Community Power Initiative

What is the role of Marin Community Foundation in Marin County?

When we launched the Community Power Initiative—a $30 million, multi-year initiative—earlier this year, we were not entirely sure what we would learn. We, for example, had never had a fully open Request for Proposal process that invited all to apply. We wanted to open up the doors to as wide of a range of opportunities as possible, and we knew that we would learn quite a lot about the issues and challenges facing Marin, but also about the creative and impassioned opportunities to bring new solutions and opportunities to the table. We also had never provided multi-year, general operating support to such a wide range of organizations, serving an even broader array of issues. We knew that we wanted to reduce the administrative burden that past grantmaking had placed on our county’s nonprofits, and to provide the most flexible funding possible. And in so doing, placing more power in the hands of those who are directly engaged and uniquely qualified to lead the work – Marin’s hardworking nonprofits.

Submissions came from every corner of the county, representing nonprofits with operating budgets of less than $200,000 to over $75 million. Accordingly, the resulting grantees span every geography, issue area and organization size. They represent large, long-tenured organizations to newcomers established in the last couple of years. What unites them is a commitment to serving those in our community who are facing the most profound challenges, and doing so in a way that puts equity at the center of their missions.

Here's What We Learned:

The Process:

We learned lessons about the process on a purely practical level that will serve us well in the future. The need to incorporate plenty of time for conversations with applicants, to provide them with the clarity they need to submit the best response possible. The upside to incorporating time for site visits to new organizations to bring to life the words on the page. Recognizing that mid-point pivots might be necessary to ensure the playing field is level. For example, we quickly came to understand that our delineation between “small” organizations of less than $2 million in operating budget and “large” of $2 million+ didn’t take into account the very different dynamics and needs of a truly large organization of $10 million+. So, in our deliberations we created a third segment for this group, which enabled a higher and meaningful funding limit. These, and more, are the types of practical insights that we will use to learn and grow better.

Major Substantive Themes:

The submissions unintentionally became the most important piece of research we could ever conduct, identifying themes that represent the biggest issues the county faces. The top issues included a surge of profound mental health issues, particularly with our youth. Acute pockets of poverty, particularly with older, isolated adults. The continuing problem of food insecurity. Deep inequities facing our populations of color. The gaps in services, again particularly for those isolated communities of West Marin and low income and immigrant communities. A desire for communities to be able to advocate on behalf of their own people, and on the issues they know to be most intractable where they live.

New Organizations:

The process introduced us to new and smaller organizations, established in community and by community, with leaders and staff immediately proximate to the issues. These organizations are in a unique position to mobilize the knowledge that already exists in communities and build strength and resilience from the inside out. And it’s exciting to fund them at an early stage and provide whatever support is needed to ensure they flourish. Examples include: the Asian American Alliance of Marin, Marin City’s Griot Theatre Company, Mundos de Colores and Papermill Creek Children’s Corner.

Increasing Collaboration Within and Across Communities:

The submissions also presented us with a swath of collaboratives with fresh approaches to solving problems. It was particularly encouraging to see the willingness to partner within and across communities to ensure that operations are run as efficiently as possible, and with those being served at the center of the equation. Efforts such as the SAGE Collaborative in Marin City, the West Marin Food Systems Collaborative and the ACCESS U Foundation, demonstrate the power and potential of working together.

MCF Can Do Better:

This initiative represents a new and better way for MCF to work with the nonprofit community. More open, more transparent, more straightforward. It is a genuine attempt to not only reduce the administrative burden placed on nonprofits, but for MCF to become a better community partner. It’s an important step in our evolution, and it’s only the beginning. We are committed to becoming even more engaged with community – in community – particularly with our four priority regions of Marin City, the Canal, West Marin and Novato. We can more intentionally invite our donors to participate in our work, and develop new vehicles to help inspire activity. We can continue to use our power to convene, and get the right people around the table to discuss issues – because that’s always the best first step to take.

MCF Cannot Do It All Alone:

The overwhelming response to the RFP resulted in 209 applications with requests totaling over $47 million for the first-year $10 million allocation. Our grantmaking budget, however big, only allowed us to provide slightly more than $10 million a year. Again, while significant, it pales in the face of the articulated need. We would submit that no foundation or individual—no matter whether it is MCF or the some of the largest philanthropies in the world from the Ford Foundation to the Bezos Family Foundation—can fully fund OR solve the myriad of challenges that face society. To be clear, our contributions are material, but they remain insufficient alone. We are on this journey, not just in partnership with grantees, we are on this journey in partnership with our donors and in search of even more donors to bring to the causes.

