Fifteen Years Of Lessons At The Kenneth Rainin Foundation - Kenneth Rainin Foundation

Fifteen Years Of Lessons At The Kenneth Rainin Foundation

Ken Rainin on the phone in his office. Kenneth Rainin

As we mark the 15th anniversary of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s formal grantmaking, I am reflecting on this incredible journey. For the past 15 years, I’ve honored my father’s legacy by fostering a culture of collaboration, experimentation and curiosity. I’d like to share some valuable lessons I’ve learned along the way and how they have shaped our organization.

The Foundation was created by my father, Kenneth Rainin, to support his philanthropic interests. In 2007, when he passed away, as a testament to his generous and compassionate nature, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation was named the beneficiary of the majority of his estate. I only had a vague sense of what a foundation could be, but I understood what I needed to do—honor my father’s wishes, focus on specific giving areas and surround myself with individuals who shared his values. Some of those remarkable people are still with our organization, which has been an incredible gift.

Early Lessons

As I got started, I remembered what my father taught me: assemble the best possible team, provide them with the resources they need and then get out of their way. This philosophy helped us build a culture where staff feel connected, supported and trusted. No one person can be an expert in everything, and I appreciate the diversity of talents and perspectives that enrich our workplace.

My father established his reputation making innovative medical devices, yet he was an English major, not a scientist. He was successful because he had an innate curiosity about the world. He engaged with lab technicians, listened to their insights and designed products that met their needs. Our staff also understand the value of engaging those closest to the issues to find solutions. We invite ideas, listen to the communities we serve, and then co-create meaningful solutions with them.

Learning And Evolving Through Partnerships

This approach has strengthened our relationships with grantees that have been central to advancing our strategies in the Arts, Education and Health.

Anne Lai, SFFILM Executive Director; Ryan Coogler, Filmmaker and SFFILM Rainin Grantee; and Jen Rainin. Photo credit: Drew Altizer Photography
  • SFFILM has pioneered ways to support a thriving community of diverse filmmakers in the Bay Area. At the heart of the Rainin Foundation’s partnership with SFFILM is a desire to ensure that historically excluded communities have access to the resources needed to create a more inclusive film landscape. This equity focus also led us to establish a fund to specifically support Bay Area filmmakers who have disabilities.
  • The Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) is taking on the challenge of helping arts organizations find affordable space in one of the most expensive regions in the country and is on the cusp of securing 250,000 square feet in the Bay Area.
  • FluentSeeds has established deep roots in Oakland over the past 10 years. After a decade of growth, the early literacy training and coaching nonprofit merged with Collaborative Classroom and expanded its transformational programming across the US.
  • Our annual Innovations Symposium brings together scientific minds from around the world to promote cutting-edge research for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. This event has sparked collaborations among scientists that likely would not have happened otherwise.

Other notable achievements appear in our History Timeline, including our most recent collaboration with other funders that led to the Common Arts Application.

Adapting And Improving How We Work

As with many organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic presented us with unprecedented challenges. The exposure of long-standing inequities and the uprisings for racial justice deepened our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. We’ve made improvements in our processes, our policies and how we relate to one another. We’ve emerged from this difficult period stronger as an organization, and more resilient and committed to our mission.

Behind a podium, two people look toward an audience that is out of view. One person is speaking in a hand-held microphone.
Jen Rainin speaking at the 2023 Innovations Symposium with Dashiell Patterson, her son and Rainin Foundation Board Member. Photo credit: Mitch Tobias

Our experiences are helping us build toward the future. As we approached this 15-year milestone, I started thinking more about what the word “foundation” means. It is an underpinning that allows a stable structure; it can be an underlying principle, core or heart; or a foundation can be a point of departure.

For us, it begins with a stable structure. Our organization is guided by the underlying principles and values from my father. We’ve assembled the right people for key roles, established a culture of experimentation and curiosity, and cultivated deep trust within our team. We’re building on our learning and evaluation efforts to refine and strengthen our programs and strategies. My hopes for what we can achieve evolve each year.

These 15 years have been an extraordinary time of growth and learning. My dad was philanthropic in his lifetime but not on this scale. He would be thrilled to see the reach of his endowment and how it’s enhancing quality of life for so many people. I am proud of the advancements we’ve made toward achieving our mission and I’m struck by the fact that we’ve realized my vision for what this organization can be. We have transitioned from a scrappy beginning to a more organized and nimble organization. I miss the days of being small, but I’m embracing where we are today and relishing the opportunities it brings. I can’t help but feel immense gratitude for everyone I have the privilege of working with—our team, our partners and the people in the communities we serve.

As we celebrate our 15th anniversary, I like to think that my father would be more than satisfied with what we’ve built in his name. I miss him dearly and I wish he could have witnessed the incredible progress we’ve made along the way.

Marking The Milestone

Throughout the year we will find ways to celebrate this milestone and honor our vision for a world where all Oakland children read at or above grade level, no one suffers from Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Bay Area artists thrive.