Kathlyn Mead / Photo by Kinsee Morlan for San Diego CityBeat

The San Diego Foundation Board of Directors dismissed Kathlyn Mead, the CEO of the organization, on Monday. She was close to completing her fourth year.

Reached Tuesday, Mead said she couldn’t comment about what happened.

“I’m still in the process of figuring out the terms of my separation and I’m not able to tell you much. I will say that, at the board meeting last Wednesday, I announced that the foundation had the best year in its history,” she said.

It was at that meeting though that the board, in executive session, decided to fire Mead.

Three board members are stepping in to run the organization while a new leader is sought. The foundation would only give us this statement:

Vice Chair and Board Secretary Kay Chandler will voluntarily serve as interim CEO during the short-term transition. Immediate Past Chair Connie Matsui will voluntarily serve thereafter as Interim CEO until a permanent CEO and President is identified. Board member Cliff Schireson will serve as Chief Operating Officer.

In an email to stakeholders from the board chairwoman Constance Carroll, who is also chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, Carroll said the foundation “experienced a leadership change.” In April, she had sent a questionnaire to board members, donors, staff members and other stakeholders about the direction of the foundation and Mead’s management.

The foundation reported $733 million in assets in 2017, up from $673 million the year before. Carroll said in her email that was now up to $811 million and 48 employees. But not all of it is available for grant-making — in 2017, for example, the foundation reported about $51 million in grants. 

Here’s how it works:

The San Diego Foundation is a community foundation think of it as a kind of bank for charitable giving. It allows people to donate money and create foundations of their own before they may know exactly who they want to receive the money. Giving away a lot of money is actually quite difficult if you want to do it thoughtfully. If you have a lot of wealth that you want to give away, you can donate it to a community foundation like the San Diego Foundation.

It becomes the foundation’s money. Its officers invest it to ideally create more money to give away. But you can create an advised fund, in which you can advise the foundation grants the foundation should make through your fund (like to Voice of San Diego!). Over time, the foundation can build up its own discretionary fund and offer grants according to its vision and priorities. Some community foundations are quite powerful like the Silicon Valley Community Foundation or the Boston Foundation.

But there is a lot of competition now. Regular investment funds like Fidelity are offering the same service but much more bank-like. They don’t pursue any mission except to administer philanthropic dollars. And in San Diego, other local funds are available to philanthropists too. A big one is the Jewish Community Foundation; another is the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation.

Under former CEO Bob Kelly, the San Diego Foundation tried to pursue a vision for its discretionary work based around a major survey of San Diegans that revealed housing, education and jobs were the top worries.

He and the board created the Center for Civic Engagement but it didn’t really come together, and has since been largely left only as the name of the foundation’s building. Mead has focused the last couple years on foster children and other endeavors.

Disclosure: Voice of San Diego once rented office space at the building the San Diego Foundation owns, and its former CEO, Bob Kelly, serves on VOSD’s board of directors. VOSD also receives grants from some major donors through advised funds at the San Diego Foundation and Jewish Community Foundation and many others. 

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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