Engineering Halloween Fun: An Interview with a Bay Area Inspire Award Grantee

by: Aly Quiroz-Perez

Recently, PVF awarded grants to six young Bay Area residents for coming up with fresh ideas for building better communities. These awards were made possible through the Bay Area Inspire Awards, which provides $10,000 grants to 18-30 year olds living in San Francisco or Alameda Counties with an innovative, community-oriented idea.

PVF will introduce the 2014 Bay Area Inspire Awards winners in a series of blog posts to give you a sense of what these amazing individuals are doing to change their communities for the better.

PVF will begin the series with an interview with A.J. Almaguer. He is leading a project that provides young people with hands-on STEM experiences that will culminate in a haunted house event for the community. The haunted house, called Escape from Dr. Ella Mental’s Laboratory,” is one of the attractions at the Town of Terror event hosted at Albany High School, which will take place on Saturday, October 25 from 12:00-8:00 p.m. For more information about Town of Terror click here.

PVF: What inspired you to become an engineer?

Bay Area Inspire Award grantee, A.J. Almaguer.

Bay Area Inspire Award grantee, A.J. Almaguer.

AA: I became an engineer kind of by accident. I applied to study mechanical engineering in college for two main reasons: 1) I really liked physics thanks to my awesome high school physics teacher, Ms. Lieux, and 2) I didn’t want to do pure science and I thought that engineering was all about applying science to build things – a generally accurate preconception.

PVF: What STEM programs were available to you as a student that allowed you to take your first steps in the field of engineering?

AA: The main STEM programs that were offered to me came through school. I didn’t know that

STEM programs existed outside of school. My college friends always talked about how we wished we had a mentor or one of these programs when we were growing up. I think this is quite common, actually.

I have to give credit to my mom for being an engineer. She went out of her way to transfer me to other schools in my hometown for their special programs. My elementary school was a science magnet school and my high school had the International Baccalaureate program. My mom is my main reason for going to Cal to study engineering because she advocated for my education and she put me in a high school where I was surrounded by high performing college-bound students.

PVF: What inspired you to start the Berkeley Engineers and Mentors (BEAM) program?

AA: I joined UC Berkeley’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SPHE) my freshman year and one of the volunteering opportunities was to do outreach to our community. We would bring high school kids to campus for a daylong introduction to engineering conference and visit schools on occasion.

However, I thought we could make a bigger impact by providing a consistent mentoring program rather than a one-day interaction with our community. So, I began a mentoring program out of our SPHE chapter. A year later, my friends and I realized that we were all running our own mentoring or outreach programs in our respective student organizations. So we decided to combine forces. We created a new organization and an accompanying DeCal (a student-run course) so that our mentors would receive credit for their work. That was how we created BEAM. By creating BEAM, we could actually spend time training the undergrads on how to be effective mentors and make sure that they could successfully build the engineering projects with their kids. Since graduating nearly four years ago, BEAM has taken a life of its own. I’m happy to have the chance to work with them again and that they’re grown up enough to take on this endeavor with me.

PVF: Why are you interested in creating change in your community?

AA: Like many of my peers who were also first generation college students, I felt very privileged to be at such a prestigious university, so I felt compelled to pay it forward. I think that’s why our SHPE chapter did outreach in the first place. The other reason is a little more selfish. I’m way more motivated to complete projects when there’s a teaching component involved. Doing work for my community is much more meaningful to me and it also allows me to practice engineering at a much faster pace. The product development cycle at a big corporation takes years! I was so bored in corporate America. I feel like working in the education world is like working in the ER. Everything is so fast! This haunted house is definitely being turned around at record speed. I consider myself a professional big kid at work. I live for creating those Wow! moments in people; those memorable experiences that stick with people for the rest of their lives.

BEAM mentors stripping wires so that their kids can build LED-lit ornaments for Dr Ella Mental's Lab.

BEAM mentors stripping wires so that their kids can build LED-lit ornaments for Dr Ella Mental’s Lab.

PVF: Can you tell us more about the students involved in this Haunted House project?

AA: There are three groups of students involved in this Haunted House project: TechHive Interns, the BEAM after school program, and Albany High School’s leadership class. The TechHive Interns comprise of 33 high school students. They work with me at our design studio at the Lawrence Hall of Science. Our goal is to give them an industry-like design internship experience. There are approximately 100 mentors in BEAM, all Cal students, who work with approximately 250 elementary and middle school students. BEAM partners with schools’ after school programs and offers a weekly mentoring session with kids who either sign up or are referred to the program. Every week the mentors come with a lesson plan on a science or engineering concept. There’s always a hands-on component to the lessons too. The BEAM kids are all building three projects for the Haunted House with the help of their mentors. They’re creating their own (decapitated) head in a jar, a LED-lit light ornament, and an animatronic bat that has 3D printed parts. The last group is the leadership students at Albany High. They’re being led by Ms. Mariflo Hudson and Assistant Principal Kevin Goines. They’ve split up into two groups and are the main reason why we’ve been able to turn our haunted house into the Town of Terror! One group is working with the TechHive to build the Haunted House. The other group is putting on the rest of the Town of Terror.

PVF: What is your hope with how this project will create change?

