For 85 years, the Santa Barbara Foundation has played a key role in shaping the future of our community. Working with donors, volunteers and nonprofits, the foundation has become the largest grantmaker in the county with assets exceeding $290 million. Most of the approximately 2,000 nonprofits in our community have benefited from the foundation’s work.

To remain responsive to community needs, the foundation continuously asks carefully crafted questions, the answers to which provide foundation leaders with the valuable information they need to make changes to benefit everyone.

I had the pleasure recently of meeting with Al Rodriguez, the newly appointed vice president of community investments. Rodriguez has been on board for only seven months, and he is already asking lots of important questions. I also met with Guille Gil-Reynoso, executive assistant to Ron Gallo, the foundation’s president and CEO.

In this interview, Rodriguez and Gil-Reynoso give us a peek inside the inner workings of this vibrant, ever-transforming organization.

Clearly the Santa Barbara Foundation is determined to include everyone in its quest to reimagine Santa Barbara County. Rodriguez will lead a discussion about the foundation’s vision and plans at 8 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 14 at the University Club for the Executive Directors’ Forum. All nonprofit executive directors are welcome to attend. For more information, contact Nonprofit Kinect at the address below.

The Santa Barbara Foundation is committed to promoting excellence within the nonprofit sector by partnering with a number of organizations to offer leadership and development opportunities. Our intent is to increase the sector’s capacity for growth, service and governance. We are asking questions like this. What do organizations desire, and how can the Santa Barbara Foundation be helpful toward meeting their needs? Should we concentrate on exposing local organizations to best practices for attracting, training and retaining young professionals to agency boards and key committees? Should our emphasis should be on encouraging those receiving service to serve on agency or community boards and committees in an effort to shift the paradigm from service recipient to empowered decision maker? Do we narrow our focus to encouraging a diverse learning community that is responsive to the needs of the newly appointed executive director as well as the more seasoned? Or, do we emphasize the practice of effective governance to ensure maximum oversight and organizational accountability? Predictably, there are as many opinions as there are questions.

The foundation has long viewed the community as its collective “think tank,” and we are using this year to meet with nonprofit leaders, other funders and local technical assistance resources to ask these questions, listen to ideas and consider new approaches to maximizing our investment in the nonprofit sector.

Currently, the Santa Barbara Foundation invests in a number of approaches to nonprofit organization and leadership development, including:

» The Fund for Santa Barbara, where we arrange for technical assistance for grassroots organizations and in providing workshops through the Marquee Speaker Series, which features the best thinking of leaders in the nonprofit field

» Antioch University Women & Leadership Certificate Program

Al Rodriguez

Al Rodriguez

» Fielding Graduate University Nonprofit Leadership Certificate Program

» Leading From Within’s programs, including Courage to Lead, Emerging Leaders and Katherine Harvey Fellows, which introduces young professionals to nonprofit service

» Santa Barbara Latina Leaders Network, which provides leadership training, personal development and relationship building resources for established and emerging women leaders

» Nonprofit Resource Network, where we work with the Hutton Parker Foundation to provide an online community for nonprofits

» Ventura County Community Foundation’s Board Leadership Institute designed to help board members be more effective in their respective organizations

We continuously return to the questions: Are these offerings meeting the collective needs of the nonprofits in the community? How can we be sure? How can we measure and assess the impact of what we’re doing to satisfy the needs?

For example, we’ve been interested in identifying realistic approaches to encouraging leadership development in the North County area because there are practical barriers, such as distance and drive time, keeping them from participating in some of the programs offered in other parts of the county. Much like the partnership that we entered into with the Ventura County Community Foundation that resulted in the availability of its Board Leadership Institute to local organizations, we’ve had exploratory conversations with the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation regarding a regionalized approach to nonprofit leadership development in the north.

Guille Gil-Reynoso

Guille Gil-Reynoso

Why is this important to the foundation? As we become more initiative focused and attract resources toward addressing important community needs, the ability of local organizations within those areas to operate at even higher levels becomes more important. We believe this work includes boards, individual leaders and all aspects of organizations. We are after a seamless and integrated approach to building leadership.

Leadership development is also about individuals becoming more engaged in the community. We are proud when we are able to connect people with the causes that matter to them. The question is: How can we get leaders and other individuals engaged in the issues that are important to the community? When you equip leaders it allows them to take part in their community in new ways. For example, many people report that they feel more engaged in the community through the annual Partnership for Excellence Conference, where they have an opportunity to step back from their daily activities to reexamine the bigger issues.

We will continue funding individual development programs in order to attract young professionals to enter into the nonprofit field. As we attract these young professionals who want to do community service, they typically have areas of particular interest. What is the mechanism for matching these people with organizations that usually depend on seasoned adults many of whom are retired and have time and schedules that allow for greater participation? How can we provide integration between the two age groups?

The Santa Barbara Foundation is looking for effective ways to build upon the current state of nonprofit excellence with the creative assistance of others invested in this same outcome. We are confident we will get there together.

Biographical Information for Al Rodriguez

Rodriguez has more than 11 years of progressive involvement with the Santa Barbara Foundation, beginning as a community representative to the various grant-making and problem-solving committees hosted by the foundation, followed by an appointment to the Board of Trustees for six years, leading to his current role as the vice president for community investments.

In this capacity, Rodriguez views the community as the foundation’s think-tank, providing the community investment team with a continuous stream of creative ideas and approaches to solving important issues within the county. He also has responsibility for investing in the development of the foundation’s efforts to build upon the current capacity of the nonprofit community through partnerships with other funders and the sector.

Prior to his position with the foundation, Rodriguez has balanced his career by working in both the public and nonprofit sectors by promoting solutions to community substance use and health and human service issues.

Biographical Information for Guille Gil-Reynoso

Gil-Reynoso is co-founder of the Santa Barbara Latina Leaders Network, a volunteer organization dedicated to providing leadership training, personal development, and relationship building resources to established and emerging leaders in Santa Barbara. She also serves as executive special projects assistant to the Santa Barbara Foundation’s president and CEO and is the liaison to the foundation’s Board of Trustees.

Previously, Gil-Reynoso worked as a landscape architectural designer for Wallace, Roberts & Todd, an urban design planning firm in San Diego, and at George W. Girvin Associates in Santa Barbara. She expanded into the nonprofit sector, where she worked for Santa Barbara Channels, helping nonprofit organizations place arts, culture and education programs on television.

She graduated from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo with a bachelor of science degree in landscape architecture. She is an alumna of the National Hispana Leadership Institute Executive Leadership Program, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Executive Education Program and the Center for Creative Leadership. In addition, she has served on the steering committee of the Partnership for Excellence conference, which brings together leaders from Santa Barbara County’s philanthropic sector to build relationships, explore ideas and enhance organizations.

Gil-Reynoso believes in collaborative, creative and compassionate work, and values the opportunity to serve her community.

— Dr. Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She has been successfully leading nonprofits for 30 years and holds a doctorate in organizational management. To read her blog, click here. To read her previous articles, click here. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137 or The opinions expressed are her own.

— Dr. Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She has been successfully leading nonprofits for 30 years and holds a doctorate in organizational management. To read her blog, click here. To read her previous articles, click here. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137 or The opinions expressed are her own.