Avoiding Sham Nonprofits as a Donor

You may have seen recent news stories that shed light on organizations that are claiming to help veterans but in practice, some are just lining their own pockets. Unfortunately, these sham organizations are experts at fooling donors into thinking that their work is a worthwhile investment. Usually it isn’t until much later that the truth behind these organizations’ spending makes local or national news.

How do you know if your donation is going to a reputable, trustworthy, deserving, effective nonprofit?  We can help with that. RSF Foundation developed a list of proven, reliable nonprofits serving active duty military, veterans, and their families – The San Diego Directory. These Organizations of Distinction are carefully vetted by our staff and advisory committee. They review organizations for financial health, effectiveness, impact in the community, strong leadership, and overall stability.

Once listed as an Organization of Distinction on the San Diego Directory, nonprofits are eligible to apply for funding from The Patriots Connection. Applications for funding must demonstrate the program’s viability and vision.

Funding for grants comes from the generous, purposeful philanthropy of individual, corporate, and foundation donors who recognize the power of collective giving. Not only are The Patriots Connection donors confident that their donations are going to deserving, trustworthy nonprofits, they’re also joining together to make a more significant gift than they might have been able to make individually. Grants are awarded based on need and vary by organization.

To learn more about The Patriots Connection or to view the San Diego Directory, contact RSF Foundation staff.

This post was originally inspired by the following news stories covering the topic of sham charities claiming to help veterans.



RSF Foundation’s Welcomes new Chairman of the Board, Bill Davidson

Bill Davidson cropped

Rancho Santa Fe Foundation is excited to welcome Bill Davidson as the new Chairman of the Board. Bill joined the Board in 2013 and has since served on the Marketing, Strategic Planning and Audit Committees. He was appointed Chairman – Elect in 2017 and assumed the Chair at the beginning of 2018 and will serve a two-year term.

He spent many years as Senior Vice-President of Strategy and Operations and Investor Relations at Qualcomm and is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Amionx. He brings to the board an expertise in strategy, operations, marketing, and investor relations.

Bill is an ardent fan of the New York Yankees and his home state of New Jersey. He now lives in Rancho Santa Fe with his wife and two children. In addition to his duties with RSF Foundation, he also serves on the boards of Make-A-Wish San Diego and the San Diego Police Foundation and is a Director of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The Rancho Santa Fe Foundation is a community foundation that provides charitable funds and expertise to strengthen philanthropy throughout San Diego County and beyond. With growth to more than $120 million in assets and $70+ million in grants since 1981, the RSF Foundation continues to expand its community impact. Through donor advised funds, endowment funds and planned legacy gifts, many philanthropists and nonprofits partner with the RSF Foundation to make an impact with their charitable funds.

Giving in the Wake of Disaster

Community Foundation’s Role in Disaster Relief

There have been a lot of disasters in recent months that have plagued communities across the US. While the devastation has been vast, the outpouring of help has inspired us and truly shows the good caring nature of our donors and people around the country.

In the last three months, RSF Foundation donors have contributed $158,000 to 16 nonprofits across the country in disaster relief giving. What is our recommendation for how to help?
Disaster relief

In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy it can be challenging to decide where to donate relief funds. Donors want to be timely about their giving so the problems facing the community can be addressed as quickly and responsively as possible. They also want to know that their gifts are being used appropriately and in the most effective way. This is where community foundations enter the picture. While they might not be the immediate organization that comes to mind, community foundations have a level of knowledge that makes them the perfect vehicle for disaster relief funding. Here are three reasons why you should consider giving to a community foundation to support disaster relief.

  1. They understand the community

Community foundations exist to serve the community. The staff and board spend their time learning about the community’s needs, meeting the nonprofits that serve those needs, and connecting with influencers making a difference in the area. They will be able to use their resources to understand how a disaster has impacted an area and what is needed to rebuild the community and the people living there.

  1. They know how to evaluate organizations and programs

You can trust that funds will go to vetted programs that will require evaluation and accountability for how funds are spent. Community foundations are familiar with vetting applications, nonprofits, and their proposed programs. They know what to look for in terms of budget, staffing, and long term sustainability. They also know nonprofits reputations in the community and the work they’ve done prior to a disaster to gauge their effectiveness.

