Giving is Changing, Are You? Three practices to boost your effectiveness.

This article was featured in the San Diego Business Journal’s 2022 Giving Guide. Read the full guide here.

In his day, Andrew Carnegie rocked the boat by creating a public good from personal wealth. Today, we see MacKenzie Scott forging a new path in giving by making big bets based on solid research and deep trust. The Donors of Color Network is claiming space in the philanthropic landscape to drive systems change and racial equity. Society is changing, and so must our approach to giving. At Catalyst of San Diego & Imperial Counties, our network of more than 100 organizations and individuals is continually evolving in how they contribute funds, time, and expertise to our region’s social sector. From our perspective as a leadership hub bringing together national and global best practices to complement local strategies, we see three emerging practices as critical to continued evolution in the social impact sector.


Throughout the pandemic, nonprofit leaders breathed a sigh of relief whenever a donor said, “I know things are changing quickly and needs are acute, please use these funds in whatever way necessary to advance your mission.” Five-page written reports became occasional phone conversations that provided real context and an opportunity to understand how needs and opportunities were evolving. Giving without restrictions does not imply writing a check and walking away. It means leaning into the idea that if you’ve chosen to fund a group’s work, it is because you believe they know what they are doing. And it opens the door for you to learn and evolve alongside that organization and move the work forward together. This is true even beyond a global crisis and should not fade as our pandemic response shifts to pandemic recovery. Some ways we have seen this in action in our region: Women Give San Diego shifted its 2021 grant-cycle midstream and awarded unrestricted funds to heir recipients. The California Dignity for Families Fund provided unrestricted funding to migrant-focused organizations and accompanied it with funds for staff and volunteer wellness. The Social Equity Collaborative Fund provided renewal funding to existing grantees without requiring a formal report or plan — relying instead upon conversations and a shared understanding of the timeline of systems change.


In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and a summer of vivid demonstrations and calls to action, the importance of funding Black-led organizations came into sharp relief. During the pandemic, anti-Asian hate incidents underscored the critical nature of violence prevention and trauma support work provided by Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI)- led groups. And the exclusion of over 150,000 undocumented individuals from COVID relief funds underscored the need for strong Latinx- and immigrant[1]led organizations. San Diego boasts an incredibly diverse community, and leadership among elected, corporate, and social sector organizations is beginning to reflect that. And yet, donors still typically learn about projects and organizations through their own networks, which often reflect their own identity. You can begin to expand your network and exposure to different organizations by connecting with local Black, Asian, and Hispanic chambers of commerce; volunteering at BIPOC[1]centered organizations like the San Diego chapter of the Black American Political Association of California or Mana de San Diego; or simply by having coffee with a person whose network you’d like to get to know. Want to kickstart your network-building? Coffee with a Catalyst team member or giving through our Social Equity Collaborative Fund are also good options.


As the home to innumerable innovation economy projects and companies, Research and Development (R+D) stands out as an area in which our region should excel. The social sector is no exception, and yet, funding tends to be short-term and limited scope—think, a one-year grant to fund mentorship for 30 students in one school. Imagine the innovation, partnership, and collaborative work that would take place if we invested in for-benefit R+D. We might explore new methodologies and accept failure as part of the pathway to success. We might build partnerships with national experts or put San Diego’s expertise on the national stage. These are just some of the products that could emerge from funding creativity and exploration in our social sector. In addition to R+D, how else can you bring a business development lens to your giving? What investments, timeline, and metrics of success do you apply? You can adapt those same principles to your philanthropy and enable social sector leaders to take the same approach. Consider endowing a Director of Creative Partnerships at a housing organization or putting your name on an Income Stability Fellowship at a community development corporation. Social sector groups have done so much with so little, imagine if they were given a little room to grow.

One day, we will think less of giving, and more of shared prosperity. Shared wealth-building, shared benefit, and shared well-being. By adopting the practices above, we’ll get there more quickly and effectively, and all of us will benefit.

Written by Megan Thomas, President & CEO Catalyst of San Diego & Imperial Counties. Read the San Diego Business Journal’s entire 2022 Giving Guide here.