Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker

Take risks. Move quickly. Get out of the office and into the field.

Set aside the mountains of paper that characterize conventional philanthropy and focus instead on forging enduring partnerships with outstanding individuals. Dare to change the world in imaginative ways that prove deeply satisfying, exciting, and (dare we say it?) fun. Based on four decades of experience as a foundation executive, Bill Somerville’s Grassroots Philanthropy is an unorthodox guide to decisive, hands-on grantmaking. Straightforward, persuasive, and exhilarating, Somerville’s courageous and thoughtful approach to grantmaking will energize and motivate foundation and nonprofit leaders alike.


“Bill Somerville provides us with ideas, suggestions, and experiences that would help any foundation, large or small, experienced or new, and any employee or board member.”

—Colburn Wilbur, former president and CEO of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation


“Bill is my hero—a friend to all of us who care about our communities, our children, our country. Someone who can see the great ideas when others just see chaos or problems; someone who listens and reaches down to the grass roots to discover new trends, new ideas.”

—Catherine Milton, Founder, Friends of the Children, former Executive Director, Save the Children


“Working with Bill Somerville continues to be a joy in every regard. It is difficult to imagine how we could accomplish much of our grantmaking, both regionally and internationally, without his assistance.”

—Thomas C. Layton, President, Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation


“Bill Somerville has inspired my community work in ingenious and provocative ways.”

—Alice Waters, Founder and Director, Chez Panisse Foundation

About the Authors

Colburn WilburColburn Wilbur is a trustee of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, where he was the CEO for twenty-three years. Prior to that, Cole served as executive director and CEO of the Sierra Club Foundation. He was a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foundations (1999-2000) and in 1999 received the COF’s Distinguished Grantmaker Award. In addition to serving on the Packard Foundation Board, Cole is currently a member of the boards for Colorado College, the Institute for Global Ethics, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, The Stanford Theatre, and Philanthropic Ventures Foundation. Cole received both his undergraduate and MBA degrees from Stanford University and is the coauthor of The Complete Guide to Grantmaking Basics.
Fred SetterbergFred Setterberg is the coauthor, with Lonny Shavelson, of Toxic Nation, Under the Dragon: California’s New Culture, and five other books, including the award-winning The Roads Taken: Travels Through America’s Literary Landscapes. He has been a staff writer for the East Bay Express and editor of Travelers’ Tales America, and has written for the New York Times, The Nation, and scores of other national and regional magazines. He lives in Oakland, California. Visit his website at
Bill Somerville is a nationally recognized expert on creative grantmaking. He has consulted at over 350 community foundations in the United States, Canada, and the U.K. on innovative grantmaking and effective operations. In 1991 he founded Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, which specializes in responsive approaches to grantmaking, such as “paperless” discretionary grants and grants with a forty-eight-hour turnaround.