Your Impact: Philanthropy Gets Personal
Where do you work or volunteer?
I worked for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) for the past year and a half as a Philanthropy Fellow. This was the foundation’s inaugural class of fellows, which was a wonderful opportunity in that the three other fellows and I could really drive our own professional development. We rotated through three eight-month rotations in the Philanthropic Partnerships Division—Development, Donor Engagement and Corporate Responsibility. This division is the most external-facing and my role involved supporting our individual and institutional donors to make their philanthropy as easy and impactful as possible to support our local Silicon Valley community. SVCF is the largest community foundation (by assets under influence) in the world so the exposure to highly complex gifts and the giving strategies of high-net-worth individuals was eye-opening.
What is it about the mission of the organization(s) that resonate(s) with you and why?
SVCF’s mission is to “connect people, ideas and resources to transform systems and ensure equity and opportunity for all.” Silicon Valley (and the Bay Area in general) is a beautiful place but it is one of the most inequitable regions on the planet. I don’t think it is controversial to believe that anyone who works hard should be able to enjoy a financially stable, dignified life. I wanted to work for an organization that is of, by and for the community, so SVCF was a good fit.
How do you feel your unique skills, experience and perspective further the organization’s cause?
Ever since my time at SYA I have thought of myself as a global citizen but working at SVCF was different in that as a community foundation, its focus is by nature, hyperlocal. Being bilingual in Spanish (thanks to SYA), having lived in every region of the U.S. and five countries, and worked in the public and private sectors before making the jump to nonprofit allowed me to bring a truly global (not just geographically) mindset and curiosity which I think allowed me to be successful in my role. So many community foundations are doing incredible work, and each has expertise in areas that we as peers can learn from. The great thing about the nonprofit sector is that folks are open and willing to collaborate and share best practices and connect to see what others are doing. I led a lot of SVCF’s benchmarking studies during my time there to see how we compared to our peers which informed overhauls we made to a variety of our programs and services.
What piece of advice would you give to someone interested in building their career in the nonprofit sector or volunteering for an organization that resonates with their philanthropic priorities?
I think the hardest thing about nonprofit work can be breaking into the sector. I do think this is changing and many community foundations value folks with diverse professional backgrounds who may come from the corporate sector for example. As with any job I think it’s important to do your homework on a nonprofit you may want to work for—see what their financial situation is (particularly for smaller organizations), do they walk the talk, is the leadership team strong. Then I would say find a mentor—someone willing to show you the ropes and who is invested in your professional development. I was lucky to have not one, but three mentors and champions at SVCF.
Did your experience at SYA play a role in your endeavors? If so, how?
As with every job I’ve had, the fact that I have full working proficiency in Spanish probably helped me get the job and at times helped me do the job. I think a lot of flexibility and adaptability came from the first month in Spain when I didn’t understand a word of Spanish and learned to laugh at myself and find other ways to communicate and find creative ways to achieve what I needed to (communication or otherwise). This resiliency and cross-cultural competence have helped me in my professional life to seek solutions and not be discouraged if my first attempt doesn’t work, and I actually do think a lot of those skills and perspectives developed during my time at SYA.