Rosenberg Foundation: Bay Area Grants

OVERVIEW: The Rosenberg Foundation awards grants to organizations working to improve social and environmental conditions for Californians. With around $60 million in assets, the foundation gives out a couple million dollars in grants each year with a focus on immigrant and worker rights.

FUNDING AREAS: Justice and public safety, immigrant rights and integration, justice for farm workers

IP TAKE: Criminal justice reform has been a top priority for the Rosenberg Foundation lately, considering the increasing number of incarcerated Californian women and the high percentage of paroled inmates returning to jail. Unsolicited letters of inquiry are considered for preliminary research, planning, and programming in the area of criminal justice reform.

PROFILE: The Rosenberg Foundation was established in 1935 to support initiatives related to economic inclusion, human rights, civic involvement, and criminal justice reform. Max L. Rosenberg was a San Francisco businessman who died in 1931, and his foundation began under the direction of his relatives and business associates who were named trustees in his will. Rosenberg was the president and major shareholder of Rosenberg Brothers & Co., a successful company he and his brothers formed to pack and ship out dried fruit from California.

He left behind the bulk of his estate to establish a foundation with a broad philanthropic purpose. In an early report, the trustees explained, “No pattern was laid down in advance for the type of grants which the Foundation should make. The greatest influences on the direction of its interest have, therefore, been an early interest in the agricultural areas of the state, the character and diversity of the population of California, the impact of national events within the state.”

That's a pretty broad mandate, all right. 

Some of the foundation’s early work included support to Japanese-American families returning from internment camps and reproductive rights for farm worker women in the Central Valley.

Today, the foundation’s priorities have evolved to include justice for farm workers, immigrant rights and integration, and justice and public safety. However, grants are also occasionally made in the areas of accountable development, civil rights and civic participation, and effective philanthropy and nonprofit advocacy. Over the years, the foundation has provided nearly grants to regional, statewide, and national organizations that advocate for social and economic justice throughout California.

In an interview with the Foundation Center, President Timothy P. Silard described his foundation as a “risk-taking institution that supported trailblazing work.” The foundation is a signatory to Philanthropy's Promise, a National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy initiative in which grantmakers commit to allocating the majority of grantmaking dollars to marginalized communities and at least 25 percent to social justice strategies, such as advocacy, community organizing, and civic engagement.

The Rosenberg Foundation reported approximately $2 million in total giving at the end of a recent year. It spends about 5.5% of its assets each year to maintain the value of its endowment over time. 

At the intersection of immigrant rights and worker rights, Rosenberg supports the fight for restaurant workers, car wash workers, housekeeping workers, and farm workers. And through it all, Californians are at the heart of all grantmaking activity. Ine past, the foundation split about $1 million between 17 California organizations, including $350,000 to Californians for Safety and Justice, $30,000 to Voto Latino, and $75,000 to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Like many funders, the Rosenberg Foundation collaborates with other California grantmakers to expand impact. Rosenberg has worked with the Ford Foundation, the California Endowment, and others on criminal justice campaigns and the Haas Jr. Fund to support comprehensive immigration reform.

Rosenberg is run by a small staff of four, with Timothy Silard serving as the foundation’s fifth president since 2008 and Program Director Lateefah Simon in charge of initiatives that benefit California women and children.

Although Rosenberg does accept unsolicited grant inquiries, only a few of them receive funding. Most grantees are identified and contacted first by the foundation staff, which is looking for long-term relationships rather than short-term fixes. Grantees should be based in and managing significant activities in California and requests for individuals, general fundraising, and endowment campaigns are not considered. General inquiries can be directed to 415-644-9777.

“We place an emphasis on supporting organizing and advocacy that will change the odds themselves,” President Silard explained. “That means supporting the solutions and leaders that are addressing the root causes of some of the most challenging problems that Californians are facing. And in order to truly effect sustainable change, we know that we have to be persistent and patient, remaining committed to issues over the long term.”

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