Member Profile: Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego County

Friday, November 4, 2016

This profile is one in a series highlighting the work of our earliest and longtime members to commemorate the 40th anniversary of San Diego Grantmakers' founding in 1976.

As the oldest – and one of the largest – community foundations in the San Diego region, the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego (JCF) has a reach that extends far outside the city limits and well beyond the Jewish population. 

Since its inception nearly 50 years ago, JCF has facilitated more than $1 billion in grants, with roughly 70 percent of that amount making its way to the secular community. These grants benefit a range of organizations and programs locally, nationally and in Israel.

A Customized Approach to Grantmaking

According to JCF Vice President, Operations Sharleen Wollach, the Foundation stands apart due to its boutique approach to working with donors. 

The Foundation’s tailored approach to grantmaking seems to resonate with donors. They currently manage close to $300 million in assets and facilitate more than $100 million in grants annually.

“Individuals and organizations come to the Jewish Community Foundation for our personalized, concierge-type service in which we work with them directly to personalize their philanthropy. We don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach and remain very focused on matching donor interests and coordinating strategic philanthropy,” adds Sharleen. 

Acting President and CEO Jeremy Pearl further explains the Foundation’s role in grantmaking as being that of a professional donor advisor: “We are facilitators of the grantmaking process. Donors turn to us for honest advice because we have the tools and resources to support their giving strategy. They know they can place their funds with us and that they’ll be managed within a transparent governance structure with a proven history of maintaining best practices.” 

The Foundation’s broad-based service goes well beyond the transactional. They go the extra mile to help donors decide what is important to them, identify community needs, and strategize appropriate funding opportunities. The Foundation then guides donors in completing their due diligence; helping them collect grant proposals, and working with them to thoroughly vet potential recipients. 

These may sound like services available only to significant donors, but what really sets the Foundation apart is its low barrier of entry. Philanthropists can open a Donor Advised Fund for as little as $1,800 – and the minimum amount for any grant is $100.

“We work to be very inclusive and are open to the entire community for all types and levels of philanthropists who want to make a difference. We work with all religions, backgrounds and walks of life and facilitate grants to organizations that serve a wide variety of purposes, whether they are small nonprofit startups or large established institutions,” says Sharleen.

L’Dor V’Dor and the Foundation’s Values

The 2015-16 Jewish Teen Foundation raised and granted out nearly $35,000 to eight organizations.

L’Dor V’Dor, a Jewish word that literally means from generation to generation, embodies how the Foundation supports individuals and organizations in preparing for the future of philanthropy by helping them engage in multi-generational conversations around planned giving and philanthropy. 

An example of this important cross-generational work is the Jewish Teen Foundation, which provides local Jewish high schoolers with the opportunity to learn about philanthropy. As one of only five cities to receive a grant from the Lauder Foundation to run this program, the Jewish Teen Foundation allows the next generation of donors to learn about philanthropy by working as an actual foundation, including the tasks of fundraising and grant making.

Programs that Work for the Community

The Jessica Nudelstejer Memorial Fund awards computer grants each year to Casa de Amparo.

The Foundation helps the Jewish community in San Diego strengthen its roots by encouraging planned giving. One way this is done is by teaching organizations how to engage with their membership and constituents in order to secure future gifts. The nationally recognized Endowment Leadership Institute (ELI) and Create a Jewish Legacy program was founded by the JCF in 2004. “A lot of our work in the community has been to help Jewish organizations lay the groundwork of philanthropy and build their legacy societies through our ELI program,” says Sharleen.  “It is important for us to provide sustaining, multi-level support to both secular and Jewish organizations. We are there for them as they grow and become more established in the community.

The Create a Jewish Legacy program aims to raise awareness in the Jewish community regarding the benefits of leaving a charitable legacy.  In addition, Legacy donors are invited to share their story in JCF’s Book of Life program. Individuals or families sign the Book of Life when they promise a legacy gift or establish or contribute to an endowment of any amount for one or more Jewish organizations.

The Jewish Women’s Foundation is a fund held at the Foundation and is focused on supporting the needs of Jewish women and girls. Every two to three years they change their focus to a different grant initiative important to this demographic. More than 60 women of all ages are members of this giving circle.

The Jewish Community Foundation has earned the Kaleidoscope Award for Exceptional Governance from the University of San Diego.  “We have an amazing board of directors that is known for operating at the highest standards,” says Jeremy. “We have 26 people on our board and there is still a waiting list to join. That really says something about how eager this community is to be involved.”

Staying Connected Through San Diego Grantmakers

The Jewish Women’s Foundation (JWF) is a group of women who have joined together to improve the lives of Jewish women and girls.According to Jeremy, who sits on the San Diego Grantmakers (SDG) Finance Committee, the Foundation effectively matches donors and the vital services they fund. They appreciate San Diego Grantmakers for their ability to stay connected to the broader community. “The relationships we’ve developed through our long involvement with San Diego Grantmakers help us to learn from and connect with donors, which helps us to increase our impact.” 

Sharleen adds, “we operate with a lean staff but our breadth and depth of knowledge is substantive in order to serve the community the way we do. This is why we collaborate with organizations like San Diego Grantmakers to help us stay on top of the various aspects of local philanthropy.”

The Foundation has a long history of volunteerism with SDG, including having many of its staff sit on the SDG board, as well as participate in various committees and collaboratives.

“We see involvement with San Diego Grantmakers as an opportunity,” continues Jeremy. “Bringing various grantmakers and other like-minded individuals and organizations to the table is an irreplaceable and invaluable function that allows us all to do even more to improve the community. A rising tide lifts all boats.”

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