Skees Family Foundation

What was the challenge?

A great deal has been written about strategic philanthropy—connecting giving to outcomes and impact—but most of it has focused on identifying best practices for large, institutional foundations and organizing marketplaces and technology platforms to aggregate individual small dollar donors. Those in the middle, especially small family foundations have been almost entirely ignored. Foundations without staff or only a few staff have been left to their own devices without sufficient professional or strategic support to help maximize their impact.

When Suzanne Skees, an author and Midwestern middle class mom of three boys, found herself as the recipient of a financial windfall, she knew she wanted to give back. With the support of her attorney and financial advisor, she launched the Skees Family Foundation (SFF), a philanthropic vehicle to support her charitable interests. Living in the South Bay Area, she threw herself into the Silicon Valley philanthropic network, started educating herself, and developed a desire to deeply engage her family in supporting burgeoning social entrepreneurial efforts.

Unfortunately, she looked around and couldn’t identify how to make her vision a reality.

How did we address it?

In collaboration with Suzanne, Third Plateau engaged her extended family to develop the foundation’s philosophy, vision, and structure. Through the process, Third Plateau identified three priorities: 1) more deeply engage the Skees family in the Foundation; 2) craft a grantmaking program to support innovative models working to provide education and create jobs for ultra poor throughout the world; and 3) implement communications support to the Foundation’s grantees and partners to better help them tell their story.

Over the following years, Third Plateau partnered with SFF to bring that strategy to life through the following strategies:

  • Capacity Building: Third Plateau developed and ran philanthropic education and training programs for the family, engaging three generations in meaningful board service and leadership.
  • Grants Management: Third Plateau launched a multi-year grants program to find, cultivate, and support promising early-stage social entrepreneurs.
  • Messaging and Communications: Third Plateau helped SFF provide direct storytelling support to grantees through a blog, social media, story placement in industry publications, and the development of a published book, My Job, a compelling narrative chronicling stories of people working across the globe.

What is the impact?

Today, SFF is an established and highly functioning family foundation. They engage the broader Skees family in learning about and participating in strategic giving, fund a grant portfolio of diverse and effective social entrepreneurs, and provide guidance to other small family foundations as a result of what they’ve learned through their own work. SFF demonstrates the potential of a small, yet values-driven family foundation in carrying out sophisticated, thoughtful, meaningful, and impact-focused giving practices.