New Voices: A Silicon Valley Funder Looks to Boost Local Civic Participation

photo: WeStudio/shutterstock

photo: WeStudio/shutterstock

Since hearing about the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s five new focus areas earlier this fall, we’ve been curious to see how grantmaking will look different than in the past. To quickly recap, SVCF’s five funding areas for its discretionary grantmaking program are now civic participation, education, financial stability, housing and transportation, and immigration. You can listen to Valerie Cuevas, the interim VP for strategic initiatives and grantmaking, talk more about this on the Philanthropy Now podcast.

One area that SVCF has jumped right into within these new parameters is civic participation. This grantmaking category is all about promoting open government and mobilizing low-income residents and people of color, with the hope that these efforts will get local residents more engaged in the public policy process. It’s become glaringly obvious in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties that the people who attend city council and planning commission meetings are not fully representative of the populations here. This means that public decision-making often moves forward without taking diversity into account or hearing the voices of individuals who are not white, older, affluent, and highly educated.

To this end, SVCF awarded $100,000 grants to two organizations that are working to boost civic engagement. And in true Silicon Valley fashion, these efforts are harnessing the power of technology to do it.

Every Voice Center and MapLight received the funder’s final 10-year anniversary grants around the same time that the five new focus areas were announced. But we certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see the civic-tech connection continue into SVCF’s next round of related grantmaking as well. More specifically, the two grants aim to increase civic participation by helping local aspiring political candidates launch campaigns without excess burdens and also by using local media and social media to deliver nonpartisan voter information.

Cuevas said:

This 10-year anniversary grantmaking opportunity was our chance to spotlight and support those organizations that are leveling the playing field for our communities, our region and for democracy in general. We are pleased to cap off this initiative with grants to two organizations using technology to empower candidates who might otherwise be sidelined, and to empower voters with greater access to nonpartisan, comprehensive voting information they can trust.

With 2017 and the 10-year anniversary grantmaking initiative coming to a close, we’re looking ahead to the next round of civic participation grants, for which the application period is currently open. Ultimately, the funder is looking for grantees with ideas on how to engage populations that have traditionally been left out of the local political and policy processes. And based on recent support, innovative ways to use technology to accomplish this will likely get noticed.

It is expected that civic participation through open government will be a SVCF priority for at least the next five to seven years, so now’s a great time to get in on the ground floor of this renewed and revamped commitment. Interested nonprofits that serve San Mateo and/or Santa Clara Counties should check out the new RFP here.