  1. They can distribute money at different stages in the relief efforts to multiple organizations addressing the many challenges of the community

The assets at a community foundation are often established into different funds. They typically have a general disaster relief fund established or create a new fund for specific disaster funding. These funds give the community foundations flexibility to distribute funds as needed. They can make grants immediately and support organizations on the ground addressing the immediate needs created by the disaster. They can also fund projects that address long term rebuilding strategies as they develop in the months following the tragedy. This funding can also be spread out to multiple nonprofits so different needs are met with different programs. The flexibility the community foundation has, allows them to have a more holistic approach on how to address the community’s needs and the recovery/rebuilding process.

Rancho Santa Fe Foundation is committed to being a vehicle for philanthropy and supporting our neighbors in times of need. We’ve recommended several community foundations to our donors in recent months addressing the needs of the communities impacted by recent disasters.

Hurricane Harvey – Greater Houston Community Foundation

Hurricanes Irma & Maria – The Miami Foundation

Napa/Sonoma Fires – Napa Valley Community Foundation

If you have questions or would like to get involved, contact RSF Foundation.


We invite you to join in TPC grantmaking with a $40,000 match challenge

patriots logo

We all know the power of a dollar-for-dollar match. Not only does it highlight the support the match donor(s) has for a program, it also demonstrates the community’s support of the project. Thanks to a group of generous supporters, we have the opportunity to match all donations made through Sept. 15 to The Patriots Connection (TPC). All money raised will go to deserving nonprofits serving active duty military, veterans and their families in San Diego County, making this a perfect time to support local heroes.

Last year, TPC granted $112,229 to ten Organizations of Distinction. Nonprofits serving the military and veterans in San Diego County earn this title after careful and rigorous vetting to determine their impact, efficiency, and use of best practices. After LOIs were received, we invited a select group to submit full grant proposals. These proposals totaled nearly $300,000 in requested funding.

Our team of dedicated TPC advisors reviews these applications, analyzing each program’s integration in the San Diego community, impact on the clients served, budget and their organization’s financial stability, and innovation to address the needs of San Diego’s military population.

Since 2008, we have awarded $1.3 million dollars to military-serving nonprofits.  This could not have been done without the many generous donors who have come alongside The Patriots Connection to realize greater impact with their philanthropic dollars. Among the grants last year, TPC supported Easter Seals Southern California’s WorkFirst/Military & Veterans Services program.

Tim James Easter Seals Tim was down-sized out of the Navy after 14 years of service. When administrative errors delayed his severance payment, he received an eviction notice. Easter Seals, through their WorkFirst program assisted Tim in preparing for a project specialist position interview with a waste management company, found him legal assistance to delay the eviction, and contacted the federal government to speed the processing of his Navy severance pay. Tim was hired for the project specialist position and his severance payment arrived a week before Christmas. Your support can make more stories like this a reality.

We are committed to honoring and supporting the members of the San Diego military community for their service to our nation. With your contribution, we could come closer to receiving the full match ($80,000) and awarding an additional five grants to deserving nonprofits here in San Diego County.

To make an impact and support our region’s military, click here to make a donation designated to The Patriots Connection or contact RSF Foundation staff at (858) 756-6557.

How the RSFF Women’s Fund Is Making an Impact

Here at RSF Foundation, we believe working together with dedicated philanthropists is the number one way to increase your impact and power of your donation. A successful example of a collaborative giving model is the RSF Women’s Fund.

Since it began in 2003, the Women’s Fund at the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation has made a tremendous impact at a local level. In the last 14 years alone, the Fund has granted over $3,300,000 to nonprofits in San Diego.

RSFF Women’s Fund: The Who, How & Why

The Women’s Fund members, consisting of women who live in the 92067 and 92091 zip codes, are devoted, lifelong learners who are passionate about both philanthropy and a social community.

As Board Chair Sandra Coufal says, “Far and away, these members are intelligent women who have very big skill sets but also very big hearts. They could simply choose to be social, but choose to be philanthropic with the Women’s Fund as their vehicle.”

