van Loben Sels/RembeRock Foundation: Bay Area Grants

OVERVIEW: Located in San Francisco, the van Löben Sels/RembeRock Foundation's mission is to promote social justice in Northern California by means of legal services and advocacy. 

FUNDING AREAS: Legal Services and Advocacy

IP TAKE: For outfits working within the narrow focus area of this foundation, van Löben Sels/RembeRock Foundation is rather accessible. Note that the foundation defines Northern California as "Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Mono Counties and all counties north of these five counties." 

PROFILE: Ernst van Löben Sels was born in Oakland in 1879 to parents of Dutch ancestry. He studied engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Cornell University. Ernst married Sarah Eleanor Slate. The couple provided financial support to college students and entertained WWII soldiers. One of these soldiers was John M. Burnett, who later became Ernst's personal attorney laid the groundwork for the foundation.

The van Löben Sels/RembeRock Foundation's mission is to "promote social justice in Northern California by means of legal services and advocacy." The foundation awards grants almost exclusively to 501(c)(3) legal aid/public interest law organizations that provide direct legal services, legal assistance, and legal advocacy in Northern California. The exception to this is more rural areas where access to legal services is more limited.  In these areas, the foundation will "consider funding programs that are legally related, even if neither legal representation nor attorneys are involved."

The foundation seeks organizations offering "direct legal services," defined as those that have attorneys on staff who provide legal aid to their clients. Examples of legal aid might include helping an individual or family with immigration problems, landlord/tenant issues, family law/domestic violence, and other work. This focus on legal aid exclusively is new in 2015. The foundation is laser-focused on Northern California, meaning Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Mono Counties and all counties north of these five counties. National and statewide organizations can also receive funds, provided that the outfit has an office and/or staff on the ground running a program/project in Northern California. 

In a recent year, the foundation awarded around $2.2 million in grants. Prior to the foundation's recent exclusive focus on legal aid, the foundation gave out grants within several grantmaking categories. As for what to expect down the line, here's a sampling of some past foundation grants:

  • $25,000 to Advokids' Telephone Hotline and Comprehensive Legal Website. . Advokids provides the only free telephone hotline offering legal information to anyone concerned about a child in foster care in California and has an office in both Northern California and Southern Callifornia.
  • $30,000 in general operating support to AIDS Legal Referral Panel which provides free and low-cost legal services to people living with HIV/AIDS in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • $40,500 to Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center which provides legal services for low-income workers throughout the Bay Area.
  • $10,000 to UnCommon Law, a "a California non-profit law office whose mission is to help long-term prisoners understand and resolve the factors that contributed to their crimes so that they can safely be released."
  • A total of $105,500 to Youth Law Center between 2015 and 2017.

A more recent list of grants can be found here.

    The board meets four times a year to review grant requests. Grantseekers should tune into the website for deadlines. 


    • Search for staff contact info and bios in PeopleFinder (paid subscribers only.)