Nicole Taylor of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation

This past year has been trying for everyone, with the economically vulnerable particularly hard hit. In a heartening turn, there has been an uptick in both volunteering and philanthropy throughout the country: charitable giving increased approximately 25% in 2020, and volunteerism also rose in response to increasing unemployment, poverty, and food insecurity. This week on Sea Change Radio, we speak with the CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Nicole Taylor about this key California philanthropic organization. We learn how community foundations receive money from donors and distribute these funds to non-profits, discuss ways that the pandemic has changed philanthropy, and talk about how the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing trial of Derek Chauvin ignited a wave of giving to support racial justice.

Narrator – This is Sea Change Radio, covering the shift to sustainability. I’m Alex Wise.

Nicole Taylor – I just really encourage you just literally put in a search in the internet about the community foundation near me and get to know them, get to understand what they’re doing for your community and how you can use them as a vehicle. To give back community foundations were in touch with the folks who are doing great work, and we are here to ensure that that great work continues this past year has been trying for everyone with the economically vulnerable, particularly hard hit.

Narrator – In a heartening turn, there has been an uptick in both volunteering and philanthropy throughout the country. Charitable giving increased approximately 25% in 2020, and volunteerism also rose in response to increasing unemployment, poverty and food insecurity. This week on Sea Change Radio, we speak with the CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Nicole Taylor, about this key California philanthropic organization. We learn how community foundations receive money from donors and distribute these funds to nonprofits, discuss ways that the pandemic has changed philanthropy. And talk about how the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing trial of Derek Chauvin ignited a wave of giving to support racial justice.

Alex Wise (AW) – I’m joined now on Sea Change Radio by Nicole Taylor. Nicole is the CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Nicole, welcome radio. Thanks for having me. Why don’t you explain the mission of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, if you will. A Silicon Valley Community Foundation is a regional, what I like to call a catalyst connector and collaborator. What does that mean?

Nicole Taylor (NT) – We bring resources and skills together of donors, business, government, community, to really look at and try to solve. A region’s toughest challenges. And for us, it’s the region of Silicon valley. There are community foundations all over the country. There’s over 800 of us and each are having kind of a geographic territory. If you will, that they really support, uh, they promote philanthropy in their region, just like we do here in Silicon valley. They support philanthropists to invest with impact. And what we also do, which many of our colleagues do as well is we commit ourselves to advocacy. We use research and public policy and grant making to really seek solutions. That our community means in terms of the issues that it’s facing as a community foundation, we’re also really positioned to meet ongoing needs of our local communities. And especially during our next spectate emergencies or challenges, like we will, we’re still living through. But in particularly all of the challenges that we saw in 2020 here in the, in the bay area, yes, we had COVID we also had wildfires. We had the most contentious election season, I think, in, in any of our, our lives and renewed calls for racial justice. So as a community foundation, we found ourselves right in the middle of all of that, both working with donors to help harness their funds and working with community leaders and to identify the best places to deploy those resources and to do it quickly. So that, you know, the money could get to where it was needed. So in essence, what we do, we’re a bridge, we’re a bridge often between those with resources and the community. And what I like to say is we try to marry the two.

AW – And is a community foundation a segment of the philanthropic world. Is it a separate thing or is that more of your own brand name?

NT – There’s over 800 community foundations and community foundations or community fund is in every one of our names. And it’ll be, you know, a city and then foundation after it, that kind of thing. It is a segment of philanthropy. Very different than a private foundation, a private foundation, like Rockefeller or Ford or Carnegie, or, you know, any, any of the, kind of the household name gates, , private foundations are that’s usually one donor or a family, usually one endowment. And they don’t raise money. They don’t work with other donors really to bring their dollars in and give them out. And with community foundations, you know, we have hundreds of donors and the way that Silicon Valley Community Foundation has managed these funds, I imagine has changed especially this year.

AW – Maybe you can kind of speak to how your donor base and how your management team has kind of pivoted over the last year?

