Philanthropists learn how to harness power of giving

The San Diego Women’s Foundation will celebrate a decade of philanthropic education and donation with its 10th Annual Grants Celebration at 5:30 p.m. June 1 at The Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla. The milestone event will include representatives from more than 50 community partners, foundation members and members of the public. In addition, recipients of the 2010 grant program will be announced.

“The Big Bash is open to the public,” said Tracy Johnson, the foundation’s director. “It is free so come out and learn more.”

The past 10 years have seen more a refining of the process than a restructuring of the process for the San Diego Women’s Foundation. From day one, educating women about the philanthropic process has been central to the group’s mission.

“That’s one thing that hasn’t changed at all,” Johnson said. “When it was started, (education) was central and core. It’s even clearer now, so we work hard to provide educational forums and experiences.”

Members have the option of attending workshops and seminars, as well as participating in the grant-making process. The organization functions with three teams that address various stages of the process: discovery, implementation and impact.

Because it is a female-focused organization, Johnson said there are no expectations on how active a member must be: “We understand women. Women’s lives are crazy-busy, so we have a no-guilt philosophy. They can participate at any level.”

Power of pooled philanthropy

The other thing that hasn’t changed is the power of collectively pooling resources to make a difference.

The San Diego Women’s Foundation was founded in 2000 with the vision of educating and empowering women who support charitable projects. The premise behind the vision was, because of women’s roles in philanthropy – whether through monetary donations, volunteerism or fundraising leadership — organizing those efforts through educated decision-making could increase the efficiency of those dollars.

“Essentially, it is that mission that first interested me when I joined 10 years ago, as a founder,” said La Jollan Carol Chang. “For the first several years of my membership, I was happy with the organization’s slogan of do a little or do a lot. I chose to do little, only to attend the annual meetings so that I could learn about the grantees and essentially how my dollars were used.

“But after a few years, I began to better understand the essence of the organization. The catch phrase that we use is the ‘power of pooled philanthropy’ and after the first several years, I really did get educated and inspired by understanding that my dollars when combined with those dollars of all members, really do make a significant impact, especially to some of the smaller nonprofit agencies in our (San Diego) community.”

There are only two requirements necessary to join the foundation.

“Being a woman qualifies you for membership,” Johnson said.

Members then commit to an annual donation of $2,000 for a minimum of five years, payable in a variety of installments.

“When you take and add up your charitable donations over a year,” Johnson said, “chances are most people give a couple thousand a year. The $2,000 is do-able, and it insures we give a significant investment back to the community.”

There are more than 200 foundation members, representing a diverse range of financial, educational, professional and ethnic backgrounds.

“I think most members would say that they have found new and made lasting friendships while engaged in the process of learning about and enabling the many, many terrific programs that we have funded over the years,” Chang said. “Personally, I went from being a ‘do a little’ member to a ‘do a lot member’ primarily because it was just fun and stimulating to work side by side with these interesting, involved and passionate women.”

Since its inception, the foundation has provided financial support to 53 San Diego County-based non-profit programs, totally $1.9 million. It also has nearly $2 million in an endowment.

The founders established six focus areas — arts and culture, civil society, economic and employment development, education, environment, health and human services — which are funded cyclically.

This year’s focus is environment.

The grants focus for next year will be arts and culture.

San Diego Women’s Foundation

  • What: 10th Annual Grants Celebration
  • When: 5:30 to 8 p.m. June 1
  • Where: The Neurosciences Institute, 10640 John Jay Hopkins Drive, La Jolla
  • Cost: Free
  • Contact: (619) 235-2300,