Silicon Valley Community Foundation: Mega-Donor to Vergara and Controller of Numerous CA Nonprofits
On August 26, 2016, I examined the 2011-2014 tax forms for the Students First Foundation (SFF), the nonprofit behind the organization, StudentsMatter, which, in turn, is the organization behind California’s recently-nixed Vergara lawsuit.
One SFF funder in particular caught my attention because of the chunk of money it sent SFF’s way in 2014:
Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF): $3,191,800
SVCF (EIN 20-5205488) is located at 2440 West El Camino Real, Suite 300, Mountain View, CA 94040.
I have been reading SVCF’s tax forms, which can be accessed here for the years 2005-2014, and I had second thoughts about downloading SVCF’s 2014 return when I saw that it is 2,970 pages long.
So much for second thoughts. Here it is: SVCF 2014 990
SVCF is a mammoth nonprofit. Here is how it describes itself:
Silicon Valley Community Foundation advances innovative philanthropic solutions to challenging social problems locally and throughout the world. Through visionary leadership and strategic grantmaking, Silicon Valley Community Foundation partners with donors and the community to strengthen the common good.
Indeed, “strengthening the common good” includes over $3 million to push Vergara.
SVCF’s 2014 beginning-of-year net assets were $3.7 billion; by the end-of year, net assets rose to $5.5 billion. Its total 2014 beginning-of-year assets (net assets plus liabilities) were $3.9 billion, and its 2014 total end-of-year assets, $5.7 billion.
Turns out that $3.6 billion of SVCF’s 2014 beginning-of-year assets come from publicly-traded securities (up to $5 billion for 2014 end-of-year).
Interestingly, SVCF listed $8 million in 2014 revenue as coming from “related organizations”– which means that SVCF is part of a network of nonprofits.
In fact, SVCF notes on its 2014 tax return that it is the “direct controlling entity” of 16 other California-based nonprofits (“supporting organizations”):
- William H. Cilker Family Foundation
- Driscoll Family Foundation
- The Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation
- The Bernard A. Newcomb Foundation
- Raising a Reader
- The Real Estate Trust
- Redderre Foundation
- Skoll Fund
- Sobrato Foundation
- Star Hill Fund
- Good Ventures
- Chong-Moon Lee Foundation
- Intervalien Foundation
- Innovate Public Schools
- Startup: Education
- Entrepreneurs’ Foundation
Here is what the SVCF website offers regarding its pitch in promoting its directly-controlled, supporting organizations:
A tax-wise alternative to a private foundation, supporting organizations allow you to hire staff and convene a board. They are far less restrictive than private foundations and the community foundation handles all of the administrative oversight including the IRS-mandated tax returns and annual audits.
Supporting organizations are individual 501(c)(3) public charities under Section 509(a)(3) of the tax code. Although they have their own tax ID number and your donations receive the maximum level of tax deductions (as with a donor advised fund) each supporting organization is covered under the umbrella of SVCF and its grants and activities must fulfill and support the charitable purposes of SVCF.
The donor and SVCF work together to appoint a board. A majority of its members must be appointed by SVCF because of its role as the “supported organization.” The board controls the investment strategy and may also select managers.
Our expert staff is always available to help your supporting organization meet its grantmaking and philanthropic goals. We can help define strategy, engage extended family, assess the effectiveness of grantees and more. Supporting organizations may make international grants and are allowed to continue for generations.
The cost to set up a supporting organization is several thousand dollars for legal fees and it can take several months to set up.
The SVCF website then lists 13 such supporting organizations. There are differences from the list included on the SVCF 2014 tax return. Good Ventures, Intervalien, Innovate Public Schools, Entrepreneurs Foundation, and Startup Education are no longer listed as SVCF directly-controlled nonprofits in 2016. And on its 2016 list, SVCF adds the Peter and Nora Stent Family Foundation and Resonance House.
Of all of these, Startup: Education is the most familiar to me:
Startup: Education is a not-for-profit grantmaking organization established in 2010 by Facebook founder and CEO mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan to improve access to high-quality education for all students. We are a supporting organization of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and an affiliate of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
Note that Startup: Education as having been a SVCF “supporting organization” means that SVCF directly controlled SVCF, including the latter’s “charitable purposes.” What this also means is that SVCF spending could easily be concealed behind directly-controlled nonprofits like Startup: Education– which makes the SVCF reach more difficult to determine.
