Community Foundation Sonoma County connects donors, local charities
Healdsburg philanthropist Quincey Imhoff was already writing big checks to Community Foundation Sonoma County when something happened this fall that inspired her to do even more.
In a stunning victory, billionaire businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump was elected president on a platform that threatened many of the things Imhoff holds dear - environmental conservation, sustainable farming and maintaining women’s reproductive rights.
Within days of the election, Imhoff, whose parents founded The North Face and Esprit clothing lines, was meeting with her accountant to max out her charitable contributions for the year.
“I woke up in the middle of the night, deeply worried about all the rollbacks,” said Imhoff. “I realized it was time to turn up the volume on the philanthropy we’re going to do.”
In the wake of the election, nonprofits around the country are reporting a surge in donations as liberal benefactors pull out their wallets to fight what they fear will be cuts to cherished programs by a Republican-controlled government and attacks on hard-won rights for same-sex couples, immigrants and others.
Community Foundation, the county’s charitable hub with assets of $160 million, has experienced an uptick in donations of late, although administrators can’t say for sure why that has occurred. The organization is nonpartisan, and giving is a bipartisan enterprise, but there is something about this moment in history that is creating a hunger for local involvement, said Elizabeth Brown, president and CEO of the 33-year-old nonprofit organization.
“It’s really positive that some people discouraged by national politics are saying it’s not time to check out,” said Brown. “It’s time to double-down on our community.”
The Santa Rosa-based foundation, which connects wealthy donors to charitable causes, received more than $15 million in 2016, up by about $500,000 from the previous year, said J Mullineaux, vice president for philanthropic planning.
In 2015, it gave away $12 million to 400 organizations supporting health and human services, education and scholarships, environmental protection, animal welfare and other causes. The amount doled out last year was expected to be higher, with exact figures not yet available.
“The more money we manage, the more that is going out into the community,” said Barry Weitzenberg, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors.
The nonprofit ranks among the top 100 of about 800 foundations like it nationwide and is similar to larger organizations in San Francisco and neighboring Marin County.
It is fueled by the generosity of several hundred wealthy families who give thousands or even millions of dollars each year. They did well in business or received an inheritance and want to give something back. Many are older people. For some, the region is a second home.
“There is a high concentration of wealth here,” Brown said.
Her staff of 12 administers their wishes and advises them how to make the biggest impact, whether the goal is to fight climate change, end homelessness, help the children of recent immigrants attend college or to support the arts. In some cases the foundation pools many smaller donations to one particular cause.
Donors satisfy their desires to do something while getting a tax write-off.
“It’s not hard to write a check but it can be challenging to be a really effective grantmaker,” Brown said. “What our team does is work with donors to define their giving priorities ... and plan their legacies.”
Recipients are individuals and other nonprofits doing work in the community such as LandPaths, Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), 10,000 Degrees Sonoma County, the Ceres Community Project and Catholic Charities, just to name a few.
Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities, said the foundation gives her nonprofit more than $100,000 a year to spend on safe havens for homeless people, a program for single moms and a family support center.
Foundation members also help Catholic Charities plan future projects and strategize how to best use resources, Holmes said.
“They are amazing,” she said. “Their grants are a substantial part of how we accomplish our work.”
The community foundation concept goes back more than a century. It was envisioned as a way to gather donations into a coordinated effort to improve social conditions in a geographically defined area. The Cleveland Foundation, established in 1914, was the first, with current assets of more than $1.6 billion. The largest community foundation in the nation is the massive Silicon Valley Community Fund, with $7.3 billion in assets.