Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Donor Circle for Safety Net: Housing is a group of philanthropists committed to learning about and investing in critical policy, advocacy and civic engagement strategies that are addressing the housing needs in our community. In particular, this donor circle (one of four SVCF currently offers) focuses on housing preservation, tenant rights, rent control and homelessness through the creation of affordable housing. From its inception in 2017 through the 2019 fiscal year, this donor circle has committed $300,000 to six organizations in our community.
Ray Turner has been a donor circle member since 2017. He and his wife are San Jose residents and have had a donor advised fund at SVCF for about 20 years.
“The donor circle has such an engaged group of members,” he says. “They’re respectful of everyone’s opinions and eager to work together.”
Turner’s interest in housing and homelessness grew from his involvement with a safe parking program at his church and with the Winter Faith Collaborative. “I met homeless people and saw firsthand how easy it is to become homeless in Silicon Valley after an unfortunate life circumstance like unexpected medical expenses, job loss or a huge rent increase,” he explains. “Most of those who are unhoused are just like you and me. Once you’re homeless, it’s much harder to get back into housing, and my wife and I have made this a focus of our philanthropy over the years.”
When SVCF launched the donor circle, Turner saw it as an opportunity to get more connected with the foundation, to learn and to leverage his philanthropy into greater impact. The circle meets bimonthly, and there are active members from both San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. They also enjoy occasional field trips and site visits to build relationships with local nonprofits. “This year we’re looking forward to a visit to a housing clinic at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, an affordable housing bus tour with the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, and various other events during Affordable Housing Month in May ,” says Donor Engagement Associate Robert Williams, who co-leads the donor circle. Williams’ role includes vetting nonprofits before they present to the donor circle, communicating with members, planning site visits and fulfilling the grantmaking that comes out of the donor circle.
“The Donor Circle for Safety Net: Housing brings together some of our most engaged donors who are passionate about solving the Bay Area’s housing crisis,” he says. “Our donors are continually learning from and supporting nonprofits. They exemplify what it means to be a good neighbor.”
Together, donor circle members discuss and review grant requests from nonprofit organizations, which vary from new ideas from smaller nonprofits to established programs run by larger organizations. “These discussions are very educational and have expanded my understanding of the regional housing and safety net structure,” says Turner. The group debates the pros and cons, the likelihood of success and the potential impact of each grant before deciding by consensus which projects to fund and how much to award.
Organizations and projects the donor circle has supported include:
- Samaritan House for a direct assistance program to keep people in their homes
- Sacred Heart Community Service to provide emergency financial assistance to households facing imminent risk of homelessness
- Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto to provide legal services to prevent illegal/unnecessary evictions and to expand the group’s work into Mountain View
- Faith in Action for an East Palo Alto project around legalizing accessory dwelling units
“The donor circle is able to accomplish much more together than we could individually,” says Turner. “In the future we expect to continue funding worthy projects that will reduce homelessness and provide affordable housing. We invite you to join us in addressing one of the most critical problems in Silicon Valley!”
In August 2020, the Donor Circle for Safety Net: Housing became the Donor Circle for Housing. New members are welcome! If you’re an SVCF fundholder and would like to learn more about SVCF’s Donor Circle for Housing or attend a meeting, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.