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Get It Right: 5 Shifts Philanthropy Must Make Toward an Equitable Region

Call to Action

Shifting philanthropy’s outmoded ways of working is the challenge that will define the sector in the coming decade. Committing to transform our region means that everyone rolls up their sleeves and puts the good of the whole—a shared vision of inclusive regional prosperity and well-being—above individual organizational mandates and missions. This requires funders to embrace new narratives of possibility and inclusive decision-making, invoke new mental models, shift organizational and philanthropic sector culture, change default behaviors, and make bolder, more generous, and community-responsive commitments... and to act on them. The case studies included here demonstrate that nonprofits—especially those led by and serving BIPOC populations—are already exercising leadership to affect these shifts. It’s time that we joined them.

Northern California Grantmakers is kicking off an action plan to support philanthropy in making these 5 Shifts toward sharing power, leveraging multiple forms of capital, centering racial and other forms of equity, and philanthropic practices demonstrated to yield significant and lasting change. Taken together, this suite of actions can seem daunting. Every philanthropic entity has the capacity to start the journey somewhere, remain steadfast in transforming their practice, and accumulate colleagues, allies, and supporters along the way that will evolve these approaches from aspiration to reality. This work is urgent because both the needs and the opportunities are pressing. The future of our communities is at stake.


Here's how you can take action now: 


You can find graphics, language, and information about the 5 Shifts for media use here.

Get Involved

Are you a donor or trustee looking to improve your practices? Do you know someone who would benefit from getting involved? Contact our team at for individual support. 


This report is meant to give you an entry point to embracing and applying the 5 Shifts. NCG is kicking off an action plan to help you. If you'd like to be the first to know about events, trainings, and planning, sign up below. 

5 Shifts for Greater Impact

This is a time for bold vision and action. Northern California donors and institutions can align resources and propel changes that close racialized wealth gaps and establish conditions for regional vibrancy and communal well-being. Funders can start by embracing and using the innovative practices in this report. Emergent from research and distilled by experienced philanthropic practitioners working in solidarity with local communities, many of these strategies are not new. However, they have yet to be broadly adopted due to entrenched practices, status quo mindsets, and widespread inertia in the philanthropic sector. We can no longer afford inaction. We must pursue what evidence indicates as the path toward equitable recovery and shared prosperity.

Ultimately, philanthropists must rethink their approach to power, shifting from transactional to transformational giving that benefits from the wisdom, voice, and experience of local communities. These 5 Shifts are meant to act as entry points for you and can be embraced and adopted one by one, in no particular order. We offer five shifts as a framework for deep-seated change:



From: Donor-centered

Decisions driven by boards/trustees, often white,
wealthy, and lacking depth of understanding of
systemic racism and interlocking dynamics that sustain
the economic and social inequalities facing our region.


TO: Community-centered

Decision-makers involve those closest to problems,
engage diverse communities in governance, and
apply a strong racial justice f rame of analysis/decision-






Narrow, single-issue problem definitions that lead to
short-term, surface-level solutions.


TO: Focus on Systems

Holistic approach focused on underlying root causes alongside direct services.





Funders act in isolation, each following their
own (siloed) strategy and approach, with limited
understanding of the benefit of aligning their actions as
part of a complex ecosystem.



Funders collaborate to develop robust collective
strategies and approaches, actively working in concert
with those driving change in other sectors.





The amount of philanthropic capital invested is too
small for the scale of problems and funders frequently
do not use their influence to unleash additional sources
of capital from other sectors.



Funders are realistic about the scale of the problem,
understand the catalytic and risk-capital role of
philanthropic dollars, and organize diverse capital
sources, including their endowments, resources of peer
foundations, the private sector, and government.




Funders do not model the performance they expect
of their grantees; their grantmaking practices are
not trust-based and feature onerous reporting
requirements; they display a limited sense of urgency in
making grants. 



Internal funder practices center on diversity, equity, and
inclusion (DEI); funders follow trust-based and inclusive
grantmaking practices and demonstrate urgency while
deploying funds with an understanding of long-term
systems change.


Philanthropy Already Has Leaders to Follow

Philanthropy is often thought of as “society’s risk capital.” Donors enjoy the benefits of both government and markets, combining a tax-subsidized focus on the public good with the freedom, flexibility, and innovation of the private sector. However, mainstream philanthropy’s operating model needs a serious upgrade. 

