The Local Giving Movement Is Yours
A curious byproduct of this COVID era is the warping of time. Did that conversation happen just a few months ago, or was it two years ago? Has it really been forever since we gathered in front of the office whiteboard, or does it just seem that way? When we now look back on the three years since we started Magnify Community, it feels like it passed in an instant, yet those early days feel like eons ago.
The urgency of the mission and the motivating constraints of a time limit galvanized us to move fast and pack in all we could during the short time we’ve had as an innovation lab. The onset of converging crises last year led us to speed up the tempo even more. And now, as we prepare for Magnify’s planned sunset at the end of this month, we are pausing for a beat to proudly take stock of what we did together with our community — and look out to the horizon to focus on the work ahead for all of us.
We created Magnify to help fully realize the opportunity to activate Silicon Valley’s breathtaking financial resources for good, and invest in the nonprofits in our own backyard, so that every resident of this region can thrive. Our talented, dedicated, but under-resourced nonprofit organizations form the connective tissue, the safety net, for our community and are a vital source of creativity and motivation that help make this a better place for all of us.
We set out to test, learn, iterate, and share what we learned to catalyze more local philanthropy in Silicon Valley to make this place a shining example, not only of the wonders technology can bring, but of the ways a whole community can rise together.
We developed tools to help donors navigate their way to find high-impact nonprofits doing powerful work on the ground.
And we worked to advance a narrative that lifted up local needs and the inspiring local nonprofits meeting those needs, and that illustrated the joy and purpose that can come from local philanthropy.
What We Achieved and Learned
Our experimentation generated both dollars for Silicon Valley nonprofits and learning for the social sector as a whole.
Our financial impact was substantial: the 40 high-capacity individuals and family foundations who took the Magnify Community Pledge increased their local giving by $35 million in 2020 alone, and pledged to increase their local giving by $45 million over three years.
Our model of promoting local giving through any and all channels, while deliberately not aggregating any capital ourselves, was not designed to capture and count all the donations that flowed from our work beyond the Pledge. But we do have a direct line of sight to almost $9 million in gifts to nonprofits that were directly attributed to our tools, recommendations, and the like. (Many of these are the “entry” gifts that donors indicate are the gateway to future giving.) Donor after donor has told us that our work has shifted the way they approach their local giving, which in many cases had never been a priority before.
We intentionally worked to connect, reinforce, and offer resources to the existing ecosystem of donor-supporting organizations, philanthropic intermediaries, and wealth and philanthropic advisors so that they could help us realize our mission and be better equipped to carry on this work in the future. This resulted in enduring relationships among organizations and an encouraging level of commitment to the norming, narrative, and navigational work we put in motion.
This initiative also produced many lessons for the field, which we have documented and shared with the public. At the highest level, they can be distilled to the following.
Proximity is powerful and necessary.
Cultivating personal connections and understanding between nonprofits and donors, and among donors themselves, awakens donors to opportunities for local impact and unlocks dollars. Peers, consistently, are the greatest influencers. Bridging has been among our most powerful functions, and this must continue as we exit if the momentum is to continue. The high-touch nature of this work, and trust that it requires, makes the challenge of achieving scale even more pointed.
Curation tools can be useful, if contextualized, tailored, and offered by a trusted messenger.
Despite all that donors told us at the outset, concise curated lists, searchable databases of vetted local nonprofits, and packaged portfolios of large and high-impact opportunities are not the vital missing pieces that will unleash more giving. Curation is necessary and will lead to giving when offered by a trusted source, presented at a particular time of need, tailored to the interests and approach of the donor, placed within the context of a specific vision for real impact, and — ideally — connected to a peer or a nonprofit leader whom the donor has seen.
Anchoring high-capacity donors at higher giving levels, and accelerating the pace of giving is critical, takes time, and likely requires external imperatives.
The gulf between the potential of philanthropy in a region with this much wealth, and the routine sizes of gifts to our local nonprofits is vast. The reasons are numerous: low “anchors” by peer donors and the nonprofit “asks” themselves, a fixation on income over wealth, fear of negative publicity, perceptions that local work only merits small-scale charity, and the like. Even though local donors have earmarked substantial amounts for charity, too much of it has not yet moved from a fund or foundation into the community. Overcoming each of these hurdles and misapprehensions requires steady and thoughtful effort, by a constellation of different players. Moving money from charitable vehicles into working nonprofits will also require policy change above and beyond any work to motivate and inspire donors to give, if this work is to achieve scale.
