Partner profile: Satterberg Foundation is giving with heart

The Satterberg Foundation is a lead sponsor of the Seattle Equity Summit, which helps leaders and the public share strategies that advance equity. Photo by Jovelle Tamayo.  


By Anna Baum 

Donors are truly members of the non-profit family, and nowhere is that more evident than in the case of the Satterberg Foundation.

It helps that the Satterberg board and staff see their work as vital to their own well-being. Board Member Ben Lazarus and Caroline Miceli, director of operations and special interest grants, spoke to us recently and shared about Satterberg’s “secret sauce.” 

“It’s about building trust,” said Caroline, “how to build relationships and trust.” The L.A. Trust has benefited greatly from Satterberg’s supportive stance  Caroline was the first to reach out when the pandemic hit, schools closed, and the bottom dropped out for so many nonprofits. A grantee since 2018, we had developed the relationships between their staff and ours that build trust. 

A few months later when the murder of George Floyd rocked the nation and sparked a new chapter of its long climb out of racist roots, Satterberg was right there, asking its grantees again: what do you need? 

Being human together 

The answers led them to creating spaces “just to be human together,” and to Satterberg hosting professionally led Virtual Health, Healing & Caucusing meetings for both Black, Indigenous, People of Color and white-bodied cohorts. These gatherings offered a rare opportunity to begin the often-difficult conversations and healing processes as we engage in the national reckoning about systemic racism and its fall-out. 

The Satterberg Foundation states that it “strengthens our communities by promoting a just society and a sustainable environment. Doing this work deepens the interconnection of our family.” Founded in by 1990 by Virginia Satterberg Pigott Helsell out of her and her husband’s love for their family, it continues to be a well of inspiration for their children and grandchildren.  

Ben, Virginia’s step-grandson, is “grateful for the amount of family time it builds into my life.” A production sound mixer in Los Angeles, he looked forward to board meetings in Seattle before the pandemic, which allowed him to see his grandfather and other family members more frequently. The board is now composed of about 50% each of the two generations. 

Extended family 

The “family” in Satterberg’s mission statement is literal, but also resonates with the foundation’s vision of our human family. When Caroline started seven years ago, Sarah Walczyk was the only staff member, and the Satterberg family members did most of the work. Sarah is now executive director, with seven staff members and growing. Taking the long view of what organizations (as families) need in order to thrive, they focus on multiyear, core support grants. 

They also understand the benefits for everyone of being “process light” in their grants process. Originally they asked interested organizations to send a page, and decided on the basis of that whether to schedule a visit. One organization sent an idea the writer had while folding laundry and drinking wine, about growing a lemon tree in a trash can. “That candor was an oasis in a desert of really dry letters,” Ben said. They set up a visit and the idea went on to be a form of community garden. The process has evolved, but they continue to ”connect on a human level, not on a KPI level,” in Caroline’s words. 

Frank and open 

This “come as you are” attitude helps grantees be frank about the issues and open about lessons learned. “We show up as humans, imperfect, all trying to mitigate power imbalances and talk about what people and organizations need,” said Caroline. “It’s a mosaic, not a traditional, white-dominated way.  We’re centering and amplifying voices in our community, being an advocate through dollars or using one’s platform.” 

This leads to the question of how to vet nonprofits to ensure the funds have the strongest impact. The L.A. Trust was recently awarded another five-year core support grant. How does the Foundation make such decisions? “Through community,” says Caroline. They look at what the work is, who is doing it, and whether the work, staff and board are coming from the communities served. Site visits clarify whether there is alignment with Satterberg’s mission and values. 

Two of those values are moral courage and joy — qualities needed now more than ever. The L.A. Trust is grateful for the founders and stewards of the unique foundation; their comradeship helps sustain those values in our work. 

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