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20 May. 2015 | Comments (0)

The spring meeting of The Conference Board Contributions Council II, a peer networking group of corporate philanthropy executives from some of the best-known and best-run companies in the United States and around the world, took place over a day and a half in mid-April in San Francisco, CA. The theme of the meeting, “Innovative Grantmaking,” brought speakers from futurists, social media companies and social entrepreneurs and helped members gain a better understanding of venture philanthropy. Here, we summarize some of the content that resonated with members.

Future funding

Corporate philanthropy is by no means stagnant. Organizations and funders are constantly looking for more effective giving strategies that will create impact in a society that is continuously evolving. The Institute for the Future, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit research group that believes that the world will be a better place if people and organizations have thoughtful and thorough conversations about future possibilities, has identified five emerging future forces—described as disruptions—that will transform how we live and work:

  • Crowdpower – Robust online platforms will be leveraged for collection and aggregation of all kinds of resources—from money to brainpower to surplus goods—for creating value.
  • Algorithmic coordination – Big data and predictive analytics will optimize how people, resources, and tasks are routed and utilized for maximum impact.
  • Ad-hocracy – Individuals choose roles and tasks, and execute them—with little or no organizational structure—to innovate solutions.
  • Multi-currency – A variety of non-traditional currencies, from Bitcoin and in-game credits to time or neighborhood “bucks,” will provide alternatives to centralized legal tender.
  • Radical transparency – The exposure, intended or not, of all financial data, processes behind decisions, reputation evaluations, and metrics of success will disrupt traditional relationships between donors and beneficiaries.

So, what does this mean in practice? For the nonprofit sector, Sammie Rayner from Hand Up gave an example of how her organization utilizes Crowdpower through technology to make direct connections between homeless people and community members that want to help them. Individuals can donate directly to a request online by a homeless person and then learn how their funds are being utilized. Mike Zuckerman from [free space] discussed “Ad-hocracy” and how bringing together people to be creative and innovative helps breakdown “walls” between various communities and sectors.

Council members, meanwhile, discussed how these concepts applied to the realities of giving. For example, there are elements of Crowdpower that members already utilize through employee engagement programs and social media. The radical transparency concept is a more challenging idea to put into practice in corporate environment.

Traditional versus venture philanthropy

One of the ways funders are trying to modernize their giving is by turning to venture philanthropy, a model that often follows a strategic framing which coordinates targeted resources that create systemic change. Whereas traditional philanthropy typically involves one-off grants for short periods, focused on one particular sector and lacking routine monitoring—instead waiting till the end of the grant period to evaluate—venture philanthropy often blends different types of community investment; involves hands-on, long-term engagement; focuses on innovation and experimentation; and involves real-time monitoring and evaluation, with quick pivots.

Melanie LeGrande, Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Senior Director of Corporate Responsibility, identified Cisco, Peery Foundation and Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund as examples of “venture philanthropy in action.” They all exhibit best practices for venture philanthropy, including:

  • Researching systems to understand better how to address issues
  • Accepting failure
  • Being nimble
  • Collecting data to refine giving
  • Going “all in.”

The bay area’s tipping point

Famous for being the home of some of the world’s richest companies, not to mention their wealthy founders and high-flying employees, the bay area is experiencing the greatest period of sustained wealth creation in U.S. history. Yet, 1.3 million people in the area cannot meet their basic needs, especially as living costs skyrocket for those not swept up by the tech wealth march.

Initiated by Tipping Point Community, a non-profit organization that fights poverty in the bay area, SF Gives is a $10 million corporate challenge that is bringing together local businesses to fight poverty in the region. Having so far raised $80 million, the organization has reached 365,000 people through investments in education, employment, housing, and wellness. Its community investment strategy involves:

  • Conducting extensive due diligence (nearly 100 hours per grantee)
  • Providing unrestricted funding
  • Investing in R&D
  • Looking for ways to make a difference beyond dollars (through skills-based volunteering, for example).

In addition, SF Gives uses metrics tied to each of these areas to assess progress. These include:

  • Education – math and reading proficiency; high school graduation; college graduation
  • Employment – job placement; job retention; increased earnings
  • Housing – exit homelessness; housing placement; housing retention
  • Wellness – prenatal care and well-child visits; primary care and immunizations; trauma prevention and treatment.

A “corporate philanthropy playbook” helps companies strategize their giving by encouraging cash and noncash gifts such as volunteering, products and services and community engagement. SF Gives defines community engagement as efforts to bring the community into the company, such as employment for underserved populations and use of space. The SF Gives Playbook can be downloaded at

Social impact innovators

Social enterprises are increasingly touted as community innovators and impact generators. Nowhere is that more true than in the bay area, where entrepreneurialism and innovation seem to dominate the population’s gene pool.

Lava Mae, a mobile shower for the homeless utilizing decommissioned San Francisco buses.


Meeting details

Date April 13-14

Location San Francisco, CA


  • Komal Ahmad, CEO and Founder, Feeding Forward
  • Kelly Bathgate, Director, Strategic Partnerships Tipping Point Community
  • Bea Boccalandro, President, VeraWorks
  • Clara Brenner, Cofounder and CEO, Tumml
  • David Evan Harris, Social Change Agent, Institute for the Future
  • Meg Garlinghouse, Head of LinkedIn for Good, LinkedIn
  • Milicent Johnson, Manager, SF Gives Tipping Point Community
  • Daria Lamb, Director, Institute for the Future
  • Melanie LeGrande, Senior Director, Corporate Responsibility, Silicon Valley Community Foundation
  • Maeve Miccio VP, Corporate Responsibility, Silicon Valley Community Foundation
  • Sammie Rayner, Partnerships and Strategy, Handup
  • Doniece Sandoval, Founder, Lava Mae
  • Rebecca Wang, Senior Manager, Community Engagement, HP
  • Mike Zuckerman, Cofounder, [Freespace]

About Contributions Council II

As leaders in the field of corporate contributions, we influence by example. That requires keeping up not only with current issues and trends, but with best practices and best programs. We create initiatives that advance community building while enriching our companies’ profiles and social activism portfolios. The council includes representatives from some of the best-known and best-run companies in the United States and around the world. Council members also have the opportunity to visit the communities, campuses, and nonprofit organizations that benefit from their grant-making. 

  • About the Author:Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson is Principal of Parky Communications, a communications agency specializing in sustainability and CSR reporting and communications. He serves as the Co-Leader of The Conference Board Cor…

    Full Bio | More from Alex Parkinson

  • About the Author:Tony Tapia

    Tony Tapia

    Tony Tapia is the Program Director for The Conference Board Philanthropy & Engagement Council. Tony has over 25 years of experience working in the nonprofi t, philanthropic and corporate sectors. …

    Full Bio | More from Tony Tapia


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