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Opening the Door to Opportunity: NCG Moves into Public Policy

Thursday, August 10, 2017
by Allison Magee, Executive Director, Zellerbach Family Foundation;
Co-Chair, Arts Loan Fund;
Public Policy Committee Member, Northern California Grantmakers

Sometimes, opportunity knocks. Other times it opens the door and lets itself in. This is the case with NCG’s recent expansion into the public policy arena. Ongoing challenges such as increasing income inequality in the Bay Area and growing demands on our communities’ systems of care have been exacerbated by dramatic shifts in politics and policies as well as divisive and sometimes hateful rhetoric coming from our federal government. This new landscape in which we live and work has created an opportunity for NCG that simply can’t be ignored. 

NCG is already engaged in complex and ambitious work, such as its focus on equity and social justice. However much of this work would be short-sided and ultimately ineffective without a broader policy approach; one that NCG members know well. Through our efforts to reform public systems, support cross-sector collaborations, and fund grass-roots advocacy, foundations across Northern California are already impacting policy at multiple levels. However, too often our voices are heard in siloes or are relegated to specific funding initiatives, weakening our collective impact. 

The reality is that NCG’s 180 members represent $3 billion of funding in Northern California and bring deep expertise across a wide range of issues including health, education, immigration, and criminal justice reform to name a few. Additionally, philanthropy is an indispensible part of the region’s ecosystem that is relied upon by both the nonprofit and public sectors, as it ensures the availability of a wide range of services and supports that are critical to our communities. Philanthropy needs a cohesive voice at the table to advocate for the communities we serve and to offer a perspective not always considered by policy makers, the business community, or even advocates. 

The potential for impact that a unified voice can have on shaping public policy is exhilarating. Nevertheless, we know that change work is messy.  Policy work is never linear and the journey is usually a long one. There will be bumps along the way as we develop our voice, make mistakes, and learn from experience. The work is hard and requires flexibility, tenacity, and a little bit of grit. But, with the expansion of its public policy team, the inauguration of its policy committee, and the support and guidance of its members, NCG is primed to take on some of our region’s most complex social issues.

I am excited to be a part of this important work—and eager to partner with my colleagues to help NCG reinforce and maximize the impact of its members. Now more than ever, we have a responsibility to engage in difficult conversations and to find new ways of pushing the needle so that all individuals, families, and communities in the Bay Area are healthy, strong, and poised to open the door when opportunity comes knocking for them. 

If you have any comments or questions about NCG’s new policy work, please contact NCG’s Public Policy team – Cecilia Chen ( or Emily Katz (    

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