Staff Spotlight: Michelle Fries

Michelle and colleagues visit SVCF grantee Pie Ranch at a team-building retreat in 2019
Michelle and colleagues visit SVCF grantee Pie Ranch for a team-building retreat. Photo taken in 2019

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 Michelle Fries, Director of Nonprofit Support Services and Leadership Investment.

How long have you been at SVCF? What led you to this work?

This is my 19th year with the foundation. I was hired by the Peninsula Community Foundation in 2003, and I’ve been through a lot of changes – including the 2007 merger that created Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

What led me to philanthropy and eventually to SVCF was my work in early childhood education. I worked for an early childhood foundation in Miami after I finished graduate school. Though I had a great time, I’m a California girl at heart – born and raised in the Central Valley. I got a job at Peninsula Community Foundation producing its Children’s Report about early learning in our region.

With the implementation of the new strategic plan in 2020, how has your role evolved?

The implementation of our new strategic plan in 2020 had a very significant impact on my role. Over the many years prior to that, I oversaw nonprofit fundholders, some donor advised funds, as well as designated funds and Legacy Society donors.

With the implementation of SVCF’s new strategic plan, I moved to a role leading our Capacity-Building and Leadership Investment Program (CBLI). My focus remains on nonprofit organizations, but the scope changed. Now I lead a grantmaking strategy to support the sustainability of organizations in our two-county region that are centering racial equity and social justice in their work. Being a grantmaker is a new role to me and has come with a big learning curve.

Michelle and her family enjoying a wedding in Avila Beach
Michelle and her family enjoying a wedding in Avila Beach

What excites you most about SVCF’s new direction?

Having been at the community foundation for many years, I’m most excited to see that our new direction reinforces SVCF’s roots: focusing on our local community. I know from my interactions with nonprofits and community members that they are noticing and appreciating our greater presence in the community. They feel we’re showing up in the community in the way a community foundation should.

What do you like most about working with Community Action team at the foundation?

We are a diverse team, and I think the respect we have for each other is unparalleled. The family-like connection I feel with my team makes our successes even more rewarding. And there’s space for all of us to take care of ourselves and take care of each other. The staff at the foundation overall represent the servant leadership mindset.

Michelle and her father in Jacksonville, Oregon
Michelle and her father in Jacksonville, Oregon

What are your biggest hopes and dreams for the future of Silicon Valley?

What I hope for Silicon Valley and for our country is that we can figure out a way to take care of ourselves so that we can better take care of our communities. As a society, it feels like our values such as respect and empathy for others have eroded – and this is taking a heavy toll on us as community members. I would love to see a Silicon Valley in which all community members can live and thrive. This is possible, but I know that creating a truly equitable region will take unflagging energy and effort from all sectors in our community.

What do you most like to do outside of work?

I enjoy being in nature. Moving to the mountains from an urban neighborhood was life-changing for me. I enjoy sitting on my deck, watching the birds and the deer walk by. I enjoy walking on the beach or on an easy trail, though I am not a hard-core hiker by any means.

I also enjoy cooking: the whole process from menu-planning, to going grocery shopping, to sipping a glass of wine and preparing a meal.

Michelle and her mother and daughter in San Luis Obispo
Michelle and her mother and daughter in San Luis Obispo

Who are your heroes?

My heroes are my immediate family. My mother demonstrates kindness and empathy beyond anything I have ever seen. She doesn’t have a lot to give in terms of material possessions, but she gives of herself. My dad and my brother, also heroes of mine, have both been lifetime law enforcement officers. They have served and participated in risky roles and assignments for the purposes of helping people, giving back to society and keeping others safe. I see similarities between why I do my work and why they engaged in law enforcement work.

What is something people are surprised to learn about you?

When I was young, I won a lot of coloring contests. The one I was most proud of was a contest from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. I won tickets to go with my family, and I got to ride an elephant in the circus.

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!
Learn more about Leticia Gonzalez, Project Manager for Movement- and Power-Building.