At the same time, rising housing prices in Silicon Valley mean increased need for local services, and more expensive operations for nonprofits, which have to pay staff more so they can afford to live in the area. Second Harvest, for example, has seen demand double in recent years. About 80 percent of community-based nonprofits in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties said they’d seen increased demand in the last five years, according to The Giving Code, and more than half said they were falling short of meeting that demand. With tech donors, “there’s a lot of focus on scale and disruption, and big systemic problems like education and healthcare,” Heather McLeod Grant, one of the co-authors of The Giving Code, told me. “But the problem is, by focusing on scale and larger institutions, they’re missing the grassroots community organizations that are serving low-income families.”
So Silicon Valley nonprofits are pivoting, to use a local term of art, like the Boys & Girls Club did. They’re taking their cues from The Giving Code, which recommends not talking about “charity” and meeting immediate community needs, but instead focusing on “impact” and getting at root causes of problems. It suggests using the language and mindsets of business, and focusing on metrics, data, and effectiveness, rather than the language of altruism and ethics. It says that Silicon Valley donors are interested in approaches to solving problems that use technology, and in causes to which they have a personal connection.
“If we want people to donate to us, we need to be in the current century and the current environment,” Karen Scussel, the executive director of Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, told me. The group, which provides services for foster youth, is launching a virtual-reality experience to help potential donors understand what it’s like to be a foster kid. Child Advocates is also starting to come up with metrics to show its impact, and talk about how it is serving more children each year. Scussel now tells potential donors that money invested in Child Advocates can help save public money in the long run, because the organization can prevent kids from dropping out of school. “Rather than say, ‘I need money,’ you have show yourself as an investment and return of investment,” she said.
The Silicon Valley Children’s Fund, which also works with foster youth, has contracted with a marketing firm that will help it “speak in the language of business and metrics,” Melissa Johns, the organization’s executive vice president, told me. The group wants to be able to tell donors how much money they’ll save “in the back end of society” by investing in foster youth, she said.
These efforts are not usually within the budget of a typical nonprofit. Sacred Heart Community Service, which works with low-income people in Santa Clara County, doesn’t even have a full-time marketing specialist, for instance. But earlier this year, two local foundations announced they were giving out 20 grants to local nonprofits to help them use some of the findings of The Giving Code to attract more donors. Sacred Heart is using its grant money to hire a consultant.