News


Foundation exec resigns after reports of misconduct

Former Silicon Valley Community Foundation employees allege an environment of fear and intimidation

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation's second-in-command has resigned amid allegations she sexually harassed and abused co-workers, the nonprofit organization announced on Thursday afternoon.

Mari Ellen Reynolds Loijens -- the Mountain View nonprofit's chief business, development and brand officer -- resigned Thursday, April 19, after a investigative article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy was published April 18. It detailed former co-workers' reports that Loijens created a "toxic culture" of bullying, embarrassing sexual remarks and oppressive office behavior that has led to significant employee turnover.

The Chronicle spoke to 19 former community foundation employees who described similar experiences with her management style. They alleged Loijens routinely screamed at and berated employees.

Word of the Chronicle story and Loijens' resignation spread quickly among many former employees. Some told the Weekly their experience at the foundation was particularly traumatic because they were passionate about their charitable work and tried to stay on despite the alleged mistreatment.

"I loved that job; I loved that team. I felt like we were really doing something important and I wanted to be a part of it," said Rebecca Dupras, who worked at the foundation for three years as a director of planned giving and then as vice president of development.

But the alleged abuse nearly caused her to have a nervous breakdown, she said. Dupras refused to treat co-workers badly, she said, prompting Loijens to allegedly tell her that she was bad at her job because she didn't have any human resources complaints from her staff.

"It happened every day. It happened so much that you tried to normalize the behavior. I felt powerless to protect the people who worked under me," she said.

More than once, Loijens allegedly made embarrassing remarks about her, including in front of staff. In a room with a group of directors one day, Dupras was feeling nauseated.

Loijens allegedly said, "Look out, you're pretty good-looking. You should make sure you're not pregnant. You could be pregnant," according to Dupras.

Many other employees have similar tales.

On Glassdoor.com, a workplace-rating website, former Silicon Valley Community Foundation employees described a company that had talented, dedicated hard-working employees whose emotional and mental health declined because the culture was "constantly instilling fear in employees."

"I'm just so, so happy that she's finally accountable," a former executive told the Weekly. The employee asked not to be named for fear of repercussions. "It was horrible -- horrible. It was absolutely toxic. There were nights I would go home crying and even sought therapy. Eventually I did leave."

"People want to remain anonymous because they fear retribution -- that's how toxic it was," said another former executive who left just a year after Loijens was hired. "She was untouchable in her job. She seemed impervious to the people around her."

The creation of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation -- the result of a merger of two local community foundations -- exacerbated the problems, former employees said.

"With the merger, it got to be: Who's the big dog in the room? The hubris got bigger than the mission," said another executive who asked for anonymity. "I felt she looked at who was out there to go do battle with."

As second in command below CEO and President Emmett Carson, Loijens wielded a tremendous amount of power, multiple former employees said. Dupras said she could not believe that Carson did not know what was going on.

"He sat there on the same floor with us every day," she said.

Asked to address allegations that he knew of the complaints against Loijens, he issued a written statement: “As we have firmly stated, SVCF does not tolerate inappropriate conduct of any kind, and we investigate all claims of misconduct. SVCF immediately launched a third party independent investigation led by Thompson Hine LLP upon hearing these allegations of sexual harassment for the first time, with the exception of a 2008 claim cited in the Chronicle of Philanthropy story, which was investigated at that time. We are committed to taking whatever actions are necessary at the conclusion of the investigation.”

A letter to stakeholders on April 20 attempted to refute some of the allegations about work conditions, pointing to a "recent" anonymous employee survey that found 83 percent of employees feel they have a good working environment, 94 percent feel safe in the workplace and 85 percent feel their supervisors treat them with respect. The information does not indicate the date of the survey or any details about its methodology.

The letter to stakeholders also states the survey information was "shared with journalists" but does not state with whom or how widely the information was shared. The Weekly did not receive any information regarding the survey when it made its inquiries into the matter.

Carson also responded on April 17 on the foundation's blog site, which states in part: "I am fully committed to further cultivating and ensuring a safe workplace and a culture that is inclusive and open. In this regard, we will share our learnings and actions at the conclusion of the investigation.

