In 1994, Hal Dunning faced this reality: He needed to slow down.
He had spent his entire life trying to compensate for his tough upbringing.
His mother died when he was just 7 years old, leaving his father to raise five kids. Hal’s father soon remarried, adding three more children to the family, but that marriage failed in short order. Hal and his siblings had no choice but to take care of themselves because of his father’s struggle with alcoholism.
“There is a good chance in today’s world we would have ended up in the foster care system,” Hal shared.
Determined not to be like his dad, Hal was a self-proclaimed overachiever. By age 39, he had climbed the corporate ladder to Executive Vice President of Anthony Industries, a Los Angeles sporting-goods company.
But the cost was everything outside of his job.
He worked 70 to 80 hours per week, had no wife or children, and relied heavily on alcohol to get through his days.
“On the outside, it looked like a great life. On the inside, it wasn’t very good,” Hal said.
Hal made the decision to seek more meaning and fulfillment in his life. His first step was to leave his job. His second – get sober.
“I wasn’t taking care of myself. A person all wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small package,” he admitted.
A Whole Lot More to Give
Beginning in 1994, Hal spent the next three years completely redesigning himself, turning to volunteerism to see if he could help himself by helping others.
He started by delivering food Monday through Friday for Meals on Wheels. Then, he served as a natural disaster responder for the American Red Cross. Following that, he volunteered time to coach Pop Warner youth football teams.
His first foray back into the workforce was mentoring and helping recovering alcoholics at the Scripps Hospital Recovery Center.
“I discovered being in service is amazing. It changes people’s lives,” he said. “As soon as you start helping others, you’ll realize you’ve got a whole lot more to give.”
Hal made his way back into the world of finance as Controller and General Manager of ADS Environmental Services, but he didn’t leave philanthropy behind. Partnering with a group of Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), he became a founding board member of the Day for Change, a non-profit which has contributed more than $1.3 million in grants to San Diego organizations that serve abused, neglected and underserved children.
The program’s first grant recipient was Walden Family Services, San Diego’s largest foster care, adoption and youth services agency.
Specializing in matching hard-to-place kids with loving parents was an endeavor close to Hal’s heart, and it wasn’t long after the grant that Hal was serving as Board Chair of the organization, a title he would hold for 11 years.
“I could have been one of these kids,” Hal stated. “They did nothing wrong, but they didn’t get a fair shot in life. They’re not somebody else’s kids. They’re our kids.”
In 2000, Hal took on the job of CFO at Barney & Barney. He also became a founding board member of the Barney & Barney Foundation when the company celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2009.
Joining The San Diego Foundation
A few short years later, Hal’s friend Garry Ridge, Chief Executive Officer of WD-40 Company, asked if Hal would be interested in joining the Board of Governors at The San Diego Foundation.
“I was fascinated with the thought of it,” Hal remembers. “I felt that maybe I could help make the philanthropic community become more efficient. Looking back now, I realize The Foundation really has become what I thought it could be back in 2014.”
Serving in his seventh year on the board, Hal has enjoyed every minute of it.
He is most proud of how The Foundation brought the community together in response to COVID-19 through the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund. And he could not be more complimentary of the leadership and the staff.
Right now, he’s most excited about the launch of the Black Community Investment Fund, which prioritizes and invests in community-led, innovative efforts that increase racial equity and generational wealth for Black San Diegans.
“I fantasize that San Diego can be the most anti-racist city in the country,” he declared.
He’s doing his part to realize that dream.
In November, he and a small group of community members and leaders established The AntiRacism Institute, dedicated to creating measurable progress in both racial literacy and closing the racial wealth gap.
Now the President and Chief Operating Officer of Marsh & McLennan Agency’s West Region, Hal is much more than just his career.
He has a wife and a daughter. He has philanthropy. He has fulfillment.
Often, he looks back at the three-year period that reshaped his life. It all started changing when he began devoting himself to service.
“I encourage everyone to try it,” he said. “There’s something for everyone. Try giving back at different places and see where your heart leads you.”