SVCF’s Donor Circle for Safety Net: Housing works to make Silicon Valley somewhere everyone can call home

Project Innovations

Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Donor Circle for Safety Net: Housing is a group of philanthropists committed to learning about and investing in critical policy, advocacy and civic engagement strategies that are addressing the housing needs in our community. In particular, this donor circle (one of four SVCF currently offers) has decided to focus on housing preservation, tenant rights, rent control and homelessness through the creation of affordable housing. Since its creation in 2017, this donor circle has committed $300,000 to six organizations in our community.

Ray Turner has been a donor circle member for three years. He and his wife are San Jose residents and have had a donor advised fund at SVCF for about twenty years.

“The donor circle has such an engaged group of members,” he says. “They’re respectful of everyone’s opinions and eager to work together.”

Turner's interest in housing and homelessness grew from his involvement with a safe parking program at his church and with the Winter Faith Collaborative. “I met homeless people and saw firsthand how easy it is to become homeless in Silicon Valley after an unfortunate life circumstance like unexpected medical expenses, job loss or a huge rent increase,” he explained. “Most of those who are un-housed are just like you and me. Once you’re homeless it’s much harder to get back into housing and my wife and I have made this a focus of our philanthropy over the years.”

Ray and Ellen Turner, SVCF donorsRay and Ellen Turner, SVCF donors

When SVCF launched the donor circle, Turner saw it as an opportunity to get more connected with the foundation, to learn, and to leverage his philanthropy into greater impact. The circle meets bimonthly and there are active members from both San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. They also enjoy occasional field trips and site visits to build relationships with local nonprofits. “This year we’re looking forward to a visit to a housing clinic at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, an affordable housing bus tour with the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, and various other events during Affordable Housing Month in May,” said Donor Engagement Associate Robert Williams, who co-leads in the donor circle. Williams role includes vetting nonprofits before they present to the donor circle, communicating with members, planning site visits and fulfilling the grantmaking that comes out of the donor circle.

“The Donor Circle for Safety Net: Housing brings together some of our most engaged donors who are passionate about solving the Bay Area's housing crisis,” he said. “Our donors are continually learning from and supporting nonprofits. They exemplify what it means to be a good neighbor.”

Together, donor circle members discuss and review each grant request from a nonprofit organization, which vary from new ideas from smaller nonprofits to established programs run by larger organizations. “These discussions are very educational and have expanded my understanding of the regional housing and safety net structure,” said Turner. The group debates the pros and cons, the likelihood of success and the potential impact of each grant before deciding by consensus which projects to fund and how much to award.

Organizations and projects the donor circle have supported include:

"The donor circle is able to accomplish much more together than we could individually," said Turner. “In the future we expect to continue funding worthy projects that will reduce homelessness and provide affordable housing. We invite you to join us in addressing one of the most critical problems in Silicon Valley!"

New members are welcome! If you’re an SVCF fundholder and would like to learn more about SVCF’s Donor Circle for Safety Net: Housing or attend a meeting, please email donorcircleforsafetynet@siliconvalleycf.org.