AA: I opened my grant proposal with a story about making toys with my nieces and nephews because I think those experiences mean so much to me. I think one of the best ways we could

teach our kids is to have them apprentice us. I personally like learning that way better than school and it is the type of experience that I am trying to provide to all my students.

I don’t believe we trust our kids enough. I don’t think we push them enough. And I think we dumb things down too much for them in school. While we’re giving our kids manageable tasks, I still maintain my professional engineering expectations. Through this whole process, I hope the kids realize that engineering projects can utilize the power of community to create good things for the community.

PVF: How have you prepared students to handle the challenges of building a haunted house?

AA: The reality is that the kids do have a limit in how much they can contribute to a project. However, I don’t believe that should limit the scope of the project. I want the kids to be proud that they were part of something amazing part of creating something that is larger than life! So we do lots of preparation to make sure that the kids have manageable tasks to accomplish. Some of the tasks are menial. However, many take a considerable amount of skill. Nonetheless, they’re all important in creating this project.

PVF: What would you like donors to know about funding community projects like yours?

AA: I actually don’t think there are many community projects like mine. This project does remind me of what Habitat for Humanity and of the old tradition of raising the barn. I wish that those types of projects were acknowledged more for providing real world engineering experience. I also wish that there were more of these technically complex community projects. Engineers need to step it up and lead in their community more.

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Bill Somerville’s Presentation at the Pro Net Conference

The following is a presentation that Bill Somerville, PVF Founder and President, gave at the Pro Net Conference in Cleveland, Ohio on October 19, 2014.

Bill Somerville colorLet me tell you what I am going to talk about. I am going to talk about immediate response grants and paperless giving, about foundation staff approving grants and involving special groups to help decide some grants, about venturing, taking risks, giving discretionary grants, and finding outstanding people.

It’s interesting to talk to you all because many of you have a smart phone and you can fact check me, create your own PowerPoint, and look up references I cite.

Well, tomorrow I will put this talk on with a listing of the addresses of all the citations. I invite you to sit back, relax, and just listen.

Let me tell you a story. This is about Larry Purcell, in Redwood City, California, he is an ex-priest who does great work in the poverty field. He and I were having lunch awhile back and he said, “You know, that truck you funded years ago is worn out – the one we use to pick up food in San Francisco and bring it down for distribution to the poor.” I asked how much a truck costs. He said he would find out and he called me that afternoon and says, “$44,000.” That same afternoon a check for $44,000 was sent to him with this cover letter: “Enclosed is our check for $44,000 to purchase a truck and continue your work of getting food in San Francisco and distributing it to programs serving the poor. Please sign a copy of this letter in agreement with the above and send it back to me.”

I now have everything I need for an audit – a signature agreeing to what the money is for and indicating acceptance of the money. My friends, this is paperless giving. Why would I have Larry submit a proposal when it isn’t needed? I have worked with Larry for years. I have made many site visits to see his work. I know him and I trust him. Why would I require a proposal? With paperless giving, I wrote what the money is for and that’s all that’s needed to justify the grant. Recently, I noted an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy which asked “whether it matters if the community foundation model succeeds.” You bet it does, but that model needs to innovate and be more responsive. And that model is you.

Let me tell you a bit of history. In 1969, the Tax Reform Act delineated between private foundations and public charities for the first time, and public charity at the time implied community foundation. The Act also created the Donor Advised Fund. Today, most assets at community foundations are donor advised funds. The era of donors giving unrestricted large money seems to be diminishing.

So, let’s talk about donor advised funds and the challenges they represent. We need to be adept at enticing donors to focus on local giving as opposed to you being a warehouse for their funds as is so often the case. By the way, this has the makings of a scandal, over $60 billion in donor advised funds with no expectations on their use. I contact donor advisors all the time and suggest things for funding. With one donor I ask for $400,000 at a time and then give it out as discretionary money, which means we decide how it will be used.

Activate your donor advisers. The Napa Community Foundation in California does a good job of creating donor interest in where to give their money. They send out emails with options donors can choose from.

I have another donor who keeps $1 million with us at a time because we are creative and have impact with her money. She trusts us and she allocates $250,000 for funding the “poorest of the poor.” We give out that money, which has now amounted to a few million dollars. This is discretionary giving with donor advised money.

Find out what the donors’ interests are by taking them on a field trip. Let me give you an example. Here is a couple; retired, wealthy, highly educated, and wanting to help in the community. I took them on a field trip to understand how to invest, not give away, but invest their philanthropic dollar. We must get away from the concept of giving away money. We invest philanthropic money in people worthy of that investment. Let me describe the field trip. We meet at 9:00 a.m. at Starbucks with some residents of the low-income community we are visiting and we discuss common concerns such as good schools. Then we drop in on programs we have funded and I introduce them to managers and school principals and they can ask all the questions they want.

I can’t begin to tell you how much enthusiasm this field trip creates by meeting people, talking with them, and learning about the community. After the field trip, this couple got all revved up and now they do significant funding and keep $400,000 with us.

I once asked a program executive if he thought I was spying on him by coming over to see his work every so often; sometimes without an appointment. He said, “Not at all, you are the only foundation person who takes the time to come and see us and thank you for it.”

