In the spring of 1980, a group of Santa Barbara-based community organizers, activists and philanthropists established the Fund for Santa Barbara to support organizations working for progressive social change in Santa Barbara County. Inspired by similar efforts across the country, founder Nancy Alexander and eight founding board members set out to introduce an alternative model of philanthropy to California’s Central Coast.
During its first five years, the Fund for Santa Barbara benefited from the fiscal sponsorship of the Liberty Hill Foundation of Los Angeles. In March 1985, it became an independent 501(c) 3 foundation. Through the late 1980's and early 1990’s the organization continued to build its funding base and establish itself as a key resource for social justice organizations. In the Fall of 1992, an Endowment Fund was established by the board of directors. In 1996, the Fund for Santa Barbara became an affiliate member of The Funding Exchange, creating a formal relationship with sister organizations across the country. The Fund became a full member in June of 2004.
In 2000 and 2001, the Fund for Santa Barbara undertook a comprehensive evaluation and strategic planning process. The two primary results were the implementation in 2003 of a multi-year granting program and the formalization of the Technical Assistance Program, which enabled the organization to make a more sustained investment in movement-building work.
In July of 2001, the northern Santa Barbara County Pilot Program was officially launched and the first staff member was hired specifically to work with communities in that area. Although the Fund had been making grants in the Santa Maria Valley since 1999, the launch of this pilot program signaled the full organizational commitment to building a base of donors, activists, and volunteers in the northern half of the county. A second office was opened in Lompoc in 2001 and moved to Santa Maria in 2003.
The Fund for Santa Barbara‘s activist-led grant-making program has long been the hallmark of its work. Over its 35-year history, however, the Fund has carved out a much larger role in the community, serving not only as a grant-maker, but also as a trainer, advisor and convener of the region’s social, economic, political and environmental justice advocates and organizers.
In addition to our grant-making programs, the Fund for Santa Barbara runs a Technical Assistance Program that works with more than 200 community groups each year, providing resources and training for organizational development, fundraising, community organizing, board development, strategic planning, media strategy, facilitation, financial management, grant-writing, lobbying, advocacy, and more. This program compliments the grant-making by offering accessible workshops and consulting services to help ensure the success of grassroots efforts. The Technical Assistance Program involves staff, board, and grant-making committee members. All consulting services are bi-lingual (Spanish/English) and are provided free of charge.
In 2000, the Fund for Santa Barbara began a partnership with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival to create the Fund for Santa Barbara Social Justice Award for Documentary Film. This award, given annually during the festival by an independent jury, recognizes the work of documentary filmmakers who use their art to address critical social, economic, environmental and political justice issues.
The Fund's Youth Making Change (YMC) program, established in 2008, is a teen-led grant-making program that provides young people with the opportunity to engage directly in organized philanthropy. The YMC board, comprised of teens aged 13-19, distributes grants to projects led by youth that affect young people in Santa Barbara County. Since 2008, YMC has awarded over $215,000 to more than 110 youth-led groups throughout Santa Barbara County.
Now in its 37th year, the Fund for Santa Barbara has distributed over $5 million to more than 1,000 grassroots projects, and continues to be at the forefront of responsive and progressive philanthropy on California’s Central Coast.