How One Foundation Invested Deeply in Philanthropy Infrastructure to Deepen Its Learning & Focus
There is another funder that has been investing deeply in philanthropy infrastructure for a number of years, but its support has been under the radar—until now. A new report developed by The Giving Practice tells the story of how the Satterberg Foundation in Seattle has made unprecedented investments in four regional philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs)—all Forum members—over more than half a decade. The foundation has viewed these four philanthropy infrastructure groups—Philanthropy Northwest, Northern California Grantmakers, SoCal Grantmakers, and Catalyst of San Diego and Imperial Counties—as vital partners in the regions where it funds, to help the foundation, in the words of Satterberg Foundation Executive Director Sarah Walczyk, “gain a deeper understanding of the key issues at play in our sector to further hone our foundation funding focus for the future.”
Through its Community Partnerships program, the foundation has provided two rounds of three-year general operating support grants to each of the four PSOs, in amounts ranging from $750,000 to $1,000,000 per year. The grants were open-ended and flexible and came with streamlined grant reporting requirements. A key focus of the funding was on foundation learning, emphasizing “learning together, shared inquiry and sense-making.”
The report makes clear that the foundation went into these partnerships without a lot of expectations or a theory of change. The foundation’s board was not focused on achieving impact or interested in getting progress reports. Instead, it viewed the PSOs as trusted places to connect and learn from partners who “better understood the geographic needs of the regions and states than we do,” according to one foundation representative. Trust and relationship-building were the priority, following principles of trust-based philanthropy.
“We had confidence in those organizations,” a foundation representative said in the report. “We always saw PSOs as a place to connect and learn. More recently, we saw them make sense of their role, align values, respond to diverse perspectives, engage in policy change, build their voice, and speak up. We were inspired to see these organizations build a movement of funders working together on community issues.”
The effects of the Satterberg investments on the organizational capacity of the four PSOs were significant and included adding senior staff positions, investing in more staff learning and professional development, increasing staff salaries, investing in better technology, and much more. The investments led to notable innovations in all four of the regional PSOs, most notably in the areas of advancing equity, shaping public policy, partnering with government, and mobilizing support for communities.
A few examples: SoCal Grantmakers is a key partner and fiscal intermediary for the new Veterans Peer Access Network, a public-private partnership that will use $4.3 million in public-private investment to provide peer-based services to help veterans in L.A. County deal with homelessness, health and other issues. Philanthropy Northwest established the WA Food Fund, in partnership with the state of Washington, which has raised more than $16 million to respond to the growing food crisis as a result of COVID-19. Northern California Grantmakers created the Racial Equity Action Institute, which connects racial equity specialists with leaders in philanthropy, government, business and nonprofits to learn and develop actionable strategies for change in their organizations and fields. Catalyst of San Diego and Imperial Counties is administering the Women’s Empowerment Loan Fund, an impact investing fund providing business loans to women of color entrepreneurs who don’t have access to traditional financing options. The report emphasizes that all of these actions, and many others cited in the report, were made possible because of the PSOs’ increased capacity and expertise resulting from the Satterberg Foundation’s investments.
Support from the Satterberg Foundation also provided the capacity for the three California PSOs to create an alliance that is now Philanthropy California, where the three groups work in operations, programs, public policy, membership and communications. One recent result of this alliance: the creation of the position of Senior Advisor on Social Innovation to the Governor, who works together with Philanthropy California to coordinate public-private partnerships in the state.
The foundation’s support also accelerated important shifts in each of the four PSOs that I’ve been noticing in many regional and national PSOs in recent years, including:
- Widening the scope of their organization’s vision beyond the boundaries of the philanthropy sector to look at what’s good for their broader communities.
- A stronger focus on equity, particularly racial equity.
- Shifting from a member service strategy to a change strategy, which involved the PSO taking on a bigger leadership role.
- Moving from being responsive to members’ needs to be proactive in advancing critical issues through advocacy and mobilization.
In the end, the Satterberg Foundation’s broad and deep support for these four regional PSOs has played a pivotal role in all of them becoming much more dynamic and influential leadership organizations for their regions and the broader field. They are clearly much better positioned to address whatever may come their way in the future. For example, the report notes that all four PSOs “snapped into action” to inform and mobilize their members in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic effects on nonprofits in their regions, in ways that likely would not have been possible without their added capacity. It’s worth imagining the incredibly positive impact for our sector and our communities if similar types of investments were made in all regional and national PSOs in our country.
In the report, a Satterberg Foundation representative notes that some funders still view regional PSOs as “old school”—i.e. “They do a conference,” but that the foundation views PSOs as places for “power building, movement building, policy work, building funds. They’re the place to invest for funders who really want to move an agenda and provide a regional perspective. We need them in philanthropy.”
President & CEO
United Philanthropy Forum
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