Building Bridges and Nonprofit Sustainability Key Concerns for Nonprofit Leaders

Building Bridges and Nonprofit Sustainability Key Concerns for Nonprofit Leaders

In March 2023, the San Francisco Foundation’s Community Impact Department held an all-day consultative session with nearly 50 of our grantee partners. The goal was to share information about our grantmaking and our priority issue areas for advancing racial equity and economic inclusion across the Bay Area. We also wanted to hear from our grantee partners about how we’re doing, and what racial equity and economic inclusion considerations they see on the horizon. 

The day was full of insightful conversation. Across the gathering I heard themes such as: 

  • Appreciation for SFF’s high support of BIPOC-led grantee partners 
  • A desire for longer-term, larger, and more multi-year grants  
  • Appreciation for SFF’s diverse staff and range of experiences 
  • An opportunity for SFF to further step into our role as a convenor, particularly around organizing funders and acting as an aggregator of resources  
  • Appreciation for our switch to the option of conversational check-ins in lieu of written reports 
  • A need to bolster the regional political and economic equity strategy, and SFF’s potential role in that work 

In addition to these themes, I wanted to highlight a few strong themes that emerged that we are actively weaving into our plans and grantmaking approach.  

Building Bridges 

There is a shared understanding that fighting for racial equity and economic inclusion will take many people of different races and identities. However, participants in the consultative session shared that the work is too often siloed, and that the environment is one in which they feel in competition with each other for scarce resources. Further, some noted that things like anti-Black racism and anti-immigrant views divide communities we’re trying to serve and hinder us from seeing how systems of oppression are intertwined. Building connections across race and identity is a crucial way to bridge these perceived differences.  

“There’s a narrative that is being used to insert a wedge between Black and Asian communities. It’s such an incredibly strong racial wedge – that prevents us from doing the work together and leads us to think about the issues as separate. [It’s important for foundations to] drive a solidarity agenda and invest to build group power.”  

This comment and others from the session resonate with conversations we’ve had within SFF. The building blocks for strong relationships and coalitions must rest on a foundation of solid intra-racial relationship and capacity building, which we’ve been supporting through the Bese Saka initiative, Bay Area Latinx Power Building Initiative, and grants to New Breath Foundation to support their We Got Us Fund and to Asian American Futures to fund Activate California to support organizing capacity within the community. As we continue this work, we plan to add strategies to also support inter-racial bridge-building. 


It came as no surprise that the worsening of the housing crisis in the region and in the state remains a key equity issue. One participant noted that: 

“We can’t fix a lot of problems if residents aren’t stably housed.”  

Our grantee partners detailed the cascading effects housing has on our communities, including on jobs/economic wellness, health, and political power. One participant even pointed out that, as an organization, they are losing staff because of the lack of safe and affordable housing.  

SFF launched our all-in on housing strategy in 2019, and we continue to focus on producing and preserving affordable housing, protecting tenants, and preventing homelessness in our grantmaking and policy advocacy. Last year, we made more than $26 million in grants to support housing efforts, including groups’ efforts to advance an upcoming regional bond to develop and preserve affordable housing, local organizations fighting displacement and eviction, and faith leaders developing affordable housing for their members and neighbors. 

Succession Planning and the Sustainability of the Nonprofit Field 

Another theme we heard was about succession planning, leadership development, and the sustainability of the non-profit field. Many of the leaders in the room were worried about who would replace them as leaders at their organizations when they stepped down.  

“It would be great to see how the foundation could start to help craft the next leaders of organizations. Especially for organizations that are BIPOC-led. So when [the current generation of leaders’] time is over, there’s a new energy and synergy that’s in play to support the next phase of opportunities for organizations.” 

Participants urged funders to give enough unrestricted funding that organizations could think about leadership development and the sustainability of their organization. 

“How do we lift the nonprofit sector itself? Non-profits are treated as ‘the help.’ Nobody wants to be an Executive Director of a nonprofit, and salaries are a big part of that. Nonprofits are key ingredients in cities and should be treated and funded as such.” 

While perhaps this sentiment isn’t new, hearing it from so many of our grantee partners that day was striking. It made me think of the indirect ways SFF is supporting this type of need for succession planning and leadership development, such as our Womxn of Color, Womxn of Power program and our work to  increase the number of general operating, multi-year grants that we make every year.  

Commitments to Change 

SFF’s programs and leadership teams have reviewed the full list of overall themes from the consultative session, and we are committed to: 

  • Increasing the number of multiyear grants that we make 
  • Supporting leadership development for womxn of color and others who have been farthest from opportunity 
  • Continuing to prioritize the issue of housing and weaving it across our grantmaking 
  • Talking with grantees about what we can do to build bridges and solidarity across race  

I’d like to end with my deep gratitude for our grantee partners’ thought partnership in this work, which helps us stay rooted in community and push for changes that improve people’s lives. 

In my next blog post, I’ll dive into the key takeaways from the June 2023 VOICE Bay Area listening session. 

Read more about SFF’s commitment to listening to and being guided by our community and partners: 

Community Listening Sessions Shape Strategy, by Judith Bell 

Centering Trust-based Philanthropy, by Raquiba LaBrie 

Building Trust and Deepening Relationships with Grantee Partners: 2023 Grantee Perception Survey, by Sengsouvanh Leshnick