Silicon valley community foundation puts founding ceo on leave

Emmett D. Carson, the founding president and chief executive who led the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to become the largest philanthropy of its kind, was placed on paid leave Thursday amid an internal investigation of a work culture former employees have called toxic.

The leadership move by the board of the foundation that handles charitable gifts for the biggest names in technology, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, comes a week after Carson’s top official, Mari Ellen Loijens, resigned amid sexual harassment complaints.

“The Board of Directors voted to place Emmett D. Carson on paid administrative leave from his role as CEO, President and Board member until further notice while the investigation being led by independent counsel continues,” the foundation board said in a statement posted Thursday morning.

“That investigation will be thorough, and the Board remains committed to taking all necessary actions once it has concluded to ensure that the Silicon Valley Community Foundation thrives today and for many years into the future.”

The board’s move came a day after 25 former foundation employees sent a letter to board chairman Samuel Johnson calling for Carson’s immediate ouster. “As the leader of the organization and the culture,” it said, “Emmett did not address Mari Ellen’s inappropriate behavior and permitted the abuse to continue for years.”

Sarah Lorraine Goodman, who worked as the foundation’s social media marketing strategist for nine months in 2014 and who was among the former workers who signed the letter, said Thursday she was heartened the board put Carson on leave, though she would prefer he resign.

“To truly change our culture and restore integrity to this organization, you must remove those individuals responsible for this toxicity at SVCF,” said the email, which also criticized the foundation’s vice president of talent, recruitment and culture and its chief operating officer. The foundation’s spokeswoman did not dispute the email’s authenticity.

Carson’s survival at the foundation has remained in doubt since April 17 when he announced the sexual harassment investigation that led to Loijens’ resignation two days later. Carson’s insistence that “we do not tolerate inappropriate conduct of any kind” was publicly disputed by former workers who accused him on social media and in articles of dismissing their complaints.

That would be a stunning downfall for a man who led the foundation, formed in the 2007 merger of the smaller Community Foundation Silicon Valley and the Peninsula Community Foundation, into a philanthropic powerhouse on the scale of venerable institutions like the Ford Foundation.

At its founding, the foundation had $1.7 billion in assets under management and issued $242 million in grants in its first year. In February, the foundation announced that its charitable assets under management had grown to about $13.5 billion and that it had awarded $1.3 billion to nonprofit organizations in 2017. That included $436 million awarded to Bay Area nonprofits, making the foundation the largest grant-maker to Silicon Valley regional charities.

Before joining the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Carson had spent 12 years as president and CEO of The Minneapolis Foundation, where he increased assets from $186 million to over $600 million. He previously served as the first manager of the Ford Foundation’s worldwide grant-making program.

But with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s meteoric growth has come criticism over whether it has yielded a community foundation’s traditional role of supporting local needs by providing means for Silicon Valley’s moneyed to support national and international causes. Only a third of the Mountain View-based foundation’s grants have gone to Bay Area charities, while $105 million went to charities in 66 other countries.

An Inside Philanthropy article this month on the foundation’s role in that debate also noted criticism of the workplace by former workers who posted complaints anonymously on the workplace rating website Glassdoor. An investigative article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy published the day after Carson announced the sexual harassment investigation quoted former employees saying he refused to temper Loijens, credited with helping raise more than $8.3 billion.