By the way, when you are conducting a field trip and visiting programs you are becoming more aware of these programs. In a sense, you are doing an evaluation of your foundation’s grantees by seeing them in operation.

Do more field trips. These are not tours. Get out of the office. You can’t do philanthropy just sitting at a computer.

These field trips are a way to interact with outstanding people.

What are ways of finding such people? Expose yourself to new situations, new people, and new programs. Our job is to find and fund outstanding leaders; the people who get things done. You can only do this by being in the community. First, if you know someone you admire for their work, ask them for references. People doing good work know others in their field and can call them to your attention. Second, try to attend some meetings where people are discussing issues of importance and watch for persons who have ideas and energy and encourage them to follow through.

Take the initiative with these people and invite them to develop and share their ideas. This doesn’t mean you are committing to fund. It means you are interested. This can lead to you bringing forth new ideas to fund and that is a quality factor in philanthropic work.

I urge you to offer to give presentations in college classes. Attend classes where students are reporting on ideas that they have developed. An example is Sirum at Stanford University where the students created a program that collects unused medicines and makes them available to people who can use them. Sounds crazy, but this has turned out to be a significant effort. They needed start-up money and we helped them. Encourage young people to come up with ideas that benefit the community.

Another avenue to finding people who have outstanding qualities is to create opportunities so you can meet them. Sponsor sessions focused on an issue such as employment, or housing, or teen pregnancy and stimulate the groups to be creative and come up with ideas that relate to these issues. For example, I held a session on young women and invited a juvenile judge, a poverty worker, two program executives, a member of our board, and a city planner to participate. They got along perfectly and built on each other’s ideas.

Eight participants is a magic number for a meaningful discussion. Sixteen is the maximum. These are people from all walks who you think might have something to say. Everyone participates. If necessary, you draw them out. Your job is to make the meeting productive. This is a way to create funding possibilities. Convening is a skill that program officers need to develop.

Challenge yourself to come up with ways for finding outstanding people because we need such people for significant funding.

Here’s an example of creative thinking. In Alameda County, California there is a new program taking youth out of the juvenile halls and giving them six weeks of training and making them Emergency Medical Technicians, the people who respond in ambulances. And the program is working well.

Now, the people we need to reach are millennials, people like some of you in their 30s and 40s. These are people who tend to give nationally and internationally and who we need to convince with regard to local giving. An article I have cited for you is “Inspiring the Next Generation Workforce: The 2014 Millennial Impact Report.”   Millennials have lots of potential for you. You need to interact with them.

For example, “Are you phone-centric?” Meaning is your foundation’s website designed to be viewed on a smart phone? Millennials tend to not use offices. Their phone is their office. Are you ready for this? There are templates for you to use in creating such websites and I have listed them for you.

The interesting thing about the millennial cohort is that they are socially conscious and they want to work in companies that care about social causes. They want to make the world a better place. If they are concerned about a company’s work culture, wouldn’t it follow that they would be concerned about the community? We have an opportunity here to reach out to millennials and bring the community more into focus.

For example, millennials like to volunteer, especially as a group. Think up things they can build as a group.

Let me tell you a story. Kaboom is a national program that puts play structures on school playgrounds throughout the country. They did this in East Palo Alto, California and it took over three days to build the structure at the school. The most impressive thing to me was the millennial corporate volunteers, about 100 of them working on the structure. They were very enthusiastic.

Moving on, you have the capacity to create giving programs. Let me give an example. A donor gave me $100,000 and said spend it on education. This was an opportunity to create a program and customize the donor’s grant. I sent a notice to 44,000 public school teachers saying if they would like a grant of up to $500 for art supplies, science equipment, a field trip, an artist in the classroom, an afterschool program, resources for disabled children, just fax a request to us on school stationary co-signed by the principal. A one-page request. Don’t paralyze yourself by worrying about being flooded with requests. My son is a T.V. anchorman in the San Francisco Bay Area and he interviewed me one morning on air about teacher grants. I think every mother listening got their child’s teacher to call us and we received 400 calls. And we processed them. You want to encourage proposals and don’t be worried by a temporary surge.

I mentioned resources for disabled children and I remember a letter from a teacher that said, “I have been teaching disabled students for 15 years and this is the first time anyone has given me anything. Thank you.”

When the first request came in by fax, I asked “what are we waiting for” and we funded it with a check going out the next day. We have given out over $8 million and teachers love us and so do the donors, which is important because it is their money we have to raise each year to keep this program going. Teachers call this the fax grant program. I think teachers are the youth workers of America. They are my heroes. And what is more, many of them give $600 a year of their own money for their classes.

We also do a one-page request with social workers who serve foster care youth, $250 at a time for whatever the social worker feels the youth needs – tutoring, summer camp, a computer, interview clothing for a job – you name it. The requests from the social workers are very touching because these are children who are abused, neglected, or removed from their homes. This is a new option for the social worker. It allows them to advocate for the most critical needs. One social worker wrote about a girl who received glasses saying, “For a youth who has experienced so many difficulties and so little good the knowledge that your organization cares is priceless.”

