Community Foundation Silicon Valley

By Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, David Hoyt
2006 | Case No. SI60 | Length 13 pgs.

Community Foundation Silicon Valley (“CFSV”) was founded in 1954 as the “Community Trust of Santa Clara County” with a broad mission—to help improve the community. It experienced explosive growth in the 1990s and 2000s with assets increasing more than 80-fold to $540 million between 1989 and 2002. Foundation president Peter Hero led CFSV through this period of change, taking it from a small, traditional community foundation with a relatively limited set of donors to a multi-million dollar organization. Unlike many long-established community foundations operating with large, unrestricted endowments built largely through bequests, CFSV achieved growth by offering donors a variety of giving vehicles and services intended to engage them in the philanthropic process. To pursue its broad mandate of community improvement, CFSV had to continually balance serving donors, assisting nonprofits, analyzing community needs and building foundation assets. When the Internet bubble burst in 2000, CFSV found itself in a position where donors had less money to give but the community had greater needs to be met. President Peter Hero took the recession as an opportunity to reassess CFSV’s strategy, raising several issues for debate. Hero considered whether the foundation should continue to focus on providing an array of donor services, which might generate more giving to serve the community, or whether it should focus on building an unrestricted endowment, which would increase the foundation’s flexibility in deciding where the need for funds was greatest. He also reflected upon whether the foundation’s strategic focus would be best supported by a large number of diverse donors or a smaller, more targeted set of high-value donors. These questions of strategic orientation would have implications for CFSV’s operations and infrastructure as well.

Learning Objective

The community foundation model, giving vehicle innovation (DAFs, corporate funds, venture philanthropy partnership, supporting organizations), organizational strategy development in a changing economic environment and donor engagement.

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