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CEO Message: We're So Glad We Asked

by Ellen LaPointe, President and CEO, Northern California Grantmakers

When I started at NCG early in 2015 I spent a lot of time listening. Like, a LOT. During close to 200 meetings in my first year, I sought to learn what was strong about our work, what members of our community wanted more (and less) of from NCG, and – perhaps most importantly – what folks needed to increase their impact and to remain connected to their sense of purpose, their agency, and their community of colleagues. The guidance I received was remarkable in its continuity – and in its vehemence.


“Stand for something!” I heard.

“Reach beyond San Francisco!” said many.

“Think about inequity!” they entreated.

“Partner outside the sector!” they encouraged.

“Deepen learning opportunities!”

“Collaborate statewide!”

“Support collaboration!”



That last one was perhaps the loudest, by the way.


And we listened. The insights we garnered formed the basis of the strategic changes – and rather fundamental overhaul of NCG – that we implemented in the following months.


Five years later we are a transformed organization. We have quintupled and strengthened our programming and along with it, launched several cohort-based deep learning institutes. We’ve added new funder-driven collaboratives every year. We are engaging deeply in policy work on an array of complex issues. We are partnering ever-more deeply with our colleagues in Southern California and San Diego via our Philanthropy California alliance. We are centering equity in all that we do. Investment in our work continues to rise steadily, as does the number of institutions choosing to join our member community. We have a voice and a point of view. And we are taking time together to celebrate and appreciate one another.


By nearly any measure, the coming years will be of enormous consequence for our community, our state, and the future of our country. As we consider how we might leverage the power of our member community to shape the future that is coming, we decided the time was right to check in with you again.


This summer we partnered with the Center for Effective Philanthropy to develop a community survey. We asked you to tell us if we are providing what you need to do your best work and what you believe to be the highest and best use of our capacity as we look toward the future together. We were honored that over 200 of you took the time to respond and to offer a trove of deeply-considered guidance. Here are some of the key things you told us:


  • Our values are alive with you. Communicating with joy and curiosity ranked among the top two things you appreciate about working with NCG. You also expressed a resounding appreciation for the staff’s responsiveness and professionalism.
  • You identify NCG as a valued place for connection and community.
  • An overwhelming majority of you (93%) report that you have made a change as a result of NCG’s programs and services.
  • You support our strong focus on equity. You strongly encourage us to continue on this path, and to go further with our members.

“Continue to broaden the table of funders and partners (public and private sector) who can learn about important economic and equity issues affecting our communities and help them connect to projects and initiatives that can address these issues collectively.”

  • You continue to be keen for NCG to create spaces where philanthropy, government, business, and nonprofits can work together to tackle tough issues.

“NCG should aspire to be the premier destination for bringing together organized philanthropy with government and business to tackle the meatiest issues facing us –climate change, income/wealth inequality –and promote racial and social justice.”

  • You encourage us to think deeply about how we might bring more regionalism to our work to create opportunity and support philanthropic connection north, south, and eastward. This reflects the frustration many of you experience trying to get to NCG programs outside your immediate local vicinity, but also your belief that there are significant unmet needs in key areas of our state NCG should be tackling.

We are taking all of this to heart. In the coming weeks and months we will dive into these findings with you more deeply, and we will share our vision for how to best position NCG to be a powerful partner to you in the next several years. And we will test our thinking about how best to leverage our resources, reach, and relevance in the critical work ahead.

There is much to do to be sure, but we will bring the extraordinary capacity and commitment of our community to bear together. We look forward to digging deep with all of you as we pursue a vision for a better California and future for everyone.

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