The magnitude of problems facing the region calls for a radical rethinking of philanthropy’s catalytic role in local and regional problem-solving. Donors have amassed enormous capital. Billions of dollars held in donor-advised funds and foundation endowments can immediately fuel changes that not only close gaps but set generational shifts in well-being in motion. Philanthropic leaders’ relational assets—trust built with local decision-makers, policymakers, community leaders, and nonprofits—coupled with robust financial assets can support risk-taking and enliven bold approaches with the potential to generate greater impact.

In Get It Right: 5 Shifts Philanthropy Must Make Toward an Equitable Region, we've highlighted 5 case studies from regional leaders who are already doing this work. Take a look at the case studies below.


Jump to: 


Castellano Family Blueprint for Change


Sobrato Philanthropies Champions English Language Learners


Akonadi Foundation Build Black Movements


Pooled Funds and Donor Collaboratives


Packard Foundation Invests in Pajaro Valley





Latinx communities comprise more than one-quarter of the Bay Area population. When compared to their white counterparts, this growing demographic of Californians experiences widening disparities in income, education, health, and housing. These gaps are exacerbated by longstanding and persistent
lack of access to philanthropic dollars among Latinx nonprofit leaders and Latinx - focused organizations. Barely 2% of private foundation CEOs are of Latinx heritage. Latinx groups receive approximately 1% of all philanthropic investment,29 a proportion that has not changed since data gathering began decades ago.

The Castellano Family Foundation’s (CFF’s) bold vision for closing this gap has spurred local philanthropies to invest more in Latinx-led nonprofits. CFF’s Blueprint for Change provided the field with a data-backed understanding of the funding gap while articulating the business case for investing in Latinx-led groups.






Now five years later, while there are some breakthroughs and bright spots, the philanthropy gap has only grown. The expansion of the global technology sector—and the staggering individual wealth it generates for a disproportionate few—has continued, as has the prosperity paradox the report revealed. The intersecting crises of 2020—a global pandemic, a stark racial reckoning, climate-related wildfires, and threats to our democracy—have illuminated these gaps, with exponential wealth increases for some paralleled by largely preventable destitution and death for far too many. Failing bold, sweeping actions, many community members, including essential workers—childcare and elder care providers, farm and food system workers, service workers, educators, and healthcare workers—will risk deeper entrenchment in poverty even as the region swims in wealth and abundance. We can and must do better for one another.





California’s 1.1 million English language learners comprise 19% of the state’s total K-12 student body in the state, the largest population of its kind in the country. These children and youth are learning the English language alongside math, reading, science, and social studies curricula. These young people are
twice as likely to come from low-income families and are more likely to drop out of school than their native English-speaking peers. Nearly half of California English language learners who enroll in kindergarten are likely to become “longterm English language learners,” students for whom gaps accumulate as they move through school, with proficiency out of reach.

To address this problem in the Bay Area, Sobrato Philanthropies launched a preschool and elementary program, Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL), in 2008 in San Jose and Redwood City schools. SEAL provides professional development, curriculum support, and technical assistance for teachers of English language learners.






The Giving Code revealed a host of barriers to significant local giving. Placebased donors often don’t know where to start giving, nor how to give in amounts and over timeframes that support meaningful and durable change. Donors often find the local nonprofit ecosystem difficult to navigate, don’t have direct knowledge of local communities, and struggle to comprehend social issues, including systemic racism, that have long histories and multiple interacting root causes. 

Donor collaboratives encourage donors to give while learning from their peers or issue leaders and outsourcing the expertise, management, and grantmaking to experienced intermediary organizations. Further, donor collaboratives can aggregate significant capital, opening up the potential to address issues at a much larger scale.






Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) raids increased in 2017, with significant negative impact on residents of the rural Pajaro Valley of Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, especially immigrant children and their families, and the nonprofits serving them. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation’s grantee partners and other community stakeholders in the Pajaro Valley communicated their concern and described the devastating effects the raids had on community security and well-being. Given the Foundation’s longstanding commitment to this area, the Local Grantmaking team knew they needed to be an ally to support the community at this critical time. Foundation staff began by listening to community experts closest to the situation, asking them for ideas, and providing resources to implement solutions bubbling up from the community.






If we want to transform our region, we need to realize the region won’t change unless philanthropy does. Can we revitalize philanthropy’s vision, boost its ambitions, and update how we contribute to a region sustained by equitable systems? We must urgently confront existential challenges—income and racial disparities, convergent large-scale climate disasters, and woefully inadequate housing and infrastructure—with a coordinated and long-term response. We must eliminate inequitable structures, policies, and practices and advance opportunities to generate security, healing, and new possibilities for those currently living on the margins.