Bottom Line:

We learned that MCF continues to be vital not only in supporting the critical longstanding organizations that serve our county, it also is vital in sourcing and identifying new organizations that are rising to the challenges of the moment. We have learned an enormous amount about the challenges facing nonprofits: the challenging hamster wheel of funding to sustain the critical resources need for the work they do; the higher and necessary cost of recruiting and retaining staff members; and the direct engagement with community members that will always require deft, courage, compassion and dedication. We have also learned a lot about our own practice of philanthropy-- that trust between a grantee and grantor is a vital and necessary ingredient in the world of philanthropy. We have much to contribute—beyond dollars, to our nonprofit community—and we plan to continue to try to add substantive value, but we also know that our grantees ultimately have the responsibility and the knowledge to do the harder work on the ground, and in community.

We learned that our dollars—while vital—however, are not sufficient in addressing all of the needs and opportunities. Thus, while we are pleased to be able to provide the support that we have, we recognize that there are many that will not get support and we know that disappointment also exists with these decisions. Despite the significant role that MCF plays in the County—we cannot and never have been able to do it alone. The work, the funding and support, and the strategies that are required to fully lift up and address all of the need requires all of us, in every way—to work, volunteer, donate and participate in the civic life that breathes spirit and life into the communities we call home.

The 73 individual organizations and 9 collaboratives that will form the Community Power Initiative portfolio for the next three years appear below. We look forward to partnering with them and deeply appreciate the hard work they do in this county.

Individual organizations

10,000 Degrees

Adopt a Family

Agricultural Institute of Marin

Aliados Health

Asian American Alliance of Marin

Bay Area Community Resources

Bay Area Organizing Committee

Bridge the Gap College Prep

Canal Alliance

Center for Domestic Peace

Ceres Community Project

Community Action Marin

Community Media Center of Marin

Community Partners

Conservation Corps North Bay

E3: Education, Excellence & Equity

Early Vibes Inc.

Enriching Lives Through Music

Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California

Family and Children's Law Center

First Missionary Baptist Church

Griot Theater Company

Hannah Project Partnership

Homeward Bound of Marin

Huckleberry Youth Programs, Inc.

Legal Aid of Marin

Marin Aging and Disability Institute

Marin Asian Advocacy Project c/o Multicultural Center of Marin

Marin Center for Independent Living

Marin Child Care Council

Marin City Community Development Corporation

Marin City Health and Wellness Center

Marin Community Clinics

Marin County Cooperation Team

Marin Court Appointed Special Advocates

Marin Foster Care Association

Marin Horizon School

Marin Interfaith Council

MC Arts and Culture MC Arts Gallery

Multicultural Center of Marin

Mundos de Colores c/o MarinLink

Museum of the American Indian

Next Generation Scholars

North Marin Community Services

Novato Boxing Club

On the Margins, Inc.

Operation Access

Our Sisters Keeper

Papermill Creek Children's Corner

Parent Institute for Quality Education

Parent Services Project, Inc.

Petaluma Health Center

Phoenix Project c/o Performing Stars

Play Marin

Postpartum Support Center

Raíces Del Canal c/o Marin Link

Ritter Center

San Geronimo Valley Community Center

SF-Marin Food Bank

Side By Side

Social Justice Collaborative

St. Andrew Presbyterian Church

St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin County

Surviving The Odds Project


West Marin Community Services

West Marin Senior Services

Wise Choices for Girls

Youth in Arts, Inc.

Youth Leadership Institute

Youth Transforming Justice

YWCA Golden Gate Silicon Valley

Collaboratives (lead applicant in bold)

ACCESS U Foundation: Supports a collaborative that provides low income Black and Latinx scholar-athletes with mentors, academic supports and access to club sports.

Hannah Project Partnership: Supports the SAGE Collaborative, a multi-sector, multi-issue community change coalition designed to give Marin City an infrastructure with the capacity to address the issues that matter to its residents.

Innovative Health Solutions: Supports the West Marin Food Systems Collaborative.

Marin Advocates Network: Brings together service providers across Marin to minimize duplication of services, maximize efficacy of the services.

Marin Community College District: A collaborative among College of Marin, Novato Unified School District and 10,000 Degrees to provide the COMPASS program to all three high schools in Novato, providing low income and students of color and their families with targeted supports.

Marin Promise Partnership: A county-wide collaborative focused on education equity.

San Geronimo Valley Community Center: Expansion of the infrastructure between local CRT (Community Resilience Team) zones (Canal, Marin City, Novato & West Marin) to create a unified brand and operations.

Sausalito Marin City School District: A collaborative to build shared power and voice for African American families, through engagements and trainings.

Youth in Arts Inc.: A collaborative to expand equitable access in arts education for Marin's TK-5th grade students.

Call for Proposals

Learn about the RFP we distributed for the Community Power Initiative, click here.

Learn More

For questions regarding this initiative, please contact

Shirin Vakharia

Senior Program Director

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