As for compensated officers and highest compensated employees, SVCF’s 2014 tax form includes the following (note that some individuals are associated with nonprofits under the “parent” SVCF):
- Emmett Carson, CEO and President, 42 hrs/wk; $758,876
- Mari Ellen Lodens, Chief Business Devt & Brand Officer, 42 hrs/wk; $261,487
- Vera Bennett, CEO, 42 hrs/wk; $291,064
- Paul Velaski, CFO, 42 hrs/wk; $133,850
- Erica Wood, Chief Community Impact Officer, 40 hrs/wk; $219,130
- Eleanor Clement Glass; Chief Giving Officer, 40 hrs/wk; $216,381
- John Stuckey, Senior VP of Finance, 41 hrs/wk; $176,640
- Jennifer Holloran, Ex. Director of Startup Education, 45 hrs/wk; $525,567
- Gabrielle Miller, Ex. Director of RAR, 45 hrs/wk; $244,571
- Patrick O’Sullivan, VP, Information Technology, 40 hrs/wk; $190,425
- Kerry Bresnahan, Senior Development Officer, 40 hrs/wk; $191,560
- Matthew Hammer, Ex. Director of JPS, 45 hrs/wk; $200,046
Pages 85 – 2954 of SVCF’s 2,970-page 2014 tax return list the grants paid by SVCF to a vast array of organizations, one grantee per page. Of the 2,870 grants paid by SVCF in 2014, here are a few notable ones related to education:
- Academy for Urban School Leadership (Chicago); $1 million
- ACE Charter School (San Jose, CA); $1.5 million
- Administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund (New Orleans); $2 million
- Aspire Public Schools (Oakland, CA); $1.5 million
- California Charter School Consortium (Los Angeles); $5.8 million
- Center for American Progress (Washington, DC); $470,000
- Charter School Growth Fund (Colorado); $1 million
- Cristo Rey San Jose High School; $1.1 million
- Education Reform Now (New York); $250,000
- Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund (New York); $471,241,899
- Harlem Childrens Zone (New York) $530,000
- Innovate Public Schools (California); $315,000
- KIPP Bay Area Schools, $4 million
- KIPP Foundation (San Francisco), $1.5 million
- National Council on Teacher Quality (Washington, DC), $500,000
- New Leaders for New Schools (New York), $1.2 million
- Newark Charter School Fund (New Jersey), $2.1 million
- NewSchools Venture Fund (San Francisco), $1.7 million
- Pahara Institute (California), $500,000
- Parent Revolution (Los Angeles), $500,000
- Relay Graduate School of Education (New York), $500,000
- Results in Education Foundation (aka Education Post), $500,000
- Robin Hood Foundation (New York), $425,500
- Stand for Children Leadership Center (Oregon), $400,000
- Students First Foundation (i.e., Vergara), $3.2 million
- Success Academy Charter Schools (New York), $350,000
- Teach for All (New York), $2 million
- Teach for America (San Francisco), $2.1 million
- Education Trust (Washington, DC), $1.2 million
I have only glanced at the 2,870 SVCF 2014 grants. I’m sure there are more SVCF education grants that are likely to raise some eyebrows. (Feel free to access the 2014 SVCF tax form link and peruse the list.) However, as I was reading, I noticed several SVCF education grants that one might not realize originate with SVCF:
- Education Superhighway, $2 million, attributed to Startup: Education— even in 2014— not SVCF.
- New Classrooms Innovation Partners, $1 million. This archived, December 2014 New Classrooms funders list does not include SVCF– but it does include “anonymous.”The current funders page includes Startup: Education.
- Learning Accelerator, $500,000 in 2014, but SVCF not listed as a funder on this December 20, 2014 archived home page (same funders as are listed in 2016).
- Global Giving Foundation, $2.2 million, funder not listed as SVCF.
- Intervalien Foundation-Supporting Organization (CA); $5.3 million; arm of SVCF. From the Intervalien 2013 tax form (same as the 2014 tax form):
THE PURPOSE OF THE INTERVALIEN FOUNDATION IS TO SUPPORT THE CHARITABLE PURPOSES OF THE SILICON VALLEY COMMUNITY FOUNDATION. THE INTERVALIEN FOUNDATION WILL ACCOMPLISH ITS PURPOSE BY MAKING CHARITABLE GIFTS, PARTICULARLY TO THOSE THAT HAVE TRADITIONALLY BEEN UNDERFUNDED OR UNFUNDED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO HIGH-RISK, LONG-TERM PROJECTS, BUT WITHOUT ANY PREFERENCE CROSS-DISCIPLINARY INITIATIVES INVOLVING TECHNOLOGY WITH THEATER, EDUCATION, VISUAL ARTS, LITERARY ARTS, CULTURE, NEW MEDIA, MUSIC, FILM, COMPUTATIONAL HUMANITIES OR JOURNALISM, AND VISION, NEUROLOGICAL, BRAIN, CANCER OR CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH, PARTICULAR INITIATIVES AND RESEARCH IN THE ABOVE AREAS THAT SUBSCRIBE TO OPEN SOURCE, OPEN DATA, OR OPEN SCIENCE PRINCIPLES.
Even though the SVCF website no longer lists Intervalien as one of its directly-controlled nonprofits, given that the purpose of Intervalien is to “support the purposes of SVCF,” if Intervailen still exists, it exists to serve SVCF.
I expect that a more thorough investigation of SVCF grants would yield many more grantee websites that do not directly credit SVCF as the funder behind the SVCF grant money.
SVCF is able to make itself invisible, which adds to its power. Of course, possessing multiple billions in assets also helps.
In retrospect, the fact that SVCF’s name was directly connected to Vergara funding now seems surprising. But it was, and it led to this post.
SVCF’s influence over public education deserves further detailed scrutiny.