James Howell of The San Diego Foundation is not just an exceptional CFO. His peers describe him as a committed nonprofit professional with a passion for providing positive impact in the community. Those who know him also note that his job description surpasses that of a typical CFO: Howell is also an HR manager, an IT expert, an effective fundraiser and a leader — both inside and outside of The San Diego Foundation’s walls. In receiving his award, he paid tribute to his peers and co-workers. “I am truly honored to receive the 2020 San Diego Business Journal CFO of the Year Award – Nonprofit, as there are many deserving nominees and it reflects so positively on a remarkable year of grant making, culture building, and growth at the San Diego Foundation,” Howell said.
“I wish to thank our Board, CEO, Executive Leadership, and Finance & Investments Team, who motivate me in some new way, every day, as we address our communities’ most pressing needs. This award is more about how WE inspire enduring philanthropy and enable community solutions, than anything I could do alone. To my wife and family, none of this would be possible, or nearly as special, without you.” From a finance perspective, 2019 had several highlights. The Foundation continued its organizational growth, surpassing $1 billion in assets and $1.2 billion in total granting since its inception. As CFO, Howell led a team that ensured proper investment, management and distribution of The Foundation’s assets. The Foundation completed a successful audit of its finances as well. Separately, The Foundation expanded its IT efforts with significant upgrades to databases and staffing dedicated to IT. Keeping the Culture Positive
The San Diego Foundation underwent a transition at the CEO level in 2019. During the first half of the year — as The Foundation was still in its search — the leadership team, including Jim Howell, was responsible for retaining staff and ensuring a positive working culture. Howell contributed to The Foundation’s financial success by ensuring best-in-class management of its assets. He managed The Foundation’s Finance Committee to make sure external expertise continued to inform The Foundation’s financial decisions. Howell also contributed to the organization’s financial success by being available to meet and speak with many of The Foundation’s top donors. Howell does not simply sit back and manage the foundation’s assets. He consistently explores and collaborates on innovative ways for The Foundation to raise, and distribute, funds. One such example was The Foundation’s low-interest loan to Operation HOPE in Vista — a nonprofit that provides housing and services to homeless families. Rising interest rate payments were impacting Operation HOPE’s ability to help homeless families in need. Howell traveled to Vista to meet with the organization and personally see its mission in action. He successfully deployed The Foundation’s charitably funded Impact Loan Fund to provide a low-interest loan that allowed Operation HOPE to continue its growth and impact. Under Howell’s leadership and vision, The Foundation has deployed its Impact Loan Fund to other organizations, and thanks to his innovative approach to philanthropy, fund holders at The Foundation has been able to provide additional support for these loans, which will be paid back into their funds when the loans are fulfilled.
Howell hires great people, empowers them to do their best work, and lets them shine. He often designates members of his team to represent Finance in important meetings both internally and externally. He has provided executive coaching to members of his team in an effort to support career development and professional growth. In his role as overseeing HR at The Foundation, Howell has explored organization-wide efforts to recruit and retain staff members, and to help them grow.