Evergreen Collective offers fundraising expertise to other nonprofits

Evergreen Collective Executive Director Joel Valencia facilitates a fundraising training for a cohort of fellows at New Leaders Council Silicon Valley, where he also serves as Co-Director.
Evergreen Collective Executive Director Joel Valencia facilitates a fundraising training for a cohort of fellows at New Leaders Council Silicon Valley, where he also serves as Co-Director.

One of many challenges facing nonprofits that are led by and serve people of color is raising money.

“They need more staff, space, learning – all sorts of resources,” said Joel Valencia, CEO and founder of Evergreen Collective. “Some is accessible through in-kind donations, but a lot of it comes down to money.”

Interactions with potential funders can be frustrating, he said. Often the process is set up such that nonprofits are expected to invest heavily up front in putting together grant proposals and in establishing and maintaining potential funder relationships, without knowing if, or how much funding to expect.

“You use limited time and bandwidth and then don’t get the funding, or it is much less than expected,” Valencia said. “That takes its toll.”

Evergreen Collective is working to help nonprofits overcome these obstacles by building sustainable financial development systems for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color)-led and -serving nonprofits and their communities. Valencia is the only paid staff member, though he is hoping to hire others soon. A general operating support grant from Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Capacity-Building and Leadership Investment (CBLI) Program, the group’s first grant from SVCF, will help Evergreen Collective expand its staffing and programming.

Evergreen Collective, which is in its second year of operating, is based on a consulting model. Valencia serves nonprofit clients in a variety of capacities – grant writer, capital funding consultant or hourly consultant on development strategies – depending on what they need. Because he receives institutional support, he is able to set a sliding scale for his fees, and he does some pro bono work.

A key part of the work is coaching the nonprofit leaders about how to overcome the systemic barriers they face in getting funding.

“Ultimately the goal is to change the system so those barriers go away, but until we do, we need to know what barriers we’re up against so we can develop strategies that work within the current systems,” he said. “Developing this understanding and the fundraising strategies that will work for each nonprofit is a core part of the coaching process.”

Evergreen Collective primarily serves the historically redlined portions of southern San Mateo County: Belle Haven, East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks, and Half Moon Bay -- though it also does work in other parts of the county and state.

Evergreen Collective is also fiscally sponsored by the Los Altos Mountain View Community Foundation, a sister foundation to SVCF.

A career devoted to nonprofits

Valencia, a first-generation Mexican American, graduated from Eastside College Preparatory School and then, in 2008, from Princeton University. He has been working in nonprofits since 2009, first on the programmatic side and then, since 2015, in fundraising. He spent three years at the Peninsula Open Space Trust in Palo Alto as part of a large fundraising team, then moved to StreetCode Academy in East Palo Alto, where he was the only development staff member.

These experiences pointed him to his ideal job: doing development work in the communities he knows so well.

“I grew up in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park,” he said. “I love working with that community and being able to bring the skills and natural abilities that allow me to succeed in the fundraising space. I know the need for fundraising support is pretty much infinite.”

Even with streamlined grant application processes, Valencia knows that many organizations do not have the time nor resources to apply for funding. When he saw that SVCF was soliciting applications for LatinXCEL Fund grants, he put his ideas into practice. Similar to the foundation’s CBLI program, the LatinXCEL Fund also invests in leadership development and capacity-building activities, specifically for Latinx-led or Latinx-serving organizations.

“I knew that the most grassroots, smallest organizations that qualified for this request for proposal probably wouldn’t apply due to lack of time to review the requirements, and then draft and submit the application,” Valencia said. “

He put out a call to any nonprofit that qualified but did not have the development staff to submit an application — and offered to do it for free.

“I got a great response,” he said. “A number of these folks weren’t going to submit an application. They just didn’t have the mental bandwidth to think about it, but they didn’t realize how straightforward it was actually going to be.”

He offered support ranging from simple encouragement to apply, to project management for the submission — all the way to writing the application. Several of the organizations he worked with received the funding.

“I didn’t go to nonprofits and say, ‘Hey, this is what you need,’” Valencia said. “I went and asked, ‘What do you need?’, and I listened.”

Grant for growth

With the grant from SVCF’s Capacity-Building and Leadership Investment program, Valencia wants to build the Evergreen Collective’s team. One possibility: a two-year fellowship program for mid-career professionals who have experience working with underserved communities and want to pivot to fundraising. These fellows could be placed with nonprofits that would gradually absorb the cost. Valencia is also looking at ways to work with government staff members to help bring attention to resources that are available to nonprofits but aren’t very accessible.

Eventually, the goal is to create chapters in other communities that need these services, and to have them staffed by people from those communities.

“Evergreen Collective stood out as an organization that is seeking to work alongside BIPOC leaders to amplify their voices in our community and think holistically about development and donor engagement,” said Will Aubin, SVCF’s project manager for nonprofit capacity-building, support services, and leadership investment. “SVCF’s investment in Evergreen Collective will in turn help bolster other local nonprofits working to support our community.”