The Sun sat down with the new executive director of Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, Mary Favaro.
When did you start as Executive Director of the Education Foundation?
March 11. It’s been a full learning curve. Not only learning what the Ed Foundation does, but understanding our relationship to the community, within the community.
Can you explain what you mean by “community”?
All the organizations that we work with. And all the individuals who have been supporters. The board itself.
What about the school district? What is your relationship to the District?
We are a partner with Sonoma Valley Unified. We fund programs for the schools.
Who decides what to fund?
The District. We fund programs that are important to the District, programs that will help them meet their highest priorities. Our job is to be aligned with the District – “we fund it, they run it.”
In dollar terms, what does the Foundation give the District?
Currently we fund over $1 million annually.
What are the sources of your funding?
Over 50% is from grants, including wine Country Weekend, and family foundations. The Red and White Ball accounts for another 25%. And it is not only a fundraiser, but it is a community event, a celebration of our schools. The balance of our funding comes from individual donors and business partners.
Why do people fund through the Ed Foundation?
We are excellent stewards of their money. We make sure that the money is going to high-impact programs, and when we fund a program, we set up measurable objectives.
How are those objectives overseen?
The Foundation formally reviews a program’s objectives two times a year. When we fund a program, we establish a budget for it with the District, and the District reports to us quarterly. Sometimes the budget needs to be adjusted. Also, we get on the ground, to see the programs in action. We try to be at the sites informally, going to events, staying super-informed about the programs we are funding. The better communication there is between everyone involved, the better the delivery will be. I can’t imagine a more difficult job than running a school district.
Why did you decide to apply for the job of running the Ed Foundation?
I was not intending to take on a full time job like this! I was teaching math part-time at Presentation School. I can’t tell you how many calls I got from friends and acquaintances who thought I’d be perfect for the job, and urged me to apply.
Are you glad you went for it?
It is very freeing to be able just to do the job and not to be career building. It makes my work more enjoyable and I think it allows me to be more effective. Education is my passion area, and I have the background for running businesses.
Tell our readers about that.
I have a bachelor’s degree in business. For the first three years of college I was planning to be a civil engineer, but I realized that was not for me. I got an M.B.A. at Stanford, and I worked for a number of years for Marakon Associates, doing strategic consulting to several industries. I lived in San Francisco, Australia, and London, and later, I traveled extensively in South America. All this consulting had a strong financial focus. I saw a number of different businesses and I learned to think strategically. Then I had my family.
And tell us about your family.
I have four children. They are currently 18 to 28. I went back to school to get an M.A. in Education, doing my teacher training in public and private schools in Chicago. Then we moved to Sonoma. When we learned that one of our younger children was seriously dyslexic, I made the decision to home school both younger ones for the five years until they went to high school.
Is it too soon to talk about your goals as the new chief?
I want to build our grant-writing and fundraising capabilities, to maximize our ability to help the District. I hope to build our capability to work with other funding organizations. And there are other community organizations that we would like to work with more. I hope to expand our donor base. I was brought in to help the Foundation work more systematically, to leverage our resources – “our team,” so we can better contribute.
How’s your boss? I have a fantastic, capable, active Board. I’m blessed with a really great Board.
And your dreams? As I said, I am not looking toward the next job. I am here, and I am hoping to make a big impact on my community.
– Interview by Anna Pier