SVCF’s President and CEO, Nicole Taylor, reflects on her 'listening tour'

SVCF’s President and CEO, Nicole Taylor, reflects on her ‘listening tour’

I've had the good fortune to be on a listening tour over the last hundred days. I've sat down with people who have had long relationships with Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and with others who are leaders of community organizations, schools and government. I've had the privilege of listening to people who are delivering vital services throughout the region.

I’ve tried to listen deeply to all those I’ve met – these are people living in Silicon Valley, working here, running companies. Some are struggling to make rent, others want to give back to communities where they've done well and raised their children. I want those voices to come together with the voices of those of us here at the community foundation. I want us to consider what it means to put community at the center of SVCF’s work, and how to build a strong, vital, sustaining organization that can be what this region needs today, 10 years from now and 20 years from now.

How do we ensure that resources go exactly where they need to be? How can those who are extremely generous with their philanthropic resources see the impact of their giving locally? And importantly for us, how can we help them think about how to have a broader impact? Many of our donors have the ability to address complex societal issues at an incredible scale. How should we be working with them and helping them think about making social change? These are the kinds of questions we need to delve into deeply.

Being a community catalyst

The most wonderful theme that I heard over and over again is the incredible support that people are showing the foundation. They want us to succeed. They want us to be their community foundation and a local catalyst for positive change. I heard this not only from grantees, community and elected leaders, but individual donors and family foundations, their professional advisors, and corporate funders as well.

This says to me that people in our region have a need for such a player in community engagement: a community-based entity that can bring together people with differing perspectives to take on complex, place-based issues such as homelessness and economic mobility. Philanthropy has a role to play in blending together government, nonprofits and companies to make the local community what we want and need – no single entity can do it alone.

The other theme I'm hearing is that many people love the work that our community foundation has been doing for the last 10 years. Our program staff have deep experience in their fields, working in partnership every day with local leaders in education, immigration, housing and other crucial issues facing Silicon Valley. People want us to build on that work. And they want us to do even more and reach deeper into local communities, specifically in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. This is definitely the direction for our foundation to take.

Public policy and “Everyone Counts!”

People I’ve spoken with also appreciate the foundation’s public policy work, lobbying and advocacy. I am excited to explore how to become even more active in this area.

In April 2020, the whole country will be participating in the census. A fair and complete count is critical for us here locally and across the whole state. Our region could lose millions in federal funding in our two counties alone, and California could lose billions – as well as political representation in Congress – if not everyone is counted.

The challenges for everyone to be counted are substantial. For the first time ever, most census questionnaires will be collected online. And the Secretary of Commerce has proposed adding a citizenship question to the census, which will suppress participation from immigrant communities. You might be surprised to know that Santa Clara County actually has more immigrants than San Francisco who are at risk of not being counted. 

These issues – combined with reduced federal and local funding for census outreach – will make it difficult to achieve a fair, accurate count.

That is why census outreach is so important to the organizations that work with those who are hardest to count – whether they're immigrants or undocumented individuals, homeless individuals, families with small children, and people who may not have a stable or a permanent address.

We are partnering with Bay Area foundations and local donors on a $5 million fund for trusted grassroots organizations to get people counted. We just had our first outreach meeting in April and 50 representatives attended in San Jose!

On the advocacy side, we have submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. (Learn more about our Census 2020 work including our open RFP to support education and outreach projects.)

Launching our strategic planning

SVCF is about to launch a strategic planning process; our staff is excited and also wondering what it can mean for us to grow, thrive and be the organization this community is calling for.

We intend for our strategic planning process to be inclusive. We see it as a way for us to listen more closely to our donors, our community leaders, and our nonprofit leaders. This means taking a careful look at who we are, what our community needs, what our region needs, and what that means for what Silicon Valley Community Foundation needs to become.

Living our new values

I’m building on work done by staff on shifting our culture internally. The staff did a phenomenal job in 2018 in articulating the core values this organization should uphold. The board was in full agreement with them. These values are courage, collaboration, inclusion, respect and accountability.

Now we are doing the work to determine how we can carry out those new values every day. Whether it's a philanthropy advisor who's working with donors to think of the best way for them to achieve impact with their funds here, whether it's a team member in marketing and communications reporting on our impact in the community or whether it's a community impact team member working on Census 2020  – in that day-to-day work, we're focusing on how to live those values.

Dealing with the disruption of disruption in our valley

I’ve talked about putting the community back in community foundation. What does that mean? As I said earlier, we've had some great work done in our community, but people want and need more. There are more working people living in RVs and campers on our streets. There are more people having to move further away just to afford to live. There are San Jose State and community college students living out of their cars. Thousands of working families are just trying to make ends meet. And people who don't have jobs are being forced out of their homes.

I'm talking about doubling down right here in this region, figuring out the rules by which we should play, shining a light on these issues and bringing people together to solve them.

We are in a region that many others look to emulate. So much happens here in Silicon Valley that is truly phenomenal. The flip side of the tech industry’s innovation and disruption is the disruption of many people's lives. People are trying to figure out how to make this new economy work for them. We need to be part of that solution, helping to lift everyone who lives here and allowing people to live with dignity.

We have tremendous potential in this region! We want to harness Silicon Valley’s ingenuity, innovation and creativity to address these serious issues. We want to bring together donors, community, corporate and government leaders to make bigger and quicker progress on these issues. I am confident that the same innovation and ingenuity that created this Valley can create lasting solutions to the complex issues we face in our communities.

That’s what I'm excited about as I take on the next 100 days. Please join me on our journey.

*This post was adapted from the SVCF Philanthropy Now podcast "Catalyst for Change: Nicole Taylor disccusses her first 100 days."

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