About Us

Our Approach

Our grant-making philosophy is supported by five grant-making pillars we’ve honed over the past 10 years. Together, they open a new approach to philanthropy that works more effectively for nonprofits and donors alike.

Listen
First

Nonprofit leaders are experts in their fields and have a unique understanding of the communities they serve. Give them the tools they're asking for and their organizations will flourish.

Focus
on Capacity

An effective nonprofit is more than its programs. Help them grow stronger from the inside to accomplish their mission with an internal structure that will make an impact well into the future.

Long-Term
Grants Only

Innovation takes time. Remain committed to funding a nonprofit’s grants for five-years so that a process can be built and perfected with enough time to tackle new challenges.

Commit to a
Community

Focus on one community at a time by listening to their cross-generational challenges. Then approach solutions from different angles to create a web of thriving services.

Collaborative
Cohorts

Nonprofits have wisdom to share. Find nonprofits with mutually supporting missions and have them meet regularly to present grant proposals to one another for tangible feedback.

The Magic Cabinet Cohort

Several times a year, Magic Cabinet selects a Cohort made of three nonprofits with mutually supporting missions. Nonprofit members receive funds and help determine which grants are approved.

Nonprofit Peers

The Magic Cabinet Cohort is made of 5 voting members: a leader from each of the 3 benefiting nonprofits, a Magic Cabinet program officer and an independent advisor from the community.

Present & Approves Grants

The benefiting nonprofit Cohort members present their grant proposals to the Cohort, and their peers approve or offer feedback on how to make the grant stronger.

Together for 5 Years

Cohorts meet quarterly for grant proposal presentations, to vote on new grants, share progress updates, and to seek advice on new challenges.

Access to a Pool of Funds

Magic Cabinet distributes $2.5m to the benefiting nonprofits through Cohort approved grants— approximately $500k available each year with unused funding rolling over to the next year.

Our Team

We have a collaborative leadership group with deep experience in philanthropy, community building and creative thinking.

Alina Amkhavong

Administrative Coordinator | Bay Area

Prior to Magic Cabinet, Alina worked in nonprofit youth engagement spaces. She dedicated her time to building capacity for underserved communities and amplified the voices of vulnerable youth through creative storytelling and sports. She’s deeply passionate about redirecting power to local communities. As the daughter of Lao refugees, she has always wanted to build a life around serving others in need.

In her downtime, Alina enjoys working on DIY home projects, exploring the outdoors, and trying new cafes around the Bay Area. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in NGOs and Social Change.
Grace Anderson

Program Officer | Bay Area

Grace lives on Ohlone Territory in Oakland, California. She is a self-described network weaver, dreamer, and strategist working at the intersection of racial, healing, and environmental justice. Prior to joining Magic Cabinet, Grace co-directed People of the Global Majority in the Outdoors, Nature, and the Environment (PGM ONE), a racial affinity space for BIPOC who work in connection to the land.
 
Grace loves riding bikes, prefers the mountains over the ocean, and has a newfound plant obsession.
Ken Birdwell

Founder & Board Chairman

Ken has worked in telecommunications, computer simulation, and CAD prosthetics, before combining his passion for both technology and art to help start Valve, a popular video game company in 1996. Retiring after 20 years, Ken is an avid traveler and has been active in the nonprofit world since 1992 as a volunteer, board member, and donor. Through the founding of his experimental 509(a)(3) foundation in 2011 and Magic Cabinet in 2018, Ken is dedicated to finding new ways of transforming lives and accelerating the evolution of philanthropy.

Christina Engel

Executive Director

Christina has dedicated her career to developing platforms for emergent leadership, community, and creativity. As Executive Director of Magic Cabinet, she is tasked with building and overseeing a grant-making system that centers on local equity, transparency, and long-term sustainability. Whether she’s working with young performing artists or with technology leaders, Christina is passionate about building scalable systems that honor local leadership and self-empowerment.

On the weekends, you might find her working in the garden, enjoying a local show, or venturing to the woods in and around the Seattle area. She holds degrees in Art History and Anthropology.

Tiffany Johnson

Program Director | Bay Area

Tiffany has diverse advocacy experience by working in multiple child welfare and nonprofit settings and served on boards that focus on improving the lives of transition-age foster youth. Her life’s passions have been advocating to ensure justice, compassion, and opportunity for vulnerable youth.

She is a member of the Youth Transitions Funders Group (YTGF) a national network of funders that work together to support the well-being and economic success of vulnerable young people age 14 to 25. Tiffany is the recipient of the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award for demonstrating the power of youth voice and improving the quality of life for California’s Foster Youth.

When not actively trying to solve the world’s problems you may find her at a Carnival celebration dancing the night away. Tiffany holds a Masters of Public Administration with a focus on organizational change.

Jackie Schultz

Program Officer | Seattle

Jackie moved to eastern Washington as a child from South Korea. As a mixed-race youth immigrating to a community that didn’t provide many social service supports for families, she knew she wanted to focus her education and eventual career to give back in support of immigrants, youth, and families in need.

Jackie’s role as Seattle Program Officer for Magic Cabinet is complemented by nearly two decades working in nonprofit development, communications, and marketing. Jackie lives by her favorite quote on what truly drives community: “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” – Coretta Scott King

In her free time, you’ll find Jackie entertaining at home on ‘Jdock’ with her senior cat Hammy, ‘forest bathing’ in the beautiful Pacific NW woods, volunteering with local arts or animal welfare agencies, or taking her 95-year-old grandmother on adventures. Jackie holds BAs in International Studies and Political Science and is pursuing a Masters in Public Administration.

Kate Thayer

Program Director | Seattle

Kate comes to Magic Cabinet after 19 years in wealth management. She brings a love for excellent client stewardship and for providing relevant services and solutions.  She helped founder Ken Birdwell start and run his experimental foundation.

Prior to her work as a fiduciary specialist, Kate was an activist, co-founder of a nonprofit and then a small business owner.  As an older queer woman who first came out in the early 80s, she never expected to see same sex marriage in her lifetime. This gives her hope that we can collectively end injustices and solve major societal problems.

Kate’s happy place is in the outdoors and she makes frequent pilgrimages to ‘The Mountain’. (Otherwise known as Mount Rainier.)  She holds a BA in English Literature and is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®).

Gloria Upchurch

Engagement Officer | Bay Area

As the Bay Area Engagement Officer, Gloria specializes in building long-term nonprofit partnerships. Before joining the Magic Cabinet team, Gloria developed and managed chronic kidney disease prevention programs around the globe. Through a proactive approach, her work improved awareness of the disease and increased high-risk communities’ access to intervention strategies. Gloria continues her global health work through her nonprofit and its work bringing clean delivery kits to rural African clinics.

Gloria is passionate about art that is deeply rooted in the chronicling of culture and everyday life. She holds a bachelor’s degree and studied Documentary & Fine Art Photography.

Our Board

For any additional information on our board members, please contact us.

Ken Birdwell

Founder & Board Chairman

Ken Davis

Board Secretary

Keith Vernon

Board Treasurer & Assistant Secretary

Rebecca Spadoni

Board Member

Christina Engel

Ex Officio