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

Hundreds of thousands of San Diegans are eager to give back to their communities, but many don’t have the time to figure out where their dollars best belong. Or they might worry that a small donation — $5, $25 or $100 — isn’t a big enough amount to give, even if it’s all they can spare.

Grant-making public charities understand these limitations. That’s why they research community needs and nonprofits and combine small donations to put them to good use.


United Way of San Diego County changes the odds for San Diego’s children with its work in kindergarten readiness, early grade literacy & high school graduation empowering students to succeed in school and in life. Here, students shop for free, age-appropriate books to take home for summer reading at United Way’s book distribution event at Miller Elementary, Tierrasanta, in June.

Uniting Everyday Philanthropists

“We give everyone an opportunity to be a philanthropist in the community,” says Shaina Gross, senior vice president and chief impact officer with United Way of San Diego County. “We all see big problems in the community and think, ‘What’s my $50 or $100 going to do?’ We can create larger impact by bringing together small donations, large donations and everything in between.”

Another way to do this is by helping companies and their employees engage in philanthropy. Working with a range of companies, from small to big like Target, UPS, and Solar Turbines, United Way encourages workers to donate small amounts from each paycheck, whether it’s $25 or $50 or more.

These modest donations add up in a big way, contributing to United Way’s ability to help an estimated 75,000 people through its nearly $16 million budget in 2015.

While grant-making public charities are similar to community foundations that give grants, they tend to have a wider reach. The United Way serves the entire county, as does the Junior League of San Diego, another grant-making public charity. In addition, grant-making public charities also tend to focus on specific areas of interest.


Brittney (left) and Carlisa were paired together as mentee-mentor in Junior League of San Diego’s Transition Age Foster Youth Mentorship Program three years ago and remain friends to this day.

Junior League’s Targeted Mission

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For more information about Junior League of San Diego, call (619) 234-2253 or visit

The Junior League, for example, is currently focusing much of its efforts on helping foster kids make the difficult transition to adulthood.

“The mission of Junior League is to promote volunteerism, improve the community, and develop the potential of women,” says Liza Pinard, president of the local chapter of Junior League. “We keep a finger on the pulse of the county. We spend a lot of time researching the big problems and exploring what we can do to help.”

The Junior League continuously devotes resources to training and chooses an individual focus area every few years. “We previously worked in childhood obesity, domestic violence and literacy,” Pinard says. “For the past four years, we’ve been focusing on transition-age foster youth with an emphasis on human trafficking.”

With the support of donors, the Junior League has worked with multiple agencies to create a successful mentoring program for the approximately 300 foster kids who age out of foster care here each year.

“We were consistently told that these youths need stability because they’re used to people constantly going in and out of their lives,” Pinard says. “Through our program, mentors make long-term commitment and work with the young people until they are ready to leave the partnership.”

Donors to Junior League can give money to support ongoing training or the current focus area, Pinard says. They can also simply donate to Junior League and allow Pinard to distribute the funds at her discretion to the places where they’re needed most.


Junior League of San Diego mentees and mentors Dulce, Eileen, Brook and Hannah enjoyed ice skating at the League’s December holiday outing.

Improving Early Literacy

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For more information about United Way of San Diego County, call (858) 492-2000 or visit

The United Way has also sharpened its focus.

In the past, Gross says, it would serve as a way station for donations to any nonprofit that an individual wanted to support. “We still do that,” she says, “but people can do that easily on their own in a multitude of ways thanks to technology.”

Specifically, Gross says, United Way is pushing to expand literacy in the early grades. But this involves more than teaching kids to read or giving money to one agency or entity.

“There are a lot of things that go into a child’s attendance,” she says. “Kids may struggle to get transportation to school, so they don’t show up on time. Or they don’t have regular access to healthcare or clean clothes at home.”

United Way is making it easier for families to get help with these challenges by bringing available resources to them.

For example, “we were able to place interns at the schools so they can be navigators for the families. Do they have time to support their children? Is there a quiet place for them to read? Do they need books? We’re also working with the county Health & Human Services Agency to let people enroll in health insurance and food stamps at school instead of having to go to different locations to access the services.”

Making Philanthropy Easy

Grant-making public charities make it easy to be a philanthropist by accepting and combining donations of money and time, small and large, and deploying them toward nonprofits and efforts that are vetted and tracked, so you know your contribution is having an impact.

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