San Francisco Foundation (SFF) was founded in 1948 as a different kind of philanthropic organization focused on the San Francisco Bay Area. Unlike private and family foundations, it would allow donors to pool their giving to meet the region’s needs and direct support to communities excluded by unjust systems and laws. Today, SFF is one of the United States’ largest community foundations.
The organization realized that its story – 75 years of advancing social justice in the region – had tremendous brand-building and marketing potential. History Factory partnered with SFF to support anniversary planning, tactics and strategic thinking around how to drive the foundation’s mission and fuel growth and engagement with its priority audiences.
Four goals rose to the top for a 75th anniversary campaign around the theme “Centering People, Place and Power” in 2023:
Digital marketing targeting younger local residents would be a key part of the campaign. SFF wanted to enhance its brand in the region in order to grow a larger, more diverse potential donor base, and also contribute to the public’s understanding of social justice history in the Bay Area.
Despite an impressive body of work, the foundation had previously done little to archive and share its rich history. To begin understanding SFF’s story, History Factory and SFF identified and digitized key archival files, and conducted 24 oral history interviews with founding families and CEOs, community leaders, as well as key donors.
Through the research and interviews, a clear social justice through line over 75 years emerged, demonstrating how SFF served as a constant engine to address the region’s most pressing needs. It began with SFF’s founders and carried through support for social welfare causes in the 1950s and ’60s, the disability rights movement in the ’70s, the LGBTQ+ community during the AIDS crisis in the ’80s, and continues to propel SFF’s work today to advance racial equity and economic inclusion.
SFF took this newfound understanding of its legacy and marketed its story in bold ways. While traditional media outreach, advertising, and events played a role during the anniversary, the organization also embraced more creative digital marketing such as an interactive tour of racial equity history in the region, an innovative TikTok campaign, and animated storytelling.
SFF and History Factory worked together to create “Mapping Change,” a virtual tour of racial equity history in the Bay Area. Focused on historically significant physical locations throughout the region, the tour helps residents connect with their own backyards on a deeper level and underlines the foundation’s role in social movements. History Factory designed the rich, interactive experience and created the content in collaboration with SFF. The tour lives on the SFF 75th anniversary website created by SFF and featuring anniversary content developed by History Factory.
To help bring viewers to the Mapping Change tour, SFF produced an innovative TikTok video campaign that ran throughout the anniversary year. They partnered with influential community leaders from throughout the Bay Area and filmed them at tour sites to help underline the historical significance of each site. For example, Reverend Cheryl Dawson, a former Black Panther Party member, shared the story of self-determination and liberation on Juneteenth to highlight a mural in Oakland that depicts the women of the Black Panther Party. In another TikTok video, SFF partnered with the Golden State Warriors hype man, and San Francisco native, to highlight a building in the city’s Filipino neighborhood that was the center of a fair housing movement in the 1970s. With their own social media followings, these influencers helped the videos gain more traction.
One of SFF’s key video campaigns organically emerged from a 75th anniversary oral history interview. When SFF CEO Fred Blackwell was interviewed, he reflected on how his childhood experiences riding his bike around Oakland shaped his understanding of racial equity and economic inclusion. His moving story reflected SFF’s mission in a very personal, accessible way. History Factory transformed his story into an animated video series that SFF deployed through organic and paid marketing across social platforms. Additional anniversary videos featuring oral history interviewees were also featured on the website and social platforms.
During the anniversary year, these marketing strategies led to significant online audience growth as well as deeper engagement. The digital campaign increased the foundation’s exposure, with the number of new visitors to its website increasing 24.97% year over year in the first quarter alone.
SFF’s 75th anniversary marketing campaign infused its legacy into its value proposition, which the organization has woven into its fundraising messaging, helping to identify new donor prospects. This newfound understanding of the foundation’s story and new efforts around marketing its legacy will prove useful in all future fundraising efforts, garnering more donor dollars toward creating a socially just region where everyone thrives.
In addition, SFF measured internal engagement in its annual staff engagement survey. By the end of the 75th anniversary year:
“It was humbling and made me proud to know that the work we're doing now is part of this long history of social justice work within the Bay Area.” - SFF staff member