Foundation Profiles; Local loyalties shape Bay area choices

Five counties in the Bay Area benefit from the San Francisco Foundation, (SFF) the largest community foundation in the country. Founded in 1948, its present assets are $400 million.

Last year, it paid out more than $35 million in 600 grants to local groups and organizations.

SFF's giving covers five broad categories: education, arts, environment, community health, and urban affairs. Each of these areas is analogous to the pattern of philanthropy typical of the more than 220 community foundations across the country.

''Community foundations bring a local involvement you can't get from 3,000 miles away,'' says Susan Little, public relations director, in assessing the varying merits of community foundations over private ones.

''Public elementary and secondary schools are the area we are most heavily into right now.'' Ms. Little says. ''We are very concerned that schools provide employable skills so that students can find a good job upon graduation.''

The public school grants range from programs such as the one in the Oakland schools to help more experienced principals train new principals, to wide-reaching endeavors such as the San Francisco Education Fund, a three-year-old nonprofit organization designed solely to help public schools ($ 90,000 this past year alone).

Because San Franciso is an entry port for many Southeast Asians, SFF supports a Southeast Asian refugee center where job counseling and English language instruction are provided.

''Money is donated to us by all kinds of people and organizations,'' Ms. Little says. ''The community at large makes it possible for us to exist, so we judge if we're doing a good job by the funds the community feeds back to us. We know it's the people we give money to, to fulfill our goals, that makes us what we are all about.

''Our foundation can reward those nonprofits that are doing a good job already as well as take some risks on new ideas in accord with the direction we would like to see the foundation going,'' she says.

The board of directors at SFF is called the distribution committee. Unlike a private foundation, where the members of the board are most often appointed by other board members, its members are selected ex officio from the community at large (e.g., the head of the United Way is a member of the committee as well as the head of the bank trustee department that manages the foundation's endowment). Members are limited to two five-year terms. Like all community foundation boards, it is made up not only of people from the community served, but it ''represents'' the community.

Eleven area banks make up the foundation's trust department.

The bank connection accounts for what many observers say is a major difference between community foundations and private ones. Local bankers know the community they serve. Their fiscal expertise and wide-ranging contacts keep the foundation in touch with the major economic concerns of the community and can lend invaluable assistance in evaluating the soundness of grant proposals.

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