Nicole Taylor

(Image: Brian Solis, Creative Commons)

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) ranks among the largest and most influential foundations in the United States. It has surpassed household names including the Rockefeller Foundation in size thanks to the support of Silicon Valley’s tech executives. From Reed Hastings to Jack Dorsey, the biggest names in technology have made SVCF their go-to foundation.

This year, however, SVCF plunged into a PR nightmare. The foundation’s former chief fundraiser Mari Ellen Loijens created a deeply toxic work environment that impacted the organization’s entire development department. From calling a black employee a slave to subjecting staff to verbal abuse and threats, Loijens exercised her duties with cruelty and a complete disregard for the wellbeing of her colleagues.

Loijens nonetheless excelled at her job, helping SVCF achieve its extraordinary $13.5 billion in assets. Emmett D. Carson—the organization’s founder and CEO during Loijens’ tenure—brushed complaints concerning her behavior under the rug. In his eyes, the foundation’s bottom line was more important than employee happiness.

After news broke of Loijens’ behavior, she departed the foundation and Carson went on leave, pushing the organization’s leadership into disarray.

This month, SCVF announced that Nicole Taylor will replace Carson as CEO.

Taylor is uniquely positioned to take over the reins at SVCF. Most recently the vice president of the Arizona State University Foundation, Taylor has spent most of her career in California, including a 15-year stint at the East Bay Community Foundation. She is also a former educator, having taught in Oakland public schools.

With decades of executive leadership and a diverse work portfolio that connects her to the very communities SCVF aims to serve, Taylor is an excellent choice. One of the foundation’s biggest donors certainly thinks so; after SCVF announced Taylor’s hire, Mark Zuckerberg donated Facebook shares valued at a jaw-dropping $214 million to the foundation.

While SCVF deserves applause for selecting Taylor, there is a cautionary tale embedded in this story. To borrow a term from the financial sector, SCVF is “too big to fail.” In other words, the organization’s toxic culture created a minor bump in the road. Because of its size, stature, and assets, SCVF was able to correct course with a carefully selected CEO to remedy its leadership troubles.

Most organizations in the nonprofit sector do not enjoy this luxury. Building a fair and alluring work culture should rank high on every nonprofit leader’s list of priorities. Treating workers with dignity and respect fosters creativity, promotes growth, and can contribute to organizational longevity.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *