This is the second in a three-part series spotlighting how anyone can be a philanthropist, even you, regardless of your income or know-how.

Community foundations are like the backbone of charity in San Diego County. They unite and support philanthropists, allowing every donor to make a difference, whether they wish to give $100 or $1 million.

“It’s all about promoting a sense of generosity for our region,” says Emily Young, vice president of community impact at The San Diego Foundation. “We know people are really inspired when they have the opportunity to give and help people in their own backyard.”

Here are 5 ways that community foundations help make our home a better place:

1. They Help San Diego and San Diegans

Almost every community foundation has a major focus: The city, town, region or demographic that it serves.

“The role of a community foundation is to increase philanthropy in a region,” says Adrienne Vargas, vice president and chief giving officer with The San Diego Foundation. “You can have a great impact and bring about major change.”

For example, she says, The San Diego Foundation works through regional affiliates that serve nine communities, including Carlsbad, Chula Vista, Rancho Bernardo and San Ysidro. Under the motto “Live Here, Give Here,” these affiliates facilitate giving at the neighborhood level. Members pay an annual fee that supports community-specific endowments and immediate giving through annual grant awards to local nonprofits. “You convene with other members of the community to understand local needs, and then you decide together how to make those grants,” Vargas says.

Community foundations like The San Diego Foundation, which recently celebrated 40 years of service, also have deep roots in the community, including valuable knowledge of community need and relationships with impactful nonprofit organizations striving for change to improve quality of life in the region.

SD Foundation 1

Community leaders Michael Hager, Janie DeCelles, and Ted Chan come together to celebrate The San Diego Foundation’s regional impact at its 40th Anniversary Celebration.

2. They Do the Legwork So You Don’t Have To

Perhaps you don’t have the time or interest to intensively analyze nonprofits, but you’d still like to make a difference. Good news! Community foundations can help with that.

One of the jobs of a community foundation is to take the heavy lifting out of donating money to great causes. The foundations’ due diligence and research about nonprofit organizations provide reliable insight to inform your charitable contributions.

“We’re a great resource for you if you’re not sure which organizations are doing the best job,” says Christy Wilson, executive director of the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation. “We work with thousands of organizations and have relationships with three-quarters of the 10,000 nonprofits in San Diego County. In addition, we know who’s doing good work through our connections with individuals and other community foundations.”

These links also allow community foundations to act immediately in times of crisis. When the wildfires hit in 2003 and 2007, The San Diego Foundation quickly began directing more than $10 million in funds to help the rebuilding process, Young says. “We were well-positioned to know and understand which organizations were best suited to respond to local needs.”

3. They Serve as Stewards of Your Funds

Through community foundations, you can create your own donor-advised fund, much like a private foundation, but without the administrative and governance burden. The community foundation provides the structure and stewards the fund, and the donor simply advises where to direct the grants.

“Once you’ve put money into your fund, it can make grants anywhere in the world,” Wilson says. “If you want to make a grant, we’ll make it for you. The reason people do this is because it’s a much easier model than starting a private foundation, especially if you don’t have tens of millions of dollars. Once you make a recommendation about grants, you don’t have to do anything else.”

At the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego, the oldest community foundation and largest grantmaker in the region, residents can create donor-advised funds for as little as $1,800. “The funds allow donors to streamline their charitable contributions and may be used for all giving—Jewish and secular; San Diego, nationally, Israel and overseas; and to any area of interest, now and in the future,” says Sharyn Goodson, Senior Philanthropic Advisor.


The Mission of the Jewish Community Foundation is to promote philanthropy through meaningful partnerships with donors and community organizations in achieving charitable goals; to increase current and future support for a vibrant and secure Jewish and general community in San Diego, Israel and around the world.

4. They Provide Tax Benefits

Community foundations help generous San Diegans save on taxes through donor-advised funds and other tax-friendly strategies. “If you handle a contribution in the right way in terms of taxes, you’ll have more funds to give because you’re saving money,” says Wilson of the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation. “We help you with these decisions.”

In addition, giving through a community foundation will save you time because you only have to itemize the contributions you make to your fund, rather than the donations you make to nonprofit organizations. Wilson says this can save you time and can save you money on accounting services.


The Jewish Women’s Foundation (of the Jewish Community Foundation San Diego) is a group of over 80 women who have joined together to improve the lives of Jewish women and girls.

5. They Bring Generations Together

Donors’ funds at community foundations can survive and thrive through multiple generations, bonding families together across the years. “Involving multiple generations in a family’s philanthropy often leads to enhanced giving with greater community impact as well as new opportunities for family members to interact,” says Goodson of the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego. “We frequently facilitate multigenerational conversations, helping family members to identify areas of common interest and find opportunities for them to learn from one another. The foundation also works with donors and their professional advisors to assist in naming children and grandchildren as successor advisors to ensure continuity and promote the family’s commitment to philanthropy.”


The Jewish Teen Foundation (of the Jewish Community Foundation San Diego) provides an opportunity for Jewish high school students to learn about community needs and nonprofit organizations through a foundation lens.

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