The San Diego Foundation: Creating a Regional Culture of Giving for San Diego

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Perhaps one of the most recognized nonprofit organizations in town, The San Diego Foundation is a regional community foundation that maximizes the impact of charitable giving to enact positive social change and provides opportunities for charitable people and companies to support causes that are important to them. 

Local students explore the outdoors as part of the San Dieguito Watershed Explorers program through the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, which received a grant from The San Diego Foundation Opening the Outdoors program

“We know that a variety of things go into making a community, such as health, education, culture, and the environment,” says Foundation Vice President of Charitable Giving Adrienne Vargas. “We support our members with the community needs they want to address.”

According to President & CEO Kathlyn Mead, the Foundation’s donors reflect a range of backgrounds and interests, and that is where the organization finds its opportunity to make a real impact.

“The beauty of The San Diego Foundation is our expertise in customizing a donor program to the exact needs of individual philanthropists. We don’t shoehorn them into a particular model. Instead, we ask how we can help them be successful and then provide a team of experts to get them there,” she says. 

The Foundation specializes in working with the community to enable giving to be as streamlined and efficient as possible. They also work with donors on philanthropic strategies and provide them with advice regarding charitable fund structure, investment portfolio options, and long-term financial objectives.  

More Than 40 Years of Serving San Diego

The San Diego Foundation legacy as philanthropic leader and champion of charity goes back to its founding in 1975. That is when a group of civically minded San Diegans came together to create a charitable organization that could serve a broad spectrum of donors and philanthropy efforts in San Diego. The founders included executives, attorneys, and accountants representing such organizations as San Diego Gas & Electric, Bank of America, Union Bank, and the United Way. 

Starting with a $195,000 pledge from the Gildred Foundation, as well as office space and equipment provided by United Way, the Foundation has grown in the last four decades to its current management of $672 million in total assets from 2,029 separate funds.

(LtoR:) Connie Matsui, Horacio Valeiras, John Cambon, Kathlyn Mead and Amy Threefoot Valeiras enjoy dessert and conversation at the new Liberty Public Market during the 2016 donor appreciation lunch

Funding San Diego for Today and Tomorrow

Of the more than 2,000 funds the Foundation currently manages, 1,150 are endowment funds totaling more than $428 million. These endowments are permanent gifts that are wisely invested and stewarded to benefit San Diego forever by growing and yielding grant funding for current and future generations.

While endowments are one successful method The Foundation uses to build a legacy of giving that helps to secure San Diego’s future and that of hundreds of nonprofit organizations, its flexible donor services help ensure that both current and future community and donor needs are met.  

According to Kathlyn, “some of our donors have short-term needs and want to distribute their money within, say, five years. Others want to distribute in perpetuity so they can have a more significant and enduring impact, and ensure their kids and grandkids are philanthropically minded. Then we have donors with varying interest areas or those who want their donations to help a specific geographic region. We work with all of these donors to fulfill both their specifications and the needs of the community.” 

The Foundation also recognizes that philanthropic interest can change over time, so it gives donors the ability to establish funds that can change with them. “Today you may have young children and want to donate to early childhood education,” says Kathlyn, “but when the kids are older, you may be more interested in needs-based scholarships or post-secondary education. Later, you or your family may be impacted by cancer and want to do something to support cancer research.” 

Because of these natural changes in interest throughout life, The Foundation doesn’t rush donors to make decisions now, but instead immediately allows them the tax benefits of making their gift today with the ability to wait until later to do the research and create the strategy of how they want to give and make an impact on society. 

“This gives them the ability to have maximum tax advantage and maximum flexibility in the impact their donation has in the community,” adds Kathlyn. 

A Strategy of Community-focused Giving

Another way The Foundation serves the diverse needs of San Diego is through its Regional Affiliate Program.  The Foundation has regional affiliates throughout the county, located from Chula Vista to Escondido and from Ramona to Oceanside. The deeply-rooted relationships The Foundation holds in these communities allows it to work with members to improve the quality of life in their own backyard. 

Led by boards of directors who live and work in the local neighborhoods in which they operate, the regional affiliates collectively have more than 700 members who determine how charitable funds are granted to nonprofit organizations in their respective communities.

Scott Lewis (left), Editor in Chief of Voice of San Diego, interviews Malik Vitthal, Director of Sundance award-winning film Imperial Dreams, at The San Diego Foundation Center for Civic Engagement event focusing on anti-recidivism

According to Adrienne, “the Regional Affiliate Program was established by The San Diego Foundation to leverage local leadership, build endowments, increase impactful philanthropy and promote civic engagement. It builds a true regional culture of giving for all San Diegans.” 

The success of this approach is clear – regional affiliates have granted $4.4 million to endeavors that strengthen their neighborhoods and built local endowments of more than $4 million to improve the lives of future generations.

Enabling Anyone to Be a Philanthropist

Giving through The Foundation is not limited to the very wealthy. Anyone can open or contribute to an existing fund. A minimum of $25,000 establishes a charitable fund in the donor’s name, which can be created with a gift of cash, stock, real estate, life insurance and other assets. A legacy fund can be created with a promise of a portion of those assets as a gift to the community. 

According to Adrienne, an individual donor can also write a check for $1 or more to contribute to a fund, including donations to hundreds of nonprofit organizations that have endowment funds at The San Diego Foundation. Contributions to funds that support Foundation programs focused on the future of San Diego (Fund for the Future), Age Friendly Communities, Arts & Culture, Balboa Park, Civic Engagement, Climate, Disaster Relief/Preparedness, Education/Scholarships, Environment, Science/Technology and At-Risk Youth can also be made. “We don’t let your inability to create a fund in your own name be a barrier to participation,” she adds.  

More Than Philanthropic Support for San Diego

Giving with The San Diego Foundation is not all about money, however. As Kathlyn says, “the importance of philanthropy does not just center around writing a check.” 

This is where the Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) comes in. The CCE looks to the future of philanthropy in San Diego with what Adrienne calls “an eye on preserving successful practices while introducing new models that will help us move into the future.”

San Diegans learn about the benefits of hands-on, interactive learning at The San Diego Center for Civic Engagement event Future40: Learning Landscapes

Adrienne continues:  “The CCE educates and informs the community about challenges and opportunities throughout San Diego. It provides an opportunity to engage the community and learn from one another, as well as financially contribute. It is about understanding where your dollars will have the greatest impact.” 

A Partnership Between The San Diego Foundation and San Diego Grantmakers

Kathlyn describes the complementary relationship between the Foundation and SDG over the last 40 years as one of mutual benefit. 

“What we try to do together is understand local challenges and opportunities and reach out to different audiences to address them,” she says. “We play different roles, but are part of the same team working to strengthen our region through philanthropy.”

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