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Born to Volunteer, Ken Saxon Teaches Others to Lead from Within

For 2011 Man of the Year, nurturing nonprofit leaders helps ensure a vibrant environment for effective philanthropy

Ken Saxon’s latest venture, Leading From Within, is taking professional development to a whole new level for nonprofit leaders.
Ken Saxon’s latest venture, Leading From Within, is taking professional development to a whole new level for nonprofit leaders.  (Santa Barbara Foundation photo)

People discover the joy of volunteering at different ages; Ken Saxon was born to it.

Saxon grew up in Baltimore, where his grandmother volunteered for the League of Women Voters for more than 50 years. His mother continued the tradition as the first woman to lead the Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce, and his 88-year old father reports each week as a volunteer for the Maryland State Police.

The volunteering gene flourished in Saxon and he naturally gravitated toward helping others. This gene dovetailed neatly with a love of learning. As a young man, he found that volunteering helped bring him out of himself and engage with others — all sorts of others — and learn about his community and others different from himself.

In college, Saxon observed the devastating impact on his peers of the federal government’s cuts in student aid in the early 1980s. He advocated in Washington for students, and worked to raise funds to offset the cuts as part of Princeton University’s capital campaign. And thus was born a lifelong interest in making college access easier for all.

Saxon and his family moved to Santa Barbara in 1996 and he immediately sought a way to involve himself with his new community. How to choose from the great variety of nonprofit organizations? A friend offered good advice: choose an organization because of the people and the culture, rather than the cause. Good relationships are likely to sustain a passion for the cause and help through the bumps in the road experienced by any organization.

The Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara fit that bill. Its blend of professionalism combined with a relaxed atmosphere drew Saxon in. He welcomed the opportunity to champion the cause of student aid locally and joined the board. He eventually became board president.

A few years later, Saxon joined the board of the Santa Barbara Foundation where he discovered another passion: helping young professionals become community leaders. As one of the leaders of the foundation’s Katherine Harvey Fellows program, he valued the chance to work with young adults who were yearning to find meaning in something beyond work and family.

Nurturing leaders has become a full-time passion. Saxon started a nonprofit called Leading From Within that invests in people committed to improving their community. Its Courage to Lead program is a year-long leadership and renewal series designed to invest in experienced nonprofit executives so they can better sustain their commitment and lead their organizations and community more effectively. This year, he's launched an Emerging Leaders Program for younger managers in nonprofits.

From students helped by the Scholarship Foundation, Katherine Harvey Fellows who were inspired to reach for greater heights, to leaders of nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping others, Saxon has had a significant impact on the local community through his volunteer work.

That is why Saxon was awarded Santa Barbara’s highest honor: 2011 Man of the Year.

                                                                  •        •        •

Join the Santa Barbara Foundation, Noozhawk and KDB in celebrating those who enrich our lives by donating their time and talent, making a significant and positive impact in the Santa Barbara community, at the 71st Annual Man and Woman of the Year Awards luncheon. The luncheon will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at the Four Seasons Biltmore in Montecito.

Click here to purchase tickets online, or call 805.963.1873.

— Suzanne Farwell represents the Santa Barbara Foundation.

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