Local resident making an impact with San Diego Women's Foundation

Carmel Valley resident Joan Jones has been a force for the San Diego Women’s Foundation for the last eight years, promoting participation and leadership of women in philanthropy. Jones is currently serving as a board member and is actively involved with many of the Foundation’s programs that benefit underserved communities of San Diego under the guiding principle: “Women can do more than woman.”

Joan Jones, a board member at the San Diego Women's Foundation
Joan Jones, a board member at the San Diego Women's Foundation Courtesy

“Joan epitomizes the spirit of giving back to community, working tirelessly to create a brighter future,” said Katie Sawyer, the executive director of the San Diego Women’s Foundation (SDWF). “Her dedication and strategic vision have been an enormous benefit to the San Diego Women’s Foundation and to the broader San Diego region.”

Jones has lived in San Diego since 1998 and in Carmel Valley for the last 14 years. She has 25 years of corporate experience in strategic planning, finance and accounting in the energy, utility and consumer electronics industries. She held senior level finance positions at Sony Electronics, Sempra Energy and Getty Oil.

Jones’ first involvement in philanthropy was with The San Diego Foundation’s Community Scholarship Program.

“I’m really passionate about education, I believe it’s the great equalizer,” Jones said. “With a great education, anyone can meet their potential if they work hard.”

The San Diego Foundation’s Community Scholarship Program is the largest provider of scholarships outside of the college system in the San Diego community, awarding between $2 million and $3 million a year in scholarships. Jones was involved for several years and also served as the committee’s chair—she enjoyed meeting the students and even opened up a scholarship in her father’s name after he passed away from lymphoma in 2007.

She chose to open the scholarship up for students who are entering the medical field, those in hands-on specialties such as certified nursing aids or physician’s assistants as those were the people who meant the most to her father when he was receiving care.

Before he died, Jones was able to tell her father about her plans. “He got a big smile on his face,” Jones said.

Through her work at the Foundation she became aware of the San Diego Women’s Foundation (SDWF), which was founded under its umbrella in 2000.

“The San Diego Women’s Foundation is a group of women that focuses on philanthropy together and makes grants to the community,” Jones said. “It sounded very interesting to me and I thought it might be a new, different thing to get involved with.”

The SDWF has about 216 members who make annual contributions and determine grant awards. Every year the Foundation undergoes a “rigorous” grant-making process, researching what the largest needs are in the San Diego community and selecting a yearly focus area. The process for grant selection includes evaluations and site visits to award about $175,000 a year in grants to about four to six community organizations.

As of June 2017, more than $3.2 million had been awarded to 85 San Diego nonprofits.

“It’s so wonderful to be a part of that program. Any organization who has received a grant is called a Community Partner and we stay connected with them permanently,” Jones said. “We keep in touch and see how our investment made a difference.”

At the SDWF, Jones often taps into her professional background as a CPA who focused on finance and strategic planning. About four years ago, she undertook the effort of creating a new strategic plan for the organization. Called “SDWF Forward!”, Jones’ goal was to explore what this group of women could do to increase their impact in the community.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about our mission and what more we can do. We reconfirmed our mission, to educate women and to engage them in philanthropy and work toward improving our community,” Jones said. “It was a call to broaden and deepen the work we were doing.”

Jones is especially proud of the Philanthropy Fellows program, an initiative that was a direct result of the strategic planning effort. The program offers women who are an employee or volunteer of one of their Community Partners a chance to join the Women’s Foundation for a two-year period, giving them a chance to work on projects within SDWF and get involved with their annual grants cycle process.

The program allows the women to see the grant process from the donor perspective, learn about the SDWF practices and also gives them the chance to expand their network.

“The practices we have developed are really unlike anything ever seen before, its checks and balances, its inclusiveness, everything about it is very high quality,” Jones said. “It’s so valuable to be able to bring women from our non-profits into that process so that they can learn about what a well-honed process would be.”

So far 10 women have gone through the Fellows program and have told Jones that they would never have had those kinds of experiences and exposure had they not been a part of SDWF. Jones said they are able to take what they learned to their home organizations and make improvements to better serve the community.

“Working one on one with the fellows, it’s just such a wonderful program and just warms my heart when I talk to these ladies and hear how much they appreciate the opportunity and how much it changes their lives,” Jones said.

In addition to her work with the SDWF, Jones is also the executive director of the San Diego Regional Fire Foundation where she is focused on fundraising, strategic planning and increasing public awareness of fire and emergency services.

She is also the founder and board member of the Josephine County Foundation in Oregon, a student-led nonprofit that works on projects that promote health, education, public safety and leadership and help better Josephine County. Jones has family members that live in Northern Oregon and in 2011 was connected with a group of Grants Pass high schoolers that wanted to make a change in their community but weren’t quite sure how.

Jones stepped in and helped with strategic planning and brain storming— as a member of the board, she is up there about five times a year to work with the organization as well as doing fundraising back in San Diego.

Jones said she feels fortunate that she is able to use the foundation of skills and knowledge achieved in her business career to give back to nonprofit organizations that can really benefit — she encourages others to do the same.

“Take advantage of the experience you have and always think: ‘How can I give back?’ If others have helped you be successful, you should pay that forward if you are in a position to help,” Jones said.

This year, SDWF’s focus for grants is promoting greater access to behavioral health services for youth in underserved communities. To learn more, visit

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