Foundation

Taco Bell RoundUp Program

Boys and Girls Club of America

Junior Achievement Worldwide


The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:55):

Today’s guest is Jennifer Bradbury.

Sam Demma (00:59):

Jen Bradbury is the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation. Jen studied sociology and anthropology at UCLA and followed it up with an MBA at the Uc Irvine Paul Merage School of Business. She worked in events right after college, and from there managed the Anaheim Ducks Foundation, working with the owners, players, and their families on charity work in Southern California. She then moved to Oakley and worked specifically on running their global cause marketing efforts. She produced charity events tied to sporting events. Jen began her Taco Bell career in 2016 as the Senior Manager, Marketing & Business Development. She then worked her way up to Director, Strategic Development and was then promoted to the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation in 2021. In her position, she oversees the daily management of the Taco Bell Foundation as well as Taco Bell’s philanthropic efforts. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with Jen and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Jennifer Bradbury. Jen, please start by introducing yourself.

Jennifer Bradbury (02:12):

Hi Sam. I’m so excited to be here with you today. Thanks for having me. I’m Jennifer Bradbury. I’m the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation and we do a lot of amazing work with young people today, and we’re really trying to inspire the next generation of leaders and break down barriers to their education. So I’m excited to chat.

Sam Demma (02:32):

Let’s talk about it. I mean, <laugh>, tell me about when you got involved with the foundation, because I know it’s not your first philanthropic effort. tell me when you got involved with them and what initially even inspired your desire to be in a position to try and make a positive impact.

Jennifer Bradbury (02:49):

Yeah, Okay. Well, that, that’s a lot to unpack <laugh>. So let’s, let’s get started. I have been at Taco Bell for almost seven years now, but I have been doing corporate philanthropy for almost my entire career. It was something I fell into when I was out of undergrad. I did my undergrad at ucla. I majored in sociology and anthropology. really broad. Didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do even coming out of undergrad, but I started working in sports entertainment. and that after a couple of years of working on events at our arena here in Southern California, I pivoted just because of an opportunity really to do community relations with the Anaheim Ducks Hockey Club. So I helped start the foundation that the Anaheim Ducks ran. Nice. And we worked with tons of nonprofits across Southern California. We worked very closely with our players wives to help, help do good in the community.

Sam Demma (03:53):

Yes. we worked very closely with our players. So that’s really where I got my start in this work. It I went to business school at uc, Irvine while I was there, and I quickly moved over to Oakley, which is sunglass company. They are they’re a division of Leica based in Italy, but with Oakley, they had a nonprofit called One Site, and we delivered global vision care to underserved communities across the world. And then we did really cool charity activations with global sporting events. So it was, it was fun. It was interesting. I was in my late twenties and I got to travel the world. It was really all I ever thought a job could be until Taco Bell came along and I thought, Wow, this, this just keeps getting better and better. So the thing about Taco Bell and the Taco Bell Foundation is when we talk about our why and why we want to do work and why we go to work every day.

Sam Demma (04:49):

Cause it’d be easy to sometimes just not wanna do that. Right. Yeah. My why is I love connecting people. I think connecting people together is one of the coolest things. I think if I could build strategies and connect people, which is what I do at Taco Bell, I’d be very happy. And I am very happy. So here we, here we’re. but yeah, it took me a while to figure that out and the fact that some corporate philanthropy, which is really the feel good side of business, and when your business is successful, it allows you to do it in a really cool, meaningful way. It’s just, it’s such a win. I just, I feel so lucky to wake up and do what I do every day.

Sam Demma (05:28):

There’s so many programs running the Talk Bell Foundation that have a huge impact on youth and young people. what are some of the programs you’re really passionate about and sometimes involved in where you get to see young people Yeah. flourishing and making an impact?

Jennifer Bradbury (05:45):

Yeah. So we, we actually run three different programs at Taco Bell, at the Taco Bell Foundation. but I have to do a quick shout out to how we get to really run those programs. So if you go to Taco Bell and you’re asked to round up, please say yes because I’m about to tell you about three of the amazing programs. It helps, I have to tell you change. I like to say change changes lives. We have an average donation of about 46 cents, and that has turned into millions and millions of dollars. So our first program I wanna tell you about is our Mont Scholarship. And we are giving, we’ve given away more than $30 million to young people through scholarship support. And we call ’em be beyond the money resources as well. This year we’re going to give away, or next year in 2023, Sam, we’re gonna give away 10 million that’s gone.

