We have a responsibility to fund where we are needed.
Do we know where that is?

I began 2019 with members of the Northern California Grantmakers Board and staff in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama. The purpose of our trip was to visit the newly opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice, dedicated to preserving the memory of the more than 4,400 documented lynchings that occurred between 1877 and 1950. 
I was prepared for the visit to be emotional and deeply moving, but was unprepared for it to be as personal as it became. We entered the memorial in front of a sculpture of African American adults and children in chains — one of the most moving and powerful I have experienced. From there, we walked through an outdoor auditorium of metal slabs — slabs that remind you of large headstones and represent all the known individuals whose lives were taken through this form of sanctioned terror. The markers are arranged by state and county, making the volume of people killed in each small community clear and cutting.
My roots are in the South. I was born in South Carolina, and have fond memories of my time at my grandparents’ house, playing with my cousins and doing the things you were able to do as a child in a small town. But, I also have memories of the things I could not do, like go to certain parts of town or certain parts of the local lake. As I walked passed the slabs, I found the ones for the counties where my family lived and took in the names of the dozens of people listed. The towns where my relatives are from are very small, so it is almost certain that the people who lost their lives in those counties were part of my grandparents’ and relatives’ communities. These were friends and neighbors, brothers and sisters, parents. And this practice persisted for more than a century.
We closed out our trip by traveling the 54 miles from Selma, Alabama to cross the famed Edmund Pettus Bridge where 600 African Americans were attacked and prevented from crossing as they marched for the right to vote. The marchers and their supporters persisted, and thank goodness they did. Two weeks later, a successful march from Selma to Montgomery was made, marking an important turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.
As I continue to reflect on these two experiences, I am acutely aware of the essential role and deep power of civic engagement. 
I am mindful that, as a foundation leader, it is unlikely I would have been able to provide financial support for a ragtag group of young people, with no formal organization, no fiscal sponsor, no logic model, and no clear timeline for when they would achieve their objectives. And if we would have overlooked them then, who are we overlooking now? How can we expand our vision as philanthropic organizations to be receptive and support the modern-day version of this essential civic unrest, marching in protest, and rejecting unjust laws?
We need to engage and support the voices of our younger adults. The energy and persistence of the civil rights movement came from high school and college-age youths determined to stop racial terror and injustice in our country. Democracy requires participation and active engagement to uphold its duty to its voiceless and powerless citizens.
I am deeply proud of the work of our foundation and our partners. We are touching the lives of thousands of people as we strive to make educational and employment opportunities available and equitable. But, I can’t help but wonder, what am I missing? What are we missing?
If the next march from Selma to Montgomery were being organized right now, would we recognize it for what it is? As a society, are we committed and ready to respond? 


Rick Williams 
Chief Executive Officer



Last year, we shared the results of our first systematic assessment of Sobrato’s $55 million in GOS investments since 2004. The goals of the assessment were to better understand the impact of SFF’s giving to grantees and the broader Silicon Valley nonprofit sector, and to inform further development of the program. The assessment’s findings resoundingly affirmed our belief that organizations need unrestricted funding for both programmatic and organizational expenses. The report also revealed opportunities for improvement in both impact and program delivery that have informed our thinking about how we will shape our GOS grantmaking moving forward.

Given this context, and the evolving needs of our community, we are implementing a few key changes to our GOS program effective this month. Most notably, we will deepen the program’s focus on essential human services, social safety net services, and low-income clients. Moving forward, the GOS program will support organizations providing essential human services, which we define broadly to include: housing and shelter, community health services, food services, hospice and senior care, domestic violence response and legal aid, emergency assistance, and agencies providing multiple forms of family and children services to clients in Silicon Valley.

We want to be clear that we remain deeply committed to providing unrestricted support to organizations working to support vulnerable members of our communities in Silicon Valley. In order to positively convey the work being done by our grantees, the Sobrato Family Foundation’s GOS program will be renamed “Essential Human Services,” effective January 2019. You can read more about these program changes on our website.

If you have any questions regarding this update, please contact Kailyn FitzGerald, Program Officer for SFF.


We are constantly encouraged by the work of our grantees and partners. These organizations and dedicated individuals remind us not only of what is possible, but of the incredible resilience of the human spirit. Our region’s deep inequities leave low-income and marginalized residents struggling with low wages that are insufficient for the high cost of living, a lack of affordable housing, and considerable gaps in educational attainment and job opportunities. Silicon Valley nonprofits play a central role in addressing our community’s unmet needs and building a pathway toward greater shared prosperity. Please join us in celebrating these new and returning Sobrato Family Foundation grantees.

Our last official action of 2018 was to authorize an unusual funding package to help provide support for our neighbors to the North who continue to rebuild following the devastation of the Camp and Butte County fires. We are a place-based funder with normally very clear lines around Silicon Valley as our geographic focus, but a few miles of highway isn’t far when our neighbors are in need and we hope that our contributions play some small part in easing what will be a long process of recovery. You can read more about our grantees on our website.


United Way Bay Area is developing a strategic outreach plan for their application for the Census 2020 California Region 3 ACBO role. The plan will include Census outreach work conducted by community based organizations in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Solano counties.

As part of its application for the state funding for regional Census outreach, United Way will include interested subcontractors for outreach activities. If you are interested in being a subcontractor in the strategic outreach plan or want to assist with Census outreach, please fill out the interest form here:

Please fill out the form no later than February 6, 2019 to ensure enough time for any follow up questions before the application is submitted.

For more information on the application for the ACBO role, click here.

The Mercury News recently published an article titled “Silicon Valley food truck delivers free meals where need is greatest” that highlighted the Sobrato-funded Joint Venture program aimed at taking some pressure off traditional food banks. Read more.

The Daily Journal published an article titled “Nonprofits struggle with growing rents” that explored the need for new and different solutions to confront nonprofit displacement. Read more.

The Mercury News also published a great opinion piece by our own Mara Williams Low with Steve Barton titled “Silicon Valley future depends on thriving nonprofit sector.”  Read more.
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