Donor Desk: Alan S. Davis

Donor Desk: Alan S. Davis

Alan S. Davis is Director of the WhyNot Initiative and President of the Leonard and Sophie Davis Fund.

What brought you to the San Francisco Foundation?

The short answer is that I live in San Francisco and want to support my community. I run the Leonard and Sophie Davis Fund, a private family foundation. We are spending down, but my wife and I wanted to be sure that our family and some close friends would independently have the ability to continue to make charitable gifts, so donor-advised funds made sense. Setting up the donor advised funds (DAFs) at SFF meant that we’d benefit from their advice while also contributing to support their operational expenses.

How has the pandemic changed your views on philanthropy?

We have not seen a confluence of crises like this in our lifetimes. While our foundation has been concerned with issues around democracy, racial justice, healthcare, tolerance, economic inequality, and the environment, we have not seen these challenges come into such sharp focus before, nor did we have the same degree of overwhelming urgency.

How have you been responding to the COVID-19 crisis?

We underwent a four-month process that began with recognizing we had to increase our foundation and DAF payouts. We then landed on four priorities to address: 1) reinforce our general support grantees with immediate additional and unconditional funding; 2) determine the most effective way to help ensure inclusive, safe, and secure elections, including voter registration, vote-by-mail administration, voter education, and election security; 3) correct our failure to adequately fund Black-led and racial justice organizations; and 4) provide direct relief in the five communities with which we have connections. We are not typically a direct-service funder, so we turned to SFF for help recommending organizations in the Bay Area, and we are very pleased with the grants we made on their recommendation.

What would you say is the #1 issue of the day for the donor community?

That’s easy: stepping up to the plate, digging deep—whether it be from your DAF, your foundation or your own pockets—and giving like you’ve never given before. And now! Each of us probably has a different sense of what is the number one need, but we should all agree that unless we increase the size of the pie, all we are doing is moving chess pieces around the board.

What do you mean by “increasing the size of the pie?”

Americans are fairly generous, giving $400 billion per year to nonprofits. However, that number has barely budged for years, in spite of the ever-increasing need. Right now, there are over one million nonprofits that employ more than 12 million people, but in these crises they will not be able to keep people on payroll and do the work this country needs.

So how do you answer the question, “am I giving enough?”

Only private foundations have a standard (a legal minimum), for how much to contribute—5% of assets annually; DAFs and individuals have no standard. However, research has shown that wealthy donors have been giving slightly more than 1% of their net worth to nonprofits. Our foundation, learning from the experience of other foundations and donors, has taken the lead in creating the Crisis Charitable Commitment (CCC) which asks foundations and DAFs to step up to the plate and distribute at least 10% of their assets this year, and asks high net worth individuals to give anywhere from 2% to 5% of their net worth depending on their wealth.

Are people responding to your challenge?

We launched the CCC on Bastille Day (fitting enough) and we are very encouraged by the response so far. But honestly, we need to do so much more. Foundations and DAFs together have $1 trillion in assets, ultra-high-net-worth individuals (with assets of $25 million or more) have over $10 trillion! If we really want America to live up to its potential, we need to invest a reasonable share of that money in the nonprofit community, and to address the COVID-19 crisis, we need to do it right away.