NT – It became clear that we, you know, as soon as we all went into the shutdown, right. And the shelter in place back over, you know, 14 months ago, I guess it is now we knew that we had to lean into being the resource that the region needed and what we have done and continue to do is we literally what I call aggregating capital. Which is a, not just a term, but a concept that here in Silicon valley, people understand, right. We have venture capital here. We have private equity here. We have these companies here and we aggregate capital and we do the due diligence on the non-profits. And we deploy that capital quickly and effectively, uh, with the aim of, especially in this past year, a lot of people in need, how do we get the money to the ground? How do we get it to the hands of the people who, you know, were facing eviction? Literally couldn’t put food on their table and stories of people who, you know, the families that couldn’t buy diapers for their babies. Right. So how do we get these resources, these dollars to help the families and help the individuals in need. And that we did that through community organizations. Right. And we had specifically, we created a regional response fund that was set up to help individuals and families at, you know, at first started February, 2020 when we first started hearing about COVID, we said, well, let’s set up a fund so that people could support the CDC, because that usually is what happens when there’s some sort of. Viral crisis happening, right. Ebola, or it was something like that. And so when we said, and then we can pivot if this gets serious here in this region, and we can work with the public health officials or nonprofits. Well, as we know what happened in pretty short order. Yeah. It effected as deeply. So that fund. We worked with our colleague community foundations. There’s eight community foundations in the San Francisco bay area. And we worked with them to, to, you know, we housed the fund and the dollars came in, were literally portioned out to the 10 counties and each county there was a lead. Nonprofit agency that received the money and got resources out to families and individuals. That’s just one example. We did similar with childcare, K-12 education. At the time, we had a small business fund that we also had up and running. So this concept of aggregating capital was something that the donors really, really, uh, Responded to and responded to well, when the wildfires hit, , Northern California, we set up a wildfire fund for our part of the bay area that was hit really hard. Again, donors really, really responded well to it and gave, gave to it when George Floyd was murdered and everybody was, yeah. Trying to figure out what could they do? Where could they fund? We worked with some other foundations, private foundations and community foundations, and we launched a hundred million dollar fund called the California black freedom fund. We’ve it’s going to be a five-year initiative. We’ve raised $40 million to date, which is fantastic. Considering it’s been, you know, we started this concept. It was, you know, came to be last smer. And you know, we’re going to do as a fund, similarly for the Latin X community here in the two counties that we, that are primarily that we serve here in the Bay Area.  What I’m talking about and how I’m talking about, you know, bringing capital gathered, get working with community leaders, working with fellow funders. That is an essence what a community foundation does. Right? We have our ears to the ground. We work with community leaders. We work with public sector leaders, elected officials, you know, the county level, the city level, the state level to identify what research they can bear. How do we leverage their resources, where the gaps are? You know, where can we really focus the dollars to where they’re most needed? So that is an essence, what a community foundation does. Vis-a-vis, you know, the example of what we’ve been doing over the last year.

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AW – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio. And I’m speaking to the CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Nicole Taylor. So Nicole, you were talking about aggregating donors, logistically, what does that mean? I’m imagining a wealthy individual who set up a DAF, a donor advised fund, through your foundation. And it’s kind of this ongoing dialogue where they talk about their passions and their issues that are most important to them. Is this, then, you decide as a group saying, “Hey, if we all pooled these 1800 donors together to fight X, Y, or Z, this year, we can really make even more of an impact,” or is it something different?

NT – Yeah, it’s sort of because not everybody is excited about the same issues, so, right. So it may not be all 1800 of our donors. Although I did put out a call vis-a-vis a video twice last year. To tell our donors that in addition to what they were already doing, we really need him. The first time was up to 5% more of what they’re already doing to help those who were facing this crisis as a result of COVID. And then we saw it again in the fall saying we’re still not out of the woods. We still have a lot of folks in need and we have, you know, calls for racial justice and people, you know, we’re battling wildfires. We need you to give an additional up to an additional 10% on top of what you were already doing and, you know, for our donors, this wasn’t new, these weren’t new dollars that we were asking for. We were asking for them to, you know, look at their donor advised funds and give more out of their donor advised funds because of what our communities and what our nation was facing. So when it comes to, when I talk about aggregating. You know, funds are aggregating capital. We actually create a separate fund based on a particular issue. And we ask our donors to contribute from their death to that fund so that we can work specifically on that issue. We also do – many community foundations as well – do what we call donor circles or giving circles. So we will have, there’ll be a particular issue – say the arts or the environment – and we have a number of donors that are interested in that and we literally bring them, we would physically bring them together when we could. Now it’s virtually, right. And as a group of donors, they work with our staff to decide what are the priorities for the year that they want to fund, or do they want to do multi-year funding? And then, you know, do they want to solicit, , You know, proposals or do they just want to distribute the dollars? You know, no hassle, no, no fuss, no muss. If you will, for the organizations does another way that, that we bring donors together.

AW – You mentioned the murder of George Floyd. I wanted to touch on the ensuing trial that we just witnessed last month of Derek Chauvin. I’m a white man and my reaction was probably different than people of color like yourself. Could you share some of your thoughts as you saw this unfold slowly and slowly and build up until that that final verdict was called?

