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Member Spotlight: Nancy Wiltsek, Executive Director of van Löben Sels/RembeRock Foundation

Monday, June 27, 2016

Nancy Wiltsek is the Executive Director of the van Löben Sels/RembeRock Foundation in San Francisco and a steering committee member of the Legal Services Funders Network (LSFN). As a part of our member Spotlight series, Nancy told us about herself and her work with legal services. She invites you to join her at the upcoming LSFN program on June 29th  Legal Incubators: Strengthening Communities through Access to Justice.

How’d you get started in this work?

I had just gotten my Masters in Nonprofit Administration (MNA) at the University of San Francisco (USF); my master’s thesis was on corporate charitable behavior of small companies in San Francisco (“small” meaning under 100 employees). I got a very part-time job at what was then RCM Capital Management Charitable Fund supporting the Fund’s Director. I started off reading and summarizing proposals for the docket, then doing site visits. When the Director left, I inherited the job. I was at RCM for 10 years, then left to run a family foundation.                    

What’s happening at van Löben Sels/RembeRock?

In September, I’ll have been at van Löben Sels/RembeRock (vLS/RR) for 2 years. It’s gone by super-fast and I love the work. The board is great – each member is smart, committed to social justice, and brings his or her unique perspective to what we do – which is to focus on legal services and the power of the law to right social wrongs, promote fairness and reduce human suffering. The board adopted that focus prior to my arrival but it’s one I wholeheartedly embrace. I managed the legal services portfolio at Marcled Foundation when I was a consultant so I understand that legal intervention is critical to addressing a host of challenges that low income individuals, families and communities face: housing, employment, immigration and naturalization, to name a few.

In addition to the board, we have a small staff – I’m full time, supported by our awesome, half-time Administrative Assistant Jenny Chan, and Grants Consultant Heidi Emmel, who’s been our point person on the online grants management system we launched last year. It’s a typical staffing pattern for a small foundation. It works for me but it takes a certain type of person to thrive in a small setting. The key is a trusted team, and networking and finding communities to connect with, learn with and learn from. I’ve been involved with a number of affinity groups at NCG – Corporate Contributions Roundtable, Family Philanthropy Exchange, the Heart of Philanthropy and currently, the Legal Services Funders Network (LSFN).

At each board meeting, we spend a couple of hours with an outside expert (or two) to deepen our understanding of issues we care about. I couldn’t come up with the breadth of presenters we’ve hosted without a great network, both inside and outside of philanthropy. A presentation to the LSFN by Julia Wilson of OneJustice about the state of civil legal aid in California was the inspiration for a similar presentation to the vLS/RR board, and a conversation with Sandy Close of New American Media led to Steve Phillips talking with us about his new book “Brown is the New White.” Both were invaluable.

What’s keeping you up at night?

Guns, the power of the gun lobby, the role of guns on loss of life (accidental and intentional) and the normalization of gun violence in American society.  In the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, the reasons behind mass shootings vary but guns are the common denominator. The Foundation is a longtime supporter of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence/Americans for Responsible Solutions Foundation and I’m keeping an eye on The California Wellness Foundation’s work on this issue. One question I’m holding is “How do we shift the culture on guns?”

The upcoming presidential election is keeping me up at night for two reasons: the vitriolic attacks on many immigrant and religious communities, and the deep-seated hatred for the presumptive democratic nominee for President. It’s particularly troubling since I serve as board chair of IGNITE, a national, non-partisan organization whose vision is gender parity at all levels of elected office, with a particular focus on women of color ( Women are 50% of the population but only 22% of all elected offices across the country. Isn’t that appalling?  How can we have a representative democracy with those numbers? I believe having a fair share of women in office is long overdue and key to addressing many of the issues I care about (wage/pay equity, reproductive health, violence against women, paid parental leave, the equal rights amendment, etc.).

What’s the through line in your career, the thread that always there?

A commitment to nonprofit leaders and emerging leaders. I am inspired on a daily basis by the folks who are working to have an impact on the world around them, and that’s been true throughout my career. From being in one of the early cohorts of the MNA Program at USF, to training Russian NGO leaders, to creating, overseeing and teaching in Golden Gate University’s online nonprofit management and leadership program, to serving on the MNA Program Advisory Board, I have huge respect for those in the trenches and do what I can to support them. 

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I wish I could sing – country, blues, rock ’n’ roll - even an in-tune “Happy B’day to You.” My dad and one of my sisters have great voices and I guess I didn’t get the gene. I took voice lessons hoping it was something I could develop but, nope, it was not meant to be. My ability to learn other languages is hopeless as well. So that’s two things (but I think they’re related).

What are your favorite on-screen guilty pleasures?

Peaky Blinders, The Americans, and the often cringe-worthy Silicon Valley. 


Do you have questions for Nancy or ideas for collaboration? You can contact her at:

Phone: (415) 512-0577

Twitter: @vLSRR

LinkedIn: Nancy Wiltsek