As the leader of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Nicole Taylor’s equitable vision for the region has never been more important.
Nicole Taylor, president and CEO of the SVCF
Nicole Taylor had very little growing up, and it forever impacted her worldview and career trajectory. As the president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (siliconvalleycf.org), she brings a unique background to thinking about Bay Area philanthropy.
After receiving both her undergraduate (human biology) and graduate (education) degrees from Stanford, Taylor began her career as an educator in Oakland public schools. “The disparities between the Palo Alto and Oakland schools was truly shocking to me,” she says. “Even more so was the expectation that the Black and brown kids didn’t need, and worse, weren’t worth science equipment. There was a clear lack of infrastructure to help these kids succeed, and I decided to be part of the infrastructure to try to change that.”
Taylor’s career has included roles as associate vice provost of student affairs and dean of community engagement and diversity at Stanford University. She has also been president and CEO of Thrive Foundation for Youth in Silicon Valley and spent more than 15 years with the East Bay Community Foundation, eventually serving as its president and CEO. Since taking over SVCF in 2018, Taylor has been a catalyst for helping donors find new avenues for working with the community foundation and making a direct impact on countless lives. Here, she discusses philanthropy and the road ahead for making lasting change in our community.
What’s your role as a philanthropic leader?
Philanthropy is powerful, and it hasn’t always been used to produce the most good. Our calling as philanthropic leaders is to shift that power, working closely with donors who very much want to see their money generate the most impact possible for those most in need.
In addition to leading my team and SVCF’s donors to achieve maximum impact where it’s most needed, one of my primary responsibilities as a Black woman and philanthropic leader is to help expand the idea of what’s possible for the next generation.
Being a Black woman in a leadership position such as mine is sadly still a rarity, both in Silicon Valley and in the philanthropy sector at large. Many people see my leadership as inspiring or as a mark of progress, which is immensely humbling, and I’m acutely aware of my privilege of being in a position of power, especially in Silicon Valley.
What excites you the most about philanthropy right now?
We’re seeing a rise in leaders who intimately know their communities and their struggles. SVCF believes investing in movement-and power-building is key to advancing philanthropy and driving greater impact. By devoting energy and resources to these leaders and their organizations, we can support their communities as they build the power, agency and the voices needed to create change.
We joined 20 other funders to launch the California Black Freedom Fund, a five-year, $100 million initiative to finance Black-led organizations and movements working to eradicate systemic racism.
I also joined more than 60 Black foundation CEOs to sign the Association of Black Foundation Executives pledge, urging our sector to devote their attention and resources to fighting anti-Black racism.
My hope is that the commitment to equity that we see right now is not just a flash in the pan or the latest exciting thing to focus on—but that the sector really embraces it as an ongoing responsibility and a core value for the long term. Not only institutional funders but all donors need to take equity seriously and incorporate it into their giving.
Taylor is laser focused on early childhood development, among other critical issues.
What are some SVCF initiatives that you’re particularly excited about right now?
Early childhood development and affordable housing.
Our early childhood development strategy works to dismantle systemic barriers and give all children and their families access to the care, education and resources they need to flourish. A recent report commissioned by SVCF found that only 15% of Bay Area donors currently give in support of early childhood care and learning, and only 11% say that it’s among their top three priority areas. In addition to our own grant-making in this area, we want to increase local, state and national giving toward the needs of young children.
Affordable housing is one of the most critical and urgent issues in this region. During the past decade, as the tech industry in Silicon Valley boomed, only one new home was constructed for every six new jobs.
Our Housing Fund supports the expansion of affordable housing options, particularly for very low-income and extremely low-income people in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties through grant-making, research, convening and policy work. It prioritizes support for innovative community-led projects to expand housing opportunities within our region.
We recently commissioned a report that shines light on the importance of the Housing Element update, an opportunity for cities and their residents to define and implement strategies to ensure residents of all income levels have access to housing.
What do you see as being the most powerful part of philanthropy?
To create real, lasting change, philanthropy must empower organizations whose leaders come from the very communities they aim to serve.
Over the past couple of years, SVCF has undergone a shift in its discretionary grant-making strategies to provide more general operating support and capacity-building grants to organizations that help build an equitable community where all can lead financially secure and fulfilling lives.
We call this power-building. The approach involves investing directly in the communities an organization serves so residents can chart their own path toward a future where everyone can lead safe, secure and fulfilling lives.
These include smaller and emerging organizations led by people of color and allied organizations that amplify the voices of and build power among historically underrepresented communities, including Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other communities of color. We’re working closely with our donors and hosting donor briefings to raise issues of racial injustice, structural racism, unconscious bias and the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had on communities of color.
Photography by: TRACY EASTON; STYLED BY THERESA PALMER FRENTZEL, A PALMER IN CALIFORNIA; WARDROBE AND ACCESSORIES BY BLOOMINGDALE’S VALLEY FAIR