NT – You know, it’s, I’m trying to figure out where do I even begin to talk about, you know, my reactions, , one of my first initial reactions was how brave it, that you know, now we know that the person who took the videos was 16 at the time. Right? How brave would that 16 year old girl to video what was happening in front of her eyes? And because of that, finally, I, that was one of my reactions. Finally, this country actually gets to see what many in the black community know, you know, I’m a black woman, I’m actually a daughter of Jamaican immigrant. So if you know, first-generation, uh, us citizen, so born here, but my family, my entire family is Jamaican. So. , but as a black woman who has a 21 year old black son, , you know, I don’t know if you have children, but as black parents, we have conversations with our children that white parents almost never, ever have, or even think of needing to have when it comes to issues around police and how a traffic stop could literally. Result in the end of their lives and how to, how to respond. So when we saw that video, it was like, finally, people will see what’s been happening in this country since slavery. You know, modern day policing was an outgrowth of the slave patrols, runaway slaves. So that was a reaction that it was, was the immediate. And then as we were going through the trial and listening, I couldn’t actually listen to a lot of it because it just stirred up so much in me, that, but as we were waiting for the verdict, you know, it was will this finally be a sense of justice because we have seen time and time again, that these verdicts usually end in. Light sentence, if any, you know, if there’s a sentence, a light sentence for the police officer, but mostly nothing, no repercussions on the officer. So there was that fee, that fear and what that would mean and the anger and. That would ensue and quite frankly, the righteous, righteous anger that would ensue after that kind of verdict or would we, would we really see some justice finally being served and we saw the ladder and I’m very grateful that we saw the ladder. Now it’s bittersweet justice because George Floyd, his family will never happen again. And, , within, you know, out the week, right after the verdict, we had six other. People, primarily people of color slain by police after the verdict. After, you know, what we all thought was finally things have changed. It was a leap in the right direction. We have so much more work to do in this country around this issue.

AW – Yes. Vice president Kamala Harris said a measure of justice. Isn’t the same as equal justice.

NT – Exactly.

AW – I mean, watching the trial, I couldn’t watch much of it. To be honest, it felt like,  I think we all kind of were looking at it with impending doom a little bit. And it, it brought us back a lot to these other types of trials where justice was not served, but it just went on and on. And I, and people were probably obsessing over this trial in a, in a present way that kind of, I found distasteful. I mean, I know it’s an important landmark decision in terms of justice for this person, but I couldn’t help, but think of all the other. Injustices that don’t get two weeks of non-stop cable coverage.

NT – Exactly. And I I’m like you, I couldn’t watch it. I really couldn’t. I would, you know, hear a little bit about the news on the news and that’s as much as I could take, I couldn’t listen to the testimonies. Cause it was just, it was heart wrenching and it was, and then there was the fear that. You know, the right thing wouldn’t be done. Right. So I’m with you on that. It was really, really difficult yeah.

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AW – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio. And I’m speaking to Nicole Taylor. She’s the CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation. So Nicole, kind of synthesizing our discussion here with racial equity and how philanthropy works in your sphere. How have some of the wealthiest of Silicon Valley worked together to try to right some of these wrongs under your stewardship?

NT – Fortunately they’ve been responding really well and, and wanting to know where to invest and what to do. So there are a few things that we did. The first, one of the first things is we created a giving guide of black led organizations and around in our region, but also at the state level and, uh, the national level. , and, and, you know, those organizations that were black led, but also we’re dealing with social and racial justice and donors gave. And they gave to the organizations that we listened out for them. One of the other things that I mentioned earlier in, in, in our conversation was we launched the California black freedom fund and first statewide effort. Because the black experience in California is different than it is. In the south, in the Midwest, up in Chicago, in the mid Atlantic and the Northeast is it’s different here. And, we wanted to launch this fund with fellow funders and to have raised $40 million. And that’s from foundations and individuals so far. That’s pretty incredible. People are responding. We’ve also launched a fund, uh, around, capacity building and leadership investment. And specifically for BiPOC leaders, black indigenous people of color leaders and their organizations to help give them the support that they need. That many organizations led by people of color don’t have. What, what folks. Many folks don’t realize that organizations that are on the front lines of fighting for justice are doing so on. Shoestring budgets. Right. They’re out there. The emotional toll of being on the front lines and running an organization and trying to fit into the parameters that funders or donors have in terms of giving. And it’s a lot. And so we’ve just, we’ve created a fund to invest in these folks because we know they need the support and they know they need to, you know, equip their, their folks in their organizations so that they can, they can fulfill their missions and keep moving forward. And so donors here are responding. And I have to talk about that’s the other horrible thing that’s happening in our country right now is the anti-Asian racism and what’s happening in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities and the rise in hate crimes that we’ve seen. And then there, again, we put out to our donors list of organizations that were serving our region, Silicon Valley’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. And after the murders, the horrific murders in Atlanta, I wrote a statement and also brought to light the intersection of racism, misogyny, and white supremacy, and what that, how that all came together and those murders in Atlanta, and again, directed donors to local state and national organizations working on anti-Asian racism and donors are responding. We’re seeing the folks here in Silicon valley wanting to know where they can invest and how they can invest. We’re seeing companies that are trying to figure out how to support these issues and how to support these communities. And we’ve created avenues for them to do that.

