Philanthropic Ventures Foundation

 November 2012 


a newsletter for our donors and colleagues  


The Intersection of Grassroots Philanthropy and Technology

James Higa, Executive Director, on PVF's latest venture to create change.    


"Foundation," "government" and "technology" are not words you often see in the same sentence. But, this is exactly what is happening in a project that brings together Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, the County of San Mateo, and Code for America in a new kind of philanthropic partnership.  


This unlikely joining of hands began with a comment by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier while she was trying to live on $4.50 a day as part of her Food Stamp Challenge: "You can't learn in school if you have an empty belly." She ate a lot of tuna, stretched one tomato all week and "thought about food all day long." Although there are hungry people all around us, San Mateo County - the second wealthiest county in California - is ranked second from the bottom in participation by those eligible for CalFresh (the food stamp program). California as a whole ranks third from the bottom in the nation for participation in the food stamp program by those eligible. Beverly Beasley Johnson, the director of the Human Service Agency in San Mateo County, reinforced the need and she welcomed with open arms a search for a new way to get things done.


As we met with our peers and community organizations working in this space, bringing technology to bear emerged as a common thread. I hearkened back to my time on the original Macintosh team where I learned that collaboration born out of a diversity of ideas & skills can yield astounding solutions. We had an artist and even a musician on the development team. I had never heard of that before. Susan Kare would draw the desktop as we know it today and the engineers would go write the code to bring that to life. I've wondered why this type of interdisciplinary cooperation isn't commonplace in philanthropy. Why couldn't a foundation be the agent to forge this type of collaboration? Could we bring technology into our grassroots philanthropic world? We decided to try.


PVF reached out to Code for America (CfA). Think of CfA as a Peace Corp for geeks. More than 550 coders, web developers, designers, and entrepreneurs vied to be one of 29 fellows to spend the year collaborating with local governments -- and working to make government work better for all of us. Watch this TED Talk by the founder, Jennifer Pahlka, to get a sense of the dynamism and audacity at the heart of CfA. Although CfA had never worked with counties, only cities, they agreed to venture into new territory to consider San Mateo County for a spot in their 2013 program.   


Within 72 hours, PVF's individual donors -- who are so supportive of our mission for grassroots philanthropy born out of creative thinking - put us on the road towards funding this project.      


Second Harvest Food Bank, pictured here, serves an average of 243,1770 people per month in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.


San Mateo County completed the partnership. Adrienne Tissier, President of the Board of Supervisors, and County Manager John L. Maltbie shattered every stereotype you might have about working with government. They are accessible, open minded, and profoundly thoughtful about change and innovation. They moved with alacrity to approve, to co-fund with PVF, and to mobilize the staff to support and integrate the CfA fellows. On October 1 San Mateo County was introduced to be a part of the 2013 CfA program. The entire endeavor from initial idea to official launch came together in an unprecedented scant three months.  


This is an uncommonly unique collaboration -- a philanthropic foundation, government, and a technology nonprofit coming together to create together. PVF has always been a demonstration foundation, taking risks and trying new approaches. We will continue on this new path towards the intersection of grassroots philanthropy and technology, and embrace our role as an active connector for change.     


Join Us

Philanthropic Ventures Foundation has come to depict exciting philanthropy - grassroots giving that is born out of creative thinking. If readers would like to explore new possibilities in their giving, we are ready to meet at your convenience. We believe your giving should be fun, satisfying and significant.

We can be reached at (510) 645-1890.

About PVF 


PVF is a demonstration foundation practicing unique forms of grantmaking and conducting innovative philanthropy. Our primary interest is in the creative and significant use of the philanthropic dollar.


About the Editors

James Higa
James Higa brings 28 years of executive experience from Silicon Valley to PVF, working alongside Steve Jobs to change the face of technology. He was at the birth of the personal computer revolution as a member of the original Macintosh team and was deeply involved in the creation of many breakthrough products and services at Apple over the last three decades. James has a long history of public service as a board member of Stanford's Haas Center and in grassroots relief efforts during the 2011 Tohoku and 1995 Kobe Earthquakes in Japan.

Bill Somerville has been in non-profit and philanthropic work for 50 years. He was the director of a community foundation for 17 years, and in 1991 founded Philanthropic Ventures Foundation where he serves as Chief Executive Officer. Bill has consulted at over 400 community foundations in the United States, Canada, and the U.K., on creative grantmaking and foundation operations. Bill is the author of Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker.

Board of Directors

Duncan Beardsley, Chair

Director, Generosity in Action


John P. Carver 

Retired Senior Vice-President

The Gap Inc.


William E. Green


William Green & Associates


James Higa

Executive Director

Philanthropic Ventures Foundation   


Albert J. Horn


Carr, McClellan, Ingersoll,

Thompson & Horn PC


Bill Somerville, President


Philanthropic Ventures Foundation


Jackie Speier

U.S. Representative

12th District of California
Moira C. Walsh

Attorney and

Philanthropic Advisor


Colburn S. Wilbur

Trustee and Former President, 

David and Lucile Packard Foundation 

Board of Advisors

Janet Camarena

Director, San Francisco Office,

The Foundation Center


Leonard Edwards

Judge-in-Residence, California Administrative Office of the Courts


Kathy Kwan

Eustace-Kwan Family Foundation 


Dien Yuen

Chief Philanthropy Officer,


Facebook Gives Back through a New Fund with PVF   

Facebook, headquartered in Menlo Park, California, is launching a community grant program in partnership with PVF. The Facebook Local Community Fund is designed to support 501(c)(3) non-profits serving the East Palo Alto and Belle Haven communities, with grants of up to $5,000. Applications are reviewed by the Community Fund Board of Directors, and grants will be awarded quarterly. Non-profit applicants do not have to be located in East Palo Alto or Belle Haven, but need to provide services to one of these communities.

Non-profits serving East Palo Alto are eligible if they focus on one or more of the following areas: training in computer technology and social media for youth; weekend activities that ignite an interest in learning, specifically for youth ages 13-18; and efforts to support college bound high school seniors.  501(c)(3) non-profits serving Belle Haven should have a history of proven success in providing services to the Belle Haven community... Read more about this program on our blog!

Want to Know More?


Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, 1222 Preservation Park Way, Oakland CA 94612-1201

Telephone: (510) 645-1890  Fax: (510) 645-1892