Accomplishments & History

During a more than 40 year reign of philanthropic leadership, The San Diego Foundation has experienced significant accomplishments to grow a more vibrant region and quality of life for San Diegans. Thanks to the generosity of our donors and volunteers, and the foresight and commitment of visionary leaders, we have many achievements to celebrate, together.


Women’s Foundation

Founded the San Diego Women’s Foundation, now a supporting organization, which has granted $3.5 million to numerous community partners


Raised $3.5 million for local nonprofits through annual give-a-thons


Our Birth

In 1975, The San Diego Community Foundation was born (later renamed The San Diego Foundation). Founded by a group of civically-engaged San Diegans focused on addressing the challenges facing our region, the group recognized the need for a charitable organization that could serve a broad spectrum of philanthropic leaders and causes in San Diego.

Pioneering San Diego leaders who established The Foundation and shaped its early impact included:

  • Phil Klauber, SDG&E executive
  • Don Morgan, United Way of San Diego executive
  • Jim Gillean, Bank of America executive
  • Anderson Borthwick, Union Bank executive
  • Dwight Stanford, attorney
  • Jim Mulvaney, attorney
  • Carl Ensenoff, accountant
  • Ted Gildred, Jr., The Gildred Foundation
San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson (right)

Early Funding

In 1975, the Gildred Foundation pledged $135,000 to The Foundation, including $90,000 in unrestricted funds for staffing and startup expenses. United Way contributed office space, furnishings, and equipment, and the Ed and Mary Fletcher and Willis and Jane Fletcher Foundations offered additional startup funding. The Foundation’s Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation were approved on May 12, 1975.

The first Board of Governors included: James W. Archer, William F. Black, John F. Borchers, Anderson Borthwick, Malin Burnham, Pauline des Granges, Carl M. Ensenoff, Willis H. Fletcher, Theodore E. Gildred (vice president), James M. Gillean, Robert M. Golden, Edmund W. Hill, Philip M. Klauber (president), James Mulvaney (vice president), and George Palmer. In addition, Robertson Whittemore was selected as secretary, and Don Morgan as treasurer.

The City of San Diego saw the far-reaching benefits such an organization could have on the region and, with leadership from Mayor Pete Wilson, acted quickly to support it by unanimously approving a $50,000 grant to The Foundation.

Meaningful Impact

It didn’t take long for The Foundation to demonstrate that it could serve the interests of donors while also benefiting the community. Local residents in Bankers Hill

Spruce Street Bridge
Spruce Street Bridge

were concerned about the land around the Spruce Street Bridge, a historic part of the area and one that was rich in plant diversity. Mrs. Virginia Mackenzie Smith hoped to see it remain that way, and gave the first major gift to The Foundation, which used the money to acquire the bridge and the land around it. The Foundation then gave the property to the City, to be preserved forever as open space.

By making the gift to protect the Spruce Street Bridge, The Foundation demonstrated for potential donors that it could indeed make a difference in the city’s quality of life. In another example of the power of philanthropy, the much-beloved Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park burned to the ground in a 1978 arson fire. Undaunted, businesses and individuals throughout the region responded with an outpouring of contributions to rebuild the famous landmark. Community leaders continued to turn to The Foundation in increasing numbers to address social, economic, environmental, educational, and cultural issues.

Generous Donors

As more and more people saw the advantages of philanthropy through a community-based foundation, larger and larger endowments were established. The family of Reuben H. Fleet, founder of General Dynamics, merged its $8 million Fleet Foundation into the Community Foundation in 1985. Former San Diego Community Foundation president Joseph Hibben and his wife, Ingrid, then established a fund valued in excess of $2 million in 1988.

A new generation of San Diego philanthropists embraced the mantle of leadership. Sol and Helen Price opened the first of several funds in 1992 with The San Diego Foundation, and subsequently gave more than $20 million through those funds to various local charities. Samuel M. and Maria Blasker set up an $8 million endowment that same year to support new approaches to solving environmental problems. And Audrey Geisel established the Dr. Seuss Fund in memory of her late husband, Theodore, known worldwide as Dr. Seuss, to support a variety of causes they cared about.

The generosity of caring San Diegans wasn’t limited to just the City or County. After several local donors expressed interest in making charitable contributions to organizations outside the United States, especially to neighboring Mexico, The Foundation established a separate foundation in 1990. Dallas Clark, Ron Hahn and Deborah Szekely were founding members of the Pacific American Foundation (later renamed the International Community Foundation, or ICF).

San Diego Donors Moving Forward Together
San Diegans celebrating at The Foundation’s 40th Anniversary Celebration at Balboa Park

Forward Together

More than 40 years later, The San Diego Foundation has grown into one of the Top 30 community foundations in the nation. With generous support from our local donors, and regional and national funders, The Foundation has granted more than $1.2 billion to San Diego nonprofit organizations since its inception in 1975.

We salute the founders of The San Diego Foundation for their foresight in creating an innovative approach to community philanthropy, and we thank each generous donor and dedicated partner for their sincere desire to grow a vibrant San Diego region, together.

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