Leadership Change for National Voting Rights and Elections Collaborative Fund at a “Critical Moment for America and Democracy”
NEO Philanthropy has announced the appointment of Erica Teasley Linnick to lead the State Infrastructure Fund (SIF), the nation’s most established donor collaborative that considers civic engagement, voting rights, and a strong democracy as inextricably linked.
Linnick brings to SIF almost two decades of experience in social justice philanthropy, racial equity and pro-democracy movement building, litigation and funding. She takes the helm of SIF at a time when unprecedented attacks on historically under-represented communities targeted by voter suppression and intimidation efforts are threatening democracy itself and when philanthropy is being called on to increase its commitment to civic participation and advancing voting rights among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and other communities.
The announcement of Linnick comes after a national search to replace Lisa Versaci, who has served in a leadership role at SIF since its inception almost 11 years ago. The search was facilitated by Bridge Partners, which centers equity and inclusion in executive recruitment work.
Linnick, born in the South to a Central American and a Midwesterner, has been on a 20-year professional journey guided by a profound commitment to the ideal of an inclusive, multiracial democracy. She most recently was Senior Program Officer then acting Director of Democracy at Open Society Foundations. There she lead multi-million-dollar, non-partisan grantmaking for voting rights, election reform, legal empowerment and power-building in BIPOC communities.
Before that, Linnick had a distinguished career in nonprofit impact litigation as a board member and chair emeritus of The Impact Fund in Berkeley, CA; coordinator at the African American Redistricting Collaborative (AARC) in Los Angeles, where she developed fair districts strategy for California’s African American community; and Western Regional Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, focusing on civil rights litigation, and public education and legislative advocacy in areas of political participation, employment and police reform.
“Erica has a wealth of experience as a respected leader in the philanthropic space in the fields of civil rights, civic engagement and voter suppression,” said Michele Lord, president of NEO Philanthropy, which houses SIF. “Her deep issue expertise and knowledge of the movement and groups on the ground; her strong advocacy for diversifying the base of grantees; her skills as a manager and supporter of staff members in their growth; and her deep connections to funders and their potential to expand the support of democracy work at a time when the pillars of democracy itself, such as elections integrity and voter rights, are threatened – all that combined means she’s the right choice for SIF as it moves into its next period of expansion and growth.”
Linnick assumes leadership of SIF after a period of dramatic achievement and evolving funding strategies in civic engagement work. In the 2020 election period alone, SIF, a non-partisan 501(c)(3) collaborative fund, awarded $56 million to 140 organizations in 17 states. More than 100 million-plus voter contacts were scored during the 2020 elections, and 2.3 million new voters added to grantee contacts through online organizing and outreach, town halls and events. The number of African Americans eligible to vote in a presidential election hit a record 30 million, playing a major role in determining election results in AZ, GA, MI, PA and WI. Similar gains in the percentages of Latinos and youth voters were also achieved.
As part of its strategy, SIF prioritized funding in states with communities most directly impacted by voter suppression, intentionally investing in smaller BIPOC-led organizations especially in the Southwest, Southern and Great Lakes regions, and supporting them year-round and not just during election cycles. Currently, 87 percent of SIF’s grantees are BIPOC-led.
“At a time when the freedom to vote and have that vote count is most under threat, the State Infrastructure Fund could not be more relevant or impactful,” said Linnick. “SIF’s grantees, funders and staff are committed to fostering a multi-racial democracy that works for all of us. I am excited to be part of the SIF team as we work to educate, engage and protect voters in states across the country.”
Linnick takes over the leadership of SIF from outgoing director Lisa Versaci. Versaci is credited with bringing funders together who shared the vision of pooling philanthropic resources to support grassroots groups forming the backbone of civic engagement in their communities. The goal was to build a permanent infrastructure of organizations that would support continuous year-round civic engagement, voting and voting rights in key states across the country. From that vision sprouted SIF.
“We want to acknowledge Lisa Versaci for her ability to seize opportunities and encourage funders to invest broadly and early,” said NEO’s Michele Lord. “This has meant that the field of groups working on civic engagement and voter suppression issues is strong and inclusive. Lisa is an amazing listener, leader and strategist. She’s a beloved and respected colleague here at NEO – where she will be greatly missed.” “This is a critical moment for our country and our democracy,” said outgoing director Lisa Versaci. “Since its founding SIF has built civic engagement and voting rights networks specifically in the historically under-represented communities that are now being targeted by voter suppression and intimidation efforts. As we move into 2022 and 2024, SIF needs a strong leader who can work together with our experienced staff to meet this moment. I have full confidence that Erica has the vision, experience and determination to implement SIF’s strategy, which she has helped shape over her years of work and philanthropic support.”