Having established her career as a commercial insurance broker and ready to share the fruits of her success, Sara Bennett received a nudge from her boss.
Marsh & McLennan Agency’s West Region CEO Paul Hering suggested Bennett become involved in the San Diego Women’s Foundation.
Less than a decade since joining the charitable organization, the Rancho Santa Fe resident will become board president July 1.
“I was so honored by the act,” she said of her selection by fellow board members. “There was just no way I could have turned it down.”
Foundation Executive Director Katie Sawyer praised Bennett’s dedication to the foundation, calling her an “incredible leader.”
“We are so excited for her to take the reins as President,” Sawyer said in an email. “She is absolutely committed to building a stronger community and to SDWF’s mission of engaging women in philanthropy.”
Through the contributions of its 200-plus members, the foundation annually awards grants of at least $25,000 apiece to assist needy groups and communities.
“I’m just looking forward to advancing the grant cycle and doing what I can to increase membership,” Bennett said. ”I want to make it a really meaningful experience for our board membership.”
A native of south Orange County, Bennett attended college at the University of San Diego. Within two weeks after graduating, Bennett said, she was hired by the insurance giant Barney & Barney, the forerunner of Marsh & McLennan.
“It’s been wonderful,” said Bennett of her 15 years with the company. “I feel like I’ve grown up there. They’ve invested so much in me and I love working there. I love my team. The people I work with there are fantastic. ...
“I feel very lucky that I drive to work in the morning and I look forward to it, and I ended up meeting my husband here. So it’s worked out well.”
Now a principal in Marsh & McLennan’s property and casualty division, Bennett served two years as chairwoman of the company’s Growth and Opportunities for Women Initiative, which focuses on attracting, retaining and supporting women throughout the corporation.
“They’re committed to promoting women in the workplace and in leadership roles, and I’m an example of that,” she said.
Bennett and her husband Todd, and daughters, Brooke, 4, and Reese, 2, had lived in Del Mar four years before moving to a home in Rancho Santa Fe on Easter Sunday.
“My husband’s from Kansas and wanted more land,” she said.
During her tenure as a foundation member, Bennett’s appreciation of charitable activism was reinforced by personal experience.
At about 6 months old, Reese was taken to Sharp Memorial Hospital with a medical emergency. From there, she was whisked to Rady Children’s Hospital, where the girl was diagnosed as having severe congestive heart failure.
Without warning and no preparation, Bennett and her husband found themselves staying overnight at the hospital for days at a time.
Fortunately, Reese survived thanks to successful open-heart surgery and quality care, and is now going on her third birthday in August.
“She gets regular check-ups now, and she’s our little pistol,” Bennett said. “She has her little zipper of a scar. We think it’s like a badge of honor. It was a rough few months but we got through it.”
The hospital experience led her to volunteer with Mended Little Hearts of San Diego, the local chapter of a national organization devoted to parents, caregivers and families of children with heart defects.
She helps create “bravery bags,” which contain items such as toothpaste, shampoo and playing cards to help families get through unexpected hospital stays while their children are being treated.
Also, Bennett joined the Sharp Health Care Foundation board, of which she is now vice chair, and is a member of its women’s council.
“It was really Sharp that diagnosed (her daughter’s illness) and sounded the alarm bell so to speak,” she said. “We’re forever indebted to Sharp. I’m passionate about Sharp because they provide amazing care and have incredible leadership. ... They’ve had an incredible impact on the community.”
As foundation president, Bennett said she will be promoting this year’s theme, which is combating human trafficking. Also, she said she will continue to work on a foundation initiative to expand the group’s 40 and younger membership.
“Like any organization, you have to grow and attract new members,” she said.“That’s one of the areas of focus for myself. I still lead that charge and I will continue to do that simultaneously while I am president.”