Leveraging philanthropic dollars towards an equitable distribution of public ones.

SVCF COVID-19 & Regional Recovery

In February 2020, as more COVID-19 cases were documented in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, it was immediately clear that shelter-in-place orders would have devastating economic implications for some in our community. At Silicon Valley Community Foundation, we were especially concerned about the disparate impact on people of color and those of undocumented status in our community – many of whom live without a basic safety-net for themselves and their families. We knew that the risk of food shortages and loss of housing would increase dramatically the longer people could not work. As did most philanthropic institutions, we worked closely with our partners in the public, philanthropic and private sectors to get money out fast to the nonprofits providing help to these neighbors. Specifically, we tried to fill gaps that public dollars were not covering and families and individuals that they were not reaching.

That summer, many regions launched cross-sector pandemic “recovery” initiatives, including Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. San José Mayor Sam Liccardo created the COVID-19 Regional Recovery Roundtable; our CEO, Nicole Taylor, was one of the co-chairs. SVCF also participated in San Mateo County’s recovery initiative.

These gatherings of elected officials, business leaders, academics and community leaders focused on creating a vision for a more equitable future. Within this context, California announced sweeping allocation of public resources toward recovery, and the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) passed in December 2020. In 2021 came the American Rescue Plan (ARPA).

Clearly, these one-time resources presented a significant opportunity to invest in achieving a more equitable future – if the public agency receiving the funds pursued strategies known to achieve more equitable outcomes:

  1. Authentically involving community residents and supporting community leadership and voices;
  2. Creating a permanent system at the county level to implement an “equity lens” as the county allocates resources;
  3. Facilitating partnerships with philanthropy and business toward the sustainability of equitable outcomes.

San Mateo County is one example of a county pursuing these strategies intentionally. The County has knit together community needs and priorities, current resources, and potential programs to maximize impact. And SVCF helped public officials do it by partnering with other institutional funders - including the Packard Foundation and the Grove Foundation - to fund technical assistance. With our support, the County of San Mateo:


  • Held five community forums in three languages; partnered with seven local businesses and organizations to gather community feedback in two languages;
  • Shared an online and hard-copy survey through community partners to reach impacted communities. Surveys resulted in nearly 1,400 respondents, who provided feedback on their top priorities for the recovery;
  • Partnered with six trusted local organizations to hold seven focus groups with impacted communities;
  • Partnered with Stanford University’s Gardner Center to analyze the community feedback and other existing data sources to capture depth and detail about the impacts of COVID-19 on San Mateo County’s most affected communities;
  • Partnered with the Boston Consulting Group to work with the County’s established Recovery Council and workgroups to identify additional state and federal funding opportunities, as well as and best practices to leverage for the community-identified recovery priorities for San Mateo County;
  • Identified projects that proportionally allocated funds towards key community priorities to share with the Board of Supervisors for their final funding allocation; 
  • Shared the project opportunities with other philanthropic institutions;
  • Shared the community engagement and recovery process with other governments and organizations to support their efforts.    

The most exciting outcomes for SVCF: By providing funding for this technical assistance, we helped build a close partnership between community members and county officials and fostered new processes that deeply engaged community. Thereby, we helped create a system – and a set of expectations – for deploying public resources toward equitable results.

We are big believers in the effectiveness of this approach – using philanthropic dollars to partner with the public sector to work together toward a future that is more equitable and more just.