In the spirit of the 2015 community listening sessions that SFF held when Fred Blackwell joined as CEO, our 2023 VOICE session gathered non-profit and community leaders to take stock of equity issues facing the region. The 2023 VOICE listening session was an opportunity for SFF staff to hear directly from Bay Area residents and community leaders, and for the participants – who might not otherwise come together – to learn from each other. I encourage you to watch this short video recap of the event.
The VOICE session was structured around a series of discussion questions about racial and economic equity issues in the region, strategies for addressing these inequities, and how SFF can help make folks’ voices heard. The diversity of participants who attended the session – with participants coming from six Bay Area counties, representing a variety of racial identities, and ranging in age from youth to elders – led to rich conversation on a wide array of topics. I’ll share a bit about the topics that rose to the top of the day’s conversations, and I’ve also included the full list of themes, listed by question, at the bottom of this post.
Like the 2023 consultative session, when participants were asked about structural racism in the Bay Area, housing was a major theme. Some participants talked about redlining and other methods of exclusion from homeowning and wealth building. I also heard frustration around the lack of production of affordable housing. Participants talked about how so many people across the Bay are getting priced out of the communities where they have deep roots. Some described the cascading effects of losing housing, and as a result losing their connections to school, work, safety, and community.
“Housing and place-making is about a sense of community, safety, and belonging. All of which is removed when people are displaced. [Displacement] impacts community health and a sense of well-being.”
Need for funding
The need for more funding came up again and again throughout the day. Participants talked about how they see structural racism manifesting in underinvestment in spaces that lift up communities of color and about needing more funding for their own organizations.
“The LGBTQ community has been underinvested in. For example, Pride is such an important month, but it costs a lot of money. Funding is not distributed in an equal way.”
Making up for these funding discrepancies and working to promote racial equity and wealth building were also identified as strategies. Of course, the funding needs and reasons varied across nonprofit leaders, but the call for longer-term, unrestricted funding was consistent.
“SFF stands out in doing two-year funding. [Multi-year funding] gives our organization the ability to plan and leverage other opportunities.”
Collaboration and convening
When asked about what is working to promote racial equity and wealth building, many participants pointed to collaboration and working across traditional silos. Participants called for deeper investment in spaces where people could share best practices and build coalitions.
“I would love to see SFF do more similar events to this one, pulling communities in. We have a lot of work being done in silos; we need the full strength to be pulled in. When I was growing up, the community was powerful and the churches were strong. SFF can pull people together, bring in all of the leaders, and provide facilitation.”
While there was a wide array of comments – more than one thousand – between the consultative and the VOICE session, I’m struck by the similarities of the underlying themes in both sessions: housing, more funding for the non-profit sector, and bridging across silos. As mentioned in my first blog post in this installment, SFF bases our approach and planning for impact on what we hear from community, and the trends we heard in 2023 will inform our work and focus moving forward. SFF will continue to hold listening sessions in the future to hear directly from Bay Area communities as needs and opportunities change.
For those interested in diving deeper, here’s the full list of themes that we gleaned from the VOICE listening session:
2023 VOICE discussion questions & themes
In what ways has structural racism impacted the well-being of our community?
- Housing discrimination and lack of housing resources
- Power disparities and economic injustice for Immigrants and undocumented workers
- Underinvested communities
- Policies not reflective of economic inclusion and racial equity
What can the San Francisco Foundation do to address these issues?
- Convene across traditional silos, including cross-issue and cross-racial
- Ensure sectors, organizations, and families are fully funded
- Invest in issues related to education and youth
- Build capacity of nonprofit staff and leadership
- Strengthen support for elected officials who reflect their communities and for equitable policies
- Invest in housing policies and production
- Promote innovation and reimagining
What is working that helps to promote racial equity and wealth building in other communities, and how could these be adapted or lifted up for use in our own community?
- Collaboratives that connect community members and folks across issue areas
- Investments in the pipeline for diverse and representative leaders
- Inclusive economies, including living wages, workforce pipelines, and support for Black, Indigenous, and people of color business ownership
- Bringing together resources and community around housing
- Civic engagement and community involvement in policy
In what ways do you feel your voice is being heard when important decisions are being made? How can SFF help you be heard?
- Convenings, coalitions, and other opportunities to be in discussion with decision-makers
- Continue to facilitate spaces that bridge across programs and proximity to power and focus on inclusion and follow-up
- Being heard takes resources, and community engagement participants should be compensated for their time
- Use communications and advocacy capacity to center marginalized voices and support a shared communication strategy
- Organizing, especially at the local level
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