Going Local: As Google's Philanthropy Grows, the Bay Area is a Winner

Over the past few years, Google philanthropy has been growing and getting more interesting. If you're not watching this trend, you should be.

We've reported on the increasing flow of Google grants going out the door for academic research; on how Google is writing big checks for work on issues like marine conservation and cataloging plant species; how Google is addressing the gender gap in tech and has given to help more girls learn to code; and how Google came through during the Ebola epidemic with some serious emergency funds. 

Of course, we've written about the growing philanthropy of Google's high commandabout Sergey Brin, who's piled up over a billion dollars in the foundation he runs with his wife and is giving to a growing range of causes, starting with medical research; about Larry Page, who's also building a huge foundation and who not only approved that Ebola grant, but kicked in millions of his own money; and about Eric Schmidt, who has emerged with his wife Wendy as an important environmental funder

But another key trend we're tracking in Google giving is how the company is doing more for its home region, the Bay Area. Last year, Google was one of more than a dozen tech companies to take the SF Gives Challenge, helping Tipping Point Community create a $10 million fund to fight poverty in the Bay Area. Also, the company gave out $6.8 million to provide transit passes to low-income youth after criticism of its private shuttle service for Bay Area employees. And last year, Google also gave out $5 million to 25 nonprofits through its program, Google Impact Challenge: Bay Area.

There are two possible explanations for all this activity: one, that the company is responding to a growing chorus of complaints about rising inequality in the Bay Area, along with tech's role in driving that trend; and two, that this is just a sign of a socially responsible company that's ramping up its local philanthropy as it matures, as many companies do. Both are likely true. 

Whatever the case, let's take a closer look at that Bay Area impact challenge, which just opened up for a new round of submissions for funding. This is a big deal for nonprofits in the region and, if you raise money for one of those groups, here's what you need to know.

The Money: $5 Million Divided by 25

Google has committed $5 million to the Bay Area Impact Challenge, and that money will be spread across grants to 25 nonprofits. However, this money isn’t going to be divided up equally among all 25. There will be four winners that get $500,000 each, six “almost winners” that get $250,000, and 15 runners-up that get $100,000 each. Google expects this grant money to be spent within one to three years.

Narrowed Down by Local Advisors

It’s really just common sense that local needs are best identified by local people, and Google agrees. Nonprofits' ideas will be reviewed by a panel of local advisors. These advisors, as well some Google folks, will narrow down the applicants to 10 finalists and 15 runners-up.

This panel includes high-profile names like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former San Fran Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr., and the San Francisco Foundation's CEO Fred Blackwell. There are also a couple sports celebrities in the mix to build the hype, like the Golden State Warriors' Harrison Barnes and the SF Giants' Hunter Pence.

Crowdsourcing Plays a Role

If the group above doesn't sound like a jury of your peers, don't fret. There's also a crowdsourcing aspect to this Google challenge. The entire Bay Area community is invited to vote for the nonprofit that they think will have the biggest impact in the region. The public gets to vote on the 10 finalists that the advisors and Google staff pick out to determine which groups get the most money.

We don't tend to be so keen on grantmaking by referendum, but you can make an argument for such an approach and, definitely, you can see the benefit to Google. This whole process seems designed to clue in as many Bay Area residents as possible to the idea that Google really does care about the downtrodden. 

Deadline and Past Grantees

A July 23 deadline is coming up fast, so check out the Impact Challenge website to learn more and get started on your application. Only nonprofits based in the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma are eligible to apply.

You can learn about the 2014 Bay Area winners on the challenge website and see what they did to capture Google’s attention. Last year’s winners included Lava Mae, which provides showers and toilets for the homeless, Center for Employment Opportunities, which helps former inmates get jobs, and Hack the Hood, which promotes tech careers for low-income youth.

It’s More Than Just a Check

Unlike some grantmaking support that involves little more than writing a check and later checking in with a performance report, Google promises to provide ongoing support to it Bay Area grantees after the check is cashed. This support will mostly be coming from Google volunteers and partners. Not a bad crew to have on your side, right?