We do this with juvenile judges when a youth in the court system needs dental work, clothing, glasses. You can’t give money to a judge so we set aside $10,000 renewable for nine juvenile judges in the area. The judge recommends, we decide, the kid receives. One judge wrote, “The support you provide to abused and neglected children in my court makes the lives of these children much more livable.”

What I haven’t mentioned is that all the grants I have described are given in 48 hours. Why not? Why load yourself down with paperwork when you don’t have to? Just give the grant. The one page request is enough justification.

You have a challenge here knowing that money given quickly when it is needed can have more impact. And impact is the name of the game in philanthropy. It means something positive happening for a better community.

Regarding our grants to teachers, social workers, juvenile judges – I call this public sector funding and few foundations do it. Some of our colleagues and donors say this is the tax payer’s responsibility and not for philanthropy. With us it has led to a trust relationship with public entities. For example, the county health services agency now keeps $2 million at a time in a designated fund at our foundation. This public money is now taken out of the bureaucracy and has more flexibility in how it can be used. We give it out as directed, we make suggestions some times, and we get administrative fees.

Did you know that the average time to apply to a foundation is 27 hours? In addition, reporting on that grant can take up to another 20 hours. This data comes from the report “Drowning in Paperwork: Distracted from Purpose,” which I have cited for you.
My friends, this is absurd. What is more is that it is getting worse. This is not acceptable and it is up to you to change the system.

We are using paper as due diligence. The more paper and questions, the more careful we think we are being. Not so!

A word we don’t hear often in philanthropy is trust. Trust yourself and trust others. It allows you to move more rapidly with less paper and it is not reckless. Trust means to rely on your intuition – your life experience, to be confident in your work. We are now using paper in place of trust and it is a mistake. If you are dealing with outstanding people, trust them. Find ‘em, trust ‘em, and fund ‘em!

Too often we end up funding paper, not people. If it sounds compelling, convincing, persuasive, we are attracted. Be careful because it is the person behind the idea that is all important. The job is to find and to fund good leadership.

I’ve made 400 visits to community foundations. I found that everyone is flooding themselves in paper. Why?

Let me move on by saying I recommend doing away with applications. They get the answers to your questions, but let the applicant say what they need in their own words. Use guidelines that allow for this rather than applications. Give it a try. I have put sample guidelines on the website for you to use.

I also recommend giving discretionary grants where the grantee can decide how to use it. This is a little bit different than general support. The applicant does not need to list exactly what the money is for. They have done good work. You trust them. Let them decide and it also makes their request to you much simpler.

It’s interesting. I don’t look at people as applicants or recipients, but as colleagues. We need people with ideas and they need money. We need each other. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Now let’s talk about bringing younger people into philanthropy. Do you have summer internships? At Stanford University, five students are placed full-time in the summer at foundations and each receives a $6,000 stipend. We also place three graduates full-time for a year at any foundation they choose and they get a $30,000 stipend each. Over the past 12 years, over 100 students have been placed and 8 of them now work full-time for foundations. This intern program is unique in the country and I advocate it for all of you. I have listed the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford for you to use if you want to give it a try.

Be willing to try these new approaches to your work because they can make your job exciting, challenging, and rewarding.

Are you aware that you can give to anything that is charitable regardless of whether it has a 501 (c)(3) status? The ex-priest I have funded has no 501 (c)(3) status. Says he’s not going to ask permission from the government to do his work with the poor. Be clear, he is not on Guidestar or any roster for giving. He isn’t even on their radar. You have to find people like him who are significant players in the community but who are not in the forefront. How do you do it?

Again, people lead to people. If you are working with someone in the poverty field, ask them for names. Use the media and watch for people and programs that are highlighted. Get stories in the newspaper about your foundation and your interest in finding people. This always brings a response.

Poverty funding is perhaps the most challenging funding in philanthropy. There is no silver bullet. One needs to understand that poverty is a collective term. It means not enough housing, employment, food, education, etc. It covers all of these things and if you want to begin to focus on poverty it is best to pick one of these topics.

Poverty funding is where you hack away and try all sorts of things. Forget strategic planning. Forget theories of change. Just commit yourself to becoming aware and be willing to try just about anything. I mean willingness to venture, to know your community, to fund grassroots people.

This involves initiative philanthropy where you can cause something to happen by taking the initiative. Let me give an example. Children do better in school if parents are involved, but if the parent doesn’t speak English there is a problem. We recognized this. We took the initiative in a low-income school and went to an English as Second Language program. We hired three women graduates and placed them in that school as Parent Involvement Workers. A term we made up. Their job is to get parents involved in the school and this has been going on for several years. The principal says she couldn’t run the school without them because now the parents are involved and the kids are doing better. Are you taking the initiative and causing things to happen? We have two new terms: initiative philanthropy, where you take the initiative, and as a result cause something to happen.

Homelessness is a national problem. How involved are you? As community foundations you know the community better than most. What are intervention possibilities through the city, the county? What safety net resources are available? Do you have a safety net funding program to respond to poverty issues, such as meal programs, clothing distribution, food bags, and car repairs?

What agencies are doing work in responding to poverty? Do you know? Would it be worthwhile to convene funders, county and agency directors to address this issue? In Contra Costa County, California, there is a coalition working on homelessness and affordable housing and having a significant impact.

