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Monday, October 24, 2005 | By now, each of us should have a strong opinion on the importance of caring for the common good. Recent natural disasters have brought this core value of caring about others into the limelight.

The unprecedented damage caused by two back-to-back hurricanes in the Gulf Coast region is still being calculated in the loss of lives, property and economies. The images of individuals, families and communities struggling to survive and recover provided us with a clear picture of just how fragile and vulnerable the human condition is. What also was very clear was our response to this human need. Again, the American public responded with countless acts of courage, compassion and generosity. The American Red Cross reports donations in excess of $825 million to the Katrina relief, with the Chronicle of Philanthropy reporting overall donations of $1.2 billion.

The San Diego region was well represented in our support to the Gulf Coast area as demonstrated by the more than $1 million in contributions to the American Red Cross San Diego Chapter and $2.3 million in contributions to the Salvation Army from residents in San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial Counties. To date, the family of donors at The San Diego Foundation has contributed more than $500,000 to charitable organizations providing direct relief and assistance to hurricane victims. In addition, staff of The Foundation has provided expertise, information and guidance to San Diego-based companies seeking opportunities to assist employees, their families and friends in the impacted areas.

Based on lessons learned

The San Diego Foundation took its lessons from the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the Oklahoma bombing by studying the roles that local community foundations played in the emergency response and recovery efforts in New York and Oklahoma and established the San Diego Regional Disaster Fund. Overseen by a committed and talented group of volunteers, the San Diego Regional Disaster Fund Board of Directors held their first meeting two weeks before the start of the fires.

On the first day of the fires, The San Diego Foundation’s volunteer Board of Governors activated the San Diego Regional Disaster Fund and began accepting donations for immediate grants to nonprofit organizations engaged in disaster relief. Foundation staff then began to conduct community needs assessments in the areas of health and human services, environmental impact and community recovery as the basis to direct future grants to communities impacted by the fires. Overall, $3.8 million were contributed by local individuals, families and companies to The San Diego Foundation’s After-the-Fire Fund and allocated back to local nonprofit organizations that directly served the residents of fire impacted communities.

The common good

Serving the common good is the core value of your regional community foundation. Founded in 1975, The San Diego Foundation is the only broad-purpose, permanent endowment built by hundreds of individuals and organizations across our region. It is charged to monitor and assess the changing needs of the region and to prepare to meet those needs through financial awards and organizational support to our nonprofit community that exceeds $400 million to date.

On Oct. 15, The San Diego Foundation celebrated 30 years of community service by launching a region-wide initiative. Entitled “Endow San Diego,” this multi-year effort unites more than 150 nonprofit organizations in an effort to inform and inspire San Diegans to contribute to the common good via endowment and planned giving. For more information, please visit

Steve R. Smith is dean and professor of law at California Western School of Law. Dean Smith also serves as chair of the Civil Society Working Group at The San Diego Foundation.

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