The Joy of Giving
Founded in 1981 as a means of enhancing the quality of life for area residents through individual philanthropy, the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation (RSFF) has seen remarkable growth in recent years. While still an active part of the local community, the Foundation has expanded its reach and evolved its mission even further. According to RSFF Executive Director Christy Wilson, the organization now focuses on connecting donors with regional and global needs through visionary community leadership, personalized service, and effective grantmaking. North County Senior Connections and The Patriots Connection are just two examples of RSFF-supported programs that continually address the needs of people in San Diego. Looking to the future, RSFF continues to be a trusted steward, fostering passionate connections between donors and nonprofits of their choice. Read along as 92067 Magazine finds out more.
Q&A with Christy Wilson, Rancho Santa Fe Foundation Executive Director
What is the history and motivation behind the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation?
Rancho Santa Fe Foundation was established in 1981 by a group of 12 local residents who wished to create a vehicle for individual philanthropy, primarily focused on enhancing the quality of life in Rancho Santa Fe. Over the next 16 years, a volunteer board of directors oversaw the acquisition of several charitable funds, mostly as a result of bequests and memorial contributions and annual grants to local nonprofits.
In 1997, the board decided to hire me as the first executive director and a year later, we were given office space in the Union Bank building in the heart of the Village, a space we occupied rent-free for 15 years.
With the hiring of staff and the acquisition of office space, the mission of the Foundation also changed to one of stewardship of nonprofit endowments and increased relationships with individuals and families in the community who chose the Foundation for their donor advised funds and designated endowments.
What is the overall mission of RSFF?
To connect donors with regional and global needs through visionary community leadership, personalized service, and effective grantmaking.
How do you go about following that mission?
Our staff has a wealth of knowledge regarding best practices in the philanthropic sector. We assist donors and nonprofits achieve their goals and mission with the support or guidance they need. The Foundation also leads by example by funding projects in the community that have been thoroughly vetted and evaluated. We are here for our donors every step of the way and make giving a joyful and rewarding process.
What kinds of programs does RSFF focus on developing?
RSF Foundation is focused on connecting our donors with their passions. Philanthropy is inspired when donors have a connection with a nonprofit’s mission and believe in their work. We are constantly developing new ways to improve this process. We are also strong believers in collaboration. Whether that be amongst philanthropists to combine their resources to make a greater impact through their donations or amongst nonprofits to join forces and build off each other’s strengths to address community needs.
Can you tell us about some of your current programs, grant stories, and community funds?
The Community Impact Fund currently supports North County Senior Connections (NCSC). The goal of this innovative program is to increase the wellness and food security of North County seniors, as well as to build community among seniors. To meet the needs of North County San Diego’s growing senior population, the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation convened Interfaith Community Services and Dreams for Change to provide a collaborative program. These two organizations host five lunches each week served by the Thyme Together food truck at a faith center and senior mobile home communities in North County. Since 2015, NCSC has served more than 13,000 meals to more than 1,100 seniors!
Rancho Santa Fe Foundation is committed to honoring and supporting the members of the San Diego military community for their service to our nation. Through its grantmaking, The Patriots Connection (TPC) at the RSF Foundation seeks to expand the capacity of San Diego area nonprofit programs that serve active duty military and veterans. A key component of The Patriots Connection is the San Diego Directory, which is a listing of trusted and qualified Organizations of Distinction in San Diego County that are addressing the continuing needs of local military and veteran families. TPC, through extensive outreach, rigorously and thoroughly evaluates organizations to determine their effectiveness, efficiency, and use of best practices.
Organizations of Distinction meeting these standards are included in the San Diego Directory. All nonprofits qualified for the San Diego Directory are eligible to apply for grants from The Patriots Connection. RSF Foundation’s military program has grown and evolved since its inception in 2008. Grants totaling more than $1.3 million have been awarded to programs serving junior enlisted military families, transitioning warriors, and veterans. In 2016, The Patriots Connection granted $112,229 to 10 San Diego County nonprofits.
If someone wants to help the cause, how can they be a part of the Foundation?
As a community foundation, our donors and our board and staff support many causes locally and beyond. But there are numerous opportunities for individuals to be a part of our work. For example, the Community Impact Fund makes it possible for the Foundation to respond to the most critical needs in our community as they arise. We welcome contributions from anyone, in any amount, to assist us in deploying funds into the community. Individuals that would like to support our work can go to our website – www.rsffoundation.org – and click on the ‘donate’ button to contribute to either the NCSC or TPC programs explained above.