Jennifer Bradbury (06:36):

So it’s growing so fast you’ve gotten to meet some of our scholars, but Lima Scholarship is really a program. young people receive between five and $25,000 in funding. It’s renewable for up to four years. So up to a hundred thousand dollars paying for school is really great. A lot of people need that help. so we asked students to tell us in a two minute video what they’re uniquely passionate about and how they’re gonna use it to make a difference in the world. The money’s awesome, like I said. But what I really love is our beyond the money resources. So we run conferences, we have an online portal, we set up mentorship opportunities, You need help writing your resume, or you wanna find a group of like-minded peers. We connect our young people with all of that. So we have about 1900 students in our program. Now,

Sam Demma (07:26):

Some of the most amazing young people I’ve met, they’re, they’re so talented. I think what’s really unique and awesome about the program is that it also supports the individuals who might be taking pathways that are not classified as the typical paths that you might take following post-secondary or during post-secondary. And as someone who has taken a very artistic path path, myself, I really resonate with that idea and think it’s so important.

Jennifer Bradbury (07:51):

A hundred percent. We love students that are going to trade school, two year school trade, vocational, pursuing the arts, whatever passion you have, and if it’s something that’s gonna make this world a somewhat better place, we wanna hear about it.

Sam Demma (08:08):

That’s awesome. So that’s one of three. I’m already getting excited. Tell me about the other thing. Okay,

Jennifer Bradbury (08:12):

<laugh>. So then we have our we called our community grants program. So we were in our 30th year as the Taco Bell Foundation. This year we gave away over 7 million to 400 nonprofits, but we’re gonna more than double that in 2023. And we’re gonna be giving away 15 million to nonprofits across the country that are supporting young people, get their education and break down barriers that they face in getting that education. So it’s organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs of America, City Year Junior Achievement College advising Core, and many, many more. There’s so many incredible non-profits that help young people today pursue their passions and get their education. So that’s our committee grants program. Nice. And then this year we’ve launched a pilot program called Ambition Accelerator. This is in partnership with Ashoka, which is one of the leading change making organizations in youth change making organizations in the world.

Jennifer Bradbury (09:12):

They are working with us to find, we call it Shark Tank for good <laugh>, but basically it’s stemmed out of Lima’s scholarship too. So a lot of our students are graduating, They have really cool, unique passions. They’re starting nonprofits and social enterprises, and we wanna be able to fund them and invest in them. So we have we opened an application period earlier this year for young people to apply through a video telling us what, what business are they starting, what nonprofit are they starting, and what funding do they need? So we now, next week, have 20 teams coming to Taco Bell headquarters to do a pitch competition meet all sorts of people to help them along their path, whether it’s with their business plan or public speaking, and tell us about their ideas and win money. So we’re looking forward to really taking our investing in young people to the next level.

Sam Demma (10:13):

Are, are you gonna be sitting on the judges’ panel being like, Here’s 10,000 <laugh>.

Jennifer Bradbury (10:17):

Right. I, I can have, like, I dunno if anyone, a few people know who Oprah is anymore, but I feel like I get my Oprah moments where I’m like, You get 10,000 and you get 10,000 <laugh>.

Sam Demma (10:28):

What, what keeps you personally excited about this work every single day? I’m sure there’s some difficult moments, but what is continuously driving you and motivating you?

Jennifer Bradbury (10:38):

Yeah, again, I think it’s just re it’s this next generation. Our, this is a hard, this is a hard world we’re all living in. I don’t think any day goes by that people don’t, aren’t stressed by something that’s happening in the world. It’s, it’s constant and it’s, it can be very overwhelming, but I’m really excited about this generation coming up. I think they have such a unique opportunity and so many tools and resources that I didn’t have, my parents didn’t have, my grandparents didn’t have. And I just want them to be set up for success and to be able to fix some of these crazy problems we’re dealing with. whether it’s issues with climate or issues with mental, mental health. You know, there’s just so many things they can, they can fix for us and fix for them. So I, that is what gets me excited is that there’s hope.

Sam Demma (11:34):

I love it. One thing that a lot of young people often tell me is, I don’t know what I wanna do with my life. And they, they struggle with, you know, figuring out the career they wanna get into. And I wanna backtrack for just a second, cuz you mentioned that after, you know, ucla, you, you kind of stumbled into the, the role you were in when you were going through school. Did you have this idea in your mind that you were gonna work in philanthropy and, you know, be working with the Taco Bell right now? And if no what do you think in terms of the actions you took is responsible for kind of bringing you to where you are today?

