October 2016
Progress Newsletter
Leadership is Critical
by: Bill Somerville, Founder

Leadership is everything in judging a program for funding, and we are proud of our track record thus far in supporting exceptional leaders. We first funded the St. Francis Center in Redwood City, led by the venerable Sister Christina Heltsley, 21 years ago when it was a small house that distributed food. Sister Christina has since grown the program into a crucial community resource for low-income families. The St. Francis Center now includes 55 units of affordable housing and is one of the top developers in San Mateo County.

Principal of East Palo Alto Academy, Amika Guillaume and PVF Founder, Bill Somerville

Another longtime grantee, Amika Guillaume, came to our attention 10 years ago as principal of Cesar Chavez Academy, a low-income middle school in East Palo Alto. We have given her grant funds in the decade since because of her strong leadership abilities, even following her when she made the switch to principal of the high school, East Palo Alto Academy.

These are just two examples of many outstanding leaders that we have supported in our 25 years of grassroots grantmaking. We find and fund these individuals when their programs are nascent, and our investments pay off.

"We find and fund these individuals when their programs are nascent, and our investments pay off." 

In deciding what to fund, we look beyond the written request. Our research involves getting out of the office to visit programs and talk with people, which we try to do as much as possible. One can get an idea of staff morale, how progress is measured, and the goals they set that offer challenge. We measure leadership by assessing in person the reputation of the program and what it has accomplished. If these indicators are positive, then we have confidence in providing a grant. It takes this something extra in evaluating grant requests rather than just deciding that they sound good.

We have endeavored to give these grants quickly, often on a paperless basis. This is a radically different approach from the rest of the philanthropy world; the average time to apply to a foundation is 26 hours, as paper is traditionally seen as due diligence. Instead, we focus on funding people, not paper.

PVF Close-Up: Grantee Perspective
Sister Christina Heltsley of the Saint Francis Center speaks about her continued partnership
with Philanthropic Ventures Foundation.

We exercise trust in our relations with others, and we see program leaders  as colleagues. We need them and they need us. In the end, our colleagues like Amika and Sister Christina become our friends, which allows for fruitful and collaborative work. Here at PVF, we take the etymology of the word "philanthropy" seriously: philos - love, anthropy - of mankind.
An Inspired Alternative to Incarceration
Many of our society's disadvantaged youth are tethered to the school-to-prison pipeline, inevitably becoming trapped in cycles of poverty and incarceration. Once a young person enters the justice system, their progress is halted and they become further impoverished. For both individuals and the wider society, a hard reset to this problem is sorely needed.

This is what one of PVF's grantees, the Reset Foundation, strives for - offering a chance for young people to reset their lives through a residential program that acts as an inspired alternative to incarceration. This program teaches them how to work, study, and live in healthy and productive ways. Intervention at this critical juncture in young people's lives allows them to move from an oppressive environment to an enriching one.

PVF staffers James Higa and Dawn Hawk checked in with the Reset Foundation recently as they were getting ready to open their first classroom....  Read more on our blog!

From left to right: Jen Anderson and Jane Mitchell, co-founders of the Reset Foundation;
and Dawn Hawk, PVF's Chief Operating Officer
About the Editors
James Higa
James Higa, Executive Director, brings 28 years of executive experience from Silicon Valley, working with Steve Jobs to change the face of technology. He was at the birth of the personal computer revolution as a member of the original Macintosh team and was deeply involved in the creation of many products and services at Apple over 3 decades. He has a long history of public service as a board member of Stanford's Haas Center and in grassroots relief efforts.
Bill Somerville, Founder, has been in non-profit and philanthropic work for 50 years. He was the director of a community foundation for 17 years, and in 1991 founded Philanthropic Ventures Foundation where he serves as President. Bill has consulted at over 400 community foundations, on creative grantmaking and foundation operations. Bill is the author of Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker. 
About PVF

PVF is a demonstration foundation practicing unique forms of grantmaking and innovative philanthropy. Our primary interest is in the creative and significant use of the philanthropic dollar.