Donor FAQ

What is the relationship between Sonoma Valley Fund and Community Foundation Sonoma County?

Sonoma Valley Fund is an affiliate of Community Foundation Sonoma County, and the two nonprofits play complementary roles. Sonoma Valley Fund is an all-volunteer organization with a simple focus: to sustain and improve the quality of valley life by encouraging and facilitating legacy giving. Sonoma Valley Fund supports local nonprofit organizations that want to launch endowment and legacy giving programs, provides education and development support to individuals who want to make legacy gifts, and provides thoughtful, trustworthy stewardship of donor bequests. Meanwhile, Community Foundation Sonoma County provides administrative, fiscal oversight, and development services county-wide. It has a paid staff, an extensive network of respected professional resources, and a long, successful track record in grant-making, fundraising, and financial management. Sonoma Valley Fund takes full advantage of the operational efficiencies and expertise available through its parent to help fulfill its unique mission and maximize the value and impact of donor gifts. The infrastructure provided by Community Foundation Sonoma County makes it possible for Sonoma Valley Fund to retain its volunteer ethic and local focus.

Why are Community Foundation Sonoma County and Sonoma Valley Fund fees so high?

Community Foundation Sonoma County fees are a bit higher than some other foundations and commercial firms, but not higher than organizations of comparable size. These fees help cover our operating expenses so that we may be actively engaged in the community. Since we do not raise money for our own operation, 88 percent of our $1.5 million budget comes from fee-based revenue. We hope you will consider your quarterly fee a contribution to the good work of Sonoma Valley Fund and Community Foundation Sonoma County.

Why are Community Foundation Sonoma County fees significantly higher than those of Marin Community Foundation?

Community Foundation Sonoma County is much more broadly and actively engaged in the community than our larger Marin counterpart. Our fees support that work. We bring disparate voices to the table and collaborate with all kinds of philanthropists to develop legacy plans that benefit the community. Donors should think of the fees as a contribution to those unique initiatives. Schwab, Fidelity, and Marin Community Foundation do not actively encourage philanthropy in Sonoma Valley; they wouldn’t know where or how a donor might make the best investment in our neighbors and neighborhoods. They are not in the business of building long-term, sustainable endowments to serve future local needs. Our fees may seem high for a donor who simply wants the lowest cost. Those who want a dynamic, involved relationship with an organization that knows this county best are usually willing to pay a little more.

Community Foundation Sonoma County also regularly reviews its fee structure to see how and when we can lower fees. In July 2011, the Foundation was able to reduce its foundation support fee, and anticipates that fees will come down further as its asset base grows. Unlike any other investment organizations, Sonoma Valley Fund and Community Foundation Sonoma County are focused exclusively on sustaining and improving the local quality of life for good—and forever.

Why should I give through the Community Foundation—aren’t you just a “pass through” organization?

In 2009, Community Foundation Sonoma County awarded $13 million in grants and scholarships to local nonprofit organizations and students. Ninety percent of that money was donor-directed, and the other 10 percent came from foundation endowments through a competitive grant-making process. Most foundation assets are invested for at least a short time to help build a greater capacity for giving. Many donors who work with us want to pool their resources with other donors for greater philanthropic impact and appreciate that we help connect them with community needs and opportunities and do the due diligence for them. Our donors have a broader community interest, even if they regularly support a few nonprofits directly.

What if I’ve already chosen my nonprofit recipients?

Most donors have; they have worked and built relationships with certain organizations over time. Nonetheless, the needs of our community are constantly changing, and we increasingly bring together local nonprofit leaders to address valley-wide issues that affect everyone’s quality of life. Through Sonoma Valley Fund and Community Foundation Sonoma County, you can continue to support your favorite charities while gradually getting more involved with other donors and the broader community. In addition, we can work with you during the estate-planning process to ensure the future support of your favorite charities. You can expand your knowledge of community needs and issues while meeting other donors and hearing about their philanthropic interests. Think of us as your gateway to a larger philanthropic sphere.

What if I don’t have a lot of time to be involved?

We understand. If a purely transactional relationship is all you have time for, we promise to provide excellent service that will simplify your charitable giving. A number of current fund holders find it helpful that we execute and send checks to their charities of choice, track their giving, and conduct due diligence when necessary. If you prefer, you can even manage your giving through Community Foundation Sonoma County’s on-line fund management program, Donor Central.

