Sonoma Gives: Healdsburg artist knows why people give

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Why do people give? The question has been debated for centuries, from Plato to the present day, but no one really knows.

For Healdsburg resident Barbara Wollner, giving is simply an integral part of existence. She and her husband, Howard, donate to Community Foundation Sonoma County.

“Being brought up in a Jewish home,” she said, “the idea of giving was always a value shared by my parents with me and my sisters.

“Tzedakah, which means ‘charity,’ was part of the Jewish tradition — giving back, giving to worthy causes. When I was a child at synagogue, we had a box to put money in for people in need. As I moved through high school, college and into my young working years, I participated in volunteer programs that helped in the community.

“That idea of giving back is just part of my soul.”

Nearly 20 years ago, Barbara married Howard Wollner, who had been raised in the same tradition of charity.

“Giving became one of the values we wanted to establish in our family,” she said.

“We were living in Seattle, and in order to execute our philanthropy, we established a donor-advised fund at the Seattle Foundation.

“We really like the community foundation model, so when we moved to Healdsburg in 2006, we began working with Community Foundation Sonoma.”

The model helps individuals, families, businesses and nonprofit organizations create charitable funds to benefit a specific geographic territory, such as a city or a county. Community foundations run with low administrative costs and assist donors in countless ways, from providing them with research about local nonprofits to helping them create funding partnerships or legacy gifts.

“Since we were founded in 1983, we’ve given away $160 million,” said Elizabeth Brown, president and CEO of Community Foundation Sonoma County.

“Our donors are families who love Sonoma County and believe that philanthropy can change a community. They also believe that giving in combination or partnership with others is more powerful than giving on your own.”

Wollner sees great value in this model of giving.

“Beth Brown and others in CFS are involved in the community on a daily basis,” she said.

“They know what’s going on in the different nonprofit organizations. They do the site visits, review grant requests and work hand-in-hand with local administrators of the nonprofits. So if I have a question about an organization I might want to support, they’re a solid resource.”

As a couple, the Wollners have found many ways to practice the tradition of Tzedakah.

Howard Wollner, who retired in 2005 as senior vice president of Starbucks, is currently chair of the NPR Board and serves on the Board of the Jewish Contemporary Art Museum.

Barbara is engaged in many charitable endeavors, and sometimes in surprising ways.

A visual artist, she was recently commissioned to create a wine label for a Healdsburg winery.

Instead of presenting a bill for her design services, she asked that a donation be made to the Healdsburg Education Fund in the area of art education.

“I didn’t indicate an amount,” she said, “so on their own they were quite generous, writing a check for $5,000. It thrilled me that I could do good in the community through my art.”

Asked what motivates people to give, Wollner says: “We have so much bounty here in Sonoma County, in the vines, in the earth. But there is also great need. People who give believe that all people should be treated with respect and dignity and abundance.

“They want to share and help others. It feels good to give.”

Contact Community Foundation Sonoma County at 579-4073, sonomacf.org.

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