Twenty years and counting: The Stinson/Bolinas Fund

David Briggs
PHILANTHROPY: The Stinson/Bolinas Community Fund has provided over $1 million in small grants to countless groups, including BCAST, which recently put on a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (photographed above), for 20 years.  

Harriet Moss was guided by two beliefs when she began the Stinson/Bolinas Community Fund: money shouldn’t sit stagnant, and the more it flows, the more a community grows. 

The fund is now celebrating its 20th year. Over the past two decades, Ms. Moss and dozens of local members have provided over $1 million in grants to a lengthy roster of nonprofits and individuals in the two communities. In biannual grant-giving cycles, the fund’s members collectively decide which projects to support—the main criterion is that they benefit one of the two communities—with grants of up to $3,000. 

A glance at the fund’s past donations shows how much the communities and the fund have grown in tandem. Grants aided the construction of the Mesa Park playground in 1999, the production on “The Comedy of Errors” and “Macbeth” for the bygone Shakespeare at Stinson theater series, and more recently, helped numerous locals take part in the West Marin Choir through a scholarship program. 

Some groups have looked to the fund for ongoing support over time. The Bolinas-Stinson Summer Camp has received over $70,000 in small grants since 1999. Kathy Bustamante, the camp’s founder, said the fund provided 12 percent of the camp’s budget this past year. Those funds supported teen counselor salaries, scholarships and a website update. “It saves the camp from having to scramble and do intense fundraising,” she said. “It’s so lovely to get such consistent support.”

The story of the Stinson/Bolinas Community Fund begins with giving. In 1996, Ms. Moss was approached by Flow Fund, a philanthropic group founded by Marion Rockefeller Weber, a Stinson Beach resident. The fund entrusts money to social innovators and visionaries who then decide how to give it give away. 

Ms. Weber asked Ms. Moss to distribute $20,000 a year over three years, with a focus on Bolinas and Stinson Beach. (“Being asked to become a Flow Fund member was one of the biggest honors of my life,” Ms. Moss said.) She said she saw an opportunity to extend the grants’ longevity while developing more personal relationships with grantees.

“I realized one issue I have with foundations is that they’re fickle. They’ll focus on an issue or organization for a few years and then they move on to something else,” she said. “I didn’t want that for Bolinas and Stinson Beach.”

Ms. Moss used the Flow Fund grants as seed money to launch the Stinson/Bolinas Community Fund, with the money matching grants made by the group’s earliest members. Those seven people have since grown to 35. 

The fund works by consensus vote. Each member contributes at least $1,500 a year, while over 50 “community supporters” contribute smaller amounts. After they’ve received applications for a given cycle, they meet to discuss them and decide how to divvy up the pool of funds—at the moment around $30,000. 

Arianne Dar, a Bolinas resident who has been with the fund for the last seven years, said the fund’s accessibility appealed to her. “There are people who are not multimillionaires, and this is a way to give,” she said. Ms. Dar has voted to support the summer camp and a Bolinas after-school theater program over the years.

Ms. Moss, who also chairs the West Marin Fund, said people are sometimes confused by the difference between the two philanthropic organizations. 

“The West Marin Fund is a community foundation that works to strengthen all of coastal West Marin and will be around forever to do that,” she said. “The Stinson/Bolinas Community Fund is a giving circle for Bolinas and Stinson that will only exist as long as people put money in and want to participate.”

As the fund passes its 20-year benchmark, its members, like Bolinas resident Meg Simonds, are confident it will live on, in part because it’s proven how small donations can stretch into lasting influences. “As far as I can see, there’s no end in sight,” Ms. Simonds said. “We all love doing it and it’s great to get together and look at all these local organizations. And my little money can go a long way.”


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