Thursday, April 19 , 2018, 5:50 pm | Fair 69º


Santa Barbara Foundation Moves to New Home

Philanthropist Léni Fé Bland was a key contributor to the nonprofit's updated building

When Executive Director Ron Gallo first joined the Santa Barbara Foundation, one of the first people he met was Montecito philanthropist Léni Fé Bland.

“One of the first people that my predecessor Chuck Slosser brought me to see was Léni, and I was immediately so enamored with her,” Gallo said. “She may be the baroness Léni Fé Bland, but she’s a very soulful, wise and candid woman.”

Fé Bland is a local philanthropist who’s probably most well-known for her music scholarship program that has provided assistance for classical music students since 1992. The classically trained singer has distributed more than 1,200 scholarships to students, totaling about $1.5 million.

“She has a beautiful way of speaking and carrying herself that is in keeping with that (royal) title, but underneath there is a person who really cares about people,” Gallo said.

Thanks to contributions from Fé Bland and dozens of other donors, the Santa Barbara Foundation has moved from its 83-year-old Hill-Carrillo Adobe on Carrillo Street to 1111 Chapala St., No. 200.

“As much as we had affection for the adobe, it was not suitable for our next period of work,” Gallo said. “It was hampering our mission because of its historic nature and difficulty integrating today’s technology.”

The foundation will name the building after Fé Bland, who gave the nonprofit a $5 million unrestricted donation.

“The donation is totally unrestricted in perpetuity,” Gallo said. “The reason she did that was very wise because during her lifetime she can make judicious decisions on what needs to be done, but she has no idea what the most important issues of the day will be 50 to 100 years from now. The best thing she could do was let wise people of future years make best the decision they could to help the community.”

The new building will allow everyone to work under one roof, which wasn’t the case before, said Alixe Mattingly, the Santa Barbara Foundation’s vice president of communications and marketing. Its old home will serve as a nonprofit partnership center where different organizations can meet and collaborate.

“In general, donors are much more narrow in their intent,” Gallo said. “It’s rare and wonderful for her to see the best thing for her to do in terms of a legacy gift is not to predetermine what the needs of Santa Barbara County are going to be, but for this place to have the philanthropic capital to use it in whatever it seems best.”

The donations also will help pay for an integrated database and new Web site that will utilize social networking to better target donors, said Jan Campbell, vice president of philanthropic services.

“For too many organizations, the Web is a glorified brochure, not an interactive entity,” Gallo said. “We are trying to use video and social networks to inform our donors and the community.”

He said the LEED-certified building also will display pieces of Santa Barbara history.

“All throughout the building will feature a story about different philanthropists and their passions so that someone will get a sense of historic philanthropy throughout the county,” he said.

Gallo said he hopes Fé Bland will take pride in her efforts to better the community through the foundation.

“What I would love to be able to say is she trusts the Santa Barbara Foundation’s unique ability to survey the critical issues of the day and have the strategies to try to address them,” he said.

Notable donors to the foundation include Christine and Robert Emmons, Jane and Norman Habermann, the Hutton Parker Foundation, the Ann Jackson Family Foundation, Peter and Leslie MacDougal, Gretchen and Marshall Milligan, Richard and Maryann Schall, Juiliette and Clifford Sponsel, and Judy and Jack Stapelmann. The foundation distributed more than $20 million back to the community last year and individual donors invested more than $11 million to support the arts, the environment, lifelong learning, access to basic needs and sustainable economic growth, Mattingly said.

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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