Rancho Santa Fe Foundation celebrates 30 years


By Diane Y. Welch


The Rancho Santa Fe Foundation is marking its 30th anniversary and the public is invited to join in the free celebration of this major milestone.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, from 5-7:30 p.m., at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, a celebratory program has been planned. Foundation directors, staff, community sponsors, partners, donors and grantees will be recognized. The event includes a video presentation that has captured highlights of the foundation’s work through three decades, with narration by sports commentator Dick Enberg. Paul Thomas, one of the founding directors, is Honorary Chairman of the event.

Charles “Chuck” Yash, with almost a nine-year involvement with the foundation and related charities, currently serves as chairman of the board, overseeing 30 highly diversified directors. He spoke about the growth of the foundation and how its outreach has shifted from a community resource to one that is global.

“The first 20 years of the foundation was more of a Rancho Santa Fe groundswell for philanthropy for the local area started by some very charitable people who first set up the foundation,” Yash said. Barry Fitzpatrick, a local estates and trusts attorney, with 12 directors, created what was first named the Rancho Santa Fe Community Foundation.

Growth was relatively slow through the first decade, he said. “But with Christy arriving and a good economy in the 1990s, that’s when we were able to make a significant impact.”

Christina “Christy” Wilson has been executive director of the RSF Foundation for 14-and-a-half years. On her watch the organization has seen consistent growth. From 2000 to 2011, the size of the foundation grew from less than $5 million to around $30 million. Since its inception it has placed more than $40 million into regional nonprofit organizations and beyond, with $37 million of that sum remaining in San Diego County. Overall, $100 million has flowed through the foundation. “And the trajectory continues upward,” Wilson said.

The mission of the foundation is to promote philanthropy by assisting donors to build assets for their chosen charitable purposes, to enhance the awareness of ways to give purposefully, to explore and evaluate local and regional charitable needs, and to build endowments for charitable organizations, according to its website. It helps donors give strategically, purposefully, confidentially and with impact.

Unlike other nonprofit corporations, the foundation has been able to weather the economic downturn of the past few years due to an informed and intelligent investment committee. “It has been very conservative,” Yash said.

As executive director, Wilson is assisted by three part-time staff members: Debbie Anderson, programs manager; Dan Beals, finance manager; and Nancy Hashim, administrator of the Rancho Santa Fe Women’s Fund. They are headquartered in offices inside the Union Bank building on Paseo Delicious in the Ranch’s historic village. Union Bank has donated that space rent free for the past 13 years, “An enormous in-kind donation,” said Wilson.

The foundation’s continued success lies largely with community volunteers who serve as directors. “The board has taken its job and its role seriously,” said Wilson. In addition, board members actively look into the community to find out where there is a need and try to fulfill that need.

An example is the Rancho Santa Fe’s Women’s Fund, founded seven years ago by Gayle Gillies-Mize, who was the foundation’s board chair at that time. The group has independently gifted funds of over $1.6 million to charities – countywide – with the greatest need.

Another example is the Armed Forces Interest Group, started by Greg Hillgren, an initiative that is establishing a framework for a regional collaborative effort to provide on-going financial and volunteer support for the San Diego military community.

“We have also started a real estate fund, that Greg Hillgren chairs, for those who want to make a charitable gift of real estate,” said Yash.

A critical dimension to the foundation’s success is the connectivity of all the board members to the community and their involvement with other charities, especially outside of the Ranch, said Yash. “As such, funds have been able to flow out of Rancho Santa Fe, into the county and across the nation and beyond.”

Through the internet, the foundation is able to direct donors to nonprofit organizations who provide emergency aid around the world.

“For Hurricane Katrina we raised funds here and then got those funds to Louisiana,” Wilson said. “We are able to vet these organizations and within hours have something up on our website to let our donors know how to make their contributions directly to those organizations, we don’t need to be the middleman.”

The birthday event has taken about a year to organize. The program will begin at 5:15 p.m. and will last about 30 minutes. “It will be an opportunity for those involved with the foundation over the years to look back and to see how far it has come since those formative stages,” said Wilson. “It’s a true celebration and a way for people to come together and share their stories.”

A spotlight will also be shone on the future with the event serving as an opportunity for newcomers to learn more about the foundation.

“They can see that the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation has an excellent low-run investment team. That they are able to control where they choose to have their charitable money go, through a very trustworthy, high-integrity organization,” Yash said.

The event title sponsor is Union Bank. Presenting sponsors include Sanford Burnham, Scripps Health Foundation, and UC San Diego. There will be complimentary valet parking and a hosted wine bar with light hors d’oeuvres. Reservations and business attire are required. To RSVP, email or call 858-756-6557, ext. 5.