Our Story

Our Story

In 1948, on the heels of World War II, three individuals had an idea: to create a different kind of philanthropic organization focused on the Bay Area. Unlike private and family foundations, it would allow donors to pool their giving to meet the region’s needs and to direct support to communities excluded by unjust systems and laws. This year, that foundation—the San Francisco Foundation—turns 75. We’re immensely proud of the work that we’ve done to improve life in the Bay Area, including the community organizations we’ve supported and seeded and the donors we’ve partnered with to effect change on a great scale. 

As you’ll see in our anniversary stories, there is an undeniable social justice throughline that begins with our founders and carries through our support for social welfare causes in the 1950s and ’60s, the disability rights movement in the ’70s, and the LGBTQ2SIA+ community during the AIDS crisis in the ’80s. That throughline continues to propel our work today to advance racial equity and economic inclusion.

“History is not the past,” the writer and activist James Baldwin said in 1986. “It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” It is with a fuller understanding of our history—our story—that we look ahead to the next 75 years, more dedicated than ever to seeing the Bay Area reach its full potential.

Centering People

SFF’s People Pathway is focused on making it easier for people to build financial security and wealth and put their children on a brighter path.

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Resident Lottie Titus stands next to a street with San Francisco skyline in the background

Centering Place

SFF has long recognized that stable and affordable homes and strong neighborhoods are essential to creating a diverse, vibrant and thriving Bay Area.

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Centering Power

From the beginning, SFF has a proud history of supporting power building as the underpinning of strong, self-determined communities and an inclusive democracy.

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A Multigenerational Commitment to the Bay Area

Making the Bay Area more equitable is not a spectator sport. It requires everyone’s active involvement, including the region’s most privileged residents.

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Next-Generation Philanthropy

SFF’s partnership with future generations of donors has helped us welcome new ideas and sustain our organization for 75 years.

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The Arts

Since the Equity Agenda’s launch in 2016, SFF’s arts work has become an integral strategy to advance racial equity and economic inclusion in the Bay Area.

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Strong Foundations

In the aftermath of World War II, a group of public servants, philanthropists and business leaders unveiled a daring idea to create a Bay Area where everyone could thrive.

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Our Early Eras

Much of the growing pains, patience and faith that characterized SFF’s early years fell on the shoulders of the foundation’s first director, John R. May.

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The Unique Challenge of the Buck Trust

In the 1970s and 1980s, the curious case of the Buck Trust put SFF’s ideology of equity and inclusion to the test.

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Going Beyond The Check

As the first woman, person of color and LGBTQ2SIA+ CEO of SFF, Sandra Hernández’s era in many ways marked a clear shift.

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Identifying Our North Star

SFF CEO Fred Blackwell’s awareness of structural inequity began when he was a child riding his bicycle around Oakland.

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A Return on Investment

By investing in emergency grantmaking and remaining committed to growing the endowment, SFF is investing in long-term work that will bring about an equitable Bay Area.

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Leadership Programs

Cultivating grassroots community leaders—the people directly affected by unjust systems—is essential to bringing out the best ideas and solutions.

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A Rapid Response to Community Emergencies

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced SFF to do better, faster, to provide support to a community that was reeling like never before.

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We are deeply grateful to the following partners and individuals for helping us capture SFF’s history and story:

SFF Staff and Alumni

  • Yolanda Alindor, SFF Organization Development director and senior program officer, Leadership Development, Power
  • Esailama G. Artry-Diouf, SFF program officer, Arts & Culture
  • Judith Bell, SFF Chief Impact Officer
  • Fred Blackwell, SFF CEO
  • Joe Brooks, PolicyLink senior fellow and founder, FAITHS program
  • Tessa Rouverol Callejo, former SFF senior program officer, Power Pathway
  • Michelle L. Myles Chambers, SFF director, FAITHS program
  • Jack Chin, former SFF staff adviser and Multicultural Fellow
  • Myra Chow, former SFF senior director, Power Pathway
  • Sandra Hernández, president and CEO, California Healthcare Foundation, and former SFF CEO
  • Martin Paley, former SFF director
  • Retha Robinson, SFF director, Koshland Program

SFF Trustees and Alumni

  • Andy Ballard, SFF donor and CEO, Wiser Solutions, former SFF board chair
  • Bob, Ellie and David Friedman, grandchildren of SFF co-founder Daniel E. Koshland Sr. and current as well former SFF board members
  • Holly Kernan, KQED Chief Content Officer and SFF board member
  • Justin Steele, SFF donor and Google.org Director, Americas, and SFF board member

SFF Donors and Community Members

  • Bob and Chris Bowman, grandchildren of SFF co-founder Marjorie de Young Elkus
  • Lew Butler, civic leader and co-founder, SFF Koshland Program
  • Leslie, Jeff and Steve Ganyard, grandchildren of SFF co-founder Leslie Ganyard
  • Jacqueline Garcel, CEO, Latino Community Foundation
  • Mick & Patricia Hellman, SFF donors and children of former SFF board chair Warren Hellman
  • Tania Lee, SFF donor and daughter of former SF Mayor Edwin Lee
  • Rita Semel, civic leader, longtime leader, SFF FAITHS program


  • The History Factory team
  • Chaz Bottoms
  • Jenn de la Fuente
  • Kenna Fisher
  • Chinaka Hodge
  • Jen Thom

Special Thanks to the 2022-2023 Marketing and Communications Team

  • Rachel Benditt
  • Valerie Goode
  • Angela Hughes
  • Thuy Kumar
  • Ling Woo Liu
  • Mariah Moore
  • Marc Tafolla