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Tracy Johnson

Foundation director a 'grant maker' for nonprofits

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In businesses you have to spend money to make money. In the nonprofit world, you need someone who knows where to find money.

For the San Diego Women’s Foundation, this person is Tracy Johnson. She is the director of the 12-year-old nonprofit that collects individual financial donations from women and awards money back to nonprofits in arts and culture, education, the environment, and health and human services.

“We are a grant maker, if you will,” Johnson said.

Since 2007, Johnson has been the head of the philanthropic organization where she oversees all organization functions, program operations, personnel management and financial management.

“I am responsible to ensure the practices of the organization reflect our mission, core values and philosophy,” said Johnson, who has a bachelor’s in psychology and master’s of education in counseling from the University of Maine.

The San Diego Women’s Foundation asks its more than 210 members for a minimum of $2,000 a year for at least five years.

“Women donate money to our organization because they feel they can do more because their money goes farther,” Johnson said. “We can make a large donation that could start a new music program, compared to one person that might only be able to buy one instrument.”

As of March 28, Johnson said the organization has $2.3 million in their grant pot.

But Johnson’s role doesn’t come without challenges.

She said San Diego Women’s Foundation does lose members for various reasons like a bad economy (when they lost members in 2008 and 2009), or because members find their calling and now only donate to one single nonprofit entity.

“We want women to find that nonprofit that they are passionate about and believe highly in,” Johnson said.

To overcome this challenge, Johnson has encouraging members to bring in new women and by allowing an outside marketing team to be hired for the first time.

“We got a donation to specifically market the foundation to hopefully bring in more members,” Johnson said. This donation led to television commercials, ads in newspapers and more exposure to the tune of a 41 percent increase in membership from 2010 to 2011.

Members get a vote to determine what specific nonprofit the money goes to each year. The four areas the San Diego Women’s Foundation gives to rotates each year. In 2012, the foundation will donate to educational nonprofits. The exact nonprofits where money will be going to are based on member’s votes and necessity.

“Our job is to narrow and focus on how money will have the most impact,” Johnson said, adding this process takes a year to complete.

Since 2000, the foundation has awarded grants to 58 local nonprofits of at least $25,000 each.

“It feels good to help nonprofits,” Johnson explained. “I’ve always felt drawn to help others, especially children in need.”

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