Judy Swayne, co-founder, along with her husband, Keith, of the Swayne Family Foundation was also the founder of the Orange County Community Foundation and served as its Executive Director from its inception in 1989 to her retirement in 1999. She was recently honored by the Orange County Community Foundation at the organization’s Twenty Year Anniversary luncheon. The article that follows is from the Orange County Register and reports on that Anniversary luncheon and Judy Swayne’s legacy.
FOUNDER OF O.C. FOUNDATION HONORED FOR ACHIEVEMENT
By CLAUDIA KOERNER
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
November 17, 2010
Judy Swayne saw 20 years ago how useful money set aside to serve the community could be. And so she took what she had learned working with the California Community Foundation and began to apply it to Orange County. Since then, the Orange County Community Foundation that Swayne created has distributed $144 million to local nonprofits, to students for scholarships and other community needs. The Orange County Community Foundation, which now claims $101.4 million in total assets, honored the 68-year-old Laguna Beach resident for her contributions with a lifetime achievement award at its annual meeting last week.
“You had a vision for what could be, and you worked hard to make it a reality,” board chairman Dick Allen told Swayne as he introduced her to a crowd of donors and supporters at The Island Hotel in Newport Beach.
Swayne said though she had plenty of vision in the early days, she was also naïve about jumping into such a large undertaking. To make up for her own limited experience, she said she brought in community leaders, accounting and legal experts and even traveled to the East Coast to get advice from established community foundations.
“It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life to bring people from all walks of life together,” said Swayne, who retired as foundation president in 2000.
Swayne’s goal with the foundation was to build a fund that would respond to the people of the county’s needs and grow with them. A grant from the Irvine Foundation got the ball rolling.
“You need money to bring in money,” Swayne said.
The idea of a private foundation was common, Swayne said, often connected with a particular family’s money and their interests in helping a particular cause.
“But then when you’re talking about the community, that’s a whole different story,” she said.
Since its general endowment doesn’t have restrictions, the foundation can respond quickly in emergencies. With the recent economic downturn, for example, the foundation helped keep local nonprofits giving to people who needed help most.
“It solidifies the county on another level,” she said. “There are a lot of people that are affluent, but there still is a lot of need.”
In Laguna Beach, one of the longtime beneficiaries of the foundation is the Friendship Shelter, which serves homeless people. Randy Kraft, on the shelter’s board, has known Swayne about two years and said she is remarkable for her intelligence and determination.
“She’s an inspiration,” Kraft said.
Kraft said she attended the annual meeting to show support for Swayne, and the foundation that helps the shelter work toward a common purpose of helping those in need.
“It’s hard in this economy to do this work, and we have to bolster each other,” she said.
The community foundation takes money from a variety of donors. It can act as a guide for which agencies need donors’ money most, or simply handle the paperwork for donors who already have an idea of who to give to. Work done with foundation funds is documented, and the foundation passes reports back to the donors.
“The darn thing works so smoothly,” Swayne said.
And the OC foundation grew more quickly than Swayne said she expected. Its new goal is reaching a $20 million unrestricted endowment before the end of the year, a milestone it has nearly achieved. Since retiring, Swayne and her husband Keith, a retired businessman, have traveled and continued to work with the foundation. Swayne also is a trustee for Whittier College, advises nonprofits and said she looks forward to spending more time with her daughter in Hawaii, as well as her son in Laguna Beach.
“It was probably the most energizing thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “I never got bored.”
For her efforts, Swayne said she hopes she’s remembered as a person who improved the lives of others in the community.
“It is a workload, but what better workload to have,” she said.
This year, the Swaynes started a $500,000 challenge grant to create funds within the foundation dedicated to the environment and the arts. They both say their years of giving come from a sense of feeling luck in their own lives, and wanting to share that good fortune.
“It’s to give people a chance, to open doors for people,” Keith Swayne said.
He sees much of his wife’s success as part of a good handle on business.
“People in the nonprofit world have to be as entrepreneurial as in the for-profit world,” he said.