CEN and SVCF: Partnerships strengthening nonprofits

Staff and board members participate in CEN’s IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Liberation) Program
CEN staff and board members participate in the IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Liberation) Program

As Silicon Valley Community Foundation works to bolster local nonprofits, it has a strong partner in the Center for Excellence in Nonprofits (CEN) — both as a SVCF grantee and as a contractor that SVCF turns to for help with projects.

CEN primarily serves nonprofits in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, offering workshops, boot camps, roundtables, consulting services and training for local nonprofit leaders. During COVID, the group’s reach grew to include clients all over the country and even some internationally.

One key CEN program is a two-day workshop called Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Liberation (IDEAL).

“In that workshop, we offer attendees an opportunity to learn about the meaning of each of those terms and then think about how to bring them to life in their own work lives, in their organizations, and in the sector as a whole,” said Shana Peete, CEO of CEN. “IDEAL is not only something we are sharing as a leading practice with our clients – it’s something that we have really internalized and are living. It is the lens through which everything we do is done.”

It’s a good match for SVCF’s mission.

“The way CEN is serving our community is very in line with SVCF’s current work and focus on supporting the issues of racial equity and social justice,” said Michelle Fries, director of Nonprofit Support Services and Leadership Investment for SVCF.

Investing in capacity to expand services

CEN’s most recent SVCF grant came from the Capacity-Building and Leadership Investment Program.

“The capacity grant allowed us to expand our front-of-house and back-of-house staff, and it has helped us to be able to go wider with the services we provide – and at the same time deeper,” Peete said. The CEN team has doubled in size and is now 10 people. SVCF’s support also allowed CEN to build out internal systems.

“By having more people power, by having greater systems and infrastructure in place, we are seeing that especially with COVID-19 not going anywhere, there are organizations that need ongoing support from us, and we’re able to provide it in a way that we never have before,” Peete said.

During the pandemic, “we saw organizations that were hanging on the edge even before the pandemic, really struggling to keep their doors open,” Peete said. “We were able to provide services to those organizations, sometimes regardless of their ability to provide compensation, and help them navigate this challenging time.”

Another result of stronger staffing and systems: CEN is now able to plan its curriculum a year or more in advance, allowing plenty of time for engaging the community.

“SVCF has allowed us to serve our people better with this capacity-building grant,” said Peete.

The grant has also increased the organization’s ability to solicit and act on feedback from the nonprofit leaders they serve. For example, with IDEAL and several other programs, the infrastructure improvements allow CEN to ask registrants some baseline questions before the program begins. Collecting feedback is critical to adapting to nonprofit needs.

Collaborating on programs

CEN STAFFCEN, SVCF and the Thrive Alliance partnered on an event in late 2020 called Thinking Big Together, with a focus on SVCF’s new strategic plan and featuring SVCF President and CEO Nicole. The virtual convening brought together organizations during a particularly challenging time in the pandemic.

The program aimed to “support nonprofit leaders who were fearful about their organizations, fearful about COVID, concerned about social justice – folks needing support and understanding about how to make it through that time,” Peete said.

SVCF is also helping CEN build up and support the next generation of nonprofit leaders. CEN recently began a program called Silicon Valley Next, which is supported by SVCF. It prepares nonprofit workers who are not yet running nonprofits to take on top leadership positions in the future.

“It’s really important for CEN to support nonprofit leaders – and we define the word ‘leader’ very liberally,” Peete said. “It’s not about your title, that you’re a board chair or an executive, but that you are demonstrating leadership, forward-thinking innovation in your locus of control within the nonprofit community. Support from SVCF has enabled us to support those emerging leaders.”

A thriving partnership and nonprofit ecosystem

Both SVCF and CEN are “in the capacity business,” said Peete, and CEN serves a lot of the nonprofits that SVCF works with. “CEN is focused on sustainability – of leaders and the organizations that they serve – so that the nonprofit sector will be at its strongest.”

Both organizations are working to build a strong nonprofit sector in Silicon Valley, with an emphasis on equity. CEN’s work is an ideal example of what SVCF’s Capacity-Building and Leadership Investment Program seeks to fund, not only enabling its grantees to thrive, but giving grantees the tools and resources to help other local nonprofits that are addressing issues of equity thrive as well.

“They’ve been really important community partners,” Fries said. “And we look forward to our continued collaboration in the years to come.”