The Westly Foundation is the brainchild of Steve Westly and Anita Yu, who created their private family foundation in 2000. The foundation’s mission is to “identify and fund programs that help California’s children and youth at risk,” a guiding tenet that is largely informed by Westly and Yu’s own life experiences.
Steve Westly grew up in the Bay Area without many of the privileges he’s afforded today, having made a name for himself as a venture capitalist and civic leader. Before getting into the V.C. world, Westly worked in public service in Washington, D.C. and then back in California, where (among several other political activities) he was elected California State Controller in 2002. Westly’s “deep commitment to the civic space,” according to Catherine Crystal Foster, the Westly Foundation’s Executive Director, in tandem with a deep commitment to their community keeps the foundation’s grantmaking rooted in his and Anita Yu’s home state of California, with an emphasis on the Bay Area.
The foundation’s co-founder Anita Yu was born in Hong Kong, and her experience as part of a family of immigrants cultivated in her a significant commitment to giving back to the community. As Yu, Westly and their foundation have sought to make the most impact with their philanthropy, they’ve zeroed in on at-risk children and youth as those “who are most in need,” according to Foster.
Catherine Crystal Foster is the foundation’s third executive director, and uses her own background in nonprofits and philanthropic leadership to help hone giving and connect the Westly Foundation with smaller, “early-stage” nonprofits for grantmaking.
“What’s important to me is to keep a really strong focus on the grantees and figuring out how we can leverage the networks and opportunities that we have as a foundation to help our grantees in ways that are often beyond the check,” Foster said.
The Westly Foundation observes the unofficial law of the land in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, which is an emphasis on innovation and creative problem solving. The Westly Prize fits clearly into that puzzle. However, Foster notes that the team is careful not to let that goal of supporting innovation alone steer the foundation’s efforts to make an impact on the community.
“I try to be very intentional about this … not, kind of [going] too far in the direction of chasing shiny new objects,” Foster said. “There are some organizations that do certain kinds of work in certain kinds of areas that is not turning the world upside down, but is incredibly important.”
This creates a powerful balance in the foundation’s grantmaking – a balance that values relationships with deeply rooted community-based organizations doing less “shiny” but crucial work that serves children and youth in the fields of health, education and life skills, as well as supports projects that harness outside-of-the-box ideas to turn systemic problems on their heads. The common thread along the spectrum of the foundation’s grantees is that they are organizations that aren’t just doing things because that’s how they’ve always been done. These organizations are magnifying their own impact by actively engaging with their constituents, the field, and the challenges they are trying to solve.
So how does an early stage organization prove itself effective and innovative without the resources to do traditional evaluations?
“You need to have a really strong leader,” Foster said. “A leader that is knowledgeable, passionate and [combines] humility and ambition. And the way I like to see that combined is eagerness to learn, and demonstrated ability to take what they’ve learned and really do something powerful with it.”
To the Westly Foundation, this culture of learning means that an organization must be engaging with those they serve directly as well as staying in touch with best practices in the field, and putting the lessons learned into programmatic action.
“We also are looking for people who can articulate what they do, why they do it, how much it costs and why it costs what it costs,” Foster said.
“Often the mark of an organization that is going to be able to sustain itself and grow is to be able to understand its own financial story and figure out how to create a financially viable organization for the long run.”
Major Program Categories: All of the Westly Foundation’s giving, while broken into the areas of education, youth, health and our world, is geared toward programs serving children and youth through those channels. Again, these grants are made to programs that serve California.
Recently the focus on serving children in need has increased support for projects impacting those in foster care. “It would be fair to say that in the past year or so we’ve done a little bit more of a focus within our youth grantmaking realm on foster youth,” Foster said, “because since our focus is children and youth at risk, the children who are frankly most at risk in our community are those who are in the child welfare system.”
The foundation’s focus on health is geared toward “closing the gap in high quality, affordable, and advanced health care for children and youth in California,” according to the Westly Foundation website. Current grantees in this area include Counseling and Support Services for Youth (CASSY) and the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Teen Van.
Its focus on education is to “invest in good ideas and strong programs to help close the achievement gap, inspire a love of learning, and provide children with skills to succeed in the global economy,” and potentially find and support models that can create broader systemic change in education. Talking Points and Breakthrough Silicon Valley are among education grant recipients.
First Place for Youth – Santa Clara and Teen Force are two examples of the Westly Foundation’s youth-oriented grant recipients. This support is geared toward programs that foster “critical life skills,” such as financial literacy, leadership training and career readiness, in the young people they serve.
Finally, the Westly Foundation gives in the program area of “our world,” which features some of the philanthropy’s most long-standing relationships. These grants are really about supporting “the ecosystems that help children thrive,” Foster said, and have been directed to organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank and KQED, public media for Northern California.
Another cornerstone of the foundation’s work is the Westly Prize, which was first distributed in 2012. The annual $25,000 grand prize awards are given to “creative leaders who are early in their journey, and have not yet received major recognition or substantial outside investment, but have prototyped their solution and show great potential.” Unlike grantmaking, the foundation awards the prize with no restriction as to the type of social issue an applicant is tackling, and it is open to non-profits, for profits and hybrids alike, although recipients also must be connected to California
How to Apply: At this time, the Westly Foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals. “We like to stay very much in touch with the community so we end up sourcing grants with work that we’ve done in community to try to find grant organizations,” Foster said.
That said, organizations interested in connecting can register on the foundation’s grants portal as a way to stay on the Westly Foundation’s radar, with the understanding that the foundation staff is not able to respond to every registrant or inquiry.
Grants from the foundation typically range between $15,000 to $25,000 according to Westly Foundation’s website, and are limited to one-year grants which can be renewed for a total of four years.
Applications for the Westly Prize are due on October 15, 2017. The application is accessible through this online portal.
Name of Foundation: The Westly Foundation
Location: Menlo Park, Calif.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Coverage Area: California
Subject Area: Education, Health, Youth, Our World
Total Assets: $9,329,637 (2015)
Last Year Total Grants Paid: $755,150 (2015)
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