Each of these aspects can be seen in the variety of events and grant-based activities hosted each year, such as:

  • Fireside chats, in which members host others in their home and give a hard-hitting talk on their specific area of expertise.
  • Volunteer events throughout the year members typically create holiday baskets for military members at Camp Pendleton and their kids; they have also sorted and distributed vegetables through Feeding San Diego to aid in meal and food distribution for those in need.
  • Three speaker events each year, with experts presenting on topics that are of interest to the members.
  • Three social events per year, such as “Blanca and Bubbles”.
  • The thorough vetting and voting of charities to give grants to through their grantmaking process.

The organization’s saying is, “Do a Little, Do a Lot”. Whether members are able to attend only a few outings a year or be deeply involved in everything, everyone contributes to the group’s overall goal and success.

No matter what though, the core, meaningful element is the philanthropy – especially the grantmaking process.

How the Women’s Fund Selects & Helps Local Non Profit Programs

Receiving close to 100 grant requests annually, the women spend time carefully reviewing:

  • The nonprofit’s financials, making sure they’re financially sound and responsible.
  • The project itself and what it’s funding. A key way this is done: A luncheon where non-profits pitch their specific program and host a Q&A after, enabling members of the Women’s Fund to ask any questions.
  • The staff and facilities through site visits.

What the Women’s Fund Contributes To

There isn’t one given cause the Women’s Fund supports; the members choose to empower a variety of programs. Each year the women select two focus areas for their grants. These have included:

  • Military and veteran support.
  • Youth at risk
  • Women’s services
  • Economic development
  • And more

Case Study: Funding a Program to Train Service Dogs for Those in Need

A powerful example of a program funded last year was a collaboration between Donovan State Prison and Tender Loving Canines. Prisoners Overcoming Obstacles & Creating Hope (POOCH) Program teaches inmates to train service dogs that go to individuals with autism or veterans. After a site visit to the prison, seeing the space and meeting with the prisoners themselves, the members saw the incredible possibilities.

The Women’s Fund is proud to have funded this program because it was an opportunity to benefit all parties:

  • The clients: There is a long wait list for those in need of service dogs. More service dogs are available to be placed with the addition of this program, especially as the set routine of prison life enables dogs to be trained two times faster than the general population.
  • The prisoners: Empowered with a goal and purpose, the yards with men training dogs experience much less violence. It also allows for workforce development and tangible skills to be learned. Some of the men that participated in the program were able to secure work after release with animal facilities.
  • The dogs: Most of the dogs are taken from shelters or poor situations; as a service dog, they have stable homes and receive love from the people and families they serve. In addition, the program only uses positive reinforcement and there are cameras and security measures that ensure the dog’s safety.

This type of impact is just one of many.

Learn more about the Women’s Fund

Earlier this year, the Women’s Fund announced their 2017 grants. To see the list of this year’s grantee’s, visit our website. More information on the Women’s Fund and their events can be found on their website.

What Nonprofits Wish Their Donors Knew

What Nonprofits Wish Their Donors Knew

As a donor, the behind the scene activity at a nonprofit might feel mysterious. Here is the great news: It doesn’t have to be that way! It’s why we are going to share a few things that nonprofits wish their donors knew – and donors will be happy to hear, as well.

Nonprofits are Passionate About Relationship Building

Nonprofits enjoy getting to know their donors and find out what it is that inspires them. Here are some powerful ways to establish such relationships, which benefit the donor, nonprofit and cause.

  • Nonprofits Love Meeting In-Person.

    Schedule a meeting with the nonprofit team members, tour the facility or meet with the people the program has served. Doing this throughout the year enables you to stay updated on the nonprofit’s’ progress and get any questions answered. This also lets you see how your donation is creating an impact.

  • Nonprofits Want to Hear From You.

    Like any relationship, communication between donors and nonprofits should go both ways. Will you be abroad during the nonprofit’s annual fundraiser but desire getting involved later in the year? Did the latest mailing incorrectly spell your spouse’s name? Do you feel there’s some information missing from the nonprofit’s website? Let the nonprofit know; they will be happy to receive feedback and benefit from it.

Nonprofits Value Financial Stability as Much as Donors

  • Nonprofits Take Their Financials Very Seriously.

    Nonprofits typically have tight budgets and are very serious about their financial strategies and budgeting accordingly. By trusting a vetted nonprofit and making a donation to general operations, the nonprofit is able to address needs by priority and use funding to grow and expand programs’ impact best.

  • Quality Leadership is Worth the Investment.

