The McKay Foundation

By Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, David Hoyt
2006 | Case No. SI68 | Length 14 pgs.

Established in 1992, the San Francisco-based McKay Foundation supported organizations that addressed income inequality and poverty. The McKay Foundation focused on developing long-term, community-based solutions to social and economic problems. Robert McKay Jr. provided the foundation’s philanthropic vision and served as its executive director. In 1998, the McKay Foundation formed and funded the Living Wage Coalition in San Francisco. In its effort to change public policy, the McKay Foundation—a tax-exempt organization—operated within a series of regulatory constraints. The Tax Reform Act of 1969 restricted foundations from the following activities: 1) making lobbying statements to a legislator or legislative staff member that contained both a reference to specific legislation and a point of view on that legislation; and 2) engaging in public communication regarding specific legislation, reflecting a view on that legislation and including a call to action. However, foundations still had wide latitude to educate legislators and the public on issues relevant to proposed legislation, referenda and ballot measures. The McKay Foundation played a key role convening the living wage issue’s diverse constituencies while navigating within the lobbying restrictions placed on private foundations. After a two-year effort, Mayor Willie Brown signed the San Francisco Minimum Compensation Ordinance on November 1, 2000, and more than 20,000 low-income workers received pay increases. After the ordinance had been signed, McKay considered how to sustain the energy and momentum he had helped to mobilize. He wondered whether the living wage community could reorient its focus to address other important problems for San Francisco’s low-income residents or whether the fight for a living wage had been so focused that it could not be sustained beyond the coalition’s recent victory.

Learning Objective

A foundation’s political engagement and legal limitations to a foundation’s involvement in the political arena.

This material is available for download at no charge. Download