Foundation Center West 40th Anniversary: A Conversation with Lisa Hoffman

This year, Foundation Center West is celebrating its 40th anniversary as a resource hub for social sector professionals and organizations. This is the third installment in a blog series highlighting our four decades of social sector service. We spoke with some of the leading voices in Bay Area philanthropy, including Lisa Hoffman, Bay Area social sector coach, consultant, and Zen priest. 

FCW: What do you believe makes the Bay Area social sector unique?

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LH: The Bay Area has a wide variety of nonprofits that are innovative and cutting edge because they reflect the region. Right now is an especially exciting time – I see partnerships springing up between nonprofits and B-corps; there’s also a growing philanthropic interest in the tech industry. Plus the area is one of the birthplaces of so many social justice movements. All of these factors, put together, make a thriving regional social sector.

FCW: What role do you as an individual play in the Bay Area social sector?

LH: My role is wonderful and multifaceted. As a coach, consultant, and volunteer, I want to make sure the organizations I work with are in a position to really thrive; that their boards are strong; that the board and staff leadership work in partnership; and that they have a funding base that's going to support their mission and vision.

I learned early on that leadership is essential to an organization’s success. No matter what challenges an organization may face (quite often it's fundraising), if they don't have strong leadership, they won't reach their potential.

As a Zen priest, I also help social sector professionals with stress management. These are profoundly challenging times, especially for social justice organizations. I try to bring mindfulness to everything I do , and work with leaders – executive, Board and staff – to do the same. I believe that strong leadership is really about individual leaders being aware of who they are, their strengths, and how they impact people. With mindfulness, they can make the most of the areas in which they're strong, and not cause harm from the areas in which they're weak or have issues.

FCW: What do you believe the Bay Area nonprofit community needs to thrive?

LH: I think that nonprofit leaders and groups need to partner with businesses and with thought leaders in the corporate community. The other thing nonprofits really need is capital. Most groups are underfunded and a lack of funding creates a tremendous challenge for an organization. The times are calling on all of us to think about fundraising differently, because if nonprofits aren't capitalized they're really limited in what they can do.

FCW: How do you see Foundation Center as playing a supporting role in the Bay Area and the greater western region’s social sector?

LH: When I started my career, Foundation Center's data on philanthropy was stored in a huge green book that probably weighed two or three pounds. At that time, it was the central organization providing that kind of data about the social sector to the social sector. Foundation Center also provided programs that were designed to train people around grantseeking from foundations and corporations and funder panels. I think that the Foundation Center has grown and evolved with the nonprofit sector. It still provides a continuum of training and information, but now the data is all online--for example, you can look up where different foundations give anywhere in the world.

Additionally, Foundation Center offers programs that are very relevant to what nonprofits and foundations need right now – from design thinking and problem solving, to partnerships. I believe that Foundation Center is more relevant now than ever before: the organization has much more capacity and range than just providing data and analysis about the social sector.

Read Part I of this series, featuring Charles Fields, chief of staff and planning at The Irvine Foundation.

Read Part II in this series, featuring Jan Masaoka, chief executive officer of CalNonprofits.


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Lisa Hoffman is a social sector coach, consultant, and Zen priest. She brings 30 years of experience and success to nonprofit fund and board development, facilitation, and coaching.