My family’s foundation, the Jacobs Family Foundation, started out like most family foundations, giving grants in a variety of areas that interested us. Politically and philosophically, our family couldn’t have been more diverse. Finding an issue or approach we could all support was challenging. The first focus that we found that appealed to the entire board was micro-finance. Initially, this approach unified our divergent views of the world and satisfied both the liberals and conservatives on our board in helping poor people with a “hand up, not a hand out” approach to economic independence.

Over time, we identified two factors we felt needed to change for our philanthropy to be effective. First, we felt that the only way to truly help families and individuals in need was to change the systems that work against them on a daily basis. For instance, if you want to provide jobs for people, you also have to take into account the vital importance of access to transportation, housing, healthcare, childcare and so much more.

This concept of interconnected systems was brought home to us when the Food 4 Less grocery chain began training community residents for a soon-to-open supermarket. One day, a trainee of the program, who had also been involved in our foundation’s programs, called in to say he wouldn’t be able to make it to work. He said that he owned only one pair of black pants (part of the Food 4 Less uniform), that they were dirty and that he had to take them to the Laundromat to wash them. We realized then that there was so much more involved in changing people’s lives than merely providing them with a decent paying job.Resident investors in Market Creek Plaza celebrated the third consecutive year of receiving a full return on their investment. Approximately half of the 415 investors chose to reinvest their dividends in future community development work.

The second factor was that in order for us to work more comprehensively, we had to narrow our geographic focus to a specific area in our city. We wanted to try working on everything at once: economic development, community development and all of the social issues that affect low-income neighborhoods. We also liked the idea that we could be closely and personally involved in the work, and so in 1997 we moved our foundation to the Diamond Neighborhoods in Southeastern San Diego, a long-time disinvested urban area of the city.

Read the full article about place-based philanthropy by Valerie Jacobs Hapke at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.