    To make sure that a nonprofit runs efficiently, the organization needs talented leadership. To remain competitive enough with for-profit businesses, nonprofits need to to competitively compensate their staff in correlation with the skills, talents, and experiences they have to offer. Providing a fair and competitive compensation enables the nonprofit to have great talent and effective leadership that will drive the mission forward.

  • Know Where Your Donations Go.

    If you have any concerns about how your donation is going to be spent, we encourage you to speak with the nonprofit’s Executive Director or Development Officer. Their goal is for you to be informed and confident in your donations, so they’ll be happy to have a conversation. When you walk through their goals and strategies, it will help everyone feel comfortable and better understand the reasonings – which may be different from year to year based on one-time costs, new programs, etc. – which should all be a part of this conversation.

  • Nonprofits Have Needs All Year Long.

    A large portion of giving is at the end of the year. However, most people don’t realize that many nonprofits have different fiscal years. Some are at the end of December, while other fiscal years end in June or early fall. If it works for your giving strategy, consider offering support throughout the year. A greater number of nonprofits are starting to offer monthly giving options, which let donors automatically contribute on a monthly basis. Reach out to the nonprofit directly, too; they will be happy to share ways that can best support their organization and cause.

    Find out more about this at our blog: Philanthropy 365 Days a Year.

Nonprofit Support Can Come In A Variety of Ways

Nonprofits can always benefit from monetary donations, of course, but this type of giving is not the only way to provide support.

  • Volunteer Time Can Be Priceless.

    There are many nonprofits that rely on passionate volunteers. Consistent volunteering can be the factor that makes all the difference. Here are a few examples: An education-based nonprofit has weekly volunteer tutors who help students with homework. A nonprofit may want a logo redesign but lack the funds for a graphic designer. Do you possess the needed skills that you could share?

  • Needs Are Often Listed on the Website.

    It is typical for nonprofits to post needed items of and/or current volunteer opportunities at their website. This is a simple strategy to discover if there’s an ideal opportunity for you.

Above All: Nonprofits Are Thankful

Nonprofits understand that donors are the people who empower their organizations to run and drive their missions forward. They really appreciate that you care enough to take the action that makes a difference. They notice and have deep gratitude for the impact you make.

If you have any more questions about nonprofits, how they work or how to choose the right one to contribute to, reach out to our team at the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation. We’d love to help!

How to Get Your LOI Noticed


To get funding for a nonprofit program, the process typically starts with a great LOI (Letter of Intent). As a community foundation that has reviewed many of these, we understand what that takes. Here are simple strategies to help get your LOI noticed.

Do research before writing an LOI.

The most important step is to do research; thoroughly review the foundations you submit LOIs to. Make sure that the program you need funding for is a good fit for that potential funder. Rather than creating a program to match the funder, find a grant opportunity that can support a current program at your organization. The best matches are when the mission and values of the funder and the nonprofit align.

Follow the LOI directions.

This may sound simple, but it’s surprising how often people forget to follow the guidelines. For example, pay attention to:

  • Character and word count limits
  • Formatting guidelines
  • Other special instructions

Some foundations will disqualify an application for not following instructions.

Keep your narrative concise.

Answer each LOI question thoroughly, but concisely. While we understand you’re passionate about your program, this often can lead to repetitiveness.

Remember this: The readers of each LOI may have many others to review; provide answers that are short and to the point. Being repetitive will take away from your message, not add to it.

Have another person review it.

We recommend having a colleague proofread your LOI. When you have spent a lot of time on a piece, it is easy to miss small errors. Others can also offer a different perspective that you might not have considered before.

Focus on how the nonprofit funding will make an impact.

When possible, make sure to include how the funding will make an impact on your program, the organization, and even the community. Funders want their money to go to good use, help them see how this grant will support the big picture and move your mission forward.

Give the foundation a call.

If possible, build relationships with potential funders. Not all foundations may have the time or resources to speak with you, but it is always good to try. Building a relationship leads to a better understanding of your program and the funder’s focus.

After going through these tips, you’re ready to submit. If you are nervous, that is understandable., We know that LOIs can be short, and there can be a lot you feel is being left unsaid. Remember though, this is only the first step. If you make the next round, there will be a chance to follow up with further details.