The author is a trustee of a Bay Area family foundation that sought out SFF’s philanthropic advisory services in 2020. To learn more about this service, please email donorservices[at]sff.org or call Pamela Doherty, (415) 733-8521.
In 2009, my husband and I established a family foundation. By 2019, we realized that we needed help integrating our adult children’s priorities, particularly around social justice, into our funding decisions.
After researching several different philanthropic consulting firms, we chose to work with the San Francisco Foundation because of its focus on racial equity and its expertise in the Bay Area — the geographical focus of most of our giving. When George Floyd was murdered, we felt an increased sense of urgency to increase our focus on equity. We didn’t want to be the resistant, white-led foundation with our heads in the sand. We needed to get involved in the fight for racial equity.
We began working with Ali Sirkus Brody, our donor advisor at SFF. Ali has extensive philanthropic advising experience, and a specialty in inspiring progressive donors to be extraordinary allies and partners to people of color, and nonprofits serving people of color.
The first step was for Ali to interview us and get a better understanding of our interests and what motivates our giving. Based on what she heard, Ali recommended we begin by creating several pools of funds: a shared pool where the four of us make shared grantmaking decisions, a pool for me and my husband, and a pool for each of our kids. The idea that we didn’t have to jump 100 percent into shared decision making and immediately cease funding to organizations we have been supporting for years was a relief to all of us. It bought us time to figure out how to best work together.
We held two half-day Zoom meetings with Ali. Before each meeting, Ali asked us all to read a few articles such as “Centering Community in a Pandemic” to prepare. We were happy with the pre-work; these materials to read in advance brought up a lot of thoughts and helped our family develop shared knowledge. During our meetings, we also went through exercises, such as one that examined our shared family values. I was a bit nervous about this, as this type of conversation isn’t always the easiest to have when it involves older and younger generations. But it turned out to be a good experience, and we identified our shared values of redistributing wealth, and realized that we can do this better together.
Another area where we made strides was establishing parameters for the types of grants we wanted to make. We talked through the benefits of having a narrow geographic focus, which issues to focus on, and how specific that focus should be. Then we took these parameters and created a rubric so that we had a checklist of sorts to evaluate if an organization was going to be a fit for our giving.
We began this partnership with SFF knowing that we wanted to somehow incorporate our children into our giving. SFF helped me and my husband give up control of our philanthropic checkbook, and meaningfully allow them to help plan the long-term future of our giving. We recently made our first grant from the shared pool. The Executive Director was ecstatic to receive a three-year, unrestricted grant! We are proud to be able to support them in a way that gives them financial stability and a longer runway.
We have come so far. And we’re grateful that SFF is helping us continue to evolve as a foundation focused on both equity and our local community.