Less than one quarter of California foundation grants explicitly target underserved communities

Written by: Kristina ("Yna") C. Moore

Date: January 26, 2017

California is a philanthropy powerhouse in its own right, with 256 of the country’s largest foundations calling it home.

The state is also a leader in many progressive efforts such as minimum wage, universal access to quality health care and immigrant rights.

Recently, we looked at New York’s and Michigan’s largest foundations and found that the majority gave less than half of total grant dollars to programs that directly benefit underserved communities from 2003-2013. Also, in both instances, only a fraction of these foundations supported efforts to engage these communities in solving pressing social problems.

Is California any different?

Sadly, it is not, according to my colleague, Ryan Schlegel. Ryan, who wrote NCRP’s Pennies for Progress report, once again looked at Foundation Center’s FC1000 to find that only 22 percent of the $35.7 billion in total grants from these funders went towards supporting efforts that explicitly target people of color, LGBTQI community, domestic workers and other vulnerable populations.

However, some of these foundations stepped up by allocating at least 50 percent or more of their total grant dollars during that period in ways that benefit these communities.

Foundation Name Share of grant dollars for underserved Total grant dollars for underserved
Craig H. Neilsen Foundation 96%  $              54,281,713
The Christensen Fund 87%  $               7,929,370
The California Wellness Foundation 84%  $           399,073,000
Phoebe Snow Foundation 81%  $            109,905,631
The California Endowment* 79%  $        1,030,259,687
Levi Strauss Foundation* 76%  $              24,192,174
Blue Shield of California Foundation* 70%  $            193,181,798
Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund* 69%  $            214,292,802
California Community Foundation* 67%  $             96,740,764
Weingart Foundation 67%  $            251,762,166
Wells Fargo Foundation 55%  $            389,512,789
Based on Foundation Center’s FC1000 data.


Likewise, a number of these large foundations gave 25 percent or more of grant dollars in support of work that seeks long-term equitable solutions such as through advocacy, community organizing and other strategies.

Which of California’s largest foundation allocated the most share of grant dollars to programs that sought long-term solutions to social inequities and injustice, 2003-2013?
Foundation Name Share of grant dollars for systems change strategies Total grant dollars for systems change strategies
Sea Change Foundation 58%  $          96,904,350
Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund* 56%  $        173,382,494
Phoebe Snow Foundation 50%  $          67,525,456
Omidyar Network Fund, Inc. 46%  $          59,030,016
The James Irvine Foundation 41%  $        285,748,808
The Christensen Fund 36%  $             3,271,600
Stuart Foundation 35%  $          56,877,418
Sierra Health Foundation 35%  $             7,596,895
The California Endowment* 34%  $        443,535,694
Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation 33%  $             7,947,772
Based on Foundation Center’s FC1000 data.

*The foundations highlighted above are recipients of the NCRP Impact Awards.

Surprised to find Wells Fargo Foundation on the list of top givers to underserved communities, considering the bank’s role in the collapse of the real estate market?

Interestingly, Ryan found that a number of corporate foundations were among the largest contributors to funding for marginalized communities across the country. Check out “Are corporate and community foundations investing in underserved communities?” from Pennies for Progress.

Additionally, Ryan noted in Pennies for Progress that “Between 2003 and 2013, corporate grantmakers surged ahead of their independent counterparts when it came to their share of grant dollars devoted to benefitting underserved communities.” (Check out “Which types of foundations are giving most to underserved communities.”)

What do you think of our findings? Are you surprised (or not) by any of the foundations on this list?

Yna C. Moore is senior director of communications at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Follow @ynamoore and @NCRP on Twitter.