“We are here for our donors every step of the way and make giving a joyful and rewarding process.”
Monetary contributions are not the only way to be involved; our VisionNow events are donor driven and involve a gathering of people who are interested in learning more about a particular issue from the people who are doing the work. Previous VisionNow programs have featured a physician talking about a certain kind of brain cancer, the issue of transition for foster youth, giving in a global community, and diabetes research. Our most recent VisionNow program in mid-January featured Dr. Stephen Kingsmore, Head of Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine.
Why is it important to have foundations such as RSFF?
Community foundations are typically “place based,” meaning that the funds that are raised come from local residents and the issues that are addressed are typically local. Our professional and experienced staff and board are knowledgeable about the critical issues in the San Diego region and can assist local residents about how and where their charitable contributions will have the most impact. As a neutral convener and community leader, the community foundation model is an efficient and powerful vehicle for personal and institutional philanthropy.
What is your role with the RSFF?
I have been privileged to serve as the executive director of the Foundation since 1997. As a lifelong resident of the community, I have seen many changes but the one characteristic that does not seem to change is the pride our residents have in their community and their personal generosity to the causes they care about. I oversee a staff of six dedicated professionals and work with a volunteer board of directors who commit their time and personal and professional expertise to maintaining the high standard of excellent service and best practice for which we are known.
What is most exciting about being a part of the Foundation? What is the most challenging?
Helping donors fund projects they’re passionate about and that make an impact. There is nothing that is more rewarding than seeing a donor find a cause they are connected to and the gratitude of the nonprofit for their support. Those are the relationships that are the most exciting part of
The hardest part of our job is learning about all the great nonprofits in San Diego and the work they are doing but being limited by the amount of discretionary grant funding available. In a perfect world, we’d be able to fund all the great projects that come across our desks.
At-A-Glance | Rancho Santa Fe Foundation President
Name: Christy Wilson
Community: Rancho Santa Fe
Education: B.S. UC Davis, M.A. University of San Diego
Family: Husband Jeff Wilson, daughter and son-in-law Emily and Brett Hassig,
son Jeffrey Wilson
Hobbies & Interests: Reading, gardening, beach walks
Tell us about your board of directors. How do they help keep the Foundation running?
We currently have 24 directors whose responsibility it is to oversee the governance of the Foundation, making sure that all fiduciary, legal, and ethical standards are adhered to. Each director brings their own unique experience to their seat at the board table, all of which contributes to the efficiency of a smooth running organization. Six very effective standing committees carry out the work of the board, providing wisdom and insight to management. This relationship between the board and staff has been very effective over the years, and key to the success of the Foundation.
Does RSFF hold fundraisers throughout the year? Please elaborate.
We do not hold traditional nonprofit fundraisers, but individuals can always contribute to the Community Impact Fund throughout the year. The Foundation uses the resources available in the Community Impact Fund to address needs of nonprofits in San Diego all year long. This is the best way to support the Foundation and the most pressing needs of local nonprofits.
What are your long-term and short-term goals for RSFF?
The last five years have been ones of tremendous growth in assets, enabling the Foundation to expand staff and the philanthropic services we provide. Our grantmaking has remained steady, and in 2016 we exceeded $62 million in grants since inception. As we look to the future, my goal for the Foundation will be to remain a trusted and effective organization where our donors feel confident entrusting their charitable funds and to work more effectively with our donors and the board to mobilize increased funds towards the most critical needs of our region and beyond.
“…one characteristic that does not seem to change is the pride our residents have in their community and their personal generosity to the causes they care about.”
How has RSFF evolved over the years?
As stated before, we have seen tremendous growth, especially in the last several years. We’ve grown in the number of funds at the Foundation, assets (this year we exceeded $107 million in total assets), and size of staff. We look forward to 2017 and all that the new year has to bring.
What are you looking forward to the most in regard to this upcoming year in the RSF community?
Our community has been and always will be special to the residents who have chosen it as their home. The Foundation continues to be focused on supporting the capacity of the nonprofits in our Village. This year, we are supporting the efforts of the Committee on the Natural Environment (CONE), a standing committee of the RSF Association, as they address the need to remove the thousands of dead and dying trees in the Covenant, thus mitigating the fire hazard and drought conditions that exist, and ultimately define a long-term plan to re-forest the community with appropriate vegetation. It is our belief that this must be a top priority for our community and one that will have long-term impact for each and every property owner.
How can people go about finding out more information about the Foundation, important dates, and more?
People can visit our website at www.rsffoundation.org to learn more about the Foundation and the programs we offer.