Carson to lead merged funder

By Michael Easterbrook

As the first CEO of the new Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the offspring of a merger between two northern California funders, Emmett Carson says he is eager to face the challenges ahead.

One of the first will be giving the new entity a character and personality all its own.

“We have to blend two successful organizational structures and cultures into one,” says Carson, 47 who took his new job at the foundation November 1. “That has not happened on this scale and on this level in the philanthropy world.”

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is being formed by the union of the Peninsula Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley.

The merger was announced in July and should be completed by the end of the year.

The new community foundation will have $1.5 billion in assets, $192.3 million in grants and 1,450 funds, with gifts totaling $246.8 million.

A staff of roughly 120 employees will work from three offices, with a new headquarters to be established in either Palo Alto or East Palo Alto, Calif., Carson says.

A prominent figure in the philanthropy world who has led the Minneapolis Foundation for 12 years, Carson says the chance to lead the newly-merged foundation was a unique one.

“You don’t get many opportunities to help create a community foundation of significance with a blank sheet of paper – to help design it, establish its culture and establish its character,” he says.

Though Carson emphasizes that plotting the community foundation’s mission and strategy will be a collaborative effort, he says one of its objectives likely will be to advocate for better access to housing in a region where housing prices have soared.

With a focus on San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, the foundation also will work to improve public education, foster civic participation and create a spirit of giving.

Emmett Carson

Job: President and CEO, Silicon Valley Community Foundation

Born: October 1959, Chicago

Family: Wife, Jacqueline Copeland-Carson; daughter Yetunde Olagbaju

Education: B.S., economics, Morehouse College; Ph.D. and M.P.A., public and international affairs, Princeton University

Career: Legislative analyst, Congressional Research Service; project director, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; program officer, Ford Foundation; president and CEO, Minneapolis Foundation

Volunteer work: Board chair, Southern Education Foundation; board member, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota; board member, Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota

Hobbies: Cycling, playing piano, reading

Favorite Book: “The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu

Inspiration: Fredrick Douglass

The key, Carson says, will be identifying problems that affect communities in both counties and advocating strongly for solutions.“Community foundations can’t just make grants,” he says of his intention to beef up the funder’s advocacy efforts.Born and raised in Chicago, Carson attended Morehouse College in Atlanta before completing graduate work at Princeton University.

He was the first manager of the Ford Foundation’s worldwide grantmaking program on philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, and is the immediate past chair of the Council of Foundations in Washington, D.C.

Under his leadership, the Minneapolis Foundation increased its assets by more than $400 million over the past 12 years.

While a number of near-term decisions face Carson and others on the foundation’s leadership team, he says, there is only one measure of the foundation’s future success.

“The main goal is to make the regional community a better place to live,” he says. “If we don’t do that, it will not have proven itself to have achieved what we wanted it to.”

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