SVCF co-hosts first Silicon Valley meeting of ASCEND: BLO, convening black-led organizations

SVCF co-hosts first Silicon Valley meeting of ASCEND: BLO, convening black-led organizations
From left: Erica Wood of SVCF; Thurman White, SVCF board member; Milan Balinton of African American Community Service Agency; Nicole Taylor of SVCF; Byron Johnson of East Bay Community Foundation; George Brown, SVCF board member; James Head of East Bay Community Foundation. Photo credits on this page: Bryon Malik

More than 50 representatives from Silicon Valley nonprofit organizations led by black executives or board members gathered at SVCF earlier this month for the inaugural South Bay meeting of ASCEND: BLO.

“We want to bring the powerful networking, capacity-building and community of ASCEND to black leaders and black-led organizations in our two counties,” said Nicole Taylor, SVCF’s CEO, in kicking off the event.

Taylor announced that SVCF will commit $75,000 to the ASCEND:BLO funders collaborative, a group that includes organizations such as the East Bay Community Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, The California Wellness Foundation, the County of Alameda and the Kapor Center for Social Impact, among others. “We are excited to partner with the East Bay Community Foundation and other funders to develop our nonprofit sector with a lens towards race and equity,” she said.

ASCEND: BLO – which stands for Accelerating and Stabilizing Communities through Equitable Nonprofit Development of Black-Led Organizations – is an initiative launched in 2018 by the East Bay Community Foundation. About 270 black-led organizations from the Bay Area are part of the initiative’s network – but before May 17 ASCEND: BLO had never held a gathering focused on black-led organizations in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

SVCF’s Community Impact team – including Erica Wood, Remy Goldsmith, Mauricio Palma and Cindy Scher-Hereth – organized the event and oversaw its outreach and programming, including some surprise grantmanking at the end of the afternoon.

“Today I met some diamonds in the making, who shine at what they do,” said Milan Balinton, executive director of the African American Community Services Agency, based in San Jose.

Meet and greetHe added that he hopes future gatherings allow organizations such as his to learn “what other people are doing to survive” in a climate where nonprofits must tackle the fast-rising costs of rent and staffing if they want to keep providing services to their communities.

Most black-led organizations in the Bay Area have annual budgets of $500,000 or less, according to research conducted for ASCEND: BLO by Walker & Associates. More than 8,400 people are employed regionally by black-led organizations.

James Head, CEO of the East Bay Community Foundation, and Byron Johnson, who leads the ASCEND: BLO effort, explained at the May 17 event that the initiative seeks to enhance the growth, sustainability, impact and sense of community among black-led anchor institutions in the Bay Area in order to ensure the long-term vitality of those organizations and the communities of color they serve. The initiative’s website notes that black-led organizations “serve as the backbone for communities of color throughout the Bay Area.”

ASCEND: BLO helps these organizations in three way: via an “accelerator” program to help emerging organizations grow and sustain themselves; a “stabilizer” program for mature organizations in need of leadership development, advanced training or succession planning, for example; and peer networking and learning opportunities.

Thurman V. White, Jr., an SVCF board member and member of the ASCEND: BLO advisory board, spurred the community foundation to get involved with ASCEND: BLO. The May 17 gathering, he said, was “an important outreach effort by SVCF to bring awareness, information and potential resources to a community that we haven’t been as engaged with as we should and would like to be.”

SVCF board members Dr. David P. López and Geroge Brown also attended the event. Afterward, Brown praised ASCEND: BLO model for its applicability to other communities.  

“The concept of ASCEND: BLO is so basic and straightforward, it’s a wonder it hadn’t been done sooner,” Brown said. “There is so much potential for connecting black-led organizations and helping them benefit from networking and being connected to sources of funding – but also the concept can be scaled, and can be done across other groups and communities.”

People meetingWhite said the potential to scale up the ASCEND: BLO initiative was one of the things that attracted him to it.

As participating organizations learn from ASCEND: BLO, he said, the hoped-for result is “a very systematic way of building capacity and empowering and helping to create sustainable nonprofits in communities of color in San Mateo County and Santa Clara County.”

The issues affecting black-led nonprofits are no different than the issues affecting all nonprofits. White said – including problems such as the lack of affordable space, governance issues, the difficulty of retaining talent, and so on.

James Head of East Bay Community Foundation said that in addition to helping black-led nonprofits connect and build their capacity for service, ASCEND: BLO can also help philanthropists in the Bay Area who are eager to support organizations led by black leaders. Those philanthropists, he said, “Are itching to find a way to apply that wealth to issues that can better the community.”

In addition to kicking off ASCEND: BLO activities for Silicon Valley organizations, SVCF used the occasion to give out three “pop-up grants” of $1,000 each to randomly chosen nonprofits whose executives had submitted their business cards for a drawing. The winners of the instant $1,000 grant awards were:

SVCF congratulates the winners!

The community foundation also restated our offer to provide one free year of access to Catchafire to nonprofit organizations that apply to participate. Catchafire helps nonprofit organizations use the services of vetted volunteers who provide professional services such as marketing or strategic planning. Visit for information.

Representatives from Bay Area BLOs are invited to learn more about attending the upcoming ASCEND:BLO Network Summit, "Breaking Barriers - Building Bonds," on Juneteenth. For more information, please email

For more information – including news about how to apply for specific programs offered through ASCEND: BLO – please visit