Lessons for Local Philanthropy: What We’ve Learned So Far — Part II

Chapter 4: Progress and the Road Ahead

By Catherine Crystal Foster, CEO and Co-Founder

In the spirit of transparent learning, Magnify Community is sharing the next set of our reflections on what we’ve learned from our work to date, as we reach the last phase of our three-year experiment in catalyzing greater local philanthropy in Silicon Valley.

This set of reflections — in four chapters shares insights from our efforts to seed a new local giving norm among high-capacity givers in Silicon Valley through a three-year pledge. This final chapter takes the measure of what we’ve learned through advancing the Magnify Community Pledge, what questions we still hope to answer before this time-limited initiative concludes in September 2021, and what questions we would like to see the larger community answer in the months and years ahead.

Looking back

We knew we couldn’t create a new social norm in three years. But we did hope to start to create an expectation that local giving is part of what you do as a wealthy person in Silicon Valley — coming from peers, and then internalized, modeled, and voiced by those donors to other peers. By creating a critical mass of wealthy local givers who could begin to create a force with its own momentum, and getting some very high-capacity donors to the unsticking point, we could make “local giving” enough of a presence in the local narrative to seed a new expectation. Our target was 100 Pledgers, to be sourced by us as well as allied organizations, and including a cadre of ambassadors who would carry the message to others. We currently stand at 40, all of whom we and our current Pledgers have sourced.

(It’s noteworthy that we have not yet reached the point at which even our staunchest organizational allies have successfully referred potential Pledgers to us, despite our hopes that they would do so. This might be a function of their relationships with the donors, their organizational priorities, or, simply, insufficient time to get to that point. We have, however, successfully activated existing Pledgers to recruit peers to the effort.)

Magnify Community’s Pledgers are the drivers of our movement to increase local giving — to make Silicon Valley a better place for all — and since we launched the Pledge in 2019, they have led by example. The individuals and family foundations who took the Pledge donated over $116 million locally in 2020 (an undercount, since not all Pledgers reported their giving to us), with nearly 80% of Pledgers reporting increases in their local giving last year, for a total of at least $35 million in greater giving to local organizations and causes. They collectively Pledged to increase their local giving by $47 million over three years, and most are actively engaged in advancing the cause of local giving with others.

We see additional progress toward norm change in the way that donors come, and come again, to our briefings, give to the local organizations they meet, and discuss that giving with one another and their peers. We see it in the way they initiate fundraising “ask” events with their friends and professional colleagues in a way they would not have without our motivation and support. It’s apparent in the feedback we receive from wealth advisors who show up to our events, request our materials, and reach out to us for information on local giving opportunities. As Joint Venture makes reporting on philanthropy an expected metric in their State of the Valley, and as our allies at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and other donor-supporting organizations focus on local giving, we see movement forward. And as dollars keep moving in greater amounts to local organizations, without any real leverage from us except a moral commitment on a piece of paper, we see the norms shifting.

Given the short duration of the Magnify experiment, our fledgling organizing and norm-change effort will be hard to maintain. We are developing plans for our network of Pledgers to find a new home to grow. But we are transplanting the seedlings before the roots can grow strong and deep, so we fervently hope that our community allies and the Pledgers themselves use our work as a springboard to deeper and more sustained investment in the donor-organizing and norm-changing work we started.

What we’re still hoping to learn

In the final months that remain in our initiative, we are continuing some pilots and continuing to organize donors. We still have much we hope to learn:

  • What will attract donors who are new to wealth, younger, and in tech or tech finance to this movement?
  • Will the value of the Pledger community lead current Pledgers to recruit new ones as we wind down or after the structure of Magnify Community changes?
  • Will other allied institutions step up to help accelerate the work and spread the word to their networks?

Questions for the future

Magnify Community will cease to exist in its current form at the end of September 2021, but there are additional questions we hope our allies in the field will strive to answer in the future, as they carry this work forward, and as the social sector considers the way the recent crises will affect philanthropic norms and narratives in the future.

  • Was COVID (combined with the racial justice reckoning and political upheaval) just a moment, or have Silicon Valley donors awakened to the needs in their backyard and their role in addressing those needs for the longer term?
  • Will we, and the allies who outlive this initiative, move donors from charity to solidarity, from transaction to relationship and true investment? Will creating a new giving norm lead to a shift in power in this region?
  • Will donors come to see themselves as part of a movement? Over time, can this network of organized donors consider their meeting space not just a safe space, but a brave space to give more boldly and activate others?
  • Will more donors of color be part of this movement — invited in, attracted, and internally compelled to be a part of it?
  • Who will step up to create a more holistic, irresistibly attractive vision for what Silicon Valley can be (more than a hub for technology and wealth creation)? What will that look like?

While there is still much more to learn, we’re looking forward to seeing how the urgency of a time-limited initiative impells action and encourages other allies in the ecosystem to step up. We’re grateful for the opportunity to have the space to experiment to try to find effective and sustainable solutions to a vexing and important challenge in a place that is so full of possibilities, and we’re excited for what we can still achieve and leave as a legacy in the months to come. We encourage those with ideas and reactions to this work to contact us, since this endeavor can and should include the whole community. We can accomplish so much more together.

If you missed any previous chapters in this installment of our learnings, see the Introduction.

Powering local philanthropy to make Silicon Valley a better place for all of us.

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