Is this a role for program officers – being a convener? You bet it is. It’s called leadership.

Now, let’s look at another dimension of our work.

I’m not worried about commercial firms offering to set up donor advised funds. They are not grant makers. You are experts on knowing the community and giving money where it counts. You are not some commercial finance house. You can advise. You can create. You can take the initiative. They can’t and they don’t.

I have a flyer I am thinking of using.

Switch Your Money to Us!

Vanguard, Fidelity, Schwab pay 10% – 15% – 20% return –

So what – we guarantee 100% return in satisfaction.

After all, it is philanthropic money and we guarantee impact – something positive happening for a better community.

Don’t let your money just sit – do something exciting with it.

Philanthropic Ventures Foundation

What about risk taking? Do you have a venture fund at your foundation where you are ready to tolerate an occasional failure? Venture means in your professional opinion it is worth taking a risk. We are constantly asking agencies to change in how they do something. This is risk taking for them. At Hewlett-Packard, Bill Hewlett would tell his engineers that “unless you have a failure you aren’t doing your job.” If you venture, you will have an occasional failure. If you have no failures, you have not ventured. I believe it is venturing that will move community foundations forward. Consider setting up a venture fund where you will take risks with the good possibility of an occasional failure.

But philanthropy does not like a failure and thus we are not pushing the envelope. I am advocating that the philanthropic dollar should be the entrepreneurial dollar of society – the risk dollar that tries new ways of doing things. This is why we need the community foundation model I’ve been talking about.

Let’s talk about some other dimensions in community foundation work. Are you concerned about sharing decision making in giving? How about an arts fund with its own granting committee made up of artists, or a millennial fund with its own grant committee made up of young adults, or a teachers fund that shares the prerogative of giving.

We created the ambassador program wherein we come across very committed people in the community. We give them $10,000 each to give out as they wish. Fascinating what they come up with; people and programs we never knew existed. We have given ambassador grants to a public health nurse for her work in the poverty field, I remember when I first met her she had sponsored a haircut service for homeless people and was cleaning up afterwards; another is an activist in the Mexican-American community, she involved me in a class she conducted to teach people how to be waiters; a school board member who is very active in the schools and she finds and funds school counselors working with disturbed kids; the Director of the County Health Care Agency who has a big budget but no discretionary money. This is the fellow who came up with the idea of emergency medical technicians in ambulances.

This brings us to a point where we need to understand that the coin of the realm in philanthropy is ideas. What is it you want to happen and how do you bring it about? Your job is to encourage new thinking, positive thinking, to come up with new ideas. And yet we tend to be problem-oriented, which slows us down.

We pride ourselves as problem-solvers, but too often we don’t act until there is a problem. Wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage ideas? Let me give an example.

The founder of a dance company came to me for funding. Dance companies tend to serve wealthy women and their daughters so I suggested they also work with low-income girls. That was our idea. And they did and it was thrilling to see the success. This company is now preeminent in serving low-income youth as well as developmentally disabled youth, autistic youth, and youth in juvenile detention. This is an example of venture funding. What is more is that we have almost no pregnancies with these girls. Girls with a positive self-image know how to say “no.”

This is an example where we helped to focus the work of the dance company and then negotiated a grant. Coming up with ideas is something you could try because it is a promising role for community foundations to play. Think about it.

I want to say a word about deadlines. Most of you have them for grant applications and I would ask “Why?” Let me propose to you the concept of no deadlines wherein you take applications until you have enough; say your cutoff is two times the amount of money available at your next meeting. Why process requests that add up to twenty times that amount? It makes no sense and it wears you out.

So, when you hit the two times limit, that is the deadline and requests that come in after that are scheduled for the next meeting. This does not become a myth of Sisyphus where the load gets bigger and bigger. It becomes a system that is more realistic than offloading zillions of requests on your grants committee.

Sure, you might have a back log, but there is the concept of “not favored by staff” and you, the program officer, can weed out the weaker proposals. This allows you to eliminate a large number of proposals and do it quickly rather than have an applicant wait for a negative response, which could have been given weeks earlier. This is done in the name of the foundation and is not something personal. This assumes that you are willing and able to take on this responsibility and professionally handle people who are disappointed.

Thus, there is no deadline. Your literature says “Get your proposal in when it is ready and we will schedule it as circumstances permit.” You are not committing yourself to a date.

A lot of you handle scholarships which are the most labor-intensive grants in philanthropy and also tend to become overgrown in the correspondence required. Are you trying new dimensions in your scholarships? For example, loan cancellation scholarships given when the student graduates to pay off the loan, or scholarships based on promise to cover the student who had some poor grades in the past but has improved, or a reentry scholarship for the woman going back to school after she had a baby. This is where you can advise, encourage, entice the donor advised funder to try something new in scholarships as opposed to just giving to the “A” student.

What is more with scholarships is that you can use volunteers to run the program. They bring maturity, patience, and willingness to handle the details. And this saves you enormous time in administering scholarships.

I have found in working with volunteers, that they become very enthusiastic about their work and about the foundation and consequently they become donors to the foundation’s discretionary fund.

