Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Part One
Feature image is from this New York Times article.
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) has been a key player in outcomes-based contracting test cases emerging in the Bay Area over the past five years (here for more information). It is the largest community foundation in the United States with assets currently topping $13.5 billion, much of it derived from donations of stock made by tech, finance and real estate executives. The size of SVCF’s endowment has skyrocketed, up 65% since 2016, which some speculate is due to appreciation of crypto-assets held in donor advised funds. Its size far exceeds that of its closest peer; the Tulsa Community Foundation, ranked second, holds a mere $4.4 billion in assets.
SVCF’s board is heavily weighted with representatives from venture capital and finance, augmented by individuals from tech and manufacturing and a few others representing community and government interests. Among the latter is Greta Hansen. Hansen, Chief Assistant County Counsel for Santa Clara County, had direct involvement with the county’s pay for success initiatives and joined the board in early 2018.
Interactive SVCF board map here.
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation was created in 2007 through the merger of the Peninsula Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley. McKinsey & Company handled the merger, an effort that was financially supported by the William and Flora Hewlett , Skoll, James Irvine, and David and Lucille Packard Foundations and the Omidyar Network. I wrote about the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s efforts to remake philanthropy as a data-driven, technology-centered enterprise here. Omidyar Network has been working at the intersection of emerging tech, impact investing and digital identity. Most recently the organization backed a prototype “impact security,” the Last Mile, which is being piloted at San Quentin Prison in the Bay Area.
In her report, “Tying the Knot: The Founding of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation,” Janet Rae-Dupree characterized the merger as process fraught with tension that saw considerable pushback from board, staff, and community members at various times. The two organizations had very different cultures that were hard to reconcile. Peninsula’s assets of $612 million were primarily unrestricted funds from estates managed by staff, while the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley’s $919 million in assets were mostly restricted corporate or donor advised funds managed with an entrepreneurial outlook. The latter came to dominate.
Tension continued after the merger. A controversy that has drawn considerable attention over the past year centered on Mari Ellen Loijens, SVCF’s former Chief Business, Development and Brand Officer, who originally came over from the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley. Loijens, recognized for her skill with donors and hostility towards staff, was identified as the source of an extremely toxic workplace culture at SVCF. High levels of turnover and complaints of berating and bullying behavior as well as inappropriate racial and sexual remarks, documented in an investigative report by BSF consultants, led to her resignation followed by that of CEO Emmett Carson in June 2018.
Origins of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation map here.
Over the past decade, SVCF has been a conduit for hundreds of millions of dollars used to advance the privatization of public education in the Bay Area and beyond through the expansion of charter schools and device-based education. Such arrangements boost the bottom line of many of SVCF’s donors whose profits derive from online learning products embraced by operators of charters and alternative education providers.
SVCF grants to the New Schools Venture Fund here.
SVCF grants to Charter Growth Fund here.
According to a 2017 audit, SVCF awarded $1.8 billion in grants last year. The most current 990 tax form online is for 2016, available here. It lists hundreds and hundreds of grants, from which I have pulled a sample that reflects the foundation’s involvement in ed reform and impact investing:
Selected SVCF grants from 2016:
$68 million: New Schools Venture Fund (re-imagining education for entrepreneurs)
$26 million: Charter School Growth Fund (promotes expansion of charter schools)
$24 million: Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund (donor advised fund)
$24 million: Startup Education (predecessor to Chan Zuckerberg Initiative)
$20 million: Summit Public Schools (blended learning model funded by Facebook)
$10 million: Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (philanthropy consulting)
$9 million: StudentsFirst (school choice organization founded by Michelle Rhee)
$9 million: The Primary School (Priscilla Chan’s lab school for low income families)
$7.1 million: California Charter Schools Association (charter advocacy group)
$5 million: Pacific Charter School Development (charter facility real estate)
$4 million: Education Superhighway (classroom broadband)
$3.4 million: Teach for All (global network of TFA)
$2.3 million: Pahara Institute (leadership training advancing education redesign)
$2.2 million: Aspire Public Schools (California charter school chain)
$2 million: Teach for America (alternative teaching program)
$1.6 million: Innovate Public Schools (San Jose, CA based charter chain)
$1.6 million: Acumen Fund (patient capital for global poverty “impact”)
$1.4 million: Common Sense Media (gatekeeper for quality online content)
$1.3 million: Relay Graduate School (alternative teacher certification)
$1 million: Tipping Point Community (Robin Hood Foundation inspired poverty reduction program in the Bay Area)
$1 million: Power My Learning (mastery-based online playlist education)
$740,000: WestEd (San Francisco based education research group)
$600,000: Stand for Children (ed reform lobbying group)
$500,000: National Council on Teacher Quality
$500,000: Chiefs for Change (lobbying group pushing education transformation)
$500,000: Big Picture Learning (competency education based school model)
$151,000 Parent Revolution (promoter of school choice and charter schools)
This is in addition to donations made to twenty-five chapters of the United Way and United Way Worldwide.
Increasingly people are acknowledging the toxic nature of SVCF’s activities. Donations, such as those listed above, are strategically deployed to influence public policy and advance the interests of the foundation’s corporate donors. Pouring millions into tech-centric charter schools while starving neighborhood schools of funding destabilizes vulnerable communities. It isn’t charitable. A May 2018 article from The Atlantic described SVCF as “The ‘Black Hole’ That Sucks Up Silicon Valley’s Money.” Local organizations that once enjoyed direct access to donors are seeing contributions dry up, and since the fees foundations charge increase as assets under management grow, there is a real disincentive for entities SVCF to fully disburse funds back into the community. They aren’t required to do so by the IRS. There is a lot money flowing, but little gets to the people who most need it, and certainly none of it is provided on terms that truly serve the interests of the poor.