The Fund for Santa Barbara

By Montecito Journal   |   July 9, 2024
The Fund for Santa Barbara is all about “Change, not charity” (courtesy photo)

The Fund for Santa Barbara was founded way back in 1980 as a means to support local organizations working for progressive social change. Nearly 45 years later, while the issues, its methods and organization might have grown, that purpose has not been altered at all: The Fund remains dedicated to helping to find solutions to both current and emerging social problems from the perspective that change happens most dramatically when those who have been denied power and justice lead on their own behalf. 

Unlike some of the major foundations, as a community foundation The Fund puts its dollars into largely grassroots nonprofits, organizations and groups working to not only alleviate injustices in areas of economic, environmental, political and racial inequality, but also confront and alter the underlying conditions and circumstances that cause and sustain them. 

The Fund’s unique model calls for the grants to be generated not by the organization’s board or management team, but rather a committee composed of leaders, activists, and other people who represent a diversity of communities, and have their collective finger on the pulse of community need. Often the dollars are relatively small, but the impact can be exponential. 

Which is why the organization’s catchphrase, “Change, not charity,” continues to endure.

That was certainly the case for The Fund for Santa Barbara’s new executive director Eder Gaona-Macedo, who first experienced The Fund as a 15-year-old student, raised on Santa Barbara’s west side, who approached the organization for a grant for Future Leaders of America (FLA), which provides leadership and education experiences to Latinx youth in California. 

“I was nervous, but it was a life-changing experience, because I got introduced to philanthropy and the impact that storytelling makes,” Gaona-Macedo said. 

A decade later, when he returned to FLA as Executive Director of the organization, his grassroots organizing efforts included additional grants from The Fund, which he put to good use. Under his stewardship, FLA increased its budget from $150,000 to more than $2 million per year.

Now at the helm of The Fund, Gaona-Macedo has spent the last six months on an extended listening tour, assessing the organization and learning about its constituency.

“I’ve met with our grant-making committee members, our donors, and even our youth Making Change students, which have been great for grounding myself in the work that we do,” he said. “I’ve been really heartened by the ongoing commitment to advance social change in the county. Even with everything that’s been happening at a national level, we’re still very much grounded in community and wanting to have our communities thrive. The Fund is as relevant as it was in 1980.” 

Indeed, among its recent grants just in the last 12 months are $2,500 to the Friends of Carpinteria Library Family Arts & Literacy Program to support Summer Mariachi Classes this July and August, covering instructors and instrument rentals so that the classes are free for students who will learn about Hispanic cultural traditions and the folkloric music from Mexico, as well as develop music and performance skills. A $5,000 grant to Pacific Pride Foundation supports 222 risk prevention and awareness training for the staff for assessment and developing a communications and crisis plan to equip the organization to identify, address, and recover from oppositional attacks. Color Bloq received $5,000 toward creating a community-driven safe LGBTQ+ housing list through engaging LGBTQ+ people on peer-based housing solutions amid systemic failure to address a key component of mental health. A total of $7,500 went to the Black Student Union at San Marcos, Dos Pueblos and Santa Barbara High Schools for members to attend a leadership development conference and then share the knowledge and skills to help advocate for social justice locally. And Quail Springs received $10,000 to support bilingual education on critical groundwater issues in the Cuyama Valley and a greywater installation workshop. 

Despite The Fund’s impact over the years, what stood out the most in his get-acquainted conversations was the need to increase The Fund’s reach and capacity, Gaona-Macedo said. 

“Not surprisingly, we need more dollars on the ground to be able to continue the progress we’ve made,” he said. “The focus for our next strategic plan will be finding the capacity to increase grant-making across the county, ways to bring in new donors and increase donations so that we’re able to grant more dollars to the people making change happen.”

Special attention will also go to the organization’s Youth Making Change sector, which Gaona-Macedo said can have exponential impact. 

“We’ve been doubling down on the leadership program that teaches young people about philanthropy, but there’s a lot of potential to expand even further down the line.”

The new ED said he’s also looking to expand the donor base with both old friends and those not yet touched by The Fund. 

“We need to reconnect with donors who may have lapsed during the pandemic, but we’re also inviting young professionals who haven’t necessarily given philanthropy a chance to get involved,” he said. “Maybe with our messaging we can invite them to give to the Fund for Santa Barbara because of our shared values.”

His own background should help in that effort. 

“Being from the west side, I have a very keen understanding of the issues that affect everyday working people and the impact that The Fund has on them through the advocacy and grassroots projects that we support. The Fund convenes people from different backgrounds because of the values that we share. I’m able to understand the landscape of the nonprofit sector, as well as the needs on the street from a human level.”

The Fund’s annual Bread & Roses 30th annual event, which takes place October 6 in a new location of Santa Barbara City College’s Great Meadow, is an opportunity for those sectors to come together to show support. Sponsors and volunteers are still being sought, as are food and drink providers, while tickets will go on sale next month. 

Meanwhile, as he moves forward with The Fund, Gaona-Macedo wants to duplicate his own experiences for the next generation of social activists and community leaders. 

“We want them to know that not only do we support and invest in their ideas, we’re also investing in the people behind them,” he said. “We believe in the capacity that they bring to our community and the impact that they’ll be making. It’s a joyful struggle to make this community thrive for everybody. But that’s what makes a real difference, and brings real change on the ground.”  


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