What about Boards and committees at community foundations. They take staff time and the more committees the more staff time in scheduling, preparing, attending and reporting. Some of you have up to 15 committees. This takes an inordinate amount of staff time and focuses the foundation’s work on itself versus serving the public. Try to pare down the number of committees you have.

Now let’s have look at the staff–grant committee relationship. When a request comes in, the staff reviews and researches it and writes a report with a recommendation. Most always the grants committee agrees and the grant is either given or denied. Question: why not let the staff make the grants and disburse the money quickly? To a degree, this is already the case where some CEOs of foundations can give grants up to a certain amount, but I am advocating letting the staff make all the grants. If necessary, there can be limitations on the amount. Of course, they make these grants in the name of the foundation and its board and all grants are reported to the board for confirmation.

You say board members feel it is their prerogative to decide grants, but if all they are doing is rubber stamping staff recommendations, is this really a prerogative? Your boards are made up of business people who come from companies where their boards of directors do not make operational decisions. Those Boards decide policy, focus, and direction. Your Board should stand in judgment of foundation staff performance and foundation outcomes and determine the future focus of the foundation and not decide every grant.

If community foundations are to succeed, you will need to modernize your systems.

Predicting is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of philanthropy. I predict that a lot of what we have talked about will happen – that grants will be given faster, much faster; that foundation staff will decide grants, maybe all grants, that we will bring more people into the giving process, that we will involve special groups to help decide some grants, that our fear of failure will diminish and we will be willing to have venture funds for risk-taking in grantmaking, that we will give discretionary grants and let the recipient determine how the money will be used, that we will fulfill our obligation to have a safety net responsiveness to face off poverty.

They say change only moves at the speed of trust. So trust yourselves and full speed ahead.


  • Contra Costa County – Homelessness and Affordable Housing
  • Donald Gilmore, Executive Director, Community Housing Development Corporation,,
  • “To Stay Relevant, Community Funds Must Adapt to a Radically Changed World.” Kasper, Ausinheiler, and Marcoux. The Chronicle of Philanthropy 19 June 2014, page 41.
  • Zohar Dance Company,Palo Alto, CA, Ehud Krauss, Founder and Artistic Director,,
  • Napa Valley Community Foundation – Creating Donor Advised Donor Interest,
  • “Drowning in Paper, Distracted from Purpose: Challenges and Opportunities in Grant Application and Reporting”,
  • Helping Community Foundations Adapt for the Future, The Center for Effective Philanthropy,

Website-building tools

  • WordPress –, free as a blog, small cost to turn into a website
  • Weebly –, free as a blog, can pay to turn to a website

Somerville Concepts

  • Paperless giving
  • Trust
  • Active donor advised funds
  • Discretionary giving – donor advised funds
  • Field trips
  • Finding outstanding people
  • Initiative philanthropy
  • College student ideas
  • First funder
  • Out of the office
  • Sponsor sessions
  • Millennials giving
  • Create programs
    • Teacher
    • Social Worker
    • Juvenile Judge
  • 48-hour turn around
  • Public sector funding
  • No applications
  • Phone-centric
  • Young people into philanthropy
  • Giving to non 501 (c)(3)
  • Poverty funding
  • Safety net funding
  • Risk taking – venture fund
  • Sharing decision making
  • Ideas
  • Scholarships
  • Using volunteers
  • No deadlines
  • Staff grant committee relationship
    • Staff grant making
  • Board committees
  • Predicting
  • Convening – skill
  • Getting interns – young people into philanthropy
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Reflections from a Zimbabwean Grace Scholar: Allen Matsika

Now in its 8th year, the Grace Scholarship Program is the result of a partnership between PVF and a donor to provide the critical gap funding necessary for bright, low-income Zimbabwean students who are a part of the US Achievers Program (USAP) to study at US and European universities.

This year, we interviewed a few of the Grace Scholars to learn more about their background, experiences in college, and plans for the future. Below is our second interview with Allen Matsika, a senior studying Liberal Arts at St. Johns College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Allen - Grace ScholarPVF: Tell us about your decision to study outside of your home country.

AM: My high school History teacher, Mr. Masango told me once that there is no one reason for anything; this is the same with my decision to study outside Zimbabwe. I left Zimbabwe for many reasons, the main one being my desire to help people in Zimbabwe in some way. I have always wanted to be a political leader in Zimbabwe, and it struck me that studying outside Zimbabwe could be advantageous for my dream. Gaining a worldview would assist me in helping to integrate Zimbabwe into the greater scheme of the world picture someday. I believe the future belongs to those who understand their place in the big picture of a well-connected world. The breakdown of my family and the desire for peace of mind added to my reasons. I thought if I created more space between myself and my family I could have time to breathe and process the intense preceding years of my life. I figured, I could be successful in school but until I resolved those feelings I would never be happy. Coming to the US would also provide me with a fresh start, to reinvent myself, build myself up without past reputations and to test myself in a new environment.

PVF: Was it difficult transitioning to a different culture?

AM: I like to pretend it wasn’t difficult to transition to the new culture but it was quite a challenge. The first day when I landed and I tried to order a burger, the difference in pronunciation alone disturbed me so deeply it made me wonder if I was going to thrive in this new culture or I should get on a plane and go back. In the past three years I have had to question and reshape my ideas of relationships, freedom, politics and religion to mention but a few. Coupled with the constant and rigorous philosophical enquiry I am willingly subjected to at St. John’s College, I would say the journey has been tough but eye-opening.

