Amid a Rising Philanthropy Scene in LA, the New Mayor’s Fund Has Been a Hit

Lots of startup nonprofits suffer through an uncertain and turbulent first year in terms of fundraising, strategy, and operations. But one new nonprofit in Los Angeles, created by Mayor Eric Garcetti, has come tearing out of the gate.

Garcetti’s Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles was modeled after Michael Bloomberg’s nonprofit in New York City, and it raised a whopping $14.6 million in its very first year. This strong start says a lot about the frothy state of giving in Southern California, as well as a new sense of civic mojo in L.A.—a city that even hardcore New Yorkers are thinking about in more positive ways. 

The fund’s priorities are economic prosperity (job access and creation), community resiliency/disaster preparedness, quality of life (neighborhoods, public space, and traffic), and city government efficiency. 

It's worth flagging a concern that this effort has raised (along with similar efforts elsewhere)namely, that philanthropic gifts to the fund would offer private donors a way to skirt campaign finance rules and curry favor with City Hall. This is a real issue, one that's been explored by the Los Angeles Times, as well as other media outlets in L.A. 

Some critics worry that projects funded through the Mayor’s Fund would be at the discretion of the mayor himself in order to advance his political agenda. However, Mayor Garcetti emphasizes that he has no control over the nonprofit’s money and that its purpose is to serve future administrations as well as his own.

Mayor's Fund President Deidre Lind has also tried to dispel concerns by pointing out that decisions of how the money will be spent is up to the fund’s board and not the mayor’s office. You can learn about the individual members that make up the board on the fund’s website, as well as view a long list of donors. 

That list offers insights about why the fund has done so well since its start. The philanthropy scene in Los Angeles has exploded in recent years, with many new funders emerging and older ones as active as ever. You'll find both types of funders on the fund's list of donors, which actually offers a great snapshot of the state of giving in the city. Familiar players like the Annenberg and Broad foundations are on the list, but also relative newcomers like the Eisner Foundation and Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. Additionally, this list includes a surprising number of non-L.A. funders, like the Bloomberg Family Foundation. 

RelatedSurf's Up: Why Southern California Philanthropy is Taking Off 

Meanwhile, a number of corporate donors have also contributed, and while that may be unsettling to some observers, it's worth noting that many of these companies, like Bank of America, have long track records of local giving in Los Angeles.

In short, it seems that a lot of already active funders are excited to see the creation of the Mayor's Fund and have stepped forward to ensure that it succeeds. More broadly, many Angelenos are cheering for Eric Garcetti, a young energetic leader with a lot of ideas. The fund's strong rollout and pitching points have helped further. 

The Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles is also taking an admirably cautious initial approach to spending. According to recently filed federal tax records, the fund spent less than it raised in its first year. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Mayor’s Fund spent about $4.7 million in the 2015 fiscal year.

"We're starting to spend money," Lind said. "It was sort of slow in the first year, as we kind of ramp up and get going."

To learn more about this funder, check out IP's profile, Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles: Los Angeles Grants.