AW – Right. And I guess the pitch then to people who might criticize the donor advised funds that say, “sure, there are people in our sphere who have given lots of money who have made some. Decisions that we don’t agree with, but the money that they’re giving us is then being used for good.” You are taking away some of their decision-making that people don’t necessarily trust and giving it, hopefully to people like yourself who have values that align more with theirs.

NT – Right. And, and that most folks with donor advised funds are aren’t the super wealthy. The other thing is. The warehousing, you know, people often say that the donor advised funds are their warehouses, that their people are just putting the money there. They get the tax deduction and they’re not moving. And then dollars out.

AW – I wanted to kind of understand that better. I, and I remember in the New York times article from a few years ago about Nick Woodman, the founder of GoPro, he got like a windfall from his IPO and he has this subsequent capital gains tax staring at him in the face. And then he can steer that money into a donor advised fund. And I guess the article was saying that he avoids, let’s say, $500 million in capital gains tax and he might give, eventually, some or all of that away to the charities of his choice or, or with your advice. But then those charities may not receive it for many, many years while the government isn’t getting that tax revenue right away. Is that an unfair characterization?

NT – Well, that’s the argument and I do think it’s unfair because most donors. Get the money out and it may get out. So let’s say there’s a donor who sets up a very large, you know, a hundred million just use that as, as in a donor advice fund, getting that out effectively and quickly, isn’t going to happen overnight. So yeah, it may take a couple of years to, to get the dollars out, but they’re not sitting on the dollars. They are moving a lot of dollars out. Our donors gave out $1.9 billion last year. And that was a result of what was happening in responding to the crisis. That’s the most they’d been given out, you know, well, in the history of the organization. So there, so yeah, a little bit of an unfair characterization,  because it just assumes that it’s, you know, happening over a very long period of time when in fact. Then our donors are moving the dollars.

AW – I think that where people are more suspicious as not the Silicon Valley Community Foundation per se, but when the instrument is being used by let’s say the Mercer foundation or these Trump super PACS that are taking, you know, they, they say give $500 and then it ends up being like a recurring thing where some little old lady in Oklahoma ends up giving away $5,000 where she just meant to give away $500, right?

NT – Right. Well, you know, the, one of the things that has, has been clear to me and others is the people who are fighting for tighter regulations. And, but we’re like way downstream. Right. By the time the dollars get to us, it would get out the door that’s way downstream. How, how are we really thinking about who, you know, who gets five oh one C3 designation as a non-profit? How are we ensuring that, that, you know, that they’re, that they’re legitimate. And how do you do that? That’s been tough because the IRS has been underfunded for a while. Right? And in the last administration, you know, lost even more funding. So, you know, the whole system was actually needs to be examined in terms of how we hold folks accountable and, you know, across the board from the organizations to the donors and just ensuring that we don’t have things like you said, where somebody thinks that we’re just giving $500 and then over time it turns out no, she gave away 5,000. Yeah, that’s scandalous that, that shouldn’t be allowed to happen. So how do we, how do we prevent that and what are the, what needs to happen to prevent things like that? So, absolutely

AW – So Nicole, you’re talking about how you don’t have to be super wealthy to have an impact through a community foundation. How can people reach out in their community around the country?

NT – So one, I encourage everyone to find and locate the community foundation that serves their community and if you’re in a small state, there’s usually statewide fan community foundations. And if you’re in a big metropolitan area, you might be like the bay area. There may be several that serve, serve the region. I just really encourage you just. Literally put in a search in the internet about, you know, the community foundation near me and get to know them, get to understand what they’re doing for your community and how you can use them as a vehicle to give back. Community foundations were in touch with the folks who are doing great work, and we are here to ensure that that great work continues.

AW – Nicole Taylor, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.

NT – Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Narrator – You’ve been listening to Sea Change Radio. Our intro music is by Sanford Lewis and our outro music is by Alex Wise, additional music by Curtis Mayfield, Etta James and Dr. John check out our website at to stream or download the show or subscribe to our podcast. Visit our archives there. To hear from Bill McKibben, Van Jones, Paul Hawken, and many others and tune in to Sea Change Radio next week as we continue making connections for sustainability for Sea Change Radio, I’m Alex Wise.