Centering Trust-based Philanthropy

Centering Trust-based Philanthropy

In my first year at the San Francisco Foundation (SFF), I relished building relationships with SFF colleagues and grantee partners. I measure the strength of those relationships by the willingness of colleagues and partners to provide candid feedback. Using that measure, I can say that our relationships are strong and that’s a hallmark of SFF’s trust-based approach to our grantmaking. We strive to:

  • develop mutually accountable relationships with our grantee partners and minimize the power imbalances inherent in our work;
  • center the experience and expertise of communities directly affected by the systems and policies we’re working to make more just and
  • share what we’re learning – including what’s working and where to improve.

In the spirit of transparency, we are sharing key findings from our annual analysis of our programmatic grantmaking (FY23) and learnings from our community engagement efforts where partners shared rich feedback over the past year. We use this data internally to inform our strategies for ensuring all people living in the San Francisco Bay Area are economically secure, rooted in vibrant communities, and engaged in civic life. We share the data publicly to hold ourselves accountable and to encourage fellow funders to collect and share their grantmaking data.

Equity-focused grantmaking

Every year, our Strategic Learning and Evaluation (SLE) team analyzes our programmatic grantmaking to identify where and how we support nonprofit organizations across the Bay Area, who leads the organizations we fund, and which communities are being served. The following key findings show how we are moving substantial resources to BIPOC leaders and communities to support movement-building and systems change.

Key findings
  • Dollars granted: Between July 2022 and June 2023, SFF made $47.8 million in programmatic grants to create a racially just and economically inclusive Bay Area.
  • Grant size: SFF issued 560 grants to 434 grantee partners and seven individuals with an average grant size of roughly $85k.
  • Communities served: 96% of grantees serve majority Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities.
  • Leadership: 80% of the Executive Directors of the organizations* we funded identified as Black, Indigenous, or a person of color.
  • Strategies: The top four strategies our grants focused on were: (1) movement building and/or community organizing; (2) leadership development; (3) housing (protection, production, preservation, homelessness prevention); and (4) policy and systems change.
  • Location: Centrally located Bay Area counties continued to receive the majority of funding (Alameda, San Francisco, and Contra Costa).

*Organizations where race/ethnicity data were available.

In the past two fiscal years, our support for BIPOC-led organizations* and organizations that serve BIPOC communities remained constant. This year and last year, 80% of all equity-focused grantees were BIPOC-led. Similarly, 96% of our grantee partners reported working to improve outcomes for BIPOC communities in our recently completed fiscal year. In the prior year, that number was 95%.

We are listening to feedback from our grantee partners and responding to their demands for more multiyear support. While we have made some progress in increasing our proportion of multiyear grants, the overall percentage is still relatively modest at 23%. However, it’s important to note that the percentage of overall grantmaking dollars that went to multiyear grants reached a new high of 44%. Currently, a staff working group is developing recommendations to help us increase our total percentage of multiyear grants and dollars in a way that can be sustained long-term.

Read the rest of our analysis, including additional information on gender, organization size, multiyear grants, etc.

Seeking community input

In the first half of 2023, we sought feedback from community stakeholders in three major ways. First, we administered the 2023 Grantee Perception Survey. Second, we held a consultative session with about 50 grantee partners where we asked partners to assess how we’re doing as a community foundation and to identify the pressing issues we need to target. Third, we held a VOICE session with a broader cross-section of stakeholders representing the five-county Bay Area region to probe how systemic racism affects our communities and what the San Francisco Foundation can do to promote racial equity and wealth-building.

Some areas of strength:

  • Grantee partners affirm that SFF is deeply committed to racial equity in the region.
  • We continue to strengthen our relationships with grantees, as evidenced by high marks on the frequency of communication and touchpoints.
  • Grantees report increased comfort level in approaching SFF staff.
  • Grantees tell us that SFF staff understand their work and the communities they serve.
  • Overall, grantees reported positive experiences with the grant application process and improved clarity and support from SFF staff.

Some areas for growth:

  • Equipping grantees with greater flexibility and freedom by providing more unrestricted, multiyear grants. As reflected above, we’re already strengthening our muscles in this area. By next year, we believe we can increase the percentage of multiyear grants and dollars going out the door.
  • Increasing our support for Native leaders and communities. In recent years, we have stepped up support for Native communities through investments in land trusts and other community wealth-building efforts. In the past year, however, only 2% of our equity grantmaking went to organizations with a Native executive director. We intend to steadily increase this percentage in coming years.
  • Using our influence and convening power to help partners build multi-racial coalitions. Recognizing that white supremacy’s playbook is to divide and conquer, our grantee partners have asked us to use our unique strengths as a convener and civic leaders to fortify connections across racial groups and movements. We plan to bring groups together to brainstorm effective strategies for operationalizing transformative solidarity in the Bay Area region.
  • Making our online grants portal more user-friendly. On the grants administration side, grantee partners let us know they want more transparency about funding decisions and support with our online grants portal. We are training staff to communicate clearly and quickly with partners to address these challenges. We’re also offering trainings to grantees to help them navigate our online portal.

As we plan for next year and beyond, we will continue to review and reflect on our grantmaking to ensure we respond to the most pressing community priorities.