Jennifer Bradbury (12:10):

Oh, I love this question, Sam. I know is the answer. I did not think this is what I was gonna do. I didn’t even know this was a job, to be honest. and I think that’s what’s really amazing about what a lot of young people are going to be doing. Those jobs don’t exist right now. You’re really preparing yourself for a job that you don’t even know what it is today, and in 20 years it’s going to be a job. So you have to try new things. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that’s my number one. I tried all sorts of things. I thought I wanted to be a news anchor. So I went and did an internship with our local CBS affiliate. I thought I wanted to be a talent agent. So I got an internship with a talent agency. Nice. I thought I wanted to potentially do something in retail.

Jennifer Bradbury (12:52):

So I went and worked at a local retail store. So you have to try different things, Try ’em on, It’s the time to try on Right. And see what you like doing. And then you have to be open. You really have to just be open to try to trying those things. and then when opportunities come, you have to not only be open to trying ’em, but you have to be okay failing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Because if we’re not failing, we didn’t try hard enough. We didn’t, we didn’t push the boundary far enough. We didn’t, we didn’t reach high enough because failing is, failing is actually what happens when you try hard and you’re gonna fail. Not everything’s gonna work, it just doesn’t. But when you fail and you fail fast and you’ve learn from it, you’re gonna be so much better the next time around.

Jennifer Bradbury (13:40):

So I just think it’s, it’s you, you’ve gotta be, be open to new things, being willing to fail, fail fast, and move on, and looking for connections and people, people to, to talk to and, and, because you just don’t know what’s out there. So yeah, I didn’t, I didn’t know this was what I was gonna be doing. If someone had told my younger self this was it, I would’ve been like, That’s a thing. <laugh>, that’s a job. but I’m happy I’m doing it. I’ve, I’m really, Taco Bell did a, a job series not that long ago, called, or a couple years ago I guess now, called Best Job in the World. Nice. When I did it, I was like, Yeah, well, no one else can do this anymore. Cause I actually have it. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (14:25):

That’s amazing. One of my favorite musicians, rappers has a quote and he says, You know, I saw all my failures is Stepping Stones. And he released like 94 songs that caught no one’s attention before releasing a debut album that took the world by storm. And I really resonate with that idea that if we’re not failing, we’re really not pushing hard enough. And all of our mistakes, all of our failures, if we reflect on them, can be these amazing learning moments. And I’m curious, when you think about the times in your journey where you reached really high and pushed really hard and learn something through a failure or a mistake are there any stories like that, that come to mind of challenging moments that you think you learn from that other people who work with youth or who are reaching big could benefit from hearing?

Jennifer Bradbury (15:20):

I, I think you can ask anyone that works at the Taco Bell Foundation. I, I talk about this constantly. If we’re not failing, we, like you said, we haven’t tried hard enough. Yeah. So yes, I fail all the time. I think there’s things that are missteps or things we could have done differently regularly, but there’s amazing things that come out of that. So, you know, just talking about Roundup and where we are with Roundup and how we raise money to run the really cool programs that we put on at the Taco Bell Foundation, you’re not that long ago pre pandemic, we were raising five, five to $7 million in our restaurants each year, which is great. That’s, there’s something wrong with that. That’s a, that’s a lot of money to raise and give back. But fast forward to this year, we’re, because we try do things because we were willing to fail and not have it work. We’re gonna go from raising five, $5 million a year to raising more than $30 million this year. Damn. But that wouldn’t have happened if we kept doing the same thing that we had been doing. Right. You don’t, you don’t get different results doing the same things, so you have to try new things. I think that’s, so everyone could take that away.

Sam Demma (16:31):

Love that.

Jennifer Bradbury (16:32):

It, we’re all better off.

Sam Demma (16:34):

What we don’t have to dive deep into strategy, but from a, from a big picture, what changed that you think really enabled that much growth? That’s almost like six times as much <laugh>.

