South County

SBF Donor Spotlight: Gwen Dawson

BY KARA SHOEMAKER | July 31, 2020

Two generations of philanthropists, Gwen Dawson (left) and her father, Stuart Taylor (right). Gwen credits her father for inspiring her to give back through the Santa Barbara Foundation.

For retired schoolteacher Gwen Dawson, philanthropic giving is a way to help our community and honor the memory of her father, Stuart Taylor. Gwen moved to Santa Barbara from Philadelphia as a teenager in 1964, after her father took a job at the Santa Barbara News-Press. She was not enthusiastic about the move initially, and worried about the infamous Californian earthquakes – but Gwen eventually warmed up to life in Santa Barbara and has called it home ever since.

“My dad put his stock in El Adobe, as he called the Santa Barbara Foundation in those days. We worked with Cheri Savage,” recalled Gwen. “I remember these little pieces of paper with carbon copies of charities to give to. He didn’t have good vision, so I would sit with him at his desk with these little papers and I would write down who he wanted his money to go to and how much. He really was incredibly generous and he was my example – that if you have money, then you make sure you can help other people in some way, and be generous, and give to charities, and make some sort of difference.”

Gwen shares that as a schoolteacher her whole career, she would not have had the resources to be philanthropic had it not been for inheriting money after her father passed away in 2004. “After he died, in the next few months I thought, ‘I need to do what Dad did. I need to be able to channel some of this money to charity and philanthropic organizations.’ So that’s how I got going.”

She opened a donor advised fund with the Santa Barbara Foundation a year later and began giving to charities.

“I like giving to things in Santa Barbara that I care about – Direct Relief, Hospice of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinic, organizations that help children, like the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. When COVID-19 came along, I gave to the Foundation’s partnership with United Way,” said Gwen.

Volunteering her time is another way Gwen likes to give back to and connect with our community. She has volunteered with the Santa Barbara Public Library’s Adult Literacy Center for the last 10 years, as well as with Hospice of Santa Barbara.

“I think giving back is important, even a little bit of money. When you are comfortable yourself, can meet your own needs, and you have food and clothing, and a roof over your head, then I think there’s something about feeling that you’re useful and being of service in your community or in the world,” said Gwen.

“And it’s really kind of fun to choose a charity you want to give to and feel like you are part of it,” Gwen added. “I think it can feel really good, and feel like you are really doing something. Especially now with COVID-19, when so many people are saying, ‘what can I possibly do? We have all these people out of work, people who are hungry, and people who can’t pay their rent.’ To know there are places where you can give money that are actually going to make a difference is very powerful.

“So I guess I would just say to people who haven’t started a Foundation account yet, is to start small until you feel comfortable with the Foundation, and you get to know the advisors. See how it feels to be able to give money to places that are really saving our people, saving lives.”

The Santa Barbara Foundation thanks Gwen Dawson for her continued support of our community. If you are a donor or fundholder with the Santa Barbara Foundation and would like to share what inspires you to give back, please reach out to Jordan Killebrew, Director of Communications, at

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