"While it is disheartening to hear these allegations and criticisms of our organization, I could not be prouder of our employees and the dedication they continue to show our communities across Silicon Valley, California, our country and the world. It is their collective passion for doing good that makes SVCF a remarkable organization."

Carson released a brief statement on April 19 announcing Loijens' departure: "Mari Ellen Loijens has resigned from Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The investigation into alleged incidents of misconduct will continue, and at the conclusion of that investigation SVCF will take whatever action is necessary to preserve the integrity of our organization. SVCF remains committed to further cultivating a safe and welcoming workplace," he wrote.

Loijens, 48, joined the former Community Foundation Silicon Valley in 2004, which merged with the Peninsula Community Foundation in 2007 and was rebranded as Silicon Valley Community Foundation. She headed up corporate responsibility, development, strategic partnerships in the eastern region, and marketing and communications, according to her company biography.

The nonprofit has raised more than $8.3 billion under Loijens and now has $13.5 billion in assets under management, putting it at the top of all community foundations, including top grant makers such as the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Loijen's development team handles donor-advised funds, which account for approximately 83 percent of the foundation’s assets, according to the Chronicle.

Such funds aren't raised in the normal fashion of seeking donors, one high-ranking former executive told the Weekly. Rather, many in the tech industry who have recently gained tremendous wealth look for places to put their money as a tax write-off. The foundation is frequently approached by the donor's attorney.

Her credentials include working as director of development at Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and as director of major gifts and planned giving at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, among other organizations. She was honored by the Silicon Valley Business Journal with a 2012 Women of Influence award.

Loijens could not be reached for comment on the allegations.

Editor's note: Bill Johnson, CEO and President of Embarcadero Media, which operates PaloAltoOnline.com, served on the Silicon Valley Community Foundation Board of Directors from 2004 to 2011. The board was not informed of any allegations of misconduct during that time, according to Johnson.

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Comments

21 people like this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 19, 2018 at 10:00 pm

Sounds like an inexcusably bad work environment. Shouldn’t have gone on so long.
All I know is, I donated to a local charity which then changed to have donations handled by Silicon Valley Community Foundation, then suddenly found myself targeted on other unwanted charitable appeals. Didn’t like that, so didn’t donate to the charity again (hint: holiday time)


Like this comment
Posted by Aisha
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2018 at 11:16 pm

[Post removed.]


15 people like this
Posted by Appalled
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 20, 2018 at 6:59 am

So sorry for the employees. Shocking given this is a major charity charged with dong good. How could the leadership not know about the behavior of the no. 2 staff and let this go on for so long. Greed and hubris blinded their CEO, I suspect. The CEO is equally responsible and worse for turning away. What will the board of this public charity do now???


33 people like this
Posted by Donna
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 20, 2018 at 11:37 am

Sounds like SVCF has the same kind of ego and hubris as their donors. While many are a community-minded, a large group of them simply want the tax write off. Has anyone looked into how much of that 13.5 billion of assets under management actually gets deployed to do good? I seem to recall reading that a very small percentage of their managed funds actually get donated. Time to step up and make non-profits like this far more accountable.


22 people like this
Posted by Curious
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 20, 2018 at 12:00 pm

I don't think I ever understood that a foundation that represented the interests of its namesake didn't actually do much to help it. I've done some looking and it would appear that very little of the money held by t his organization actually goes to help the community of Silicon Valley. Other foundations with much smaller assets do much more. I was proud of this non-profit until reading the news this week.

What gives? And why doesn't someone do an investigation of that? A giving organization that holds on to money to have power is as bad as anything one can imagine. Our homeless situation and housing costs and health disparities should be fixed with 13.5 billion dollars no?


28 people like this
Posted by MyOpinion
a resident of another community
on Apr 20, 2018 at 3:17 pm

The CEO has to go.


16 people like this
Posted by Sophie
a resident of another community
on Apr 20, 2018 at 3:33 pm

A toxic working environment from a prominent foundation? What else are there under the carpet? Anyone or auditor actually evaluate the funds result? Instead of a tool for big Corp to write off tax?


