Where Is Fred Blackwell Going to Take The San Francisco Foundation?

Here's a tough career moment: You get appointed to one dream job and then, right after that, you're offered another dream job. What do you do? 

Go for the bigger dream, which is what Fred Blackwell did when he quit his new post as Oakland City Administrator after less than one month to become the new CEO of The San Francisco Foundation. Blackwell says that he was torn between the “two dream jobs,” but TSFF won out in the end, which caused quite a ruckus in Oakland. 

Fred, you made the right move. Philanthropy, not government, will be the most dynamic agent of change in the 21st century. 

Given that Blackwell is a dedicated Oakland native and a local government guru, how will his hiring influence TSFF grantmaking in the Bay Area? 

Obviously, it's still too early to say, but it's helpful to look at where the foundation's new president is coming from for clues. Before his recent City Administrator appointment, the 44-year old Blackwell worked as the Assistant City Administrator in Oakland for about three years. He’s been entrenched in local government for quite awhile, previously serving as the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Development, where he oversaw economic and service strategies for low-income San Francisco neighborhoods.  He also served as the Executive Director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, leading affordable housing, commercial building, and open space project development.

Although much of his experience is in local government, Blackwell is also no stranger to the world of philanthropy. He actually worked at The San Francisco Foundation in the past, as a Fellow in the Foundation’s Neighborhood Community Development program area. He once served as the Director for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connections Initiative in Oakland. In this role, he launched a loan fund for affordable housing, a tax credit campaign, and an employment asset development program.

It’s clear that Blackwell is passionate about community development initiatives and the city of Oakland. He has been described as a liberal and a progressive, and he gained a lot of public popularity leading the Oakland’s efforts to keep its professional sports teams from leaving town.  

But Oakland is just one of several cities at the focal point of TSFF’s grantmaking strategy, as the foundation is devoted to the entire counties of San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, and San Mateo. Not only will Blackwell need to expand his geographical focus, but also his substantive focus. In addition to Community Development, TSFF’s core program areas are Arts & Culture, Community Health, Education, and the Environment.

How does Blackwell feel about, say, school art programs? I guess we'll soon find out. Overall, though, it seems like Blackwell and TSFF are a great fit and there won't be any big shakeup at the foundation. But it does seem likely that TSFF under Blackwell's leadership will move more centrally into the hot debate about how to close the Bay Area's yawning  income gap, as techies and other professionals pull far away from everyone else. Blackwell has the background and skills to figure out how the foundation can develop new programs and partnerships to push the local economy in a direction that works for everyone. 

Fred Blackwell is the fifth CEO to lead TSFF in its 66-year history, and he officially steps into this role in June. “His commitment to social and economic equity, combined with two decades of nationally recognized leadership in the nonprofit and public sectors, make him the ideal CEO to build on our role as an innovative and progressive force for positive social change in the Bay Area,” said Andy Ballard, chair of the foundation’s board of trustees.

“I have been in the orbit of the Foundation since I was a teenager, and have both worked for and with institutions funded by The San Francisco Foundation,” Blackwell explained in a press release. “I am deeply committed to the mission and am eager to leverage and grow its leadership in building and developing strong communities throughout the Bay Area.”