Northern California harbors some of the most extreme economic inequality in the nation. The expansion of the global technology sector—and the staggering individual wealth it generates for a few—has continued, with exponential wealth increases for some paralleled by largely preventable destitution and death for far too many. The intersecting crises of 2020—a global pandemic, a stark racial reckoning, climate-related wildfires, and threats to our democracy—have illuminated repercussions of unaddressed extreme inequities. If the philanthropic sector neglects these, it will squander a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a region where everyone flourishes.


To chart a course toward a more caring, connected, and equitable region powered by the philanthropy sector, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation supported a unique partnership between Northern California Grantmakers and Open Impact. The partnership capitalized on each entity’s strengths, combining Open Impact’s expertise and research capabilities around donors’ impact with the collective wisdom of the 210+ members of Northern California Grantmakers who are committed to effective philanthropic practice and organized, pragmatic action to address complex societal challenges and propel systems change.

The authors thank the Bay Area philanthropic leaders who helped develop the framework and provided guidance and feedback on the report’s direction. The ideas and practices outlined result from their incredible generosity of thought and collaboration.








Many thoughtful Bay Area leaders have discussed our regional challenges and outlined solutions. And we have leaned on the writings and insights of national leaders asking our sector to reimagine philanthropy. The following partial list of resources informed and inspired our writing. We hope you find them useful.

Bay Area and Region-Specific Reports

  1. 2021 Silicon Valley Index, Joint Venture Silicon Valley, 2021.
  2. A Roadmap for Economic Resilience: The Bay Area Regional Economic Strategy, Bay Area Council Economic Institute.
  3. Bay Area Equity Atlas, a partnership of the San Francisco Foundation, PolicyLink, and the USC Equity Research Institute, ongoing data updates, most recent 2021.
  4. Blueprint for Change, Castellano Family Foundation, 2020.
  5. SPUR Regional Strategy: The Bay Area of 2070, SPUR, 2021.
  6. Taking Count: A Study on Poverty in the Bay Area, Tipping Point Community and UC Berkeley Othering & Belonging Institute, 2020.
  7. No Going Back LA, The Committee for Greater LA, 2020.

Reimagining Philanthropy

  1. Abichandani, Dimple. “A Balancing Test for Foundation Spending.” Stanford Social Innovation Review, February 10, 2020.
  2. Buchanan, Phil. “Giving Done Right.” The Center for Effective Philanthropy, April 16, 2019.
  3. Farnham, Lija, Emma Nothmann, Zoe Tamaki, Nate Harding, Cora Daniels. “How Philanthropy Can Support Systems-Change Leaders.” The Bridgespan Group, January 14, 2021.
  4. Giridharadas, Anand. “Winners Take All." Penguin Random House, October 1, 2019.
  5. Kania, John, Mark Kramer, Peter Senge. “The Water of Systems Change." FSG, June 4, 2018.
  6. Kulish, Nicholas. “How Long Should It Take to Give Away Millions?The New York Times, June 9, 2021.
  7. McAfee, Michael and Victor Rubin. “Advancing Well Being by Transcending the Barriers of Whiteness." PolicyLink and the Well Being Trust, June 2021.
  8. Mehta, Manmeet and Michael Zakaras. “Philanthropy Needs a New Playbook to Fund Systems Change." The Chronicle of Philanthropy, March 5, 2020.
  9. Reich, Rob. “Just Giving." Princeton University Press, November 20, 2018.
  10. Taylor, Kat. “My Giving Pledge Isn’t Enough." The Chronicle of Philanthropy, November 19, 2020.
  11. Tilsen, Nick. “Building Indigenous Power and Investing in Indigenous Self Determination." Stanford Social Innovation Review, January 28, 2021.
  12. Van Deven, Mandy. “How Kat Taylor and Taj James Are Challenging Philanthropy to Take Bolder Steps to Shift Power." Inside Philanthropy, January 27, 2021.
  13. Villanueva, Edgar. “Decolonizing Wealth." October 16, 2018.
  14. Walker, Darren. “How Philanthropy Can Shape the 21st Century Gospel of Wealth: A Move From Generosity to Justice." The Chronicle of Philanthropy, December 10, 2019.
  15. Wong, Nate and Andrea McGrath, “Building a Trust-Based Philanthropy to Shift Power Back to Communities." Stanford Social Innovation Review, November 20, 2020.