Bay Area Foundations Prioritized Safety-Net Funding in Response to Downturn, Report Finds

Bay Area foundations have increased their support for safety-net services in response to the recession, even as overall grantmaking budgets have decreased at independent, community, and corporate foundations, a new report from the Safety Net Funders Network finds.

The report, Strengthening the Safety Net: Bay Area Philanthropy's Response and Early Lessons (21 pages, PDF), found that from the beginning of 2008 to November 2009 approximately $170 million was granted to 1,500 safety-net nonprofits — groups that provide human services, housing and shelter, food assistance, and mental health and crisis services. Grants mostly ranged from $25,000 to $50,000, with some as large as $100,000 and a few of $1 million or more.

The report also found that community foundations awarded the largest proportion of safety-net grants in the state, in contrast to the rest of the nation, where independent foundations played a larger role; that housing and shelter received the largest share of funds, while mental health services and information and referral received the least; and that most grants were awarded for project and restricted support, followed by core operating support. In addition, the report identified collaboration, public-private partnerships, and systems change as the keys to successfully strengthening safety-net nonprofits and the public agencies that support them.

"Given the tumultuous economy, organizations are regrouping and rethinking how to continue mission related services," said Denise Martin, program director for public policy, advocacy, and community health at the San Francisco Foundation. "This report identifies important trends and strategies so that funders can make the most of scarce resources."

Launched last year by the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, the United Way of the Bay Area, and the Y&H Soda and San Francisco foundations, the Safety Net Funders Network is comprised of nearly two dozen Bay Area grantmakers, including Bank of America, the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the California Endowment, and the S.D. Bechtel, Jr., Blue Shield of California, and Silicon Valley Community foundations.

"Report Reveals Bay Area Funders' Response in Economic Downturn." San Francisco Foundation Press Release 06/03/2010.