Staff Spotlight: James Cutler

James and his family enjoy a hike in Big Sur
James and his family enjoying a hike in Big Sur

Welcome to SVCF’s Staff Spotlight series, an occasional series in which we present Q&A-style profiles of some of our staff members. In this edition, we feature James Cutler, Senior Investment Officer.

How long have you been at SVCF? What led you to this work?
I joined SVCF in January 2020, about six weeks before COVID hit. What drew me to the foundation was a unique opportunity in a position encompassing my three areas of experience and expertise.

The first is investment management. I began my career as a financial consultant, so I understand stocks, bonds, funds and how to build and manage a portfolio. From there, I went to work in the nonprofit sector. I helped start a small business incubator for refugees, developed a free tax preparation site, and provided financial coaching for individuals. The third area was community banking: opening a new credit union branch in a low-income neighborhood to address how financial services can help individuals start businesses, buy homes or cars to go to work, improve their credit scores and have financial stability.

In my role at SVCF, I manage traditional investment portfolios, help align the work of the grantmaking, community-facing and investments teams, and strategize how SVCF uses its cash — finding banks and credit unions that are mission-aligned and will use the deposits to do positive things in the community.

With the implementation of the new strategic plan in 2020, how has your role evolved?
The strategic plan underscored the importance of my work in investments. It made clear SVCF’s objective to use our capital more efficiently and to help our donors use their capital more efficiently through impact investing. It brought my work front and center.

What excites you most about SVCF’s work and your work with the Investments department at SVCF?
Silicon Valley is one of the most inequitable regions in our country, with extreme poverty existing right alongside extreme wealth. What excites me most about my work and SVCF’s work more broadly is our renewed focus on using capital for good to address these disparities in our communities. SVCF’s grantmaking has a clear focus on racial equity and social justice. While traditional investments differ from grantmaking, our refreshed focus on impact investing aligns with our mission and vision of advancing equity in our region. SVCF is the world’s largest community foundation, and I’m excited that our work to maximize our donors’ philanthropy for the greatest impact on our community is setting a precedent for others in our field.

What are your biggest hopes and dreams for the future of Silicon Valley?
My hope is that Silicon Valley becomes a more just and affordable place to live — that anybody who wants to live here can afford to do so and have a high quality of life. Wealth inequality is so high in our region, and there are very clearly the haves and the have-nots. Many people can’t afford to live here, and face long commutes and other barriers to having a high quality of life.

James and his dog, Ella
James and his dog, Ella

What do you most like to do outside of work?
I like to play with my son, who is just over two years old. We live in Big Sur, so I like to go to the beach and go for hikes.

If you were to donate to one charity or cause, what would it be, and why?
I would support an organization that focuses on our food system and the environment. The two go hand in hand -- we all need food to eat, and we all need a healthy environment to live in. Unfortunately, our agriculture system destroys our environment, so the two systems are not compatible at the moment.

James and his family explore California with a trip to Sonoma
James and his family exploring Sonoma

What is something people are surprised to learn about you?
One is that I’m from Buffalo, New York and that I like it there. Contrary to what most people believe, it’s not just a constant blizzard in New York. Buffalo has a beautiful summer and lots of nice weather.

Also, many people assume that staff in our Investments department only have finance and investments backgrounds, so they’re surprised to learn that I have worked for nonprofits — doing homeless outreach, work with refugees and other community-based work.

And one more surprising thing: I live in Big Sur. When COVID hit, I had just moved from Buffalo to California with my wife and three-month-old son for this job. We moved to San Jose but had no connections there. During the pandemic, we ended up traveling around California a bit. We found our way down to Big Sur, and we love it here.

Would you like to join the SVCF team? Check out our current job opportunities.

Curious about other staff members? Check out some of our recent Q&A’s,
with Project Manager for Movement- and Power-Building Leticia Gonzalez
and Philanthropic Services Officer Hannah Wasserman.