Like this comment
Posted by MyOpinion
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2018 at 8:14 am

[Post removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by Governance
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2018 at 8:59 am

I agree the CEO is responsible and needs to step down. He set the culture and it seems like he had to know and if he did not, he was out of touch and clearly challenged as a leader. I am curious to know where the board was in all of this? Charities are governed by boards and who was overseeing the CEO and No. 2? After all, this is a $13.5 billion entity.


15 people like this
Posted by Mtn View Resident
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 21, 2018 at 9:43 am

Why is it that SVCF, with billions in assets, its HQ in Mountain View, lets the City of Mountain View foot the bill for homelessness, people living out of cars and RV's on City Streets. Ironically the SVCF major donors, live in affluent communities such as Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, towns with zero tolerance for the homeless taking up residence on their streets, they push the problem over the border, turn a blind eye and nobody seems to care.


1 person likes this
Posted by MyOpinion
a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2018 at 10:43 am

IF I had a donor advised fund with SVCF would seriously consider transferring to another DAF. "Notably, while a donor-advised fund can facilitate the transfer to another donor-advised fund not all donor-advised funds cooperate with outbound transfers to other DAFs (as the donor-advised fund is not required to acquiesce to the donor in all situations)."

I wonder if SVCF allows outbound transfers to another fund? Something to consider after this debacle.


1 person likes this
Posted by MyOpinion
a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2018 at 11:35 am

I find it interesting that grants from SVCF to Mountain View's Community Services Agency (CSA) for 2015/16 TOTAL $142k. I would have thought it would be much higher.

Community Services Agency Donor Advised 2015 32,000
Community Services Agency Donor Advised 2016 110,000

Source Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by MyOpinion
a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2018 at 3:12 pm

"One of the largest grants reported by the SVCF in 2016 was a $25 million “contribution” to a donor-advised fund at Goldman Sachs. In 2015 and 2016, another $21 million left the SVCF for donor-advised funds at Fidelity, Schwab, Vanguard, Bank of America, and elsewhere. These grants are transfers to financial institutions that do not do charities any good, but they are logged as “grantmaking” by the SVCF."

SOURCE SVCF DATABASE Web Link
Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund NY
General Nonprofit Support Donor Advised 2016 $24,999,973


7 people like this
Posted by BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2018 at 1:38 pm

The CEO clearly knew about this behavior. Amazing that in today's world, this kind of leadership is still being tolerated by senior management.

Seems this is a sham organization. Agree that the Weekly should do a follow up story on this shady organization.


2 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 26, 2018 at 8:01 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

I just read about the timeline on the now known Wells Fargo Accounts scam, were employees were put under pressure to " make their numbers ", yet not a sngle upper management person was charged with an actual crime. The real problem is that having a toxic work environment where no person can prove harassment falls on deaf government ears. My daughter filed a sexual harassment claim with proof. All hat happened is that a managers spot went " poof ". She walked down the street and got a manager position at a major hardware seller that is nationally known.
I had a similar problem; I wanted merit, not kissing up and brown-nosing which did not fit the culture in the semiconductor industry at the time. Things are supposed to have changed; the old stereotype of a manager " cracking the whip " over the employees backs has no place in today's workforce. Unfortunately, it seem that upper management does not consider HOW a lower manager runs their department, they just want the money to keep making them profit and keep themselves and the stockholders and SV donors happy ( got a new tax break ready, I need another one ). Everything should not be about money and/or power. Yet we still find these " kingdoms " where abuse of any kind gets results. I DID make waves when I " walked across the street to a better paying job ( and my department was made " redundant "); I was told that from my former coworkers. I guess that lesson was never learned in Silicon Valley. Take a stand! You only have your job to lose!

8P....





5 people like this
Posted by Crystal
a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2018 at 8:01 pm

I’m really shocked that everyone is surprised about this behavior. This type of toxic bullying behavior is prevalent in Silicon Valley. Walk into any law firm and you’ll see the attorneys abusing their power and no one does crap about it. Why, because they are the rainmakers. End of story.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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