The Silicon Valley Community Foundation

Seldom do you get the chance to ask a grant maker what they are looking for in good proposals or in applications that are accepted for funding consideration. I got that chance with Manuel Santamaria, VP of Strategic Initiatives and Grant making at Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF), one of the largest community foundations in the world; with $7.3 billion in assets under management by the end of 2015. Check out grants from community foundations right here at!

A Community Foundation

First, Manuel thinks it is important to understand that there are different types of foundations – private and public – Silicon Valley Community Foundation is a public foundation and specifically a community foundation. This means that it serves a specific, defined geography and it is place-based. At the foundation, they work with the community to help identify needs, challenges and solutions through different mechanisms, for example, meeting with social service providers, faith-based organizations, and public officials. They listen for opportunities and use their funds to leverage and/or invest in solutions that can add value to efforts in the community.

"Community members should be brought into ongoing conversations about what’s best for the community they live or work in.  By engaging residents in these discussions, our community foundation is able to keep abreast of changing dynamics,” said Manuel. 

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Who They Fund

At SVCF, they fund all types of organizations: small, medium, and large. They don’t fund organizations just because they are well-known; they often look for innovative or “riskier” investments/partnerships with smaller organizations. They also partner with organizations that are “best in class”, meaning they are providing exemplary services to the community.

When looking at applications, SVCF does its research on the issues it funds through their grant making strategies, so it expects the same of the applicant – they should have read guidelines, provide specific examples of work, budgets that are accurate, to name a few. They would like to see a summary of the project, of course, but would like the applicant to take into consideration the short term and long term indicators of change. They understand that sometimes long-term change is difficult for small nonprofits to envision and so SVCF provides technical assistance and funding support, as appropriate. 

Here for Good

If you want to learn about the challenges of community foundations, check out Here for Good: Community Foundations and the Challenges of the 21st Century by Terry Mazany, President of the Chicago Community Trust. The author discusses the need for knowledge and best practices among community foundations.

If I’m seeking funding, what do I do?

Manuel advised nonprofits to seek out foundations in their area and develop rapport with program officers.

“Start with a phone call and introduce yourself. Talk about your organization and develop a relationship with the program officer. Keep in touch and once a grant has been funded, send email updates, etc. on the funded project.”

Manuel commented that few awarded organizations keep in touch beyond the interim and/or final reports. Foundations like to hear about events and other activities that grantees schedule, allowing for informal connections and networking.

Manuel left me with one last crucial piece of advice:

“Don’t change your program for a funding source. Instead, find a funding source that supports your project. Have a solution that is the right fit within the strategy of the foundation."

This is great advice as so many great grant proposals can be overlooked for not fitting into any foundation’s frame of work.

So, if you’re looking for grants for your community from foundations, use the search criteria at to narrow your search to foundations. Then, search under Community Service Coordination and Nonprofit Support Services

About the Author: Sabeen is a Masters in Public Health student. She is currently writing for and its affiliate websites.

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