PVF: What types of activities are you involved in at school?

AM: In the past three years I have been involved with the International Relations Study Group, the community service projects of which I was the founder of one which survived for my first two years in college. I have been an Ambassador for the student government to the Board of Visitors and Governors and the larger Santa Fe community, and I have been involved in three publications, two of which I was editor for a year. I have played soccer, tennis, dodge-ball and basketball. This year, I will cut back on my involvement in some of these as I prepare for graduate school and my senior thesis. I will be working with the Chinese Study Group and the International Relations Study Group, and I will be playing a lot more soccer and tennis to balance it all out.

PVF: What is your greatest accomplishment at school thus far?

AM: Winning a community scholarship at the end the 2013-14 academic year is my greatest accomplishment so far. Just contributing to my immediate community for three years and having someone notice is really a heartwarming feeling. It says to me, I haven’t kept to myself because I come from a different place. Instead I have opened myself up, given myself and melded with a culture different from the one in which I grew up. It also says to me, I have resolved at least most of my feelings and thoughts from years before St. John’s College and I am ready to take on the world again.

PVF: What do you plan to do post-graduation?

AM: I hope to attend graduate school for a joint degree in International Relations and an MBA. This degree program will segue into an involvement in international business, allen quoteallowing me to travel more, learn more, and gain a well-informed world view before I eventually settle in Zimbabwe. I am also working on my own business ideas, I am working on an app that I hope can help depressed people find hope in daily tasks, which allows me to pursue my dream of helping others.

PVF: How has the Grace Scholarship helped you pursue your goals?

AM: The Grace Scholarship has allowed me to have a sense of peace as I worked on my academic and personal life. I did not know money could actually disrupt a huge part of life until I had to find ways of contributing to my own school fees. In the beginning I was at a loss for ideas but I came around and with help managed to settle things. Fortunately, because of the Grace Scholarship, the gap left was manageable, and it made it possible for me to be less stressed in the midst of a tough situation. This peace of mind is easy to take for granted until it is disrupted and I am glad I can appreciate what the Grace Scholarship is doing for me. I have also been able to keep tabs on my own growth as I correspond annually with the Grace Scholarship. The essays I wrote help me to actually look back on each year and see the trajectory of my own growth. This has helped me with my ideas for career choices and degree programs, and has been invaluable in my quest to reinvent myself by helping me add more self-worth to my daily experiences. I am about to finish my senior year because of the financial help the Grace Scholarship has offered me, and I will be the first in my family to have finished college – that is one goal soon to be under my belt.

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Where’s James? Visiting a Childcare Center in Full Bloom

Dr. Naureen Shaikh and Patricia Malaga  of Blossom Childcare

Dr. Naureen Shaikh and Patricia Malaga of Blossom Childcare

I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and our sun dappled bay to Sausalito.  Even in this tranquil setting, the Inequality Gap lies just below the service.  I spent the morning with Naureen Shaikh, MD., a family doctor who opened Blossom Childcare after noticing that childcare facilities aren’t equipped to handle special situations.  It is a safe and nurturing environment for children and families dealing with domestic violence, neglect, illness, injury or death in the family, separation, divorce, and other traumatic situations.  The friendly, inviting facility is an oasis for the children and their families in this community.

The warmth of the inviting facility is only outshone by the warmth of the good works of Dr. Shaikh, the staff, and volunteers that are in full bloom here.


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Where’s Bill? Convening Philanthropy Fellows to Share Their Experiences

Through initiatives by Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, both Stanford University and UC Berkeley have summer philanthropy fellowship programs placing students full-time for the summer in Bay Area foundations.

This year the two schools of students met together to share their experiences in a session led by myself. Students have been placed in large and small foundations undertaking research projects, getting involved in grantmaking, and learning what local philanthropy is all about.

I would like to see philanthropy fellows from all higher education institutions in the Bay Area.

“I learned that philanthropy is about asking the right questions and listening for the right answers, whether they are spoken or unspoken.” – Sadia Saiffudin, a 2014 Fellow placed at PVF

“In an increasingly diverse and developing era, the call for deeper collaborative action and strategic planning in addressing pressing societal issues has also become a high priority in the field.” – Carmen Ross, a 2014 Fellow placed at Northern California Grantmakers, reflects on what she learned in her placement.

Fellowship Meeting

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Reflections from a Zimbabwean Grace Scholar

Now in its 8th year, the Grace Scholarship Program is the result of a partnership between PVF and a donor to provide the critical gap funding necessary for bright, low-income Zimbabwean students who are a part of the US Achievers Program (USAP) to study at US and European universities.

This year, we interviewed a few of the Grace Scholars to learn more about their background, experiences in college, and plans for the future. Below is our first interview with Farai Musariri, a junior studying Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Hendrix College.

Farai -Grace Scholar

PVF: Tell us about your decision to study outside of your home country.