Deep and authentic collaboration with other philanthropic and donor-supporting organizations is achievable and instrumental in fostering broader and more sustained impact in community, through greater local giving.
The siloed and territorial nature of the donor-supporting ecosystem can be shaken through consistently acting on the value of collaboration. This is easier, however, when a lead collaborator’s business model is not dependent on paid users or limited to a particular brand of charitable instrument. We hope our partners will continue to commit to collaboration, which leads everyone closer to the goals we seek to achieve.
Inequity is an ever-present but invisible thread through our community.
So many of the aspirations of Silicon Valley’s struggling residents, the challenges those residents face, and the historic and systemic barriers of racism remain unseen by many donors. This is true even for long-standing donors who do give locally. Similarly, the effective work of the resilient and under-resourced nonprofits that uplift our community and address inequity too often operates below the radar. It took a global pandemic and national racial reckoning to thrust equity to the fore. Keeping it there will require sustained, significant work on narrative; education that meets donors where they are; and bridging to foster relationships among donors, nonprofits, and those who aspire to live a secure, healthy, and satisfying life here.
We and the funders who backed this work intended from the start that this innovation lab would not last in perpetuity. In the true Silicon Valley spirit, our successful innovations are now ready for scale, and they will do so through the robust array of partners who work with us.
As we shared this past spring, our Magnify Pledger community will grow within The Philanthropy Workshop and its new Silicon Valley Action Lab. The tools and practices will be adapted and live on with our partners, like the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. And every person who has taken this journey with us has the opportunity to serve as an ambassador for the local giving movement. We have left behind our tools, playbooks, learnings, and a robust ecosystem map that points donors and their advisors to the rich array of organizations that can help guide local givers on a journey to greater local giving.
This work could not be more important than it is at this moment, at the nexus of a lingering health crisis, housing crisis, racial justice reckoning, and climate crisis. And this comes at a time of civic fracturing and painful inequality. While we face an alarming increase in homelessness, the number of Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires has doubled since we started in 2018. We live in a land of astonishing abundance — for some it is material wealth, for others it’s an abundance of talent, generosity, imagination, or dreams for a better future. We are all called to work together to recognize and use all of that abundance for the collective good as we look ahead. This collective good is about more than generosity — it is about justice, which requires more fundamental and substantial shifts in behavior, mindset, and resources. So, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, while Magnify as an organization is sunsetting, this is not the end of the work. It is not even the beginning of the end. It’s only the end of the beginning.
A Final Word of Thanks
Philanthropy is, most literally, “love of humankind.” If love drives us and we nurture a truly beloved community, we can realize the highest aspirations and potential of all our people in this valley.
Thus, we conclude this leg of the relay, our work as an organization, with love, gratitude, and fierce determination. We are overflowing with gratitude for the valiant nonprofits that persevere, excel, and make our community better, despite seemingly insurmountable challenges; for the donors who demonstrated their generosity and willingness to learn and be vulnerable; for the funders who came together to seek solutions to Silicon Valley’s giving challenge, fueled our work, and put their faith in us; for the fiscal sponsor who gave us the flexibility we needed to innovate and pivot; for the partners that accelerated our work through their openness to collaboration; and for the provocative voices within our field who questioned the orthodoxy that holds philanthropy back and inspired us to set the bar higher. Our thanks to all of you who engaged with us and believe in our mission.
On a more personal note, I am profoundly grateful for my remarkable team — Kathy Jackson, Aude Anquetil, Alisa Tantraphol, Rebecca Laval, and Spoke Consulting — whose brilliance and spirit created our impact and made this work a joy every day.
You who read this are the future of the local giving movement in Silicon Valley. There truly is no limit to where this work can go, and we are filled with hope and excitement to see where you will take it.
Photo: Copyright Mary Beth Meehan, reprinted with permission from Seeing Silicon Valley: Life Inside a Fraying America by Mary Beth Meehan and Fred Turner, published by the University of Chicago Press © 2021