Even though most days I agree I have one of the best gigs in California running a major private foundation,I worry about how private foundations can most effectively leverage all the assets we have at our disposal given so many choices and so little oversight.

Speaking out and showing up

In 2014, shortly after I arrived at The California Wellness Foundation—a private foundation with a mission to protect and improve the health and wellness of the people of California—I began asking everyone I met how we could do better. One response was pretty consistent: “Use your institutional voice.”

So we strengthened our internal strategic muscle by creating a new integrated public affairs department. Building on our legacy of investment in strategic communications, we set about modernizing our approaches.

The 2016 US Presidential election put that muscle to the test. As a first step, we reached out to community partners to learn how best to respond to the needs of the Californians most impacted by these dramatic social and political changes. Our grantees reminded us that while we needed to defend progress at the national level, we also needed to continue to advance issues affecting health and wellness in our state.

As a result, early in 2017, our board agreed to approve grants in an expedited fashion and accelerated our grantmaking, committing $14 million to priorities that both advance and defend progress we’d made in California.

Read the full article about wielding philanthropic power with accountability by Judy Belk at Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Changing how we talk about and invest our money

One of the reasons foundations seem invisible is because we don’t talk about our money. Over the last couple years, our board has pushed us to do more with our endowment, and we’ve accepted the challenge. Our finance and grantmaking teams have partnered with the board to craft a new mission-related investing program.


Stepping forward

Choosing which issue to champion can also be a powerful statement—especially if it’s an area with little philanthropic investment or visibility. Cal Wellness has a two-decade legacy of funding and speaking out about community violence, and gun violence in particular. It’s a public health crisis that has impacted families and communities for far too long.

Every day, we funders make choices about how we use our power. We can and should wield it for good, in thoughtful ways that challenge our privilege and align with the interests of the communities we want to support.