25 Years, 25 Accomplishments

 In grantmaking, grassroots, philanthropy, PVF News

2016 marks PVF’s 25th year of creative grassroots grantmaking. In honor of our quarter of a century in operation, we look back at each year’s accomplishments.


Students on a field trip courtesy of PVF's Excursion Grants Program.

1991 Launched PVF with seven generous donors and a small staff, to implement “venture philanthropy” for donors who want to maximize the impact of their charitable contributions.

1992 Created the Grantmaking Consulting Program serving community foundations. Since then Bill Somerville has consulted at over 400 community foundations in US, Canada, and UK, modeling immediate response, paperless grassroots giving, and published a periodical Building Community Foundations.

1993 Serves as a fiscal depository to fledgling programs that have not yet received their 501(c)(3), to allow them to receive grants and begin their charitable work, helping to incubate and launch over 350 programs.

Larry Purcell of the Catholic Worker House; Image credit: Martin Klimek

1994 Began making Discretionary Grants to outstanding school principals and program directors – like Larry Purcell of the Catholic Worker House – given without request, to allow them funding to respond to critical needs.

1995 Called on by private foundations to assist them in their grantmaking to international programs, and to nascent programs that do not yet have their 501(c)(3) and need additional oversight.

1996 Two new arts fellowships funded by PVF donor: Performing Arts and Community Arts Fellowships.

Oakland High School students practice their music skills with the help of an After School Grant; Image credit: Anne Hamersky

1997 Unique scholarship program for vocational program students in Alameda County community colleges is launched; the program has distributed over $350,000 in scholarships to date.

1998 Bill Somerville co-teaches a class on community service and grantmaking at Stanford University, Department of Urban Studies, providing funding for Stanford students to grant to programs serving East Palo Alto. His teaching experience has since expanded to Laney College.

1999 Began working with all juvenile court judges and dependency social workers in 5 Bay Area counties to disburse grants to meet the critical needs of children in foster care; we have given over $1.2 million in these grants.

Just a few of the thousands of students who have benefited from our teacher resource grants.

2000 Created a unique immediate response grant program model for teacher resource grants, which allows public school teachers to submit one-page grant requests that are processed within 48 hours; over $7 million has been given to date to support excursions and after-school programs as well as classroom resources for science, arts, math, music, special education.

2001 Launched the Tom Ford Fellowship Program, now in its 15th year, which places Stanford University students as philanthropy fellows at foundations around the country. PVF founder Bill Somerville has served on the Advisory Board for Stanford University’s Haas Center for Public Service for 25 years.

2002 Donor commits a six-year grant to found a new school for low-income immigrant children in Redwood City, run by the Saint Francis Center.

2003 Generosity in Action Fund launches to administer travelers’ donations to support grassroots educational, health and environmental programs in developing countries; to date over $2 million has been given to projects from Bhutan to Zambia.

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PVF's Bill Somerville (center) with two parent involvement workers we placed in East Palo Alto schools; Image credit: Craig Sherod

2004 Established the Parent Involvement Workers Program, which places Spanish-speaking mothers at schools in East Palo Alto to act as a liaison between parents and educators.

2005 PVF helps build a new health clinic at McClymonds High School in Oakland, partnering with Oakland Children’s Hospital, Alameda County, and the San Francisco Foundation.

2006 Selected by local foundations to distribute funds to safety net programs in San Mateo County at our discretion using our grassroots expertise.

2007 Launched the Ambassador Program through which we select individuals to represent PVF in identifying community needs and awarding small grassroots grants, in an effort to “democratize” philanthropy.

2008 Published “Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker” book, which has been translated into Chinese and is now in it’s second printing.

The SIRUM team with PVF's James Higa; Image credit: Martin Sherod

2009 Found and funded many outstanding young leaders like SIRUM founder Kiah Williams, which distributes unused medicine to populations in need.

2010 Tapped by Alameda County’s Behavioral Health Care Services Agency to administer grants focused on innovative mental health and re-entry initiatives, giving over $13 million in grants to date.

2011 PVF set a record for its annual giving in 2011, with over $8 million in grants.

PVF's Executive Director, James Higa

2012 Foundation’s leadership evolved to team with James Higa as Executive Director, who brings 28 years of executive-level experience from Apple. Press highlights in New York TimesCNN, The Guardian, USA Today, and other local and national newspapers.

2013 Collaborated with the County of San Mateo and Code for America to address ways to increase food stamp use and access to services for low-income families in San Mateo County.

2014 Helped launch the Invention Hub in San Francisco, a collaborative workspace that encourages radical collaboration across sectors for greater impact, including an employment program serving sexually trafficked women.

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Recipients of an award from the #iamcreative Fund, administered by PVF.

2015 Collaborated with a group of donors to establish the Bay Area Inspire Awards Program, a grant program which funds the innovative ideas of young entrepreneurs; also began administering the GIRLBOSS Foundation Award for online retailer Nasty Gal, and the #iamcreative Award for online lifestyle website, Brit + Co. These programs join Facebook in entrusting PVF with their corporate giving efforts.

2016 Celebrated 25 years of creative and successful grantmaking, during which we have given out more than $119 million in total. PVF Founder Bill Somerville gave a Tedx Talk at TEDxBYU about simple but significant giving. PVF continues to launch innovative programs, like a Rescue Housing Fund serving East Palo Alto residents facing eviction, and exploring breakthrough concepts like supporting purposeful for-profits.

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