What is the basis of Sonoma Valley Fund’s expertise?

Our local knowledge and expertise comes from a variety of sources, including Community Foundation Sonoma County’s committed staff and board, Sonoma Valley Fund’s well-respected board and advisors, local professional advisors, county and community leaders, our grantees, and more than 150 nonprofit foundation fund holders. Our two organizations share a long-standing commitment to grant-making in the fields of arts and culture, the environment, education, and health and human services, including basic human needs. In 2010, for example, Sonoma Valley Fund convened local community members to determine the most pressing needs in these challenging economic times so we could begin to best fulfill the terms of a sizeable bequest. If our organizations currently lack expertise in an area, we tap into our vast network of community resources to access that knowledge and experience.

What if I already have a fund with Fidelity or Schwab?

Fidelity and Schwab have very fine programs and very competitive rates. However, they do not have the local community knowledge and expertise of Sonoma Valley Fund and Community Foundation Sonoma County. If you would like to get more involved right here, you may open a fund with us and begin to receive a number of local benefits.

Can you accommodate my interests outside Sonoma Valley and Sonoma County?

Yes. As long as your recipient organizations have 501(c)(3) status, we can make a grant to them, regardless of their locale. Roughly 20 percent of our annual grants from donor-advised funds goes outside Sonoma County.

What if I don’t have large financial resources?

Gifts at all levels are welcome. You may make smaller donations to support the work of Sonoma Valley Fund and Community Foundation Sonoma County in general, or to any of our existing funds or fields of interest. Current initiatives include Latino civic engagement, animal welfare, and ending family homelessness. Click the Contact Us tab to learn more about these programs. Many donors find that they can make larger gifts through an estate plan. Even if you don’t have cash, you can donate other assets such as stocks or property.

What if I don’t have the $10,000 required to establish a fund?

You do not need the full $10,000 to begin. Some donors have taken two to three years to activate their fund. If establishing a fund doesn’t interest you or isn’t possible at this time, you can donate a smaller amount to our general fund or one of our community initiatives.

What do the Sonoma Valley Fund and Community Foundation Sonoma County do?

In a nutshell, Sonoma Valley Fund and its parent, Community Foundation Sonoma County, are grant-making organizations and stewards of community assets. We pride ourselves on our local expertise and community involvement. We offer donors an opportunity to become involved in Sonoma Valley issues as well as to direct their philanthropic giving through us, while we take care of the administrative details.

What if I’m unimpressed with your investment returns or portfolio?

Like all charitable institutions that manage assets, the last few years have been volatile. We saw large dips at the end of 2008 and significant gains in the first quarter of 2010. We invite you to view a copy of Community Foundation Sonoma County’s investment pool performance and policies. The foundation manages four different investment pools with varying degrees of opportunity and risk to suit a range of donor objectives and fund structures. Our funds have continued to meet or exceed the policy index for each investment pool, and we replace fund managers who consistently underperform. Community Foundation Sonoma County’s Investment Advisory Committee monitors and reviews the funds with the assistance of a financial consultant, and together they make recommendations to the foundation’s board of directors. We constantly review our policies and performance to optimize outcomes for our donors and for the community.

How would I recognize your work in the community?

Much of the work that we do is “under the radar.” We don’t spend a lot of money on marketing because most of our money goes into grant making. Once donors open a fund with us, however, we are in touch with them as often as they would like us to be, offering opportunities for partnerships and education. Beyond our grant making, we bring donors, nonprofits, civic leaders, and estate-planning professionals together to address community needs. Sonoma Valley Fund’s special initiatives so far have focused on increasing the long-term efficiency and financial health of nonprofit organizations and addressing gang violence in our schools.

If I turn over my money or other assets to you, will I lose control?

Community Foundation Sonoma County offers a wide variety of financial and investment options, all of which seek donor input. It is true that once you give your money to the foundation, those assets are technically no longer yours. But all donors continue to advise and make recommendations on where those charitable dollars go. Sonoma Valley Fund and Community Foundation Sonoma County always honor the wishes of donor-advisors as long as any intended recipient is a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in good standing.