Jennifer Bradbury (16:46):

Yeah, it’s insane growth. It’s really, it’s really crazy. I mean, and that’s even just year over year is we, were, we raised $18 million last year, so it’s almost, it’s almost doubled. I, to be really candid, I was really sick of how we were fundraising. I was bored with it. I knew if I was bored with it, I knew our franchisees were bored with it. I knew our team members and our restaurants were bored with it. I knew our customers were bored with it. So I didn’t wanna do it anymore. It wasn’t not fun. Like, that’s the other thing is you gotta be having fun. We get one shot at this life, and if we’re not having fun doing it, what, what’s the point? And like, I use fun loosely, right? I’m using some air quotes here. What everything can’t be fun at every minute because yeah, life is hard and it takes work, but we’ve gotta have outlets that allow us to have fun and enjoy stuff. Because life is short, life is precious, and we’ve got to, we, we get one chance of doing it. So I was not having fun doing it, and I knew everyone else wasn’t. And so we had to try new, new things. And I honestly think to some extent, if you’re trying, you’re trying new things, you’re pushing yourself, you’re taking a risk, you’re having fun while you’re doing it, those are starting the, those are a lot of recipes or a lot of ingredients to put together a really good recipe. So

Sam Demma (18:07):

It’s so true. I think that is such a good reminder. Boredom could be a signal for change. You know, if, if you’re starting to feel bored about the things you’re doing, it’s not okay to just continue doing them. <laugh>, you gotta reflect on why. And, you know, maybe start charting a new path or pursuing something else, or changing the whole system and making it more enjoyable and having fun in the process. it’s such a good, Yeah, it’s such a good way to put it. And I appreciate you sharing that. I think a lot of educators over the past couple of years have probably struggled with burnout as well. And I’m curious to know, how do you personally fill up your cup so that you can show up every single day and give so much and manage so many different things? Like what is Jennifer Bradbury’s self care routine look like?

Jennifer Bradbury (18:58):

<laugh>, I, I feel like it should be better than it really is, to be honest. I think that’s somewhat something that everyone, like I was saying, we’re all struggling these days. I think that’s something that I probably struggle with too. But I, a big part of, of my self care routine is who I surround myself with. Nice. I’m an incredible husband. I have two amazing, they’re technically my step kids, but they’re my kids. and then I have a awesome dog. Nice. I have great siblings, I have fantastic parents. So I really feel like I’m so lucky with who I get to surround myself with and spend my free time with. I reading, I like to read all sorts of things. getting a good walk in I think is really good for clearing the mind. And then the other thing I’d add is I, which is I’ve not had with the pandemic as much as I had before, but traveling, I think being able to be fortunate enough to experience other cultures and other countries and other cities is just such a wonderful experience. And that really fills my bucket when I get a chance to do that.

Sam Demma (20:07):

I love that. Well, what kind of dog do you have?

Jennifer Bradbury (20:10):

I have a golden retriever. He is a English cream and he’s two years old in two days.

Sam Demma (20:17):

Awesome. Very cool. Well, happy early birthday dog.

Jennifer Bradbury (20:20):

<laugh>. Happy early birthday to Cabo.

Sam Demma (20:22):

Love it. Oh, nice. that’s so cool. I think when things get difficult we can’t lean on ourselves. We have to lean on each other. So it sounds like you have a really great support system which is amazing. And I would assume that your colleagues at work, probably also when things get difficult, are super supportive and, you know, help you along the journey as well. I’m curious in education, you know, an educator will hear about the impact that their program or their class is having on a kid. Do you also hear about the stories of how programs are impacting certain individuals with the Taco Bell Foundation programs? And if so, is there any specific stories, maybe one or two that come to mind that you often think of when you might be feeling burnt out to remind yourself why this work is so important?

Jennifer Bradbury (21:12):

Sam, I don’t have, you don’t have enough time for me to go through all the stories that I have of young people that are just incredible. Like I, you know, you said we, you got to meet a number of them, A number of our Lima scholars, they are, they, they’re the reason our world is gonna be okay and it, things are going to get better and gonna work out because of these young people. We all need to invest in them. We all need to build them up and give them the tools and resources they need to, to make this world better. One of the coolest stories that is happening at this moment is we have a Lima Scholar who was one of our original scholarship recipients. Okay. Back when we started the program about seven years ago. His name’s Jonathan. He was in, he’s into filmmaking.

Jennifer Bradbury (21:58):

Nice. He did a really cool listen, your video does not have to be good that you submit for our scholarship, like talk, talk to your phone. But he did do a pretty amazing application video. We ended up filming a, a mini little docu series with him about his journey and about what he was pursuing. He graduated, he got his master’s degree. Fast forward now, he is actually filming content for us to use in term to promote the scholarship and the work we’re doing at the Taco Bell Foundation. So talk about his journey coming for full circle. It’s just, it’s so inspiring to see. so I’ve been able to support him when he was, you know, 18 and starting to, to right now he’s, he’s running his company and building his business and we’re using him as one of our production efforts. So it’s so cool. Oh,

Sam Demma (22:56):

So cool. What a cool full circle moment. Yeah. And I, I’m sure there’s so many other young people who have such amazing stories and journeys. I met a few animators, I’ve reme, if I remember it correctly, and there was a lot of artists. There’s a lot of people Yes. That’s super interested in technology and, and tech. what are the different types of interests of students that apply for the scholarship? Like give us a quick example.

