Where tech, politics & giving meet: CEO Nicole Taylor considers Silicon Valley's busy intersection

Nicole Taylor has an insider's view of philanthropic trends from her seat as the president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Located in Mountain View, California, the community foundation's donors gave out nearly $4.6 billion in 2023, a significant increase from the $2.6 billion granted the previous year.

That spike, Taylor said, was thanks to some large donors “who really doubled down big on some things that they cared about.”

She said it's hard to predict what will happen this year, “Are there going to be more wars? We have a huge election coming up. We fully expected donors to be active. Whether it’s going to be $4 billion again? Hard to say.”

The foundation doesn’t comment on specific donors or donations, but its reported grants reveal its clients include some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Silicon Valley. That includes Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, other Facebook alumni, and those whose wealth comes from the booming business of artificial intelligence.

Taylor, who was the first Black woman to lead the foundation when she joined in December 2018, spoke with The Associated Press about the role of philanthropy in democracy, threats to racial justice advocacy and the growth of donor-advised funds. The interview has been condensed.


Q: A large and growing share of charitable giving is going to donor-advised funds. How does SVCF get donors to actually move those dollars to charities?

A: Donor-advised funds have allowed many, many people to get into get into the game as I like to say. Get off the sidelines and get into the game and really be able to have an impact in ways that weren’t accessible to them before. You don’t have to be wealthy. You don’t have to set up your own private foundation, and it allows you to accumulate some resources and get them out or get them out immediately.

We actually don’t have to do much to encourage our donors to give it out. ... We set up issue area funds so that if they’re not quite sure what they want to give to, they can give to our housing fund or immigration fund or we have a civic engagement fund, a journalism fund. ... And then, we have an inactive fund policy. After two years, if you don’t make any grants, we actually take that and put it into our community fund.


Q: Some worry that donations to DAFs sit unused, and this is one place where anxiety about the inequality in our society comes out.

A: Which is bizarre because the questions should be about the private foundations. And I tell my private foundation colleagues this all the time. I’m like, ‘You all are sitting on your assets.’ We’re not sitting on our assets. They’re getting out. ... There’s a billion dollars that sits in the private foundation, and they only have to give out a fraction of it every year. I’m going to harp on this, because that’s where the anxiety should be. Why do they get to get away with that? And people are worried about a $25,000 DAF that gives out $5,000 grants every year. Because that’s the size of the DAFs that we’re talking about. And if you wanted to talk about the largest ones that we’ve had, they are the most active of all of our donors, and they’re the ones putting out significant resources every year. Hundreds of millions of dollars every year.


Q: The Supreme Court decision last year that ended affirmative action at colleges is reverberating through philanthropic institutions. What are the real risks are to nonprofits that pursue racial justice?

A: The anxiety is high on this, even though the decisions were very narrow and spoke to admissions in higher education. The anxiety and some of the lawsuits that have come already, it’s real, it’s palpable. People are worried. ... Now is not the time to retreat. Now is not the time to walk away from communities of color and communities that have faced systemic inequity for decades, for hundreds of years. What we started doing is figuring out how to prepare organizations to know what they can do, know what they can say, where inviting legal attacks could happen and what kind of legal education do they need and preparation for that? So we’ve actually launched a fund through the California Black Freedom Fund, which we’re incubating. It’s a legal education and advocacy defense fund, so LEAD, and it’s specifically around racial justice issues and organizations working in that area. There’s funding resources, legal experts are coming to the table and advocacy experts, and they’re training nonprofit leaders in the state of California around this.


Q: How are you engaging your donors in advance of the November elections?

A: Silicon Valley, we like to joke that we are the ATM for both political parties. There is a lot of activity going on in our region right now with the elections. And it’s not just the presidential. There’s congressional races, there’s local races. So many folks are very much active in the electoral season and they are very interested in the civic participation part of it.

In terms of donor events, we’re actually going to have a couple of them in June. One on civic engagement and one on the role of local journalism and democracy and where people are getting their information from. And if English is not your first language, where are you getting information about voting, about registering, about how you can get an engaged and involved? And again, not just at the national level. You can have a say in voting for who gets elected to your child’s school school board.


Q: Silicon Valley is also home to social media platforms and technology companies that have contributed to the deterioration of our information ecosystem. Do your donors think about that?

A: We sit at this very interesting intersection here in the Valley. Our donors are very much aware of what the impact is of technology in terms of information and engagement civically, both positive and the negative. They’re very, very aware of it and want to ensure that they can help advance the positive, in terms of civic engagement and fighting disinformation.


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