Rancho Santa Fe Foundation thriving under longtime Executive Director Christy Wilson

By Karen Billing

In an effort to advance its proud support of the military, the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation announced last week that its military program — The Armed Forces Interest Group (AFIG) — has now become The Patriots Initiative (TPI).

Christy Wilson, executive director of the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation (Photo/Karen Billing)

Since 2007, AFIG has provided funding to established nonprofit service providers to help junior enlisted military personnel, wounded warriors and their families. A new website for TPI is scheduled to launch on April 1.

“What we do will not dramatically change but TPI will be a new vehicle through which people who want to support needs in the military community can find out who’s doing the best work and where the needs are for military in San Diego,” said Christy Wilson, the foundation’s executive director. “They have so many needs. Everyone can give a little bit to support these people who have sacrificed their lives and their quality of life for our freedom and we have a responsibility to see that they have a good quality of life when they return.”

Wilson said TPI represents a huge commitment by the Foundation board to support the military. She added that 100 percent of donations made to TPI will go toward those who have made the decision to serve their country and their families.

When people think of the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, it’s hard to do so without thinking of Wilson, who has been the Foundation’s executive director for the last 16 years.

Since Wilson joined the Foundation in 1997 the organization has experienced tremendous growth, climbing from $1 million in assets to more than $60 million today.

Despite the economic downturn, Wilson said the Foundation has been “very blessed” to see a dramatic increase in funds — it has effectively doubled its assets within the last two years with help from planned giving and estate gifts.

Wilson attributes the Foundation’s success to its high quality and professional service for a very low cost.

The Foundation is a knowledgeable resource for donors to learn where the greatest needs are.

“This is a very generous community, but many times people don’t know where to give,” Wilson said. “We want the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation to be recognized as a very donor-centric organization that’s primary objective is to connect donors and philanthropists with needs in the global community. We want to provide great, effective service and we want to be recognized as a leader throughout San Diego.”

Wilson has been in Rancho Santa Fe since 1949; she grew up in the Covenant and attended Rancho Santa Fe School for elementary school.

After Wilson graduated college, she lived abroad in France for three years before returning to her roots in 1975, going to work at Two Goats in the Rancho Santa Fe village. She worked for several years as a partner with the owners before buying the store.

Two Goats closed in 1995 and by 1997 Wilson was hired as the Foundation’s first executive director. At the time the Foundation was 17 years old but had never had an executive director nor had it ever had an office.

Wilson was tasked with making the Foundation a signature philanthropic partner in Rancho Santa Fe, but also with growing its efforts outside the community. At the time, supporting the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Dieguito was as far out of the community as the Foundation went.

For the last 15 years the Foundation been housed in office space donated by Union Bank, and Wilson is grateful to that partnership that has allowed the Foundation to have a presence in the village.

The Foundation oversees three kinds of funds: Discretionary funds, monies given to the Foundation by people who want the Foundation to use it to address the greatest needs in San Diego County; Donor-advised funds, which are invested on the donor’s behalf and to facilitate grant making; and endowment fund monies that the Foundation manages on behalf of nonprofits around the county. The Foundation currently oversees endowment funds for about 70 organizations.

For the Foundation’s 30th anniversary in 2011, the Foundation did a challenge grant to 30 organizations around San Diego County, including those in Rancho Santa Fe, to raise at least $30,000 in new money. The challenge resulted in $900,000 in new funds.

“We like to leverage our funds with our donor funds and people in the community so we can expand our grant-making efforts,” Wilson said.

One of the things that the Foundation is most excited about right now is its three-year commitment to serving the basic needs of seniors in North County San Diego, Wilson said.

The Foundation’s goal is to pair $300,000 of the Foundation’s funds with matching donors “so we can really have an impact on what quality of life for seniors looks like in North County,” Wilson said.

The Foundation is in the process of gathering information and doing research with county organizations on this latest goal — the Foundation would like its efforts to be as collaborative and far-reaching as possible.

After 15 years with the Foundation, Wilson said she enjoys the fact that the opportunities to help are always evolving.

“It has been an enormous honor to serve this organization,” Wilson said.

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