CEO at Silicon Valley Community Foundation Put on Administrative Leave

Mari Ellen Loijens (R) with Silicon Valley Community Foundation CEO Emmett Carson (L) at the Foundation's regional meeting in 2017. (SVCM/Twitter)

The head of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation was placed on administrative leave Thursday, as the $13 billion dollar non-profit copes with allegations about the toxicity of its workplace culture. 

The organization’s Board of Directors voted to place President and CEO Emmett Carson on leave while two outside law firms follow up on an exposé published last week in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Carson will continue to receive his annual salary of $892,689. (With annual compensation of $865,715 in 2015, Carson is the highest-paid community foundation CEO in the country, according to a Chronicle report.) Founding Board member and prior Chair Greg Avis was appointed interim CEO in the meantime.

While the Chronicle article focused on Carson’s second-in-command, Mari Ellen Loijens, dozens of current and former employees stepped forward to claim Carson condoned and even encouraged her bullying behavior because she was a talented fundraiser. She has since resigned.

Loijens helped to raise billions of dollars from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan, Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna. But many former employees who talked to KQED after Loijens resigned said she was verbally and emotionally abusive with many people over many years.

In a statement posted on the Foundation’s website, board officials wrote they are committed to taking “all necessary actions” once the investigations have concluded.

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After the expose's publication last week, Carson took to Twitter to say he was "deeply troubled" and "responsible for workplace culture," but current and former employees also took to Twitter to question him and the Foundation.

Former VP for Development Rebecca Dupras is now an estate, tax and charitable planner in Rhode Island. Dupras said Carson was well aware of the problems detailed in the Chronicle. "It’s been going on for a decade. Either he is clueless and ineffective, which I don’t believe is true. Or he’s been ignoring it," Dupras said.

“While [the] investigation was first launched following allegations of sexual harassment by one individual, it has since become clear that we may have a larger culture issue that needs to be addressed,” board chair Samuel Johnson Jr. wrote in a statement earlier this week. “This includes evaluating how teams are managed, what type of working environment is being fostered and confirming that we are the type of organization where reports of misconduct are met with swift and just action."

It remains to be seen whether the Foundation's donors maintain enough faith in the organization to stick with it through this crisis -- and/or choose to give it more money as the investigations continue.

Donor Steve Kirsch made his concerns public in a letter to the editor in the San Jose Mercury News:

I am dismayed at the recent revelations of a toxic work environment and I find it hard to believe the CEO wasn't aware of what was taking place. You simply cannot have this kind of extreme behavior happening for 11 years and claim you did not know. The board needs to move quickly to remedy this failure of leadership. If the board doesn't act, I will look elsewhere to do my charitable investing and I suspect other major donors will do the same.

Editor's Note: The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is among a number of organizations that give to KQED.

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