Jennifer Bradbury (23:20):

Yeah. Oh, Sam, you say an interest. We have someone, So one of our young people, she is developing a you know, obviously there’s a crisis with bees. Yeah. Right. In this world, we’re, we’re running out of bees. There’s not enough bees to, for the, for food. So I’m gonna butcher how she sheen should be on here telling you her spiel. That’s okay. But she’s so cool. She’s developed this very easy kit to basically start a beehive in your backyard. And so it’s so cool. It’s so simple to make. She has the such a cool sales pitch for how she, she does it. but she’s helping the honey bee population. Like, ah, she can have a passion for bees. So we have students who are of passion for food insecurity for cooking. You know, you could be on, on one, one side of the spectrum and the other having to do with food. We have people that are in the medical field, We have people that are in the teach. We have lots of teachers. it’s a huge group of, of people that are applying for our scholarship. Everything in between. So whatever you are passionate about, demonstrate that. And how are you making a difference? Listen, there’s, we have a duct tape artist.

Sam Demma (24:42):

Wow. <laugh>. Yeah.

Jennifer Bradbury (24:45):

So everything goes.

Sam Demma (24:47):

Okay, cool. I, I was super inspired. The event that I attended was the, or spoke at was the summer of inspiration. for people wondering what is it like to be on the ground? That one was virtual, but I’m sure you’ve done events in person as well. What is it like to be on the ground at a Taco Bell Foundation event

Jennifer Bradbury (25:05):

When the, our young people, it’s very humbling because as we’ve said, they’re all ridiculously smart and cool. so you, it just was, I’m like, Wow, I just, this is so cool to be, you leave, you leave. So talk about a bucket filling moment. Your bucket is filled after being at a Taco Bell foundation event, and we do it in a Taco Bell way. So it’s really fun. there’s really cool speakers. There’s lots swag, we love ourselves, Taco Bell t-shirts and hats and bags and all of that stuff. There’s lots of good music. We have all sorts of performers performing and good food. Obviously the taco truck always makes the parents so

Sam Demma (25:49):

Very cool. That’s awesome. I, if you could, we’ve talked a lot about the foundation Yeah. As a whole in your career. If you could bundle up all of your experiences, travel back in time, and speak to yourself when you were just starting your first role in philanthropy knowing what you know now and with the experiences you, you have, what would you tell your younger self in the form of advice? Not because you would change anything about your path, but because you think it would be helpful to hear at the start of that journey.

Jennifer Bradbury (26:18):

Yeah. I don’t know that my younger self would’ve listened knowing how stubborn I am, but I wish he would’ve known to believe in herself more and to have confidence that like, she’s got this, She’s got it. And don’t let people try and take you from your path. Don’t let you know, drown that. Drown the haters out, Right. Because you have to have confidence in yourself. You have to believe in it yourself. You have to advocate for yourself. You have to be your biggest cheerleader. I think that’s stuff I probably knew to some extent back then, but I didn’t know it the way I know it now. And it would’ve probably made things a little easier to have known it. So,

Sam Demma (27:03):

Love that. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s been an honour and pleasure chatting with you on the podcast. Thank you for sharing, you know, your experiences and good luck with the Ambition Accelerator event. By the time this airs, it may have already happened with thousands of dollars being given away on the project, so I’m so excited about it. if someone wants to get in touch with the Taco Bell Foundation, ask a question, or even reach out to you, what would be the most efficient way for them to send a message?

Jennifer Bradbury (27:29):

Yeah, so if you wanna chat with me, I’m on LinkedIn, feel free to connect. And then we have a, our website is taco bell foundation.org. You can learn all about our programs, you can get our Live Mont Scholarship application when Ambition Accelerator opens. Again, you can find it there. So check us out online.

Sam Demma (27:46):

Awesome. Jen, thank you so much. I so appreciate the time and energy. Keep up with the great work.

Jennifer Bradbury (27:52):

This was so fun. Thank you.

Sam Demma (27:53):

You’re welcome. You’re welcome. And we’ll talk soon.

Jennifer Bradbury (27:55):

Okay, sounds good.

Sam Demma (27:58):

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