A First Foundation Blog

Perspectives on Philanthropy


Following your heart and passion to transform lives

Do you find yourself wanting more from your philanthropic efforts? Is it daunting to think about which causes to support and ensure your giving makes the greatest impact? We know that giving feels good and there is strong research to support it. But we also know that with so many options to give, people often aren’t able to maximize the effects of their charitable giving activity.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) on this very topic.

To help with this discussion, let’s start with the big picture. Americans gave a total of $410 billion to charity in 2017, crossing the $400 billion mark for the first time. A strong economy contributed to the largest giving in history in the US. This is impressive no doubt.

Looking at the regional level, in Orange County we know that giving is fairly new in relation to other cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In an effort to put Orange County on the proverbial map, it is clear that philanthropist and community leaders need to carry out the philanthropic missions of its donors to collaborate, to think outside the box, and to be solution-oriented. This is evidenced by strategic coalitions that have been created to end homelessness, to help the veterans, and to make medical treatments more accessible to the underserved.

Philanthropy has been the main vehicle that helps solve the community’s most complex problems. What we are seeing, though, is a trend of philanthropists working with the for-profit sector and forging relationships to combine resources (talent and treasure) to implement solutions.

It is also not a wild claim to state that philanthropy feels good – anyone who has given money or time knows the euphoric lift it creates. But what we are also learning is that philanthropy is scientifically proven to be good for your health. According to Psychology Today, “neuroscience has demonstrated that giving is a powerful pathway for creating more personal joy and improving overall health.”  

There are different approaches that can help you achieve your giving goals. The philanthropy journey is a wonderful experience, and the more you and your family get involved, the more strategic and impactful you can be. 

One critical observation is that while there is a trend for foundations to support special projects or align with a specific cause, there is another positive emerging trend of foundations building partnerships with nonprofits and trusting them to use the money where it’s needed most. This is referred to as “general operating support” and there are success stories for each. Below is a sampling from our first-hand experience.

Empowering Research in Healthcare

One of our clients who was interested in using his philanthropic activities to advance healthcare followed a researcher from one hospital to another. He wanted to let the researcher decide how to use the funds in the most effective way. This relationship to yield power to the expert and trust that they know how to use the funds best exemplifies how impact happens when you forge strong relationships.

Self-Sustaining Schools

Another client was looking for a way to have an impact on K-6 education. First Foundation introduced them to Charters OC, and they soon realized that they could help a charter school get established with the ultimate goal of becoming self-sustaining. This particular client has now funded three schools that have given parents and youth an excellent choice in education, and are well on their way to being self-sustaining.

A Legacy through Music

Another client wanted to honor their parents’ and grandparents’ legacy, and started a Stringed Instrument Scholarship Fund. It was established for the talented young musicians of Orange County who are in need of financial assistance to continue their education. The success of the scholarship since its establishment has brought international and local students to achieve successful career goals. Over forty string instrument musicians, attending local universities, have benefited from this program with more than $300,000 awarded to students over the years – and the program continues to grow and inspire more and more people in the community and outside, leaving a lasting legacy for the family’s passion of supporting the arts.

So while the data shows us that many more Americans are giving, and we know that giving improves personal health, it is not clear if this giving is actually making an impact beyond the initial euphoria associated with the effort. At First Foundation, we help families build lasting giving programs that deepen relationships with the cause, improve the chances of making an impact, and galvanize people around a stated mission to serve the community. 

If you find yourself wanting more from your philanthropic efforts, we want to speak with you.


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Sara N. Garske, Assistant Vice President, Foundation Services
About the Author
Sara N. Garske, Assistant Vice President, Foundation Services
Ms. Garske joined First Foundation Inc. in 2008 and is responsible for managing operations for family foundation clients and collaborating with their trusted advisors. In her role as Assistant Vice President of Philanthropy Services, she helps family foundations execute their philanthropic mission through strategic planning, effective grant making, and impact reporting. Her years of experience allow her to provide guidance to multi-generational families navigating their philanthropic journey. Previously, Ms. Garske worked in university advancement at Claremont McKenna College, The University of San Diego, and Chapman University. She has an extensive background in board management, private giving opportunities, program development and evaluation, fundraising, and event planning. Ms. Garske currently serves as the President of Orange County Advisors in Philanthropy. She is passionate about early childhood education and served on the Education Impact Council of the United Way of Orange County and served as Co-Chair of MIND Research Institute’s Orange County Leadership Council. She is a member of Southern California Grantmakers and Orange County Funders Roundtable. Ms. Garske received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and Government with a minor in Business Administration from the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington. Sara Garske serves as assistant vice president for First Foundation’s foundation services team. In this role, she manages the operations of numerous family foundation clients, helping execute their philanthropic missions through effective grant making and scholarship programs. Read more