FM: The honest truth is that my decision was initially a result of financial desperation on my family`s part. Being admitted into a US college plus a generous financial aid package meant that my parents would not have to worry about paying for my education since that was a struggle already. Anyway, the countless social and academic opportunities I was exposed to while working on my college applications made me want nothing less than a liberal arts education. I longed to explore my academic interests outside of the mainstream sciences, and, most importantly, an opportunity to voice my concerns and passions in a place where I would be heard.

PVF: Was it difficult transitioning to a different culture?

FM: Not really. Zimbabwean culture is so westernized, so I was up to speed on most things: pop-culture, language/slang, dressing, etc. I, however, had a very hard time adjusting to the liberal culture at my school. Being a very conservative Christian, it took me a very long time to actually adjust and find my niche on campus. For the most part, I am happy with where I am right now in my culture training!

PVF: What types of activities are you involved in at school?

FM: I am aquote 2 very people oriented person and I guess my most influential role on campus is my job as a Resident Assistant. I know this sounds so cliché, but I genuinely find contentment in putting smiles on other people`s faces. On that note, I am a peer mentor and treasurer for the SOAR team (Student Outreach Alternative Resources) and our goal is to make sure no students feel left out/alienated socially. I am a student representative to the committee on international and intercultural study, and I work very closely with our Dean of Students through our college conduct council. I am also a committee member for Ngoma Africa, The African Students Association on campus. One other thing: I LOVE to cook, so I occasionally work with our culinary club through catering and cooking at campus events.

Regarding my calling, I have a “thing”—a major social concern—with poverty (having grown up poor). I went to the Dominican Republic last year on a service trip, and this past summer I worked with the Episcopal Community Services of Maryland (ECSM) in Baltimore City, through the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, in combating child and family homelessness. I am also doing an interdisciplinary study on poverty, outside of my major, so yeah….if I had to stand against just one problem, poverty would be IT!

PVF: What is your greatest accomplishment at school thus far?

Farai - Grace Scholar 2FM: Personally, my most joyful moment was seeing a deaf Rwandan friend (Samson) at Hendrix receive cochlear implants this past academic year (2013/14) after being deaf for close to 18years. I was a major part of the fundraising aspect of this miracle through the SOAR team and we raised $12000+ (together with other funders) for him since his health insurance only covered 80% of his total surgery costs. Overall, this was a very fulfilling experiences in that 3 or so weeks of intensive fundraising (which gave me wonderful professional experience) made a visible, life changing difference to Samson`s life. It was certainly a blessing, and it is one of those experiences I will be thankful for, my entire life.

PVF: What do you plan to do post-graduation?

FM: My plans as of now include getting a Masters in Public Health and exploring my options in the global health area thereafter. I am set on moving back home, or anywhere is Africa, within five years of my undergraduate education because I realize that back home is where I am needed the most. In the long term, the peak of my career would be to work for the World Health Organization (WHO)….how exactly? I am not too sure yet!

PVF: How has the Grace Scholarship helped you pursue your goals? quote 1

FM: Without the grace scholarship I never would have been able to afford to go to Hendrix, and being at Hendrix in itself has been great blessing. I have been exposed to a world of opportunities which have, at the very least, challenged me to think beyond the usual and be an agent for positive change in my community. On another note, the yearly personal reviews we submit to renew this scholarship actually help me evaluate my progress socially, culturally and most importantly intellectually. I am so thankful for such altruism, and I am challenged to give back in whatever way possible.

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Developing the Language of Math through Dance with the Help of PVF’s Mathematics Grants

The following guest post written by Susan Hamada, a Pre-K Autism Teacher at Lyndale Elementary in San Jose, discusses how she used a Mathematics Resource Grant from PVF to teach math concepts through dance and movement.

Lyndale - Dance and MathI would like to take this opportunity to thank Philanthropic Ventures Foundation and The Heising-Simons Foundation for your wonderful support of the dance therapy program for the preschool autism children at Lyndale Elementary School. Dance is a powerful method for developing the language of math, in addition to helping children mature physically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively. Moving through patterns over time may help us fill in any missing gaps in our neurological development, making it an important tool for autistic children.

When we initially began the dance lessons, many of the children needed assistance to participate in the dance class. By the end of their sessions, the majority were able to follow the verbal directions and movements to participate on their own. Some of the parents came to observe the class. By the end of the class, they were joining in and dancing with their child.

The dance classes were held at the end of the year, so we were able to review and reinforce the math concepts covered throughout the year. We danced with scarves, ribbons and bean bags, which required the children to count and name the colors.  The children also practiced shapes by moving through an obstacle course.

My preschoolers derived numerous physical benefits from the use of movement as an educational tool, including body awareness, coordination, flexibility, and spatial awareness. Their cognitive skills were also enhanced through vocabulary-building, creativity, and problem-solving. Finally, they grew socially and emotionally through cooperation with others and a growing sense of self-esteem. The very functioning of the brain itself was enhanced through repetition of specific developmental movements. Movement truly fosters the development of the whole child: body, mind, and spirit.

The dance instructor wanted to give the other autism classes the experience of a dance class, so he volunteered to come back the next week to give an additional 30-minute dance class! Thanks to your generosity, 40 preschool and kindergarten autistic children experienced the joy of movement.

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