What Bay Area Nonprofits Need to Know About the Peery Foundation

Established in 1978 by Silicon Valley real estate mogul, Richard “Dick” Peery, the Peery Foundation is picky about what it funds and has a distinct strategy. The Peery family gave $5.2 million in 2012, with $4.6 million of that going to portfolio grantmaking programs via selection process. In 2013, the family gave $8 million, and $6.8 million of that went to portfolio grant programs. Through it all, this is a foundation that supports local, regional, and global social entrepreneurs that fight poverty in promising ways.

While the foundation's current assets and annual grantmaking are modest, keep in mind that Dick Peery is worth $2.2 billion and is now 75. So much bigger giving by the foundation is likely in the years to come. 

Since the staff doesn’t exactly welcome unsolicited grant applications with open arms, here’s what Bay Area nonprofits need to know about the Peery Foundation (Read Peery Foundation: Bay Area Grants).

Safety-Net Charities Don’t Cut It

The Peery Foundation invests in early to mid-stage social entrepreneurs who are addressing the issues of poverty in the Bay Area. This is not a safety-net direct service funder, so don’t expect to see grants going to any homeless shelters, after-school programs, or hospitals. But once Peery connects with successful entrepreneurs, the foundation likes to stick with them.

“We find that the smart social entrepreneurs that we fund usually know of other smart social entrepreneurs in our area of focus that we should know about,” Executive Director Jessamyn Lau told the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in an interview. “We are also finding that our current grantees are growing their enterprises to the point that they are ready for investment capital, which we have provided in some cases as a complement to our current grant funding.”

The Foundation Takes a Grantee-centered Approach

The Peery Foundation has listened closely to its grantees over the years and says it has used this feedback to shape a funding approach that elevates the views and needs of grantees to empower them. So, for example, the foundation often provides multi-year general support grants, because that's what nonprofits have said they need. It also says it seeks to communicate openly with grantees and solicit honest feedback. (See Dave Peery's 2013 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review where he describes grantees as "customers.") 

The foundation also values an ability to adapt. Take, for example, Peery’s Ecosystems Portfolio, which was established to fund programs that don’t fit within current grantmaking parameters but help support the ecosystems that grantees are operating within. However, according to Lau, the foundation is not adding to the Ecosystems portfolio any longer, and it's being phased out.

"You absolutely have to be comfortable with ambiguity... one of the unique and wonderful things about working in social innovation is that there is very little precedent for the roles that people are taking on,"Lau told iOnPoverty.

East Palo Alto Gets Its Own Grant Portfolio

The big exception to the above points can be found in the Peery Foundation’s Local Portfolio, which is strictly limited to the city of East Palo Alto. This portfolio focuses on at-risk youth around town, a place where almost 70 percent of teenagers don’t get their high school diplomas. Peery recently made local grants to the East Palo Alto Charter School, and the East Palo Alto Youth Court.

“My dad is at a point in his life where he's motivated to give back to his hometown in a meaningful way,” Managing Director, Dave Peery, told San Jose Mercury News of his father, in explaining one local investment. East Palo Alto funding reaches across a broad spectrum, so get in touch if you live in town.

Dave Peery is the Key Figure

Before Lau was executive director, that job was held by Dave Peery, the son of Richard Peery. Dave has been deeply interested in philanthropy since 2003, and has worked full-time to build up and professionalize the Peery Foundation since 2008. It's Dave who sets the foundation's overall strategy and grantmaking priorities. He's super plugged into high-level philanthropy conversations and is very active on Twitter, if you're wondering what he thinks about on a daily basis (@DavePeery). He's a next generation leader in philathropy that we'll be keeping a close eye on.